Student Blogs & Vlogs | College Study Abroad Programs, IFSA-Butler

My Posts

{photos, text, video}

This thing called Culture Shock

Time December 16th, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

For me, the most culture shock I got was on the plane. From looking out of my window seat while still grounded in Costa Rica and seeing the endless foliage, to suddenly flying over Florida’s modernity of endless buildings and lights, my heart was internally screaming to turn around. My whole body felt that this was wrong; I wanted to go back to Costa Rica where my life was simple. What a weird unexpected feeling that was.

After landing and walking into the US airport, I recovered from that initial reaction. I fit right back in here, as if I had never left. This was all familiar to me, and I knew exactly where to go, and what to do. I even bought myself an overpriced, Chinese fast food meal, which I didn’t even know I had been craving for 5 months.

I agree with my fellow Costa Rican blogger, Hilda, the most disappointing part of being home is that I can’t tell the stories right. In my head they are brimming with excitement, and laughs, and picturesque scenes, but as I try to make them come alive for someone else, the same feelings I once had are not relayed. Instead these adventures are either trapped inside of my imagination or the confines of a 4×6” rectangle. It may be sad, but I am beginning to realize that those moments are now for myself to hear the faint echo of laughter and reflect upon the countless adventures that I had the courage to go on.

This whole experience is really about how much you let in. How much you allow yourself to become immersed into the culture. It does not happen naturally, they are direct choices that lead a person to build a life in a new country. How much you let this experience change you. You may change, you may not change, it’s really more of a conscious action that requires more effort than one would imagine. Costa Rica has changed me, if only in the fact that I can no longer stomach the half-hearted impersonation of “rice and beans” here, my taste buds call out for the real Costa Rican counterpart (shout-out to my host mom for cooking utterly delicious food that I may miss the most).

Share

The Airport

Time December 16th, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

I am down to my last couple of hours at the airport in Costa Rica, and am just sitting at my gate, enjoying. This will be the last time I am able to interact with people automatically speaking Spanish. From now on, I will have to ask if they speak the language. Even at the airport, the personnel try to speak to me in English, but I answer back in Spanish not wanting to miss out on my last opportunities. B.C.R. (Before Costa Rica), speaking Spanish was work to me, but here, with my newfound fluidity, I have come to love the sound of it, and the beautiful sayings that are singular to this country.

It’s about having that last gallo pinto for breakfast with guava jelly on my toast. That last mango juice that I sipped slowly. The last crazy car ride to the airport. The last landscapes at the airport that aren’t just the normal gray concrete runways, but instead, clear views of the mountains and greenery. As if calling out to all the travelers to come back again, leaving this image as the last imprint of Costa Rica. My host sister told me she hiked the mountains next to the airport once, but that it was so steep she was basically climbing it, with sweat dripping all the way down through the strands of her hair. This is what Costa Rica is to me, a beautiful land that people enjoy exploring, even if it is challenging, its rewards outweigh the difficulties. Costa Rica may be romanticized a lot, but it is because there is no other way to describe it. Here, what sounds too good to be true, is the truth. This is what life consists of, and it has been amazing to live in a country where the daily normalities are unbelievably beautiful. Although I may have become accustomed to CR, it has never been without abundant appreciation at the same time.

Share

Bucket List

Time November 18th, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

  1. Rappel down a waterfall– completed while in La Fortuna
  2. See baby turtles hatch– at Playa Matapalo, near Manuel Antonio with organización ASVO
  3. La Paz waterfalls– had a toucan sit on my shoulder
  4. Britt Coffee Tour– in Heredia, successfully finished their available samples of coffee and chocolate
  5. Walk on the sandbar whale tail at Playa Ballena– in Uvita, it was as if we were walking on water in the middle of the ocean
  6. Sleep in a tree house– did twice! Once in Limon, had a 45 min hike there in the mud, but still worth it, since they served the best food I had during my whole trip, and we were so high in the trees that the sloths were our little buddies. The second time was at our hostel in Playa Ballena
  7. Visit the Caribbean side, Puerto Viejo– the first place where bikes were the best cheap and also safe option of getting around. Also can you say coconut rice?!
  8. Ziplining/Canopy– at Rincon de la Vieja in Liberia, I got to do it upside down, although there are no pictures to prove it
  9. Go down a waterslide in the middle of the rainforest– sadly, only one I did not do
  10. Eat as much good food as I could find– everywhere I went!
Share

