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Coming Home

Time December 2nd, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Dec 1, 2014

It’s been exactly five months since I embarked on this crazy journey commonly referred to as study abroad. It’s been a little more than a week since I’ve been home and in that time I have managed to unsuccessfully unpack my suitcase (on the contrary, I think the stuff in and around my suitcase has actually multiplied), while simultaneously managing to successfully work my way through a good deal of delicious Thanksgiving leftovers.

Simply put, I am happy to be home. Of course, there are things I miss about Costa Rica, but by the end of my whole adventure I was more than ready to come back home. Four and a half months of growing pains gets to be a little… well, painful. No, no, painful isn’t the right word, maybe overwhelming? Not right either.

Okay, analogy time: It’s like that feeling when you stretch in a way that hurts, like really hurts. But it’s a good hurt. It’s the kind of hurt that extends deep into your muscles and all the stored-up tension you didn’t realize was there. It’s the kind of hurt that lets you know you’re doing something that is ultimately good for your body, something that your body needs. And so you gather up some courage and steel yourself. You push through the smoldering pain, trying your hardest to take your mind away from the pain and instead find peace in that moment. You manage to succeed to some degree and the pain becomes background static to your inner harmony. But even then it’s audible, and somewhere deep inside you can’t help but think ‘When will this be over??’ And when you finally come out of the stretch it’s like a huge wave of water crashing down on the shore; it’s a complete and total release. From the tips of your toes to the roots of your hair, you’ve let go. No more tension, no more effort. You can fully and completely relax. A smile of relief begins to creep onto your face. You’re proud because you made it, you’re happy because your body feels good, and you’re at peace because you’re done. No more effort, you’re home.

Alright, great analogy Hilda, but what’s a concrete description of your experience? I can’t say. I can’t say that I’ve really experienced any reverse culture shock, but if there is anything I’ve realized since coming back it’s that I have no idea how to describe my experience. Either that, or I just don’t want to. When people ask about it, I can tell that what I say isn’t enough for them, or that my answer is unsatisfyingly generic or cliché. But I’m at a true loss for words that might somehow explain what my experience was like. And so, that’s my culture shock. I had four and a half months of incredible experiences and I can’t share them. I just don’t know how. But I think with time I’ll learn how. I think I’m still in the process of letting go; the wave is still crashing down on the shore, and until it’s done there’s just no way I’ll be able to see through to the depths of my experiences and make sense of them.

 

So, until then, I’ll just wait. Thankfully, school doesn’t start for another month so I’ve got time. I’ve got time to wait and process. And meanwhile I can enjoy my family, friends, and home that I so sorely missed!

Signing off for good.

 

Ciao-ito,

Hilda

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Wrapping Up

Time November 17th, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Well hey there friends! It’s been a while hasn’t it? How fitting of a title given that the semester is just about over and the Christmas season (and presents) are right around the corner… or if you’re in Costa Rica (like me!), the Christmas season is already very much here (yeah, they get their decoratin’ on real early).

So, first things first, to summarize what I’ve been up to since my last revelatory post of pure gold: I went on my last two field trips for ecology, we had our last IFSA gira, (AWESOME), I had a good fill of almost-all-nighters (finally had to do all those papers and projects I hadn’t worked on throughout the semester), we had our official IFSA despedida, I took exams and picked up final grades, and, most importantly, I took advantage of every free minute (and even those that maybe weren’t technically all that free) and just tried to enjoy and soak in every little thing that has made this experience special.

Now, second things second, to give some recommendations for the person who isn’t a relative of mine that is reading this out of love and a certain sense of obligation and is instead reading this blog because he actually wants to read something useful.

1) COMMUNICATE. If you really want have a good family experience, communicate.  It doesn’t matter if you “can’t speak Spanish”, it doesn’t! Just TRY. Try and share something, anything, about your day to show that you are interested and that you want to be a part of the family. Or ask a question, a stupid one, it doesn’t matter. JUST TALK. And if something isn’t going well between you and your family, COMMUNICATE IT TO THEM. I promise, direct communication (even when it’s scary and uncomfortable) will help you have a great family relationship and will help you to have a great experience overall.

