Back in 1971, Dave Kaufman arrived in Costa Rica to become the Language Coordinator for a new Peace Corps training center. His wife, Anita, was seven months pregnant. Four years, two baby boys and one mortgage later, Dave teamed up with two fellow Americans, Kathy Brown and Jack Sadler, and they founded Conversa on Calle 38 in San Jose.
Kathy had a degree in teaching and spoke good Spanish after having spent a year in Argentina. Jack had been a Peace Corps Volunteer in Bolivia and in Costa Rica. Dave also brought his Peace Corps experience to the team, having served in the Dominican Republic as an English teacher trainer, and later as Language Coordinator at the Peace Corps Training Center in Arecibo, Puerto Rico.
After that first year, Jack left Conversa to study Linguistics. Kathy and Dave continued to work together for about four more years, until she accepted a position as Latin American sales representative for a publishing company. So Dave took over as head cook and bottle-washer.
A short time later, Dave was chatting with one of Conversa's Spanish students, a woman from Boston, about an idea he had to start an Intensive Spanish Program out in the boonies, a la Peace Corps. She suggested that Dave talk with her husband, who had recently purchased a farm outside of Santa Ana, indicating that he might be amenable to some sort of arrangement with Conversa. They later met and worked out a deal which enabled Conversa to lease and shortly thereafter to purchase a five-acre piece of the farm. Some years later, an adjoining acre of land was bought from another neighbor.
Conversa's six-acre piece had a great view of the Santa Ana Valley. It had several ramshackle buildings which had served previously as barns and stables for cows and horses. That was back in 1980. Now, the old buildings have been knocked down and rebuilt as classrooms, offices, dining hall and lounges.
Care has been taken in this process to maintain a sense of rustic charm. Materials from the old barns and stables were recycled and incorporated into the new structures. Red stone, which was found in abundance on the property, was hand picked and used in the construction of walls and paths; it was even used to build the three on-campus lodges, La Casona, La Casita, and La Cabaņa to further enhance this concept. While most of Conversa's six-acre campus is made up of rebuilt structures, La Casona and La Casita were built with the help of an architect, as was the 50-foot swimming pool.
Dave Kaufman, known by his staff and students as "Don David", likes to sit down in his office on the "finca" and reminisce about the old days, and how those poor Land Rovers had to struggle to get up the steep unpaved hill with their cargo of students. He is fond of reaching for a photo album and showing inquisitive visitors what Conversa has been able to accomplish over the past four decades. Don David has placed a lot of the administrative duties in the capable hands of his son, Andy and a strong support staff out in Santa Ana, but he still gets a big kick out of the finca, and holding forth on Monday and Wednesday afternoons with his grammar lectures, corny jokes and all.