In 1997 artist and traveler Zach McDuffie had a dream about the ocean that inspired him to move to Costa Rica. His goal was simple – live a healthy life, make art, learn to surf, and learn Spanish. Realizing that a lot of other travelers were seeking the same, he came up with the concept for the School of the World. School of the World was the first learning vacation school in the world to offer combined Spanish and Surfing courses, and continues to set trends for cool, creative, and affordable learning vacations to travelers of all ages. The school’s innovative programs have been featured in guidebooks, magazines, and newspapers from the U.S.A. to Hong Kong.
Great learning vacation programs are just the beginning. What really makes time here a special experience is the staff. Our staff functions like a family; most have been working here for more than five years and all are passionate about their work.
Zach and Natazha
Creative Directors, Designers, Photographers, Writers, Artists, Dreamers
Zach first visited Costa Rica shortly after receiving his bachelor of fine arts degree from the University of Georgia in 1996. He fell in love with the healthy lifestyle, endless summers, and consistent surf conditions he found and moved to Costa Rica permanently in 1997. With just $3000 and a dream, he started School of the World. As the school grew, so did the dream. After completing the design and construction of the new School of the World facility, Zach started traveling again, pursuing photography, and researching, exploring, and writing about other learning vacations around the world. His award winning photography has been featured in magazines, books, and newspapers internationally, and he is one of the leading travel experts in the fast growing learning vacation genre. You can check out his work at: www.zmcduffie.com
Natazha and Zach met while working on a pilot for a TV show about learning vacations. Natazha is an international model and spokesperson. The two now split time between Laguna Beach, California and Costa Rica, and they are in charge of the creative direction and design of School of the World. When they are not working on video or design projects at the School of the World they stay busy shooting fashion campaigns, traveling, and making art. You can follow their adventures on Instagram at @ZplusN
Brian and Zach have been good friends since their days at the University of Georgia. He came to Costa Rica with Zach in 1996, but returned to UGA and continued on to earn a masters degree in forest management, before moving to Costa Rica permanently in 2001. Brian is in charge of the day-to-day operations at the school. He speaks English and Spanish and enjoys spending time with his family, surfing, woodworking, and fishing.
Kirsten Witke Program Coordinator
Kirsten was born and raised in a small beach town in the Netherlands. She moved to Amsterdam to work for Nickelodeon and MTV networks (“Working with SpongeBob Squarepants and Patrick Star was a true pleasure” she says!). Kirsten came to Costa Rica in January 2014 as a guest at School of the World, to learn Spanish and Surfing. She instantly fell in love with surfing and “tropical vibes” and decided to make a life change. Now Costa Rica is home and she enjoys working at the school and surfing every day!
Lucia grew up in San Jose, Costa Rica and is the newest member of the family at the School of the World. She enjoys all sports, especially mountain biking, ballet, and salsa. She is currently learning to surf and volunteers at the local chapter of the Christian Surfers in the evenings.
Laura is also Costa Rican and is one of our Spanish instructors. She speaks Spanish and English fluently, and loves to teach. In addition to working at the school she also performs ballet and owns her own dance and arts studio where she teaches dance, guitar, drums, ballet, and taekwondo to kids. Laura is in charge of our Salsa dancing workshops.
Carlos is an accomplished Costa Rican artist, photographer, and surfer. He started working at the School of the World in January of 2006. He is certified in ocean safety and rescue, as well as CPR. He has exhibited his art in San Jose, Miami, and New York. In his spare time he enjoys surfing, skating, photography, painting, and fishing. Carlos also teaches some of the specialty photography and editing workshops, and assists Zach and Natazha with video projects.
Alonso was born and raised in Jaco, Costa Rica and started teaching surf when he was only 14 years old, before even he knew how to surf. Alonso is an accomplished competitive surfer, having won 4th place in the boys division of Costa Rica. He began working at the school in February of 2011 and is certified in ocean safety and rescue, as well as CPR. In his spare time he likes to surf, train for surfing, and is also an accomplished MMA fighter. His fighting style is Muay Thai boxing and he has quite a few wins under his belt.
Christian is originally from Margarita Island in Venezuela. He has been surfing for over 14 years and has been teaching surf for 8. Christian began working for the school in early 2013 and is always stoked to get in the water and show students how to surf. He really loves what he does and will go that extra mile to insure his students learn to surf and have a great time. His interests include surfing, mountain biking, running and Xbox.
Ivan Photography, GoPro and Surf Instructor
Ivan was born in Nicaragua and grew up in San Jose, Costa Rica. City life wasn’t what Ivan was looking for so he moved to Jaco and learned to surf. He began working for the school in 2011 as a surf instructor. Later on he started helping Carlos with the Photo and GoPro classes as well. In his spare time Ivan enjoys skateboarding, surfing, photography and making art.
Durby is originally from Pavones which is a perfect left break in the most southern part of Costa Rica. He has been surfing since he was a small child and it shows. He competes in contests around the country and is one of the most talented surfers in Costa Rica. He has been teaching at the school since 2013. In his spare time he is handy fixing computers as well as cell phones. He also DJ’s from time to time in local clubs and bars.
Alejandra is from San Jose, Costa Rica. She began practicing yoga at an early age and realized she wanted to dedicate her life to this discipline. Her foundations are Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga and Anusara Yoga. Alejandra is always deepening her practice, and travels to India yearly to study directly with the masters. She brings what she learns back to Costa Rica to share with our staff and guests.
Catalina is from San Jose, Costa Rica and has lived in Playa Jaco since 2003. Her foundation is in Vinyasa flow with an inspiration in anusada alignment. In her free time she likes to read and spend time with her two kids.
Rachel is from Atlanta, Georgia. She is a former student of the school and loved the area so much that she decided to move here 2 years ago. Rachel has been practicing yoga for 4 years and teaching for 2. In her spare time she loves to surf, read, sew and make clothes. She is also an artist who expresses her talent through wood burning and drawing.
Maria is Costa Rican and has been with the School of the World since the beginning, back in 1997. Maria has seen the business grow from humble beginnings and takes a lot of pride in her work environment. If you are lucky you might be around when she cooks her famous arroz con pollo!
Victoria was born and raised nearby in Herradura and prior to working at the school she had been doing housekeeping in Escondida. She is the proud mother of three grown children and in her spare time enjoys listening to music and dancing salsa and merengue.
Pedro is originally from Nicaragua but has lived in Costa Rica for fifteen years. He enjoys playing chess and going to the discoteca in his free time. Pedro works hard to keep the place running smoothly and it seems like there is nothing he can’t build, fix or repair.
Don Gerardo Landscaping
Don Gerardo is responsible for keeping the school grounds beautiful with all the lovely plants. You only have to watch him work for a few minutes to see his passion for plants. He is originally from San Jose and has been working at the school for over 12 years. In his free time Don Gerardo enjoys riding his bike and motorcycle. He also enjoys fishing and of course gardening.