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Finally Home

Time November 23rd, 2015 in 2015 Fall, College Study Abroad, Costa Rica | No Comments by

Well, I have been home for four days now and things have been great so far! I have eaten most of the foods I missed and gotten used to being asked how being abroad was. I don’t think I have experienced much culture shock since being home, except having to put the toilet paper in the toilet again, but I am sure it will kick in soon, especially when I head back to school in January.

Luckily, since I have been back, I have kept myself busy with running errands, working on some things for school, and visiting friends at the University of Arizona. I think this has been a really great way for me to get accustomed to my life back here in the US because I jumped right back into my routine of things. Although I most definitely miss CR, I love being back home.

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Things I’ve Done & Places I’ve Seen

Time November 18th, 2015 in 2015 Fall, College Study Abroad, Costa Rica | No Comments by

I have had a lot of time to reflect on my experience abroad during the hours of bus rides across the country when I was too exhausted to sleep so I just listened to music and starred out the window. My experience definitely had its ups and downs, and like everyone else’s study abroad experience, it is completely different! Study abroad is very popular and common at my school, almost like an unwritten requirement. At first I was a little upset that I would not be studying in Spain in Europe and connected with everyone else I knew studying in the area. But, I was also very excited to truly get away from my school, be in a country that most people don’t study in, and meet completely new people. This was a challenge for me but also a great benefit. Studying abroad in a country with a different language is also a huge barrier as well. Although I am not fluent, I am very confident in my Spanish language skills now, and I am not afraid to speak Spanish to anyone, which is great! I also already miss it. Going back and forth between two language is a wonderful and unique experience and I certainly do not want to lose all of the skills I worked so hard to gain the past five months.

So that being said, I also did a bunch of cool things and traveled all of the country. I went to 6 out of the 7 regions, 18 cities, 4 national parks, and 9 beaches. Not only did I accomplish just about everything on my bucket list, but so much more as well!

Regions:

  • Guanacaste
  • Heredia
  • San Jose
  • Alajuela
  • Limon
  • Puntarenas

Cities:

  • Liberia
  • Heredia
  • San Jose
  • Alajuela
  • Puerto Viejo
  • Tortuguero
  • Talamanca, Bribri
  • Monteverde/Santa Elena
  • Quepos
  • Manuel Antonio
  • Bahia Drake
  • Sarapiqui
  • La Fortuna
  • Ostional
  • Montezuma
  • Jaco
  • Sarchi
  • Bocas del Toro, Panama

National Parks:

  • Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio
  • Parque Nacional Santa Rosa
  • Parque Nacional Volcan Poas
  • Parque Nacional Tortuguero
  • Reserva Biologica Bosque Nuboso Monteverde
  • Reserva Biologica Isla del Cano
  • Refugio Nacional de Fauna Silvestre Ostional
  • Estacion Biologica La Selva

Beaches:

  • Playa Jaco
  • Playa Manuel Antonio
  • Playa Gemeles
  • Playa Espadilla Sur
  • Playa Cocles
  • Playa Naranjo
  • Playa Rio Claro
  • Playa Ostional
  • Playa Estrella, Panama

Bucket List:

  • visit Panama
  • visit the Panama Canal
  • go zip lining in Monteverde
  • play with the turtles in Tortuguero (I didn’t play with turtles but got to see some in Ostional)
  • visit a volcano
  • go repelling down a waterfall
  • see the monkeys at Manuel Antonio
  • go to Montezuma
  • visit the Caribbean coast
  • go to a hot spring
  • go white water rafting
  • go horseback riding
  • pet/feed a wild animal of some sort (I didn’t feed any, or pet them really, but I touched a starfish, a bat and a turtle egg)
  • try cacique (national alcohol)
  • try imperial (national beer)
  • visit the local Jewish synagogue
  • volunteer at a local school

Other Activities:

  • snorkel (three times!)
  • go whale/dolphin watching
  • bungee jump
  • eat termites
  • visit an indigenous community
  • went to a wedding
  • got barked at by a raccoon
  • painted a carreta
  • chocolate tour
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Final Adventure in CR

Time November 17th, 2015 in 2015 Fall, College Study Abroad, Costa Rica | No Comments by

I was lucky enough to spend my last weekend in Costa Rica with my sister! We went back to what I think are the prettiest beaches in the country (that I’ve seen at least) in Manuel Antonio. And we went to La Fortuna/Arenal which ended up being my favorite city in the country!

