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Guanacaste

Time July 7th, 2014 in First Generation Scholars | No Comments by

One of my last weekends in Costa Rica consisted of a weekend trip to Guanacaste. Five of my friends from the IFSA-Butler program and I grabbed a bus early in the morning and went to one of the few places in Costa Rica left for us to visit. This was a tough trip as most of us were in finals but when would we ever live in Costa Rica for six months again? We booked a pretty nice hotel room for pretty cheap between the six of us. It had two rooms (3 of us in each), two bathrooms, a decent sized kitchen with pots, plates and everything you could need to make a meal. We cooked most of our meals and chipped in to buy groceries. This made the trip affordable. The hotels in Guanacaste at this point tend to be less crowded with tourists and more with Natives. Since it is rainy season, there tend to be fewer tourists and the prices become more affordable for ticos.

 

This weekend was a very relaxing one. The girls who had more homework, their books. I was one of them, and I read my textbook on the beach. Not ideal when you are on the beach but it’s a compromise for the best of both worlds.Three of my friends ran a 5K during one of the days we were there.  At night we went out to the local places and got to know some of the natives. We went to this great restaurant which was owned by an Australian, we sang Karaoke and danced a lot. It rained everyday that we were in Guanacaste and the streets were covered in dead toads so lookout when you’re crossing the rainy streets of Guanacaste. Guanacaste was beautiful, and the beach was very close to the hotel but my favorite place in Costa Rica is still Puerto Viejo. Future travelers beware, when traveling to Guanacaste think about the things you want to do before booking a hotel. The hotel we stayed at was far from all of the action, we had to take cabs but split between all of us, it was affordable.

My friends who ran the 5K, a yummy fish dish (forget the name), Karaoke and fried Ice Cream: 

 

 

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el mundial – Fútbol

Time July 7th, 2014 in First Generation Scholars | No Comments by

The World Cup started during my last week in Costa Rica! Fútbol, as soccer is known in the Latin American world, is a big deal in Costa Rica. I thought soccer was a boring sport before studying abroad and now I love it. The Costa Rica team played two days before I was set to return to the United States. All of the ticos that I talked to about during the days before the match had lost all hope. I talked to my fellow classmates in the University full of energy and excitement about the Costa Rican team but they weren’t very hopeful. All of the abroad students did not give in to this pessimism, we believed! The ticos had been let down during previous world cup tournaments, their doubt was understandable. The foreigners however were knew to this whole business, so we believed.

 

The day of the match between Costa Rica and Uruguay finally arrived and we were all with our respective families watching the game. Costa Rica made their first goal, and my house and Costa Rica erupted with cheers. It was amazing to see the country come together for this occasion. Ordinary life went on but with Fútbol. All of the buses, were playing the games on the radio, everyone driving by in their cars honked their horns to cheer with the rest of the country. It was amazing to experience Costa Rica win a game in the World Cup, especially since it was a team that no other country expected to do well. There was little hope in them and they have come very far. Living there for six months has made me feel as if that team also represents me. I cheered for USA and Costa Rica.

Pictures of the celebration on the streets of Costa Rica: 

 

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Rio Tárcoles Trip

Time May 19th, 2014 in First Generation Scholars | No Comments by

Two weeks ago, I had the experience of a lifetime. Friends of my family were on vacation in Costa Rica and invited me to join them on a Rio Tárcoles trip and a guided tour of the Carrara Reserve. The Carara reserve was very nice with a lot of species of birds I had never seen before and I saw a Bat up close for the first time. The interesting part of the day was the Tárcoles river. Being in Costa Rica a couple of months I was well aware that the Tarcoles river is the most polluted in all of Costa Rica and that most importantly, crocodiles live there!

Imagine my shock when  I was invited on this trip? I didn’t think people gave tours of Costa Rica’s most polluted river, let alone crocodiles! Although I was afraid, I could not help but wonder what this trip would be like. So I agreed. It was a pretty safe trip. We were all on a boat with a driver and a tour guide. When they find a crocodile, they get out and feed it, and the crocodile does not eat the guide. I was very afraid it would. Apparently, the tour guides have established relationships with the crocodiles and the crocodile chooses not to eat him.

