Building My School from the Ground Up


As I twist my body into an uncomfortable position in order to paint a hard-to-reach spot, I think about how great it will be when I am finished painting my new school, Instituto Estelar Bilingüe, in Liberia, Costa Rica. I’ve been painting alone for 12 days now (granted, not all day on some days), and my body hurts and is swollen, my cracked nails have permanent paint embedded, and I daily fight anxiety and sometimes tears in thinking about how much more I need to paint, not to mention my fear of it all looking terrible in the end. Of course there is much to do in starting a school than paint, so I’ve accomplished other tasks in the early mornings and evenings when I’m not painting. The good news is that the end is in sight: just a few more days of painting, and I should be done.

Painting the front door blue!

I want to relish these days of working so hard to get Instituto Estelar Bilingüe up and running. I want to enjoy the process and not only care about the end-product. There is something magical about being covered in dirt and paint for a project all my own. I like the fact that I’m not just doing the academic, intellectual work for my school, but I am also fixing toilets, climbing ladders, sanding bars, getting caught in spider webs, and cleaning mounds of dust off of window sills that, by the look of them, haven’t been cleaned in perhaps 10 years. That’s what I get for choosing a very old house, unoccupied for who knows how many years, to put my school! I’m learning so much as I talk to electricians, plumbers, furniture makers, phone and internet companies, hardware store employees, handymen, graphic designers, painters, movers, accountants, lawyers, bankers, and locksmiths. These people are not my usual crowd, but they have become the people I talk to every day.

Having a limited budget and being in a new place where I don’t know many people have propelled me to do the work myself to cut costs, shop around for the best prices, and work mostly by myself to get it all done. I am incredibly tempted to pay someone to finish the painting, for example, but my budget won’t allow it. My friends live far away, and the one friend I’ve made here sweetly offered to help with everything but the painting. I don’t blame her! And I’ll take whatever help I can get, so I can’t be picky.

I need to get used to doing things on my own anyway. When the school opens in a few weeks, I will be the owner, receptionist, academic director, teacher, janitor, HR rep, and accountant (God help me!). This is what it means to build something from the ground up: there are lots of hats to wear. There are probably a few I don’t know about yet too.

But I have to reiterate how fantastic I feel right now. Learning and accomplishing so much every day in order to complete the project of my life, starting a language school, is invigorating, and I wouldn’t trade the way I’m doing it—building it brick-by-brick with my own two hands—for a bigger budget and more helpers.

Well, hmmm, let me think about that…any volunteers?

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7 responses to “Building My School from the Ground Up

  1. You have such a rich life! enjoy every moment. This is such an amazing process. I know you will be successful.

  2. Hi Bethany,

    What a delight to read about your new adventures! I admire your conviction and your choice of paradise. My wife, son, and I visited those beaches and towns a few years ago and, like you, fell in love with them. So keep me posted… and good luck on opening your doors for business in a few days.

    Best wishes,
    Jim Toner

    • Thanks Mr. Toner! It’s great to hear from you. I’m still hoping you’ll write a book about your teaching methods, so let me know when I can get my hands on a copy! I would love to use it in my teacher trainings. 🙂

      • Bethany,

        Thanks for the nice reminder about writing a book about whatever it is I do inside the classroom. It’s been many years since you visited my classes, but it still happens that every few months I hear the Bethany voice within the recesses of my brain whisper to write, to write. It’ll happen one of these days, or years, or lifetimes–and when it does I’ll hand-deliver a copy to you in Costa Rica.

        In the meantime, happy painting and happy teaching.
        -Jim

  3. Wow! I’m impressed but not surprised, Bethany! Good luck! I might have to join you 1) if I get back to Costa Rica after my sister’s wedding 2) if you’ll take me! Keep moving forward sister. You can do it!

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