2) OPEN YOUR HEART. Perhaps my most important recommendation, or really the only rule you need to live by to enjoy your experience. Open your heart to everything. To EVERYTHING. To the culture, the language, the people, the food, the beautiful, the strange, the dirt, the grime, the not so beautiful, and the difficult. Be open to every part of this experience, including the most challenging and trying parts. Open yourself up and you’ll receive so much more than you could ever expect, and you will be beyond impressed by the person you will grow to become by the end of it all. And ,of course, you’ll take back a ton of beautiful memories from a fulfilling and valuable experience!

Third things third: Yeah, so I officially have two days left of the program, but really only one day before I leave for a last short trip through Costa Rica and then return home (bittersweet hurrah!!). And more than anything, I just feel weird. I just can’t (and maybe don’t want to and am not ready to) process the fact that I’m done. That this experience has come to an end. Done. Over. I’m excited to go home. Beyond excited in fact. But at the same time, it’s just hard to wrap (haha, look at that) my mind around the fact that I’m leaving. I’m actually leaving. WEIRD.

And with that, I leave you guys for what I hope is not the last time (Yeah, I know you were getting real worried this would be it). I should probably go clear all of the junk that is still on my bed from my attempt to pack earlier. Sooo…. Bye!

With love,

Hilda

P.S. Sorry for all the caps and parenthesis, I guess I was just feeling really paranthetical and emphatic.

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Starry, Starry Night

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

With a slight burn in my thighs from the climb up the hill, (the hill that some days, like this one, feels like a full on mountain) to go home, I looked out across the valley that lay below. Spewed across the folds of the valley were little balls of pink, and white, and yellow, and even the occasional blue or green. Balls that glowed and glimmered happily as if they were each a tiny flame nestled in the velvety black wrinkles of the mountainsides, so that all together it was a starry soup of color and life. I stood there for a couple of seconds taking it in, running my eyes over everything, willing myself to capture every single detail of this moment so that I could hold on to it long after it passed.


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The Little Things

Time September 29th, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Slowly but surely, I have fallen in love with this little green country known to most as Costa Rica. I can’t say exactly what it is that has endeared me so, I just know that I can’t help but feel affection for the colorful mess that lines the streets and dots the countryside. If I force myself to think about it, there are several little things that have come together to make this an unforgettable experience. Things like the indescribable amazingly delicious warm (can a smell be warm?) smell of bread that wafts out panaderías at almost all times of the day, or the tender motherly gaze that comes so easily to all women past a certain age, or the unbelievably beautiful emerald-green mountains that line the horizon, or the willingness of most everybody to accommodate and serve, or the soft breeze that tickles the golden rays of sun that were just starting to burn, or the rumbling of the early evening train taking tired faces from San Jose back to Heredia after a long day of work, or the general feeling of community and pride. The list goes on. And I know that long after I return home, it’s these little memories, these smells, and sounds, and sights, and tastes, that will drift back to me and warm my heart and paint a smile on my face as I remember my sweet little Costa Rica.

Hasta luego (though hopefully not too much later),

Hilda

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Ruminations (1)

Time September 3rd, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Why study abroad? Before leaving I would have said “TO TRAVEL!!”, just like that, all caps and bold with exclamation points at the end. In the months leading up to my departure my expectations, hopes, and dreams for my study abroad experience all focused on traveling. I had essentially planned to spend every second of the day I wasn’t in class traveling. My desire to travel was almost obsessive and, in my last hours in the US I was almost numb from the idea that I was finally going to see all that I had dreamed about for the last month. And then I got here.