The Turtle Club

Time November 18th, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Turtles, turtles, turtles, may have been the best part of this whole trip. We volunteered for a weekend with the Asociación de Voluntarios para el Servicio en Áreas Protegidas de Costa Rica (ASVO) at Playa Matapalo. We traveled about 40 min away from Manuel Antonio to a small pueblo where one of the sea turtles conservation projects is located. That beach was not only the most beautiful beach I visited, but is also relatively unknown to tourists, so it was empty with only the locals around to appreciate its beauty. The beach is not a national park, so there are several poachers around at night looking to make some easy money. This is also why there are no naturally born hatchlings there now, either the organization removes the eggs from the nest as the mother turtle lays them, then taking them to the hatchery to be safe there, or the poachers get to the nest and empty it’s contents. So our first night there entailed patrolling the open beach in shifts as soon as it got dark, until the first rays of sunrise. It was quite an adrenaline rush, passing poachers (hueveros) on the beach, both of us with the same drive and purpose of finding turtles coming onto shore to lay their eggs. As we walked down the beach with only moonlight and our red-light flashlights (red-light is less detectable to turtles) to guide us, I could not help but give the hueveros my best fierce glare as they passed by. It seemed so weird to be fighting a war over nature, when it is not even ours to own or claim. It was even weirder during the day, walking past locals knowing that they may have been the poachers on the beach the night before. Except that during the day, the fight is put on pause, and everyone is a normal person. No one looks like a criminal, just another human trying to survive. The next night we had shifts at the hatchery, which had rows and rows of turtle nests buried in the sand. Since they hatch at night, we were able to witness over 100 baby turtles hatching from one nest. We then took those babies out to the beach, so they could make their way to the ocean. They weren’t helped to the water because when they are mature enough to lay eggs, they will remember that trek, and return to the same beach where they were born. The next morning we exhumed the turtle nest where they had hatched, and found some live baby turtles that had not been able to sift through the sand by themselves. We took them out to sea as well, to preserve their lives too. After that, the day consisted of naps in hammocks and hanging out at the beach.

For me, this experience was also a way to give back a little to the Costa Rican community and ecosystem, since I did not do any other volunteer work throughout the semester. This experience was also better than just seeing turtles being released, because we were able to be a part of their lives, from saving the eggs from poachers, to watching over them as they began to hatch, to finally sending them off into the sea.

Share

An Ode to Hostels in Costa Rica

Time November 14th, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

To all the hostels I visited during my time here in Costa Rica, thank you. For giving me a place to meet people from all over. For providing an environment that facilitates new friendships. One single community dining table for the whole hostel to share is what brought everyone together and made all the difference. The hostels that had more than one table, is where different groups remained separate and had no need to interact. Thank you to the owners who enjoy lodging tourists and make it not look like work. Thank you for your inspirational selves and showing us what a more permanent expat way of life entails. Thank you to each hostel for being so different, yet the same. To your laid-back style, influencing future apartment decorations. All the hostels I stayed at were clean and had no problems in the hygiene department. Thank you to some for being homey with bunk beds and bookcases, as if I was hanging out in my room. I loved staying at hostels because they gave me a part of home away from home, and since the owners and all the other travelers were away as well, everyone understood what it was like being a foreigner among locals. This, conjured feelings of belonging, as if confirming that I am on the right path, I am not alone in deciding to move to another country. Thank you to the other hostels that put us up like guests at a hotel, with private rooms and air conditioning, while being inexpensive. This was a nice break from the college student studying abroad budget, which let me enjoy and take advantage of trivial materialistic comforts. These made my time here feel like a vacation, and reminded me that I am fortunate to be living here, traveling here, and experiencing life here. Thank you for your smelly hammocks (which seem to be a hostel requirement) that we still laid in and endured, because hammock time is like nothing else. Thank you for reminding me that when I use my hammock that I bought here, I must remember to wash it, unless I want a truly authentic experience. Thank you for giving me a place to learn from my peers, even if it is the simplest life lessons, such as the most delicious meals can consist of bread, topped with apple slices and cheese, cooked in a toaster oven. The times spent in hostels are when our IFSA group bonded the most, since they were the only times where we all lived under the same roof. And for all of these exceptional, distinct, and unforgettable moments, I give thanks.

Share

50.00 lbs

Time November 4th, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

As I said in my first post, I packed for my 5 month-long trip in a day, and actually ended up packing a near perfect amount. There were really only a couple of pieces that were somewhat unnecessary, and maybe one or two items I wish I had.

