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Finding Pura Vida in LA

Time July 31st, 2009 in College Study Abroad | 1 Comment by

After five months particpating in the IFSA-Butler study abroad Costa Rica program,  and hundreds and hundreds of new faces and places, I’m home. I feel very different, but yet unchanged at the same time. Maybe it is because I changed little by little and never really noticed a big leap. The first chance I get to show off my spanish, I am on it like bread on butter. At a family party with all my best friend’s family surrounding me, I let it all flow out and I could not even believe it myself as I spoke a smooth string of vowels, consonants, syllables, verbs, nouns, phrases…WOW! I impressed myself.

Since it has been a couple of weeks since my re-entry, do you wonder, whats LA like? Well I’ve had tons of small spanish encounters but I am certainly lacking in the in-depth, meaningful or between friends-playful spanish that became so familiar to me. I often struggled at first with my English, either I would respond to someone in Spanish or mix up words from both languages. It became sort of a joke that I would be taking ESL courses alongside some of my Los Angeles buddies! Good ol’ East Los Angeles, I always regarded it as sort of its own Spanish-speaking community but at the same time, it does not compare to Costa Rica in the least.
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It is the little things that I miss the most, like sharing some sweet bread with my host Mom, watching soccer with my host Dad or running around the house with my host brother. Just the other day my mom here bought me a “Cars” balloon for my birthday and the first thought that came to mind was, Matias would love to have that. Every store I walk into, I can’t help but see shirts, cups, plates, toys…etc. from the movie “Cars,” and I always say the same thing, “I would get that for Matias.” Unfortunately, the realization hit me, I may never see him again. I try not to think that way though because I’m almost certain I will be back to Costa Rica.
So as I go about my days seeing everything for the first time again, being amazed by the small things even. I am amazed at the smoothness of the roads, the five-lane roads, the huge gas-guzzlers that zoom by me on the streets and the price of food, movies, and fun altogether! I try and make everyday meaningful here, because it is, whether it be going to the beach, driving around hollywood or going to scenic views of L.A. just to soak it all up. I realize that people are pretty much alike anywhere you go, just in different sizes, shapes, shades and languages. The only tools you need to have to travel the world are basically an open mind and an adventurous spirit! Just as I say to all of Costa Rica, until we meet again, PURA VIDA!
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Home? Where is Home?

Time July 15th, 2009 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

So the time has come and I am headed back to the US, it is kinda strange how things work out because in a way, I feel much like I did the day I came to study in Costa Rica, excited but yet uncertain. I’ve lived just about 5 months here and its become a second home to me, I am going to miss this country, beautiful Costa Rica. I am going to miss my brother Matias, my parents, my friends, the university, beaches, jungles, city and…the ticos. I am going to miss the little things, the sayings like “Pura Vida,” “Por dicha,” “Mae”…etc, my bus stop, in Vargas Araya, the gallo pinto, casados and all the other delectibles the country has to offer. I am gonna miss the stunning landscapes, from the country in Monteverde, the beaches of Puerto Viejo, Manuel Antonio and Tamarindo, to the big city, the urban jungle, San Jose. As I wandered around campus my last day, it hit me that everything I did and everywhere I went, might be the last time I do and see it all.
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The whole week I had been trying to prepare myself for the trip home and finish up all the study abroad Costa Rica program activities and projects I was involved in. I had the final Championship Tournament for the Soccer class I gave, Futbol 5, at Dante Alighieri elementry school. It was amazing, we managed to organize it all so everyone paid under a dollar and we rented out a synthetic field around the block so these children would have the opportunity that many had never had and that most dreamed of, playing the championship tournament on the indoor synthetic field. In just an hour, we organized a total of 7 games for 6 different teams that I made up of the 30 some children involved. After the 6 games had finished, there were ties, wins, loses, goals, fouls, anger, frustration, joy, cheering…it was a beautiful thing. At the end of it all, we had all the 3rd graders play all the 4th graders and it was amazing, the championship team had a win and a tie, they got a trophy to put up in the office at the school and everyone got trophies for participation.
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My last Thai Boxing session is definitely something to talk about, there were only three of us and the trainer- two young men training to compete and little ol me! We started off with high knees for about 10 min to get warmed up, we stretched and then went straight into shadowboxing. After about 8 min of shadowboxing with and without weights, I could already feel that my arms were getting heavy. Then we did 3 circuits of 2 min, 30 sec rest at one station and then moved to the next-the three stations were the boxing ball bag, the ring with Danny (the trainer) and the tire. After a tiring 7 and a half minutes with the boxing ball, I was ready to go into the ring and try out my combinations: punches, hooks, kicks, knees, elbows and push-kicks. What I was not ready for was the tire, 7 and a half minutes without breaking on that tire was dreadful! After some more high-energy stations and intermittent water-breaks, I saw we had about 20 minutes left which is a lifetime for Thai Boxing, that’s when he called me into the ring. We paired up, the two young men training to fight and me and the trainer- we were training clenches. What ended up happening in a matter of 15 minutes was after about 100 different attempts to clench his head in a hold, I got dropped onto the mat in at least 20 different ways. I got pulled and dropped, pushed and dropped, lifted and dropped, twisted and turned and dropped, you name it! There is no better way to say your goodbyes to your Boxing gym, my neck, back, arms and legs might be beaten to the bone, but my spirit soars sky high!
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What will I miss the most? Rather, who? Matias, my host brother, one of the nicest, cutest, sweetest and most intelligent kids I’ve met. The day before I left, he woke up in a bad mood and angry at the world. I just thought it was just one of those days but after talking to my host mom, she told me that he had told his dad that he was angry with me because he had seen me packing my luggage and did not want me to leave. That was the cutest thing I had ever heard, he was going to miss me just as much as I would miss him. The fact that my little brother would be missing me so much upset me, I love my little tico brother. I was going to miss hearing him sing his own rendition of Vincente Fernandez’s songs, I was going to miss playing “Pulperia” with him, I was going to miss him running around the house when I chased him, I was even going to miss him slamming down the door at 7 am on Saturdays to see if I was awake yet!
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I know I will be back, I just have to come back…Goodbyes are the worst! So I guess this is goodbye…goodbye Costa Rica, or rather, I’ll see you later!