For various reasons, I slowly came to realize that my vision of nonstop travel was not going to become my reality. It was a painful realization and, one that I fought with anguish and tears. I had convinced myself that the only way to fully take advantage of this opportunity was to see every last square inch of Costa Rican soil and then some. But lo’ my epic Costa Rican adventures were not to be! So the question became, if I’m not traveling then what? If I don’t spend my weekends traversing through the beautiful emerald green cloud forests atop tamed jaguars does that mean I’m doing this (studying abroad) all wrong?

I’m sure for some people study abroad is essentially an extended vacation where they see and experience a million places outside of their homestay city. And that’s a beautiful, valuable, and perfectly valid, way to spend one’s months abroad. But I’ve learned that that’s not the only to make a study abroad experience. So, how do you study abroad “right”? You do what makes you happy and don’t forget that you decide what makes a valuable and worthwhile experience. Whatever it is and wherever you are, you just have to dig in deep and keep in mind that it is your experience. Study abroad is about immersing yourself. Whether that means immersing yourself in what’s at hand, or immersing yourself in what’s a little farther out, is up to you. So, as my good friend Mark Twain once said, “Throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

 

Besitos and abrazitos,

Hilda, with an H

P.S. Forgive me if you felt that that I did not live up to my promise of making a short post. Relatively speaking, this post was shorter than the last.

P.P.S. I also ask that you forgive me if you feel that my content was in any way cliché. Although I am of the persuasion that cliches are every bit truthful and valuable. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t be cliches.

P.P.P.S Couldn’t figure out the photo gallery… so sorry! Until next time.

 

 

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Send Me

Time August 5th, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

It was somewhere between kilometer 9 and 10 that it hit me, “I’m in Costa Rica. I’m doing a pilgrimage – no – I’m living in one of the most beautiful countries in the world. A year ago I would  have never even dreamed that I would be here doing this. I am in COSTA RICA!” And then, in the height of my profound reflection, a strong waft of urine and sewage hit me. “Well thaaaat’s that,” I thought smiling, “There’s nothing like the smell of port-a-potties to bring you back to reality.” But what a sweet reality it is.

While I can’t say that I haven’t had difficulties in the past two weeks, I can say that now I’m in a good place. The first week of class was an unwelcome flashback to the first weeks of college two years back. The frazzled anxiety of getting lost on the way class had, by the end of the week, turned into a deep painful ache of homesickness. But then came the weekend, which meant a getaway to Guanacaste, the northwestern province of Costa Rica, and its beautiful beaches and toasty dry Texas-like climate. The weekend was filled with many sights and experiences, but, most importantly, a peace-bringing God moment (or, several moments) that gave me the strength I needed to embark on my second week of school. Reinvigorated, I started the week off with a mini-adventure to Walmart (a wee bit further than what my host mom had me believe), an incredibly slow and exasperating read of two poems for one of my literature classes (the shorter two of four), and a wonderfully refreshing yoga class with my host mom. In short, the week seemed promising. Key word: seemed.

Tuesday started off well enough, but at 9:50 pm as I sat in the freezing emergency ward in San Jose hooked up to an IV, thoughts of well-being were far from my mind. It was nothing serious, just a horribly upset digestive system from weeks of dietary changes and stress, coupled with a virus (as the happenings on Wednesday would give strong evidence for). I was back in my bed not long after midnight and was up Wednesday morning for class feeling absolutely peachy. Again, the day had other plans, but by Thursday afternoon I really was on the uphill. And, por dicha (a Costa Rican equivalent to ‘thankfully’ or ‘thank goodness), I was able to recover in time to undertake the romería or pilgrimage to the Basilica de los Ángeles in Cartago. The pilgrimage is a yearly tradition that coincides with the holiday that celebrates the patron saint of Costa Rica, Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles. Talk about God moment(s). To keep this short, or rather, to not make this an epic poem, I’ll just say it was a great experience (all 22 km of it) and that I recommend it to anyone who can find a reason to walk 4-5 hours of (beautiful) hilly terrain.