 

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La Fortuna

Time May 19th, 2014 in First Generation Scholars | No Comments by

This past weekend I went to La Fortuna with my IFSA group. The journey there was about four hours and half way there we stopped in a small town called Zarcero. In Costa Rica, many of the parks have churches in them. We are accustomed to seeing them by now but this park and this Church were different than the ones I have seen in Costa Rica. I actually took pictures of this one.

After Zarcero we continued our Journey to La Fortuna, where I saw a Volcano for the first time in my life. The Arenal Volcano is famous for an eruption in 1968 that killed and destroyed around 100 people and two towns. During the eruption, there was another crater created below the original one. When it is not cloudy in La Fortuna, both craters of the Volcano can be seen. The first day we took a tour of the Lake Arenal which is a man-made Lake and is responsible for 40% of Costa Rica’s electricity. The top of the Volcano was covered by the clouds on the first day. Later that night we were able to enjoy the Hotel El Silencio del Campo’s hot springs.

The next day we took a tour of the National Park in La Fortuna and were able to get closer to the Volcano and had an amazing view of the Lake below. It was a clear day and we were able to see the entire volcano clearly from the Hotel. La Fortuna was a beautiful and relaxing trip.

 

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Puerto Viejo <3

Time April 9th, 2014 in First Generation Scholars | No Comments by

Puerto Viejo is by far my favorite place in Costa Rica. Unfortunately it is the farthest place that I have been to. Going there on a Thursday afternoon, the bus ride was almost 5 hours, but on the way back it was about 4. Even so, this place is absolutely worth it. I had an amazing time! The beach is beautiful it is sandy and the water is a beautiful light blue color. What makes it better is that my brother was visiting that weekend so I got to spend one of my favorite weekends in Costa Rica with him.

The first thing we did was rent bikes. We were able to rent them for $5 a day. They were very helpful because the nice beaches are away from the center of town where most people stay. The breeze from riding the bikes also helped with the heat. At the beach the first day we rented boogie boards and I learned to boogie board. It was so much fun. The night life was also nice, everyone went to the same few places that were open but I think that just contributed to the fun of it all.

The second day we were in Puerto Viejo we rode our bikes down to Manzanillo. This was about an hour bike ride but it was definitely worth it and a lot of fun in a group. On the way there we saw black monkeys that are called Congos. And on the way back, I got to see a Sloth all cozy in a tree. One of the great things about the ride was that there were huge hills that make riding your bike there a lot of fun. We didn’t spend a lot of time at the beach in Manzanillo because it started to rain but it was just as nice as the other beaches in Puerto Viejo. The waves are much calmer the beach at Manzanillo is more like a cove.

I can’t wait to go back. Puerto Viejo is my favorite place in Costa Rica so far.

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Vamos para el puerto

Time April 9th, 2014 in First Generation Scholars | No Comments by

One of the last weekends in February consisted of a day trip to Puntarenas for Carnival. During this time everyone in Costa Rica goes to Puntarenas to  celebrate. Reservations are made weeks in advanced so trying to find a last minute place to stay in Puntarenas during Carnival is nearly impossible. Luckily the bus ride from San Jose is about 2 hours so it was easy to make it into a day trip.We left early Saturday morning and then took a bus back that night.

I have never seen so many people in one place during my time in Costa Rica. Everyone in Costa Rica goes to Puntarenas during this time, well at least it felt that way. The fastest way to get anywhere during this time is by walking on the beach and then getting back onto the sidewalk when you’ve gotten close enough to your destination. Everything Carnival related happens on the main strip called Paseo de los Turistas. The street vendors, restaurants and bars are mostly located on this strip as well.

Carnival is about two weeks long and everyday consists of different activities. The day that we went there was a reggae concert put on by Inner Circle, it was a  lot of fun. There were so many people and everyone was dancing and singing and just having a great time. We spent some of the day  at the beach. The beach at Puntarenas is nice. The water during this time was not too cold or too warm. It’s a sandy beach, no rocks. From the beach you could hear the music, we had a great time dancing in the water and watching all of the Ticos dance. At night, there was a parade down the Paseo de los Turistas. There were different groups advertising things but then also what seemed to be a lot of dance academies showing off their skills. The dancers were amazing. The performers all wore cool costumes and we even got to see some cool mime acts. The audience loved the parade and you could see people dancing and clapping along to the beat.