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Mommy and Mommy’s Mommy!

Time July 8th, 2009 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Right in the midst of all the craziness of tons of Costa Rica study abroad program projects, assignments, and exams, my mom and grandma come to visit- a nice break from it all. What my mom’s main objective was, aside from seeing me, was to go zip-lining. She had heard I had an amazing time when I went in Monteverde, she had seen pictures and made up her mind. So I get up early June 2nd to take a bus to San Jose, then another to the airport in Alajuela. Some of the thoughts passing through my head were…Wow, I’m really going to see them…They are actually coming to visit me while I’m studying in Costa Rica! So after an hour or so of waiting till their flight was due in, I caught myself standing up in front of the glass window with my face pushed up against the glass, hoping to catch a glimpse of them before they caught a glimpse of me! As soon as I saw my mom and grandma walk into the area with the glass window, my heart jumped up, I couldn’t believe it, they were actually HERE!
We decided we would stay in San Jose Tuesday to Thursday, then Friday we would head to Manuel Antonio for the weekend- the land with beautiful beaches, a flourishing national park and zip-lining, the perfect combination. Tuesday after the flight and the drive back to this cute little pension we stayed in, my mom and grandma were pretty much beat. Tuesday, my mom and I wandered around San Jose a bit and ate inside the Mercado Central at the end of the pedestrian boulevard. Wednesday was a very big day, we had planned to walk around San Jose, see a short tour of the University of Costa Rica, see the Evolution Boxing Gym, meet up with my Tico family to have some snacks and coffee and finally, go to the US vs Costa Rica World Cup Qualifier at 8 p.m… So we ended up doing it all and when we went to visit my host family, my host brother was so excited he couldn’t stop running around, he may have been just as excited to see them as I was! That day, he was even cuter than usual, if that’s even possible! We had coffee, empanadas, and tamal asado- all traditional dishes prepared by my host mom’s sister. It was delicious, my grandma, mom and I couldn’t stop eating!
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Afterwards, we stopped by the pension to relax and get grandma comfortable because my mom and I were headed to the game! Waves of red and blue everywhere, not for the US of course but I was there, wandering around in my red and white USA jersey. The stadium was absolutely crazy, after walking up and down rows and isles; we finally managed to find seats in the middle of it all, in the sea of red and blue. Although I obviously wasn’t playing, I could feel the energy brought on by the Costa Rican crowd, and I was intimidated! It was so loud I could hardly hear myself think and the stands shook so much that my mom and I couldn’t help but make jokes to deflect our hidden preoccupations about the stands holding up. I found myself saying things like “They have got to have had games that were more rowdy, like when Mexico would play here or something…” As soon as the National Anthem started playing for the US and I thought I would be the only one singing it, I noticed there was a good solid fan base of about 50 people on the other side of the stadium wearing all white for the US, much good that was doing me! The whistle blew and from that moment on, I think I tried to block from my memory to protect myself, one goal after another and it was 3-0 in a flash. Despite the fact that the US put in a PK in extra time, I felt disappointed and embarrassed for the team, lucky for me, I brought a shirt underneath my jersey…Only kidding, its just one loss! So we headed back to find lil ol’ grandma waiting up for us, having watched the game with the owner of the pension!
Thursday we took the official tour of the National Theatre which was absolutely amazing, the amount of detail and time they put into its construction is astonishing. We ate some “casados,” or traditional Costa Rican plates and then relaxed in the pension because the next day we were off to the beach!
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Friday morning we got up, got ready, had breakfast and were out in a flash. The tickets to and from the beach were only about $14 total for each of us, to experience a tropical, white sand, clear water beach! After what seemed like a short 3 hours, we were there, so we hopped off the bus and found this neat little trail that lead us to our cute hotel. We had a little room with a little t.v. and a little kitchen and a little balcony, it was just perfect for my grandma, my mom and I, three little ladies! We relaxed and walked around the beach area that was sprinkled with splashes of red, green, orange, blue, yellow and white towels, hats, wraps, hand-made boxes, shirts, souvenirs etc. We found a BBQ place by the beach and got some “casados” with chicken and ribs and spilt them between the three of us. We stayed in and watched soccer and basketball as a nice ending touch to the day.