The next day, with surprisingly minimal pain, I went to an incredible yoga workshop that focused on balance and inversions with my mom and her two friends. It was a great opportunity to reflect and continue searching for inner peace, and, of course, to stretch all the muscles I worked the day before!

And with that, I leave you all once more!

 

Ciao,

Hilda

P.S. Next time I promise I’ll make a shorter post, but only those of you who got this far get the satisfaction of knowing I made that promise:)

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Third Week’s a Charm

Time July 22nd, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Today marks three full weeks in Costa Rica, well almost three weeks. Really it’s a day shy… but who’s keeping track? Given that the past couple of weeks have, more than anything, been an exotic extension of my summer break vacations I certainly have not been keeping track of the days. But even while my lazy summer mindset hasn’t quite worn off, my days have been filled with anything but lazy summer afternoons. In the two weeks since the program has started I have gone to the beach, to the mountains, to the country, around the neighborhood, around the university, around the city, and halfway across the country. (Okay maybe just a quarter of the way across the country, but halfway sounds a lot more dramatic). In short, I have done a lot. And instead of boring you guys (and myself) with a list of what I did I’m just going to make an extensive photo gallery with rocking captions that will hopefully give you a picture (*knee slap* I am tooooo good) of my past two weeks in Costa Rica. So for those skimmers out there, READ THE PHOTO CAPTIONS they are important!

Con cariño,

Hilda

P.S. For those of you tracking me on the map, I have had the hardest time getting Google to find Heredia the city. So for future reference, when it says San Jose I really mean Heredia.

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Diggin’ the Dancing Queen

Time July 22nd, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

July 16, 2014

As my eyes follow the dance instructor I start smiling because I know I cannot do that. And if by some miracle I do succeed in moving my hips and swinging my arms like I’m supposed to, I know that there is no possible way I will look half as good as the instructor. I go for it anyway, guiding my hips in what I hope are smooth circles and swinging my arms in some rhythmic fashion. My smile quickly grows and I break into a laugh because I’m sure I look ridiculous. I continue stomping around in a desperate attempt to mimic the instructor, laughing as I go. I am hot, I am sweaty, I am dirty, I am tired, and, despite it all, I am ecstatic.

During the first week of orientation, at the start of our first dance class I remember considering two ways I could go about the class. I could either be my usual timid, shy, embarrassed self or I could totally not care if I look ridiculous, have fun, and actually learn something too. My decision? Look absolutely ridiculous and enjoy myself! Sometimes it takes a lot to keep smiling. I get so caught up in all we have to do. Stepping in time, swinging my hips and shoulders from side to side, and moving my arms around in a big circle while consciously thinking about breathing in and out is a lot to do at once. It’s enough to make me give up and stop because I know I can’t do it, at least not the way the instructor is doing it. And then I remind myself to smile and keep going. I stop thinking so hard about every little detail and just enjoy myself, moving whichever way and laughing all the while.

And in my short time here I’ve figured that that’s the best way to go about studying abroad. It’s going to be overwhelming at times because it’s never just one thing. Going abroad is throwing yourself into a world of new: A world of new food, new places, new phrases, new customs, new people. Thinking about every little thing, is enough to make anyone give up, especially if you don’t know how to laugh at yourself. So my advice to all who care to hear it: be prepared to look like a fool because at some point you undoubtedly will, and when you are in one of those moments of ridiculousness, laugh. Laugh and enjoy the fact that you are abroad in the company of awesome people and incredible memories waiting to happen.

An exhausted amateur salsa dancer,

Hilda

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Impromptu Post

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

July 11, 2014

“Huele, huele.” (Smell, smell). The sharp sting of alcohol filled my nose making my head swim. As my preoccupied Tica mother scurried away, I discreetly moved the alcohol soaked cotton balls away from my face to get some fresh air. The gjngerale I could understand, but this?