If you’re ever in Costa Rica during Carnival, this is not something you want to miss. Even if only for a day, go check it out.

 

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Classes at the U

Time March 14th, 2014 in First Generation Scholars | No Comments by

Most of my classes are once a week except for the IFSA advanced spanish class, that one meets twice a week. During the first week of classes I changed my schedule many times. When we were registering for classes Tracy and Teresita (our program directors) advised us to sign up for more than 5 classes, this would give us a range of classes to choose from in case there are classes we don’t like. A word to the wise, when Teresita and Tracy suggest something listen to them. I only registered for 5 classes and during that first week I dropped and changed classes many times because there were three classes I did not like. This was limiting when it came to dropping a class and replacing it with another because you are only allowed two weeks to make these changes without having to provide justification and since classes are once a week, I already missed the first class in some of the classes I wanted to switch into. I had to gamble and hope that I would like the classes I switched into.

On the bright side, all of my classes are fine now. The professors are all welcoming and willing to work with exchange students. IFSA students are also provided with the comfort of knowing we could get a tutor for any of our classes through IFSA if we feel that we need one. They will pay the tutor. One of the things that I like about UNA classes is that group work is common. When I first learned this I sighed, just like most of the other students in my program, I hate group work! Here is the deal, as an exchange student who is studying the language, group work is beneficial. Groups can be a good support system to clear up anything that wasn’t so clear in class.

Group work makes it easy to get to know other ticos at the university. The students here enter the university already starting classes for their majors, unlike in the United States where most of us do not have to declare a major until the end of our sophomore years. Since everyone declared their majors in the beginning, they all take the same class together at the same time so everyone already knows each other. This can make it hard for a foreigner to get to know the classmates especially since most of us studying abroad are not in our first year of college so we take second year or third year courses from different majors.

I am currently taking an Ecology class and the truth is that I don’t know the first thing about ecology but there is a lot of group work. The professor does his best to explain things in a clear manner but my group also makes an effort to make sure I understand. We have quizzes every time there is a reading but the nice thing about this is that we take the quizzes with our groups. This turns what could have been a boring quiz into a fun game that you do well on because at least one person in the group is likely to know the answer or there is a group effort in figuring it out. Another cool thing about this course is that there are four field trips and two of them are overnight. We already went on one of them and although they are educational they turn out to be fun because we spent time with our Tico classmates and get to know them better than we would just seeing them in class.

 

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Vamos para la playa

Time March 14th, 2014 in First Generation Scholars | No Comments by

Since arriving in Costa Rica, one of the things I really wanted to do was go to the beach. Before arriving in Costa Rica I thought the beach would be very close and that I would be able to go anytime.  The truth is that Heredia is in what is called the Valle Central or the central valley. The closest beach is probably about an 1 hour – 1hour and 1/2 away. The great thing about Costa Rica is that you could pretty much take a bus to get anywhere and it’s inexpensive. My friends and I decided to take a bus to a beach called Jaco for a weekend and stay at a hostel.

We chose Jaco as our first beach trip since it was relatively close (1hour and a half). We just wanted to go to the beach, we were so excited to go. Here’s the thing about Jaco, if you ask a Tico about it,they’ll tell you it’s not a nice beach but like the explorers that we are, we decided to find out for ourselves. Jaco was a nice beach but what I think the Tico’s were getting at is that Jaco itself is very commercialized. In other words, a lot of the fast food chains you could find in the US, condos, everyone spoke english, etc. I really liked that there’s a main strip where everything from the restaurants and shops were located.

The next day, I decided to go to Manuel Antonio, which according to the Ticos has nicer beaches than Jaco. I agree with the Ticos I thought it was a nicer beach but I also noticed that I didn’t see any of the fast food restaurants like I saw in Jaco. I wonder if that has anything to do with it. The nice thing about Manuel Antonio is that there is a national park. You could go on a hike and then relax on one of the park’s nice beaches. There was also a nice market area where there were a lot of locals selling hand made things, I bought a couple of bracelets here. Sadly, I was only able to spend a couple of hours here but it is a place I will travel to again before I leave Costa Rica!