Saturday morning we woke up really early and got an early start to the Manuel Antonio National Park. As we walked through the jungle trails, it was amazing the wildlife we ran into. We saw a deer trotting alongside us, a toucan amongst the lush trees, bats hidden under shrubs, monkeys, monkeys, monkeys all over. We saw groups of howling monkeys, white-faced monkeys and titi monkeys all over the trails. I kept saying, “I hope I see a sloth, I want to see a sloth, I’m looking for a sloth…” as I scanned the trees while walking. It was nearly impossible to do all the multitasking I wanted to do. I wanted to look up and around as I walked forward and kept an eye on my mom and grandma, but since the road was a little bumpy, I found myself looking up, pausing, checking on my family and then continuing on. Some parts of the trail were more treacherous than others but when we arrived at Playa Manuel Antonio, it was more than worth the walk. It was this amazing little paradise with bright blue waters flushing through this opening in the mountains and jungle. We were literally where the ocean meets the deep jungle and it was absolutely amazing. It was like a scene straight out of Lost; only we weren’t trapped there on an island, although we may have wished we were! As we sat under this beach tree that was neatly shaped almost horizontal to the water like a bench, we noticed that a few people had collected under the tree next to us and were pointing up into the branches at something. It was a sloth- the most beautiful, ugly sloth I had ever seen, actually the only sloth I had ever seen. I saw the sloth I was looking for, it was kind of funny because I just kept pointing out the fact that in the hour and a half we were there, it didn’t move at all! The more and more time I spent here, the more I realized the country’s motto, “Pura Vida,” even the animals lived by the motto!
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Sunday morning we woke up and my mom was charged up, nothing could stop her now. The canopy tour was today and we decided to go with “Selvatica” which included transportation to and from the site in nearby Quepos, 2 to 2 and a half hours of zip-lining, lunch and snacks and a finale ending with a dip in the crisp waters at the waterfall near the site! My grandma came along for the ride to hang out in the beautiful forest cabin where lunch would be served. My mom and I suited up and we were off! She was so excited and kept telling me, “I wish I had done this EVERYDAY!” She was smiling from ear to ear, like a kid in a candy shop, the whole time as we zipped from line to line and tree-top to tree-top. Nothing gave me more inner-peace and happiness than to see my mom doing this wildly extreme canopy and loving every minute of it. Each and every day that went by I found myself realizing how quickly time was going by.
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Next thing I know it was Monday morning and we were on the bus home. After the trip home and a last day in San Jose with my mom and grandma, it was time for them to go. I could tell that the two of them wanted so badly just to stay here the rest of the semester with me, at least until then! My mom wanted to go backpacking around the country and my grandma wanted to go on a canopy tour. If there is one thing that tells me, not only did they have a great time out here with me, but also that we have to make our way back out here as a trio, as three generations of Johnson-Dixon women, on a Costa Rican adventure!

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¿¡Turtles!?