I knew that it would happen, that I would get sick. The only question was when. The answer to that question arrived this morning around 5:30 when I woke up with a headache and a stomachache that could only mean one thing. Vomit. Whether it’s the change of food, water, weather, routine, all of those things combined, or just plain ol’ bad luck, it happens. The interesting thing is that when it happens abroad you’re at the mercy of the strange remedies and superstitions of that culture.

In a way, it’s almost fun… or, better said, it’s amusing (retrospectively) to experience the different ways we treat the common illnesses that plague us all. Last summer in Spain, it was an obscure fizzy drink that haunted me days after I finished drinking it, rest, and small portions. This time around it was a quick mysterious pill (heartburn medicine?) with a glass of water, then deep breaths (“como lo hacen en yoga, sabes?”, “you know, like they do in yoga.”), then a bit of gingerale, and then, the strangest of them all, cotton balls wet with rubbing alcohol. After the immediate threat of vomit was over it was a day of rest filled with saltines and more gingerale. By the end of the day I was eating normal food (mostly starches) in small portions.

In Spain, my host mom declared the cause of my illness was going to bed with my hair wet and sitting so that the a/c was blowing at my back, both unlikely culprits in my opinion. Here, my family concluded it was probably something I ate yesterday, which I can readily agree with. Regardless of the reason or the location, one thing has never failed to be true. I’m taken care of by the people around me. Maybe the concern is a mixture of guilt and nervousness that stems from the fact that the host families are getting paid to ensure my well being, but I don’t think so. The furrowed brow, tense voice, and tender motherly caresses convince me that the concern of my host mothers, friends, and family is legitimate. And that’s one of the beauties of studying abroad; you see the undeniable goodness in all people regardless of culture, upbringing, language, or religion. Sure, being abroad means you might have to endure unpleasant remedies and stomach down strange concoctions, but mostly it’s presents a wonderful opportunity to witness the good in all people.

Alive and kicking,

Hilda

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Der Vogel Ist Em Baum

Time July 11th, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

July 5, 2014

Ah! There is so much to say, I keep getting disheartened at the idea that what will end up in this post is only a fraction of what I experienced. And now, as more time passes without me writing a post, there is so much to share that I feel it’s just impossible to write anything of substance! But fear not citizens of America, I will do my best.

I left off when my mom and I were still in Houston, TX en route to Costa Rica. Well, we made it that night and spent the next couple of days touring around Liberia and the surrounding area. In short, it was great! We ate delicious typical Costa Rican food (Casados, fruit drinks, rice, rice, and more rice, beans, etc.) and had some good conversations with locals be it at the hotel or on our tours. On one of our tours we met a family from Mexico. The dad was Mexican and the mom was German born and raised but has lived in Mexico for… oh goodness, 20, 30 years now? She talked with my mom more and I talked with the 13-year-old daughter. It was so much fun hearing everything she had to say because she was so excited to talk about her country and the different places she has visited. She was very patient with my Spanish and was very perceptive and just super sweet It was a totally awesome experience and reminded me why I love to travel! The title is courtesy of our new German-Mexican friends. It means “The bird is in the tree”. So for you fledgling Spanish speakers that were having trouble translating the title, don’t fret; it’s not Spanish.

My mom flew out Saturday morning, which left me anxiously awaiting the arrival of the other students and, more importantly, the start of the Costa Rica v. Netherlands game. Man, was that an experience. I watched the first half with another student from the program at a nearby restaurant, which was exciting. Then, at half time, we went to the hotel to meet up with two other girls from the program and we spent the rest of the game at the hotel. That was an absolute riot. In a good way of course:) While the Ticos didn’t win, (By summarizing that way I leave out all of the intensity, passion, and downright beautiful athleticism of the game, but let it be known that it was a great game) the enthusiasm never faded. Though you could tell the air was slightly heavy with disappointment and sadness the streets were filled with proud Ticos waving flags and honking their car horns in show of their love for this country and their team, or the sele (sele, short for selección, because the teams for the world cup are a selection of the best players from that country that don’t normally play together). It was altogether surreal. Saturday night, as we settled in to sleep after the long day of excitement the rest of the group arrived weary from travelling, but excited.