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Adjusting to the Pura Vida

Time February 10th, 2014 in First Generation Scholars | No Comments by

This morning I scrolled through my Instagram news feed and saw pictures of the recent snow storm in New York. I was instantly reminded of what I left behind in the United States. Although I have no regrets about skipping the Winter, it is strange to think that I have another life. I feel like I have been in Costa Rica longer than two weeks. During my first week of orientation in Monteverde, I missed my family more than I ever thought I would. In Monteverde we had early days and it was easy not to miss them but when I had free time I was able to feel how much I actually missed my family. For me, actually talking to someone in my family, even it wasn’t everyday made me feel better. One day I talked to my sister on FaceTime and another day I used Skype to talk to my parents, it eased things for me. I also made a conscious effort not to succumb to my sadness. Although I did not feel happy and excited I encouraged myself to go places with my friends in the program. I didn’t think it would help but it did.

I still miss my family now of course but I feel more excited to be in Costa Rica! It is a beautiful country. Monteverde is a different atmosphere then Heredia, it has a small town feel, where Heredia feels like a city. For that week, we (IFSA-Butler students) took a spanish class and participated in a lot of activities at the Monteverde Institute. Everyday we had to walk to the Institute where a wide array of activities and great food awaited us. We learned to dance a traditional dance called EL Punto Guanacasteco, this was a lot of fun. We dressed in the traditional clothing and put on a performance at the institute for all of our host families in Monteverde. We also had Tico friends who showed us around. With them we went to a waterfall, climbed a tree from the inside, went zip lining, took a tour of a coffee plantation.

After a week in Monteverde we traveled to Heredia and met our host families for the rest of our stays in Costa Rica. Our host families were very excited to meet us and happy to have us. I love my host family. I have two older sisters which I love, since I have always been the oldest in my family, a host mom and a dog.For the most part, the second week of orientation has been registering for classes, making Tico friends in Heredia, eating good food, Visa stuff, and touring Heredia and San Jose. Although these things sound like a lot and like they can be overwhelming, it wasn’t.  IFSA-Butler had everything planned in a calendar, it was easy to know what we would be doing each day and what to bring.

Classes start on Monday, I’m very excited to start! Until next time!

 

 

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Predeparture – 72 hours

Time January 22nd, 2014 in First Generation Scholars | No Comments by

It’s the summer of 2011 all over again. I have conflicting emotions about my upcoming adventure.  I faced feelings of regret. The closer the day came the more I kicked myself for deciding I needed to take such a big step. The more preparations I made, the more nervousness that set in. I did not know it then, but leaving home for college would be one of the best choices I made for myself. Now during the winter of 2014, as I face similar feelings, I hold on to the knowledge that 5 months from now I will be thanking myself for making another great life choice.

The closer I get to my departure day, the more I realize what is actually happening to me. I am leaving my culture and embracing another for 5 months. I will speak a different language every day! How will I possibly do this? I know that other people have done this but does that mean that I can? How will I behave? Will I be able to make friends? Will I like my host family? And to make matters worse, New York has a snowstorm hanging above it, ready to doom all flights. Currently, some of this fury is set to be unleashed on the day that I should be flying to Costa Rica, what if my flight gets delayed?

Luckily, IFSA-Butler has been able to calm my nerves. Yesterday, as I tried to begin organizing some of my things, I started to feel like I didn’t know where to start. When all of a sudden, as if she knew what I was thinking, my mother appeared with a packet that she forgot to give me. It was a Packet from IFSA that contained a Preparing to Study Abroad booklet, it is exactly what I needed. The book has become my survival guide. Reading it, has put me at ease, with what to pack, what not to forget, and tips on living with your host family along with many other things. You name it, IFSA thought of it. I’m happy to be studying abroad with a program that provides enough support.

IFSA-Butler has also been helpful with calming my parent’s nerves. My mother worries like it is a profession. Her main concern is my safety but it is comforting for her to know that our homes will be located in safe neighborhoods and that we are not alone in Costa Rica. There is an IFSA office ready to offer support if I so need. In addition, living with a host family will make living in a foreign country easier, especially since they have first hand experience on life in that country.

Getting ready to study abroad, there is a lot of worrying that is done but there’s also an equal amount of excitement! Hopefully the snow will allow me to get to Costa Rica on schedule and soak up some sun and adventure. Stay tuned for less worrisome blog posts and adventures!

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