Time July 8th, 2009 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

After spending the weekend on the beach with my mom and grandma, I can’t help but think back to the last time I was at the beach, when we went to go save the Leatherback turtles in La Reserva Pacuare. We stayed just off of the main strip of beach and the national park, Tortuguero, where we spent a weekend “roughing it” as volunteers at the site. Some of the students from the study abroad in Costa Rica program decided to volunteer to patrol the beaches Friday, Saturday and Sunday during the high season for Leatherback turtles laying eggs.
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We left early Friday morning because we had a long 4 and a half hour trip ahead of us, we took our microbus from San Pedro to the Caribbean Coast, then a small 14 passenger motorboat for about 20 minutes till we arrived to the small patch of private land, mark 57 at the “Reserva Pacuare.” From the boat launch, we hiked about a half-mile till we got to the wooden cabins we would be staying in. There were three rooms filled with bunk-beds and thin mattresses, no electricity and no running water. We got our water pumped from a well, lit candles at night and to be quite honest, slept very little!
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I say Leatherback “turtles” but whether or not they were really turtles is another question! These monsters looked pre-historic, they were huge, anywhere from 5 to 6 feet some of them. I have never seen creatures so big in my life- not only did we patrol the beach for egg thieves, we erased false exits, placed a bag in the nest to collect the eggs as the turtles deposited them, moved the eggs, dug 2 to 3 foot nests to re-deposit the eggs, nicely placed the eggs in their new home with warm sand on top of them, measured the length and width of their shell, and finally erased the awful mess they left as they returned to the water. To fill you in, false exits occur when the turtle exits the water, but either because they feel the water touches too far up on the sand, or because they could not find an adequate place to nest, they return to the water without laying eggs.
There were three patrol shifts, 8 p.m.- 12 a.m., 10 p.m.- 2 a.m., and 12 a.m.- 4 a.m. in which we were supposed to walk up and down the beach patrolling for Leatherback and Green turtles. My group was set for the first shift on Friday night and we thought that we were so lucky to have the early shift, so that we could get back in time to get some good sleep. The problem was that our super kind, “over-eager” guide had her hands full and started picking up more jobs with her teeth and toes! So after a very long and trying 6 and a half hours, we were done- 3 turtles, 3 false exits, 2 nests, 4 marks, about 3 miles and two rainfalls later, done! I never thought I could be so tired after walking up and down the beach, my arms, legs and head hurt so as soon as my head hit the pillow, I was out cold.
The next day after breakfast, we all hopped into our motorboats to head to the other camp site, on the far end of the beach, 5 miles from our camp. We took a hike and saw handfuls of exotic birds, snakes, lizards and frogs. A couple of the program guys decided they wanted to hike from one side of camp to the other, which was about 5 miles. Although I was exhausted from the trip, I wanted to conquer the trail from one side of camp to another and see the wildlife, so I did! About an hour and a half later, we arrived at camp, just in time for lunch. Afterwards, we all headed to the beach to relax in the water, then with a couple of the locals working at the site and program students, we started a 3 v 3 beach soccer game. We must have played for about an hour and a half and before I knew it, we were down to 2 v 2 because we were wearing people out left and right. The final ended up in a tie and after going back and forth on penalties with the other team, they nailed a shot that we couldn’t return and we lost, pridefully though.
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Saturday night went 100 times smoother and although we managed to get the midnight shift, we ended right at dawn as the sun was making its way up the horizon. Never thought in my life I would see such a beautiful sunrise, but only after 5 hours of hard work patrolling the beaches and only to be returning to our cabins for a few hours of shut-eye. Sunday rolled around and we were off again, to take a hike, to a motorboat, then a 20 min ride, to take a microbus for 4 and a half hours, and finally to take a bus home! All the amazing things this country has to offer astonishes me everyday- beautiful wildlife, majestic beaches, endangered flora and fauna and yet San Jose still manages to give you all the perks and problems of the city life!

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Exempt? Eximida?

Time July 8th, 2009 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

As mid-June approached, it almost felt as if it snuck up on me, a blur of last assignments and exams. The end of classes was nearing, and after finishing up the second cycle of exams, we began to hear word of final exams. As far as me, the two IFSA study in Costa Rica program classes finished in the last week of classes, two other classes from UCR also finished that week and my two law classes had exams scheduled for July 13th and July 17th.What a bummer huh? My exam was the last day of the last week of finals. No matter how much you enjoy your time abroad, finals are always a downer!

The professor of Systems of Investigation and Judicial Reasoning had mentioned that the final might be changed from the 17th to the 7th so I was planning on being back July 14thish, mid-summer for a few weeks with my friends, family and boyfriend back home, and then I’d be back on a plane to Cornell University in mid-August. Then what happened was one day in Introduction to Law, the professor mentioned that there was the option of exemption for some students who had gotten a nine or higher on the two exams and on the class assignments. Wait, you can do that? I never would have thought that would have been a possibility for me at the beginning of the semester being an IFSA-Butler study abroad Costa Rica student, but I realized that I had gotten a nine on the first exam, so who knows? That would mean that I could be done with three out of four classes on the 2nd of July and have a final the 17th, I could have exams the 13th and 17th or, or….I could be exempt from the exam on the 13th and the professor could move the other to the 7th and I would be home the 8th of July. There were so many ifs that I wouldn’t count on anything at that point. Photobucket

Later that week, the professor of Systems announces that we should agree on a date to move the final, at that point some brave soul blurted “el 2 de Julio,” July 2nd. I couldn’t believe it, the thought had never occurred to me, but suddenly I found myself also shouting it out, “el 2 de Julio!” Before I know it, our final was agreed upon for the 2nd of July, now I had to be exempt in my Introduction class, it was just meant to be I thought. I waited what seemed like ages but really was about a week to see what my fate would be so that I could book my flight home before the prices went way up. It was just about three and a half weeks at the latest until I would be leaving.

Thursday came, finally! I sat there patiently with my breath held as she announced the names…”Eva Dixon, y debemos anotar su mayor esfuerza en la clase…,” basically that the class should acknowledge the extra effort I had to put into the class to be exempt. I got a round of applause and congratulations from the entire class and professor. I couldn’t help but blush, it was a real honor. Not only did I get above a 9 on my last exam, I supposed I decided I would just go all out and get a 10, 100%! Exempt! Eximida! Me? Was she sure? Wow! I really did do it! So only a few minutes later did I realize that I would be completely done July 2nd!

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After talking to my professors and program friends, I managed to sneak a flight home planned for July 3rd, just in time to be home for Independence Day! Woo hoo! I would be home to celebrate one of my favorite holidays of the year- fireworks, food, sun, red, white and blue…I couldn’t wait. I called my mom, dad, boyfriend and told my best friend that in a short two weeks, I would be home… Then it hit me, I am home…here in Costa Rica. My home with a family, birthday parties, vacations, beautiful beaches…

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Where in the world then, would I be going?