Besides toiletries, since those items vary depending on the person, here is a list of what I brought in one suitcase and a duffel bag to Costa Rica:

Bottoms

  • 2 pairs of regular jeans (one pair nicer than the other)
  • 2 pairs of cropped jeans
  • 1 pair of hiking zip-off pants
  • 1 pair of comfy loose-fitting pants (saved me while traveling on buses)
  • 8 pairs of shorts (variety of patterned, solid, casual, and dressier)
  • 4 skirts (only used 1)
  • 5 dresses (only used 3, beach dresses)
  • 3 workout shorts
  • 1 workout legging (good for hiking so as not to get bitten as much)
  • 14 pairs of underwear (nice to have this many because laundry)

Tops

  • 7 regular everyday shirts
  • 6 tanks tops
  • 2 long-sleeve chambray shirts (different shades, used all the time as layers)
  • 2 dressier shirts
  • 4 workout shirts
  • 2 sweatshirts
  • 2 rain jackets (one was long, only used the regular one)

Shoes

  • 10 pairs of socks (barely used, mostly wore sandals)
  • 2 pairs of hiking socks (much needed, it sucks re-wearing wet, dirty socks)
  • 1 pair of hiking boots
  • 1 pair of tennis shoes
  • 1 pair of Tevas (or any kind of water shoes, NECESSARY)
  • 2 pairs of flip-flops (1 broke)
  • 1 pair of nicer sandals

Miscellaneous

  • 1 umbrella (sturdy, all my friends’ cheap umbrellas broke)
  • 2 pairs of sunglasses (such a good idea because I lost one)
  • 2 necklaces, 2 pairs of earrings
  • 3 baseball hats
  • 1 big sunhat (saved me many sunburns on the beaches)
  • 1 swimsuit (definitely should have brought more)
  • Band-Aids
  • Pain medication
  • Allergy medicine
  • Imodium tablets (thankfully did not use, but is NECESSARY just in case)
  • Water bottle
  • USB flash drive
  • Memory card for camera
  • Travel toilet paper to-go (ran out quickly, when there is no TP provided which happens more often than I would like)

Wish I had brought: a beach towel, a pair of regular, everyday closed-toed shoes, more cold-preventing medicine, more toilet paper to-go, hand sanitizer, and at least for the rainy season, a comfy, flannel shirt to layer in case it gets a little chilly or rainy.

Should not have brought: nothing in particular, just less of some of the items I listed above that I ended up not using.

Do not recommend bringing travel guidebooks, they just take up space and add weight, so we took pictures of the pages/places we really wanted to remember to visit.

Do not need plug adapters.

Recommend bringing your driver’s license or identification card for going out at night, so you are not taking your passport everywhere, and some places do not accept copies of passports.

Empty wallet of extra cards and change you would not be able to use.

Ticos tend to wear jeans most of the time, even if it is hot, but shorts are not uncommon.

Don’t forget to pack for everyday in a city and attending classes, instead of only thinking about lounging on a beach or hiking.

It was nice to have a backpack just for school; using my duffel bag for traveling. My everyday backpack was not smelly, and didn’t have to be constantly unpacking and re-packing it every weekend.

 

Share

Why you should go to Costa Rica during the rainy season

Time October 21st, 2014 in College Study Abroad | 1 Comment by

There are only two seasons here, and winter is not one of them. It’s called the rainy season; since it doesn’t get any colder, it just rains more. Winter is not coming; Rain is coming. But, everything is more beautiful after the rain, and Costa Rica was probably the inspiration behind that saying. The hues of the abundantly diverse flora are more vibrant against a grey sky since there is no blue backdrop to compete with. There is absolutely no chance of seeing dry, dying plants, because water droplets make the leaves gleam. There is no need to worry about reserving spots or going out of one’s way to buy tickets ahead of time. There are actually no touristy destinations, because the only ones there are the locals. This means more interactions with ticos and getting to practice Spanish more. Ok yeah, the rain in Heredia and San Jose can range from heavy to pouring. (This only happens in the afternoons, mornings are clear) It can be a little annoying because come September, it thunderstorms almost every day around 2pm until the end of October. (July and August are rain-free) However it is a warm tropical rain, which breaks the humidity, so it is welcome. As soon as we leave Heredia though, our travel weekends are full of scorching rays, with sunscreen being the last item anyone would want to forget. Rainy season is the best season, because one can experience both sides of Costa Rica in one semester.

Share

Gringa vs. Immigration

Time October 15th, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

One day I received an email from our local program director, telling me I needed to come to the IFSA office because there were some complications with my Immigration process. Two weeks before she had taken all of our passports to begin the immigration business of applying and obtaining our student visas. During one of the informative lectures she had previously given us, she had asked if we all had 90 days on our tourist visa stamp. I had no reason to believe that mine was not the normal 90 days like everyone else’s, so I had said yes. When they took all the passports they realized that mine read only 30 days, and we were now five weeks into the program. So I was essentially an illegal immigrant.