I highly recommend going to La Fortuna/Arenal because you can spend a few days there and do everything! The hot springs are beautiful and super fun and relaxing. My sister and I went rappelling down waterfalls which was an amazing experience and a ton of fun. I wish I had more time in town because there are still so many things I could have done and little shops and restaurants to visit.

Overall, it was a perfect way to end my trip. Not only by doing and seeing amazing things, but getting to share the experience with my sister as well! Now I am on my way home, which is definitely a bittersweet experience. Even though most of my friends are sad to leave, I am not. It is upsetting that my time abroad is over, but it I just a closing to a chapter in my life. I am very excited to be heading home, back to my own culture and family, because five months is a very long time. And, I know that one day I will be back.

Hasta luego, Costa Rica

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TORTUGAS- take 2

Time November 3rd, 2015 in 2015 Fall, College Study Abroad, Costa Rica | No Comments by

This weekend I went to Ostional in Guanacaste in search of more turtles. It was a super casual and relaxing weekend with just myself, the IFSA Costa Rica advisor Tracy, the IFSA-Butler Health and Safety director Eryn, and her daughter. It was really nice having a weekend by myself with them to get to know them better and to just hang out and have fun. IFSA students are so lucky with the amazing staff members they have!!

So we went to Ostional, which is a very big tourist area because the beach gets thousands of turtles each year that come to lay eggs. At the biological reserve we stayed at, the lady in charge loved telling us about the town and the turtles. It is a small pueblo with only 250 people. All of them work together to help the turtles by cleaning the beach, doing research, and providing tours. In fact, only people born and raised in Ostional, and over the age of 15, can work as tour guides. It is also the only city in the entire country that can sell turtles eggs (yes, for people to eat). The beach is filled with white egg shells from all of the eggs that hatched and I even saw a skull from a turtle that has recently passed away.

I saw four turtles this weekend, finally, but unfortunately did not get to touch one like I wanted. However, I did get to touch a freshly laid turtle egg! They feel like a little empty plastic ball. It was quit an amazing experience to watch the process and it takes some time. The turtle has to come to the beach, find a good spot, dig a deep hole, lay the eggs, fill the hole, and move around in circles to spread the sand out and make it look like they were never there.

Anyway, moral of the story is wildlife in CR is amazing. And any opportunity you get to volunteer or see or do anything- go for it! Especially if it is with IFSA!!

 

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Reflecting

Time October 26th, 2015 in 2015 Fall, College Study Abroad, Costa Rica | No Comments by

I am down to the three week left marker! Myself and many other of the students on our program are really starting to reach a point of mixed emotions. As much as we absolutely love it here in CR, we are really starting to miss home and our families- and the US munchies we are used too, of course.

Last week we had our final IFSA gira which was all about us. It was a beautiful biological reserve with nice showers, private bathrooms, drinkable water, and AIR CONDITIONING- by far one of the nicest places we have stayed, mostly because we weren’t sleeping in bug spray and AC!! We got to explore a little and learn about chocolate and bats (I even got to touch one, and it was a little weird) and we went rafting, which is one of my favorite activities! It was super nice just to have a weekend away in a calm environment. We had a break from the stressful period that school is at and it really reminded me of why CR is such an amazing country and that I am really going to miss it!!

I am taking another break this weekend since I have been away for the past three weekends traveling. Tomorrow I am doing a day trip to Volcan Poas to cross ‘explore a volcano’ off my CR study abroad bucket list. This morning I also dipped my toes into the culture here a little more and went to the weekly farmer’s market here, which is the largest in Heredia. Even though it was tough waking up at 6am on the Saturday, it is much better than waking up a 4am on Friday’s to catch a 6am bus, and it was totally worth it!! I highly recommend going! It was something totally new full of colors and smells and a million fruits and vegetables- a bunch of which I have tried but never would have known.