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Thank God for Thai Boxing

Time June 2nd, 2009 in College Study Abroad | 1 Comment by

The last two weeks have been jam-packed with Costa Rica study abroad program work, sports and volunteer work but have been so much fun because of all the excitement. Monday nights I scrimmage with the Woman’s Futsal team after 3 classes and Woman’s Soccer training-which I have to add that for Futsal I scored two big time goals on Monday to help lead the team to victory! Tuesdays I have been consistently going to the Evolution Thai Boxing gym which is just across the street from the main side of the U.C.R. I knew that when I first saw that gym and all those people running by with hand-wraps on, that it was more than just coincidence-it was destiny! So for under thirty bucks, I get to go to as many training sessions as I can handle in a month. They offer sessions Monday through Saturday five times a day with Yoga two days a week as an option. If that wasn’t enough, today they organized a trip with all the coaches and students from the gym to go paintballing, so naturally I went. It was the first time I had ever been paintballing but I had always wanted to go. I love everything that is part of extreme sports so I was more than ready. It was tons of fun and although I had a lot of new words to learn and tactics to learn, I survived and had an amazing time. I met a ton of people from the gym and got more immersed into the culture with the trip.

Wednesdays I volunteer at a local elementary school, Dante Alighieri, with 3rd and 4th graders, teaching them the game of Futsal, or Soccer five-asides. When I first visited the school, I learned immediately that they didn’t have any physical education program whatsoever, to add to that, they didn’t have any sports equipment like soccer balls at the school. To me, this was a huge thing because personally, I gained many of the values and learned many of my best lessons in the context of sports- soccer specifically. My sense of pride, leadership, co-dependency and loyalty all developed over my years of playing soccer. For a couple hours every week I train with third and fourth graders the art of “Futbol 5.” We started from the basics and are starting to move into team dynamics which is a lot more fun for the kids who get to play more. Its amazing to see how eager these kids are to learn and to play soccer-girls and boys. The first day of classes, I had 14 boys and girls from 4th and 26 from 3rd! I had one ball and had to be really creative with 26 kids under my sole supervision on a concrete soccer field smack in the direct middle of all the classrooms! Anyways, I’m learning as much as the kids are on Wednesdays, everything from coaching, discipline, pronunciation and new vocabulary! Some times I even go to the Evolution Thai Boxing gym later that day to work out all the accumulated frustrations from trying to coach a bunch of 10 and 11 year olds!

Fridays and Saturdays I usually manage to make it to a session of Thai Boxing because Im eager to learn all the new movies and techniques and to one day perfect them. We have learned everything from how to punch, kick, knee and elbow the opponent in various combinations. Also just recently started doing a little light sparring with the coach so he can tell you exactly what to work on. My first time was kind of a blur…probably because for every punch or kick I tried to deliever (key word: tried), I recieved a kick to the thigh or a light punch to the face! Talk about learning your lession- always keep your hands up protecting your face! The last few sessions we also got to learn how to break head-locks and how to throw your opponent onto the mat (that one still needs a lot of work) but the variation of activities keeps me going back excited for a brand new, exciting lesson. Friday this week is altogether different but just as exhilirating, or more! The study abroad in Costa Rica exchange students from the univeristy will be playing a 5 v 5 ‘’Futbol 5’’ game aganist the Human Resources department on this indoor sinthetic field named ‘’El Cuchifrito.’’ I couldn’t be more exicted because two weeks ago, before I played, the two teams met and the exchange students’ team lost 20-9. That only means one thing to me, this time, I know that I am up for the challenge, the rematch, or as they say here ‘’la revancha!’’

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¡Exams!

Time June 2nd, 2009 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Just as the ”Honeymoon” period in a new country comes to an end within the first month or so of being there, exams begin after about the first month of study abroad programs in Costa Rica. After an exhilarating week up at Tamarindo, what better to welcome me home than a two question formatted exams in Systems of Investigation and Judicial Reasoning?

I can’t say that there is anything more refreshing to bring me back into studying in Costa Rica than that. What was I up against? 30 percent, two questions, open book, thought-provoking concepts…etc. Once again, I feel like I did on the first day of classes, nervous and uncertain with a rush of questions circulating through my mind-was I ready? Could I do well-in Spanish? Did I know the material? Exam day comes up, I had thoroughly gone through my notes and readings beforehand and I felt pretty confident. I flipped over the white sheet to face my fear and I was relieved, I actually understood the questions and concepts of the prompts. I still had tons of work to do but I had taken one step forward. The exam took me the entire 1 hour and 50 minutes to complete, but I felt like I did alright. The true test will be when the exam is returned to me…so until then, let me enjoy my peace!