Sunday was the official start of programming, but I won’t get into that. I’ll leave that for another post that focuses just on orientation happenings because, let me tell you now, there is a lot to be said. So for now, it’s goodbye, until next time.

 

Hasta Luego,

Hilda

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The World Ain’t Ready for This!

Time July 7th, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

July 1, 2014

It’s 5 am. With my eyes still red and stinging from the lack of sleep, I sit in the back of the car and pull out my phone to check my email just in case something travel-related has come up. *Bing* an email from United Airlines. I start skimming, “flight has been confirmed…. One or more of your flights has been changed…” I groan. My flight hadn’t just been changed; it had been completely rerouted. We were now leaving at 5:10 PM from San Antonio to go to Chicago where we would be staying the night to catch an 8 am flight to Liberia, Costa Rica.Maybe if we go to the airport we can hope and pray that this isn’t really happening…

Long story short, after much keyboard tapping, a gracious airline representative was able to squeeze my mom and me on a flight to Houston at 2:45 pm so that we could make it to Costa Rica by tonight.

So instead of this day being an exciting prologue to my months of adventure and exploration in the beautiful green paradise commonly referred to as Costa Rica, it was an extended tour of the cozy and air-conditioned Terminal B at the San Antonio airport. Still it hasn’t been a bad day at all, I’ve gotten to sleep, read, write, eat, and, most importantly watch the second half of the US v Belgium soccer game. Sadly, it did not end favorably, but my spirits are still high because 1) I got to cheer for our team along with a frenzied huddle of strangers in the Houston airport 2) Los Ticos are still going strong in the World Cup and 3) I’m going to Costa Rica – tonight! All in all, a good day.

Costa Rica bound,

Hilda

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Ready for Action… Almost

Time July 7th, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

June 30, 2014

 

‘Yes!’ Despite the growing concern that all of my belongings wouldn’t fit, I have managed to stuff everything and then some into my suitcase. Along with tightly rolled bundles of clothes, I have managed to stuff all sort of toiletries, hiking boots, tennis shoes, Chaco sandals, and an inordinate amount of Cliff bars into the various nooks and crannies of my suitcase. I stand up and survey my work hands on my hips; I can’t help but be proud.

‘I guess all I have to do now is close it!’ 5 minutes later I’m still on the ground struggling against the bulky zipper. It’s 10:02 pm and I’m painfully aware of the fact that I have to be up in less than seven hours. I’m now sitting on top of my suitcase, steeling myself against the floor in an effort to force the brute shut. The zipper moves about two inches. Some more tugging and then I almost get it to the corner where it stays despite my best efforts. ‘Okay, maybe I’ll try the zipper at the other end.’ I turn over and splay my body across my suitcase hoping that by bearing all of my weight on the suitcase I can get the zipper to move around the bulging and awkward lumps that are threatening to burst through the thick black fabric. After a couple more minutes of seemingly pointless struggle I give up; if I have to break a sweat to get my suitcase shut, I’m probably doing something wrong. ‘Sigh.’ This means rearrangement.

It’s 11 pm now and my suitcase is once again tightly packed, so tightly packed I’m afraid that removing the wrong thing will send all of my items flying out like some sort of Pandora’s Box, and there is no going back from that. ‘Now for the moment of truth.’ I sit on my suitcase and after a small tug the zipper starts to glide continuously, if not smoothly, along the seam. ‘Got it!’ And with my suitcase finally packed and my futbol vocabulary well under way – jugada (play), toque (pass), tira de esquina (corner kick), disparo (goal attempt) and GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOL (goal) – I was ready.

Tica-to-be,

Hilda

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