Atenas, Costa Rica Dance, Language Classes, Taekwondo, and More… — By Jennifer Shipp
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Atenas, Costa Rica Dance, Language Classes, Taekwondo, and More… — By Jennifer Shipp

Daisy, the Spanish teacher came to work with Lydian several times a week on our porch.

We have tried working through Su Espacio in Atenas, Costa Rica to do things like dance and yoga classes. The place is even owned and operated by a woman named “Tina” from Oklahoma. But alas, it’s no use. The native Costa Ricans working there have been nothing but pleasant to talk to and work with, but Tina herself has been rather stand-offish. Unfortunately, her behavior toward us has been very similar to behaviors of other expatriates in this country. I can’t help but generalize because my mind does this sort of thing naturally. I sent her an email with detailed questions regarding things like belly dance classes, martial arts, and Spanish lessons and received a reply to the effect that I would have to contact each instructor separately and talk with them in Spanish.

I was willing to do this. In fact, I thought nothing of it at first. But I started having experiences with Su Espacio before we even moved to Atenas, Costa Rica. First, we went in to talk with someone when Fred, our landlord was showing us around. A lovely Tica woman was there and she gave me some limited information, but wasn’t the person in charge. She gave me Tina’s email and information. I was hopeful that we had found a valuable resource in the community.

But then, the day after we moved into Atenas, Lydian and I hurried all over hell trying to find Su Espacio again so that Lydian could do the belly dance class. We had been there once before on a quick trip we officially moved to town but it had been raining heavily on that day and was hard to see where we were in relation to other things. There are no street names per se in Atenas or anywhere in Costa Rica for that matter, so instead of looking for an address, we were looking for landmarks. I wrote about this already. I asked police officers “Where Is Your Space?” and they looked at me very strangely. When we finally arrived at Su Espacio, the belly dance class had been called off. Needless to say, I was disenchanted.

But on the day we visited Su Espacio in Atenas, we also met a nice woman named Gaby who offered to give us Spanish lessons. I’ve spoken with her on the phone several times now trying to set up lessons between her and Lydian. On Wednesday she showed up with her young nephew (who was adorable, but only 2 years old). She couldn’t stay and teach the lesson because she had been called to babysit instead. We told her not to worry about it and set up a time for the following day. The next day (a Thursday), she didn’t show up.  When she finally did show up today at our house, she did a great job working with Lydian but told me at the end of it all that she had gotten a job teaching 7:00 AM to 2:00 PM every day of the week at a nearby school. She wasn’t doing private lessons anymore. She gave me the name of another woman named Daisy who may be able to give us Spanish lessons.


That’s two strikes against Su Espacio. Gaby did a great job working with Lydian, but what’s the deal with the management at this place? The owner is American, but what with the other expatriate experiences we’ve had here, I wonder if she’s cheating people somehow. I know she certainly hasn’t made any efforts to win my affection.

So, Su Espacio offers volunteer opportunities with several places. I spoke with a Norwegian woman who as taking a Spanish lesson there when we arrived for the belly dance classes that never happened. She told us that she was doing a volunteer experience through Su Espacio with a local shelter. That sounded interesting and so I asked her more questions. She said that the animal shelter didn’t have any new animals at the time so she was just taking care of the shelter’s own dogs and cats, but they were “doing much better now.”

What? Why were the shelter’s own animals suffering?

Su Espacio also offers volunteer opportunities through the local orphanage that John and I visited several days ago. I visited the web site for this orphanage, Hogar de Vida and all I can say is that our face-to-face and telephone interaction with the people on site at the orphanage was quite a bit different than the gushing description of how they work with volunteers at their web site. But then again, we weren’t paying anyone for the experience and we weren’t willing to pay to work 24 hours a day, five days a week. We were merely there to help. And who cares about helping? Maybe I’m just old fashioned, but when I hire volunteers to work for me on my projects, I tend to be very grateful to have them there in any capacity as long as they’re not hurting anyone or anything.

Needless to say, Su Espacio in Atenas has not yet lived up to my expectations. Perhaps I will have a prize winning experience with the company before I leave here. I reserve the right to be wrong about the place. But, at the same time, I’m trying to be honest with myself about my experiences there. I tend to glaze over my bad experiences and try to pretend they didn’t happen which gives a one-sided view of our experiences in the places we visit. So at this point, I have to say it how it is and see what happens…

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  1. Tina Newton

    I’m sorry I wasn’t able to help you more. As you know, Su Espacio does not hire teachers. We are a community center in which teachers use the space to teach classes and we refer the teachers when there is a need. I volunteer my time (about 45 hours/week) in order to provide this for the community and this is a non-profit center dedicated to trying to provide a space for the community to teach classes. If I was not able to attend to you sufficiently, I am truly sorry. I try to help everyone feel that Atenas is a good place for them to be. I hope you enjoyed other things in the town.

    August 1, 2013 Reply
    • travelingshipps

      I believe that the experiences that we have when we travel (or when we’re at home) are colored by my own attitude to some extent and I want readers to know this when they read my post about Atenas. First of all, we had just suffered a miscarriage and our trip to Costa Rica was part of our “recovery” from this experience. Secondly, our living conditions in Atenas were not terrific, which was our own fault. We had agreed to rent a home with smelly, infested furnishings. In retrospect, this definitely colored our overall experience of the place. We’d had high hopes for Atenas because it was a cute, small city with all the amenities and affordable public transportation. We just seemed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time A LOT.

      I really liked the idea of Su Espacio and I still regret that we weren’t ever able to access the services there (for whatever reason). It was one of the big draws to the place, actually. I’m no Spanish-speaking guru and I have to acknowledge again that there were language barriers that probably played a role in our overall experience. I want to encourage anyone who reads this post to still give Su Espacio a chance because, again, I think the concept is good. If we ever make it back to Atenas (and I hope we do), I’ll definitely give it a second chance. What’s the best way for people to contact you and set up classes at Su Espacio? As a traveler, I had to rely on our landlord a lot (who would unscrew our security bulbs if we left them on during daylight hours to save electricity…just to give you a sense of his character). My goal with this blog is to provide factual information about our experiences traveling, and so, it would be really helpful to me (and others) if you could provide an overview of what you offer at Su Espacio.

      Thank you for the input on my post and for all the work that you do for your community. I’m sorry we weren’t able to make a connection on our first trip to Atenas, but perhaps things will be different in the future!

      August 1, 2013 Reply


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