This week was Semana Universitaria (University Week) where there are tons of things to do from bull riding to playing street soccer. As I walked around this week, I saw about 5 different street soccer tournaments, a full soccer game, a mechanical bull, paintballing, jugglers, musicians, concerts, jewelry and clothes being sold, tons of food, candy and students. Students filling the main quad in the front of the university, filling the passage ways between buildings for music and events and soccer and students filling the bars and dance clubs. The highlight of the week is that although some classes are still being held, the professors are not allowed to have exams! That was a relief for me to hear, I would get another break before my next big test…

The tale does not end just yet because low and behold, next week I have another exam, only this time, in Introduction to Law. This should be equally amusing with 4 open-ended questions on about 5 chapters and 6 weeks of notes that accounts for 30 percent of my final grade! Wish me luck! Amazingly, I think I will be ready for it…

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Tropical Tamarindo Tales

Time June 2nd, 2009 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

At the beginning of April this year, a huge religious festival took place, Semana Santa or Holy Week. Its full of parades, masses, pastries and most of all travelling. Everything closes their doors for the last few days of the week and people are encouraged to make their ways to the famous beaches of Costa Rica. People travel from all over the world to relax, surf and go out at the beaches in Tamarindo. I went with a group of three others from IFSA-Butler Costa Rica study abroad program and we headed out Friday afternoon for the six hour trip to Guanacaste. The trip was not nearly as bad as it sounds, the six hours go by in a flash when everything you see on the road is new and exotic.
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We had reservations at a charming little hostel named La Botella de Leche, five minute walk from the beach. There were tables and hammocks that opened up into a mini courtyard, an internet station with two computers, a shared kitchen for cooking and a t.v. with cable and tons of seating around it.
As soon as we arrived and dropped all of our stuff of, it was just after sunset, so we walked to the beach to feel the sand and water between our toes. The water had to be the absolutely perfect temperature, I could just imagine what the next day would be like. We headed back towards the hostel and stopped at the Super Compro to pick up something for dinner. We ended up deciding on spaghetti and managed to buy it and breakfast necesities for all of us for just about 5 bucks each. What a deal! The next morning we woke up around 9 and fixed breakfast before heading out to the beach. When we got to the beach, the sun was blazing hot and its almost as if you could feel your skin frying! We were out at the beach from about 11 to 2 and then made our way back for lunch and to relax. As soon as I stepped in for a shower, I realized that I was head to toe burnt. It was a fiery red and I was scared for how it would feel the next day.
When I woke up Sunday I relaxed for the first half of the day and decided not to go out to the beach until around 4 when the sun was setting. That turned out to be the perfect time of the day to go for beach soccer. I saw a group of ticos playing some pick up soccer on the beach with sticks for goals and I went over and invited myself into the game. I ended up playing an hour and a half and had so much fun. They played me the ball and looked for me just about everytime. Every other time I saw any of those guys playing soccer on the beach or selling beach chairs and umbrellas, I had some friends to talk to!
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Who would have thought that just after about three days of heading to the beach around 3 or 4, that all that burn of mine, would bronze out into a beautifully even tan? I know that I was sure surprised! So I had been really excited about going to Tamarindo because its a surf town and there are tons of places to rent boards and I was dying to try and learn to surf. It took me about four days to muster up the courage to rent a board and go out there, do or die! I needed the first two days to relax and soak up the sun, then another two to scope out the waves and the surf scene. Wednesday rolled around and I rented a board with one of my IFSA-Butler Study in Costa Rica program friends, only 10 bucks the whole day, split between the two of us. Once I get excited about something like surfing, Im completely captivated and engulfed in it. That first day I spent about 4 hours in the water, 3 from when that board first hit the water and then another after lunch! I tried and tried and tried until I finally started to get it at the end of the 3rd hour, so after lunch, I was ready to get back on that board and stay on! The last hour was amazing and it actually gave me hope for picking up surfing as a hobby in the future. Thursday and Friday I rented boards from two different places, looking for the best price and the complete deal. After a few hours on the board and no rash guard, you learn the hard way what those cool looking, fitted shirts are for.
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All in all, I had an amazing time. If it weren’t for the 6 hour bus ride, I would be out there every weekend or every other weekend. Beautiful beach, amazing surf, soccer on the beach and hot, blazing, frying sun- what more could I ask for?

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March Mania

Time March 30th, 2009 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Where do I begin to explain all of the amazing times I’ve had and wild adventures I’ve embarked on? I’ll tell you about Monteverde, classes, birthdays, soccer (which they call futbol 11), futsal (known as futbol 5) and finally top it off with Puerto Viejo. The last few weeks have been absolutely crazy and have gone by so quickly so I sit here trying not only to conceptualize it all, but futher to reflect on it all.


Wow! Monteverde, it was beautiful and relaxing. The four hour trek up to Monteverde was fun, we got to meet our Spanish professor, a really cool guy, and got to enjoy the view. We arrived at the Institute of Monteverde which is this beautiful little plot of land propped way up into the mountains. Later, we met with our families, and as usual, the most kind and sincere people. My host family had three kids, a 14 year old girl, 11 year old boy and a very enthusiastic and playful 2 year old boy. From the first day I arrived, till the day I left, the 2 year old would say, vamos! vamos!, (meaning lets go!) as he played with cars or crayons or anything. Something amazing happened the second to last night I was there, I sat there as my 11 year old brother played music and I talked to him and to his sister about what I like to listen to, and for about an hour he would show me some songs and I took my ipod and hooked it up to the speakers to show them some songs and at the end of the night, I felt like we all bonded. Also, there is no way in this world that I can neglect to mention the day that I went on the canopy tour…AMAZING! For just about $30 I went on a 3 hour adventure zip-lining through the trees and swinging into the jungle. I have so many unforgettable memories from that week in Monteverde.