This little problem of mine needed to be corrected right away, so they told me I needed to leave the country the coming weekend, traveling either to Panama or Nicaragua for 72 hours. This would allow my passport to be stamped once again with a tourist visa when I re-entered Costa Rica. Just the weekend before, one of my friends had asked if I wanted to go to Panama with them, but I turned them down because I had not planned on leaving Costa Rica during my study abroad time here; I did not want any extra complications. Out of the whole group I was the only one who did not want to leave Costa Rica at any point, and of course I was the only one being forced to.

In the end the trip became difficult to plan since I would have gone by myself, so I was given an alternative. There was a fine of $100, and then my visa would be back on track. This option was much better for me personally, since the trip to either country would have easily ended up costing more.

Apparently I am the first student in the Costa Rica program to have had this problem, so I would advise paying attention when Customs is stamping one’s passport. A Costa Rican tourist visa could be 15, 30, or 90 days, depending on the whim of the customs official.

 

Share

Hot Days and Glowing Waves

Time October 8th, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

My first travel weekend was unlike anything I could have ever even dreamt up.

It was our first real “free” weekend without any orientation schedules or previously planned details. It was the first weekend after our extremely slow and tiring week of classes in Spanish. That first weekend was a boon for everyone.


Most of our school schedules worked out well by having both Mondays and Fridays free. This has extended every weekend so there is more free time than school time. So the first Friday without classes, a group of us decided to go on our first weekend trip, to Nicoya, then onto Nosara. There was a festival being held in Guanacaste celebrating its annexation from Nicaragua to Costa Rica. We arrived early to our bus station in San Jose, and sat there for a while trying to sort through our disorientation.
Read More »

Share

The Truth Behind Tico Time

Time September 24th, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Tico Time is in fact a very real and scary illness. But it is a regional ailment, and not contagious; at least that is what I have come to realize while being the only one who is ever early/on time or even checking the clock.

With the phrase “Pura Vida” being the trademark for the country of Costa Rica, I wasn’t sure how much of saying affected the way of life. Daily life in the United States revolves around the amount of sunlight there is in a day to accomplish everything. Interestingly, during the winter/rainy season the sun rises much earlier in CR, around 4:30 in the morning, and sets around 6pm. Since the sun sets earlier it seems as though half of the tico day takes place in dark.

My host family in Liberia in particular did not seem concerned or aware of the time, and since they were my first impression of CR, I was extra attentive and affected by them. Since they lived on a ranch, their house was the farthest away, so they had to drive into town to go to their jobs and drop me off at the bus stop. The night before my first orientation day I asked what time we would be leaving, and they told me 8am. We ended up not leaving until 8:30am, and this happened every morning, being late by more than a couple minutes. Even though they were running late, not one of them looked at the time or seemed to be in a hurry. This was surprising not only because of the seeming lack of concern of their jobs, but also because my host mom owned a business. When I asked her what time she opened it in the morning she told me 9am the first time, then the next day she said 8am. Closing time was the same, when I arrived at her business after orientation, I asked when she closed and she said in a bit, then just decided to close right then. Although I am sure she cares deeply about the success of her business, there does not seem to be the same type of idea of professionalism seen in the US. Instead of being focused on the customer, at least in my host mom’s case, her business seemed to be more about something she enjoys, based on her own desires and conveniences.

Another experience with tico time that I was extremely bothered by was when my host mom and I were visiting at her sister’s house. We had gone there straight after I got out of orientation, so I was tired and when I finally asked when we would be leaving, she said soon. Two hours later we were on our way home. In the moment I was furious, believing it completely inconsiderate to waste someone else’s time, because I was expecting a specific ending point. After some perspective I realized that she was just valuing the time she had to catch up and share with her sister. The rest of my host mom’s family that lived with her: her 30 yr. old son, his girlfriend, the son’s two teen children, and nephew, all shared one bed in a cramped room, so I could have a room all to myself. They also all piled into the backseat meant for three, so I could sit in the passenger seat of the car without any difficulty. They may have complained internally, but not once did I hear them say anything negative about the situation. Instead, they all seemed happy to be together. Where I live, dinner may be cut short because one of us needs to be somewhere at a certain time, or the four of us each drive a different car to all of our individual commitments. Even once we all get home, we retreat to our corners of the house for some “much needed” time alone. Here, their time together is truly cherished.

