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Home > About ISLS > How It All Began
How It All Began
Step-by-step, what started this family success?

An Open Letter To All
An open letter from our President, Dana G. Garrison

How It All Began

From the President, Dana Garrison

My brother Hugh and I are the two youngest sons in a family of seven children. We grew up in South Pasadena California, and like our older siblings before us, graduated from South Pasadena High School, 1983 for Hugh and 1985 for myself.

Hugh attended California State University at Los Angeles were he received his Bachelor of Arts degree. During his time in college he was involved in many on campus and student activities such as debate, leadership, government and youth ministries. Also at that time he was involved in tutoring other students and helping to council inner city kids on ways to attend and pay for college. His efforts in this latter subject caused him to use his limited Spanish and understand the necessity for improvement. The Spanish that he had taken since he was a junior in high school was not enough to allow him to fully communicate. He needed to improve his ability to speak the language and thus the seeds of studying abroad were planted.

I attended the United States Military Academy at West Point. I spent two years there, during which time I came to understand that the military was not what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I left school and returned to California with no real idea as to where I wanted my life to go. I did however have a love for travel and for learning. Over the next few years, I visited a number of different countries, but was drawn to Latin America.

It was at this time that Hugh approached me with the idea of going to Costa Rica. I thought about it for a while and then decided to join him and we started to plan the trip. Since Hugh's goal was to become proficient in Spanish, he was going to stay for three months. I was only looking to explore a new place, so did not plan on as long a stay. In order to accomplish both our objectives we decided to travel around Costa Rica for the month that I had and then Hugh would attend school for the final two months.

About a month later we were off to San Jose where we were met at the airport by the uncle of a friend of Hugh's from CSULA. We spend the first few days looking around San Jose and becoming acquainted with the new culture. It was a great time and we very much enjoyed getting to know this great country.

After I left the country, Hugh stayed on and enjoyed himself, learning the language, meeting the people and falling in love. Yes, that's right, falling in love. None of us in the States had any idea about that last part.

Hugh arrived home at the end of his three-month trip as the concurring hero from down south. He walked through our parents house, out into the back yard and stood before me as I was sitting in the pool. He said: "Dana, I've fallen in love and I want to start a business so that I can live down in Costa Rica and I want you to be my partner. What do you think?" No hello, no how's it going, nothing. Naturally I said, "Okay". And the rest, as they say, is history.

Hugh now is married and living full time in Costa Rica and I too am married and living once again in Los Angeles. I ended up living in Costa Rica for much of the mid 90's and I finally learned Spanish. ISLS has now been in business for more than 22 years, sending over 800 Spanish students a year from around the world to Costa Rica and the rest of Latin America and Spain. We now have offices in San Jose and Los Angeles and San Diego, California and College Station Texas. Our Student Guesthouse near the San Jose Airport welcomes new students into Costa Rica with a full time staff and lots of advice.

We are currently working with 35 Spanish language immersion schools in Latin America and Spain. We have our own Spanish language schools, teen camps, children's programs and family camps in Costa Rica. We look forward to continuing on in this new millennium and making the next two decade as enjoyable and successful as the last. We hope that you will join us.

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