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I have six classes total- two Introduction to Law courses, two Introduction to Education courses and two IFSA-Butler study abroad Costa Rica program courses. I started off my first day of classes at 7am, woke up around 6, showered, got dressed, ate and I was on the bus headed to class. I must have asked about 5 people where the Law building was but finally managed to find it about 5 minutes past 7. I sat in the classroom feeling so out of place, yet somehow, comfortable. All was well as the professor introduced herself and told us all the expectations of the class, but it came to my surprise that she asked us all to introduce ourselves, one-by-one, stating our hometown, year and why Law interested us. As I saw the people before me stand up and recite their histories, I saw my life flash before me as the realization hit me. I would be speaking publically- in Spanish! All my years of hard work in the US prepared me for moments just like this one, and if I was lucky, I would not be associated with the usual “American accent” when I spoke. As soon as I said my name and my hometown, Los Angeles, all eyes were on me. It went by so quickly and smoothly that it almost felt natural. No sweat! Thankfully, the rest of the day I did not have to introduce myself, but I thought if I did, I would be ready. After my two morning classes, I decided to show up and introduce myself to the women’s soccer coach so with any luck, I could train. I did just that and trained the two hours with the team that afternoon, everyone was so nice and welcoming. The rest of the week went pretty smoothly, when Thursday rolled around and I had my Law class again, it was a little difficult at first to keep up and take notes as the profesor spoke. I felt discouraged by that so I went into the office to talk to one of the staff members, she suggested I borrow a classmate’s notes and photocopy them. What a relief, I thought, I CAN do this! I just finished the 3rd week of classes and have already completed many assignments, spoken in front of the class many times and read tons and tons about all my classes. Look at me now!


March 11th was my little brother’s 5th Birthday! Our family decided to throw a huge Birthday Blowout Bash for him with 60 friends and family members, right here in our very own back yard that weekend. They rented a jumper and bought a pinata for the little ones and my host mom ran around the week before running errands left and right for hours. I helped with decorations, name tags and I packed the goodie bags too! They were full of peanuts, barriletes, gummies, yogurt candies, a toy and crackers, it was so hard not to just dig in and eat the candy! I would have to say that my favorite part was the desert, a delicacy ticos call “granizados” (I call them heaven). They are made up of shaved ice with flavored syrup, powdered milk, cream and sometimes topped off with a scoop of ice cream. Mmmmmm.

Photobucket Photobucket Since the first week of classes I have been training with not only the soccer team, but also the futsal team! I’ve been able to practice at least 3 times a week between the two teams. The girls are so friendly and happy to help me with my Spanish or my soccer. The coaches are completely understanding with me training on both teams and deciding which sessions to a attend. It all seems to click here and all though I’ve had my bumps along the way with Spanish words being mixed or misunderstood, I’m getting by very smoothly. I recall that the first Monday of classes and soccer training that two events helped me grasp a new expression. First, I was in the restroom between classes and bumped into a girl and said “perdon” (which is like excuse me). She replied “tranquilo,” and in that moment I realized its another way of saying “its ok.” Later that same day, in training, I bumped into a girl and knocked her over, I said “sorry” (which they also use in spanish). She replied “tranquilo.” Thoughts raced through my head and I was not sure if that meant “its ok” or if it meant “calm down” (which is the main translation of the word). So that evening, in IFSA-Butler Spanish class, we were given an opportunity to ask questions, and in that moment the professor clarified that it was meant to be understood as “its ok,” and not “calm down.” What a relief!


Last weekend, a few of my friends from the program decided to organize a trip to the Caribbean coast, to Puerto Viejo for the weekend. None of the four of us had class on Fridays so we decided to take the bus out on Friday morning that way we could have more time on the beach. We got there in the afternoon and walked around for about 20 minutes until we found the perfect place to stay. Hostel Pagalu, just 5 min walk from the beach, free internet, an open kitchen, a dorm with two bunk beds and hot water in the showers. At only $9 a night, what a steal! Friday night we ate out at this cute little sea side restaurant and went wandering around until we found this nice open air place with live reggae music and delicious appetizers. Saturday was pretty low-key, it sprinkled a bit so we stayed in the hostel most of the day and decided to have some pizza for lunch and cook our own dinner. After lunch we went to the supermarket and bought our dinner for about 3 bucks a person-grilled hotdogs with onions and peppers and homemade guacamole with chips. It was so delicious, I can still taste the guacamole! Sunday morning my friend and I decided to rent snorkeling gear for the day at only about 1.25! We all walked out to the beach, laid down our towels and I went over to the reef to explore. I only had to go into the water about 20 feet before I saw a colorful array of fish and sea creatures near the reef. I even saw a jelly fish!

