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Dimitri Kyriakoulis: It’s Not just Greek to Him

Written by Marisol
WAYRA Instituto de Español

By Ellen Zoe Golden .Photos courtesy: Dimitri Kyriakoulis

He was born in a city called Patras, in the northern Peloponese, some 200 kilometers from Athens, Greece.

 Life growing up was peaceful and happy for Dimitri Kyriakoulis: riding bikes, walking to school, and hanging out at the beach during the season.

“Back then, no one locked their houses, there were no burglar alarms, and crime was something we mostly heard of on the news,” he recalled.

 Today, after a myriad of jobs in Greece, Spain and even Tamarindo, Kyriakoulis runs Lexis, a language school. He and wife Teresa Okecki are raising their twoyear-old son Alexander, introducing him to the beach lifestyle they both love.

THE Tamarindo News interviewed the professor between classes.

THE Tamarindo News: Was teaching always in your plans?

Dimitri Kyriakoulis: Not at all. I didn´t know what I wanted to do. At University, I studied Civil Engineering; upon graduating I moved to Valencia, Spain, to do a post-graduate course on Construction Management. It wasn´t for me. I´m not a bossy person and I hate having to tell others off all the time, which is basically the job. I became a teacher by accident! When I moved to Spain, after graduating, I said, “So, Dimitri, you´re in a new country on your own, you need to make some money buddy. What can you do?” I spoke English and Greek, so I posted a little ad online offering private lessons. Funnily, my first three students were all interested in Greek, which was a complete surprise. And, God, was Greek tough to teach!

That was my first experience as a teacher, though after that I did all sorts of jobs: driver, call-center operator (by far the worst working experience I´ve had), translator, and others I can´t even recall. Then, Cirque Du Soleil came to Spain and I toured with it as an usher, which led to my leaving Valencia for good and moving to Madrid. In 2011, I found a real teacher´s job at an English academy there.

 TTN: Why did you move to Tamarindo?

DK: Back in 2010, it was commonplace for young adults to take a gap year. When the financial crisis struck Europe, I thought I´d better change plans and move to a place where I can actually stay and work. Latin America seemed like a reasonable plan given that I already spoke the language, and Costa Rica was just cheaper to get to compared to other destinations. As for Tamarindo, well, once you´re in Costa Rica “all roads lead to Tamarindo.”

 TTN: How did you know this was the place you wanted to put down roots?

 DK: I didn´t! The first time I was here I only spent 8 months and then moved to Bocas del Toro, Panama. I was in a different relationship back then, and our plan was to travel all over Latin America, so after Panama it would be Colombia, and so on. But then we broke up and Tamarindo felt like home, so I rang my last two employers—Helene Jany at Hotel Pasatiempo and Derek Furlani at  Tico To Go. They both were kind enough to give me my jobs back. Then, I worked as a construction worker (lasting only one day helping raise the Banco National building), cook, bartender, delivery guy, photo assistant, receptionist, and finally an English teacher again. I also started playing music again after a long time of inaction joining the town bands for live gigs here and there, and soon enough my passion for music was reborn!

TTN: How did you end up opening your own business?

DK: It came naturally. Three years ago, I was a teacher at CPI (Centro Panamerican de Idiomas) in Flamingo. After a year there I was given the opportunity to become the “principal,” and that taught me a lot about how to organize and manage a school, how to deal with parents and teachers, and how to make a school program not only academically solid but also profitable. Then, last year I decided to go solo, and once again I was lucky enough to have met Trevor Bernard, the owner of the Best Western hotel. He offered me the office where my wife works to use for my afternoon classes. That allowed me to offer group classes as well and to have a solid base. It was an important step forward. Finally, last year I decided to take it a step further and rented a spot in the new commercial building at the cross of Villareal. And that´s when Lexis was no longer an idea at the back of my head. Now it was more like a dream come true.

TTN: How does the music fit into your life as a drummer?

DK: Being a drummer has always helped me find balance between work and fun. Music is one of my greatest passions, along with cooking, reading, travelling and talking (yes, for us Greeks, talking is not just a leisure activity, it´s a hobby!). Playing in bands or practicing on my own has always been a stress-reliever. But Costa Rica has opened new doors now, as I was given the chance to also teach music for the first time in my life at Good Vibes Rock School even though I had no credentials,

 TTN: How did you meet your wife?

 DK: Teresa and I met at a friend´s birthday party where we were both invited. I was working at the hotel reception and I didn´t really feel like going to the party. But at the end I said, “What the heck, I might as well go check it out”. And, there was Teresa! I remember nothing else from that day except for me and Teresa talking passionately as we got to know each other. Our thing was just meant to happen. We never had to talk any decision through, it just came naturally.

 TTN: What is it like raising a family in Tamarindo?

 DK: We agree that there´s no better place to raise a small child than Tamarindo. You just need to see our son Alexander´s face every time we hit the beach: pure happiness. We have the opportunity to raise a child far from the city dangers, far from the stress, the noise and the traffic. Alexander has a squirrel friend who wakes him up in the mornings, he howls back to the monkeys he sees on the trees, he has friends at the kindergarten from all over the world, and he barely needs to wear any shoes! Can it get any better than that?

TTN: Tell me about Lexis?

DK: Lexis offers a program for all ages and social backgrounds. It´s inexpensive and we strive to make our classes fun and fresh. I believe that keeping your students´ interest and motivation strong is the key to real learning. We learn much better when we´re having fun. We also have a kids program on Saturdays, where my workmate Yessenia does an amazing job sharing our passion for languages with young learners. And the kids love coming to class; English doesn´t have to be boring, and we prove that every day! Lexis is proof that whatever you do with love and passion will grow into something successful. I started in February with 20 students and now I have reached 100. My students are local residents, the vast majority Ticos from Villareal, and around. I really love working with the local community, as it´s helped me integrate and feel like one of them. I love it when people on the street greet me with an “Hola profe”. It also helps me understand locals a lot better, get to know their problems, feel their worries, speak their language. Now I really feel Tico.

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