Share

Como se dice Orientation?

Time September 4th, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Como se dice Orientation? This was the defining phrase of our first 2 weeks in Costa Rica.

Thankfully, our required Spanish class began right away, making me a little less nervous about attending the university later on, especially since it meant we would have at least one class with just each other. The teacher was also the same one that we would have while taking this class at the Universidad Nacional. More than just a Spanish class, this is a Costa Rica class, teaching us about the country, culture, and costarriquenismos. It is a survival course.

We spent the first week of our orientation in Liberia, which is in the north, and northern Costa Rica is extremely hot, but more importantly, humid. So even though the showers only had cold water, they were extremely inviting after sweating through one’s clothes all day. Instead of cold showers feeling as if I am voluntarily giving myself a heart attack, it was refreshing and a welcome temperature here, making one feel human and revived again.

When I found out that I had applied to study in Costa Rica during the winter/rainy season, I thought the amount of traveling and activities would be greatly reduced, but for orientation I think it was just as eventful as studying in the spring.

We went to two beaches, but would greatly recommend Playa Ocotal over the nearby touristy Playa de Coco. Playa Ocotal was on the smaller side, but the privacy definitely wins out along with the warm, clear water. At Playa de Coco, the water was murky and since we couldn’t see, one has to shuffle their feet so the stingrays can sense where there is movement.

Rincon de la Vieja Volcano, that’s where I crossed off almost half of my Costa Rica checklist within the first week with: hiking, zip lining (called canopy here), tubing, and mud baths. Tubing is a must, and was everyone in the group’s favorite activity. For this only pictures can capture it, and just know it comes highly recommended (Don’t forget to read the captions).

As a last note, I would recommend bringing your regular smartphone because if you turn it to airplane mode you won’t get charged, and can still use it at the many places that have Wi-Fi. Every single person in our group has done this, so they can still call other iPhones with FaceTime, and with the app Viber you can call any phone, but it needs to be downloaded before getting to Costa Rica. Then we bought the cheapest phones we could find here, mine was $20, and the provider is Kolbi ICE, or bring an old phone from home, and just get a different SIM card to use while here.

Share

Packing/Flight/First Day

Time August 1st, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

One day before my flight to another country for almost half a year, and my suitcase was still empty in the corner. The only reason I decided to finally start packing was because the other students were posting on our Facebook group about taking excess items out of their luggage to lighten their load and avoid over packing. I could no longer deny it, I was moving to another country the next day. Although I was fortunate enough to be traveling to not only a new place, but Costa Rica, I was in denial, and with each passing day the I wanted to go less and less. Every time someone asked me about the trip I always replied saying how excited I was, but somewhere along the way I stopped believing the words. Initially when I applied to this Costa Rica program my school did not have the dates available, so I just assumed it was similar to all the other study abroad programs that start in August and end in December, like a normal semester. It wasn’t until after I had already committed that I found out the Costa Rican semesters were different, and I would start in July and be back in November. You would think that one month earlier was not a big change, but for me it made all the difference. I normally go to school on the complete opposite side of the country from where my family lives, so this time I only had a month and a half of summer instead of the usual three.

After finishing packing a couple hours before my flight, I had some time to spare, psshh I had time to kill! I had decided not to take the group flight, which for me was more expensive and less convenient, so instead I had arranged to arrive at the Costa Rican airport around the same time as another student. We met up in the baggage claim area, finding each other easily since the airport was small with only two luggage carousels for all the incoming flights. There we spoke our first words of Spanish to take a taxi to the hotel, beginning our switch over to another language.

At the hotel we got our first dose of Costa Rican culture since we arrived at the same time as the start of the World Cup quarter-final game of Costa Rica vs. Netherlands. We knocked on the hotel (more of a bed and breakfast) door and waited for about ten minutes for them to respond, all the while listening to the game playing and them shouting. They were not about to miss the world cup kickoff for a couple of gringos. When they finally answered the door they immediately ushered us to a couple of seats next to the TV and handed us some drinks so they could get back to game. So there we sat amidst the ticos who were cheering and cursing at each player’s every move. After 2 or 3 hours, we were just as devastated as they were to lose by one penalty shot, and everyone held a moment of silence out of respect for the players. Throughout the whole game the city had been quiet, and the streets empty, since everyone was inside huddled around TVs. Now all the previously planned victory parties were beginning, because going this far in the World Cup was a win for Costa Rica.

In just 10 hours I had gone from calm cool California to intense humid Liberia, Costa Rica, and unbelievably there is only a one-hour time difference between the two.

Share