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My family is so amazing, my mom cooks delicious food, my dad loves to watch soccer games and can talk about soccer for days and my little brother is absolutely the cutest and sweetest little boy I’ve known. Everytime I would surprise him with a piece of my candy, he would somehow always have a piece of his candy to treat me with. I remember him telling me to close my eyes and when I opened them I had a sweet gram cracker with four little marshmellows and coconut sprinkled on top in my hand. Since then, I’ve been looking for those crackers in the supermarket because it was just about the perfect combination of coconut, marshmellows and cracker imaginable. All in all, I have had an amazing time since I’ve come to study abroad in Costa Rica here and somehow it all feels so normal and so right. I feel as if I’ve lived here before (although thats definitely not the case!). I feel like I could definitely live here one day, in this beautiful country, with these beautiful people. There is nothing like PURA VIDA!

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Communication

Time March 25th, 2009 in College Study Abroad | 1 Comment by

            Communication is a vital part of any trip abroad and life with a host family, without it, we would be lost. Conversation is the key to understanding not only the culture, but the key to SURVIVAL! It all went by in a flash. I arrived Sunday morning, hours before anyone else in the program. After taking a shower and grabbing my camera, I was ready to be like Dora the Explorer. I had a backpack with essentials and I decided to wander around in the beautiful garden at the hotel. I was in paradise–the sights, the sounds, the smell and even the taste of the air was unbelievable. Later on, I met my study abroad Coasta Rica program mates and we spent the whole night getting to know each other. What a variety of faces, colors, sizes, shapes–we were as diverse as the flowers in Costa Rica! The next day was full of incredibly helpful meetings about the host family, the study in Costa Rica program, the country and health topics. In the evening, we all rounded up our bags and we were off to San Pedro to meet our families. How exciting! As soon as I met my sweet, amazing family, I had a sense of relief from all the worry and uncertainty of living in another country. My family was so eager to meet me, get to know me and share their own lives with me. My mom told me all about rules, meal times and family schedules so I can get used to it all and feel as comfortable as possible. At the end of the night, my four year old brother told my host mom that I am the best “gringa” that has ever stayed with them! That night, something truly puzzling and exciting happened, I found myself thinking alone in Spanish! I was copying down some phone numbers and was counting out loud in Spanish without an ounce of awareness. The whole night I continued thinking about what I would do, what I had done, where I was and how I felt–all in Spanish!

            One of the moments that I remember most from my first day was her explanation of the shower, I got the just of it, a few words here and there. It was such a blur because I was still caught in the rush of being in a completely new, foreign place. She said something about cold water, how you have to turn the shower on and then off a little. I got a huge culture shock upon realizing that the water was completely cold! Go figure. I joke about how it took my breath away, but really, it took my breath away. My body reacted to the cold and I needed to take my inhaler shortly after to relax my breathing! Imagine that.  The next two days of showers were no better, although they did serve me well as a sort of “cup of coffee,” as I took them in the early hours of the morning to wake up. This next part is the crucial part of my third day with my family. As I sat down for dinner, I thought I would ask for advice getting used to the cold water to make conversation and to seek help. She said I must be doing it wrong, the water is not supposed to be cold. She offered to help me run the shower the next day, and finally I could breathe again–literally. ¡Pura vida!

 

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Pura Vida

Time February 24th, 2009 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

¡Bienvenidos! My name is Eva and I am about 5 days away from the greatest adventure of my life. Initially, through the application process, all I could feel was the utmost excitement at the very thought of living in Costa Rica. The more newsletters, e-mails and books I read, the more excited I became. I thought gee, I grew up in Los Angeles, what could better prepare you for life in a Spanish-speaking country? I had a Spanish-speaking babysitter, tons of Spanish-speaking friends, I even went to quinciñeras and bilingual masses. I was the epitome of a non-Hispanic, Hispanic. Despite the fact that I was not in the least bit Mexican, I immersed myself into my community and never thought twice about it. After about 6 years of studying the language in addition to that, you might think I would feel confident in my abilities. I felt so ready and anticipated the experience as the highlight of my college experience.

Now, I find myself less than a week away, feeling like I’m wearing a blindfold in a game of tag. I’m re-reading newsletters, e-mails and books, but still feel like nothing can truly prepare you for such an experience. I’m going to look to engage myself in many varied extracurriculars while I’m there- soccer, surfing, futsal, etc. I cannot wait to meet my host family and experience the Costa Rican way of life with them. I am enthusiastically anticipating the meals with my family to be some of the most delicious meals I’ve had because I am particularily fond of Hispanic food. I know my expericences will undoubtubly exceed my expectations but we must wait and see.I want to pack my life into my suitcase, take my Spanish-speaking friend as a translator and bring all my family and friends along with me! As I near my departure, I know that nothing will be certain, everything will be new and my best option is to be as open-minded as possible and embrace the country and culture as a long lost friend. Until we meet again, ¡Adios!

 

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