I am really excited for what the next three weeks have in store for me- visiting some more turtles in Ostional, maybe one last trip somewhere, and then having another tourist weekend when my sister visits. Only two more papers and two finals to get through; wish me luck!

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Tortugas

Time October 8th, 2015 in 2015 Fall, College Study Abroad, Costa Rica | No Comments by

This weekend I got to take another break from the study part of study abroad. I went on a volunteer field trip with some other students from IFSA to Tortuguero to protect the turtles! We all had a little something different imagined for what the trip would be like and what exactly we would be doing, but I think in the end we were all left a little surprised.

After traveling by bus and boat, we arrived at a cute little camp site which would be our home for the weekend. It is literally in the middle of the rainforest full of bugs, animals, and trees. After some basic turtle training that included learning about the four species in the area, and practicing taking measurements of turtles (what we would be doing if we encountered one), we were off to take some power naps before our nighttime journey.

The work involved walking up and down a 3 mile stretch of beach in the dark in search turtles tracks to hopefully find a nesting turtle. Although my group did not find a turtle, we did see two tracks, which was really cool. Even though I was frustrated that after walking 20 miles that weekend and barely being able to walk up the stairs to my room Sunday afternoon, it was still a great experience.

The camp has two purposes when in regards to turtles- check their well-being and monitor eggs that are nested, and maintain a strong presence on the beach to prevent poachers. They also do a lot of other research with the caimans in the river and the other animals near them, such as snakes and bats.

So, even though I stayed up from 8pm-2am and from 9pm-3pm in hopes of getting to see and touch a turtle, at least I was able to help keep them safe so that when my children are older, they will have opportunities to see them as well!

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Half-Way Through Study Abroad!

Time September 25th, 2015 in 2015 Fall, College Study Abroad, Costa Rica | No Comments by

Well I have officially reached and past the half-way point of my study abroad experience and I am seeing the finish line for school, which is both very exciting and very sad. It is truly amazing that I have actually been living in a foreign country (in Spanish) 12 weeks already!! It has been quite a roller coaster adventure to say the least.

This past week or so I have realized that I am finally at peace and comfortable with my new reality and lifestyle here in Costa Rica- yes, it did take that long! Things with school have finally calmed down a little and I have a better grip on just about everything here, or so I think. I still get starred out (which is not something offensive here, but actually very obnoxiously common), hissed at, and pointed at. And you would think that by now people would know that I can actually speak Spanish, they do not need to talk to me in Spanish, but of course that is not the case.

One thing I have definitely learned since I have been here is that it is okay to take a weekend for yourself! A few weeks ago all of my friends started leaving for their abroad experiences and arriving in their new countries. At first I was jealous and frustrated- they were all so excited for their new adventure and I had already been living and experiencing the challenges of that adventure that they still have yet to face and understand, especially those also going to a country that does not speak English. But now, I am more at peace with it and I know that soon enough, once they surpass the honeymoon phase, they will understand the culture shock and what going to school outside of the US really means and entails. All of my friends are out exploring and seeing new cities and countries, and I was enjoying a relaxing weekend at my host home with some snacks, some homework, and some netflix. And that’s okay! Being abroad is an amazing experience, but it is also tough. It is mentally and physically draining and there is nothing wrong with staying home for a weekend to take a breather and catch up on some reading for class. After all, the locals I live with RARELY travel during the school year- ONLY during the holidays and vacation!! So not only am I and every other study abroad student here studying, but also traveling at the same time, which is no easy task. So, friends, do not forget to take a mental health weekend every now and then!

This week I had two class giras (field trips), which are surprisingly common in Costa Rica. For my education classes I spent the weekend living in an indigenous community in Bribi, Talamanaca in Limon. This little place had no clean water, no electricity, wood floors to sleep on with ‘walls’ about the height of your waist, and trash bags help up by wooden poles for showers. Needless to say, it was quit a weekend. But, I did get practice catching a fish (archery), string palm leaves for the roof of the hut, and dance in a traditional ceremony. Despite all this fun, the best part was bonding with my classmates and seeing how close we became after just a few short days. Then two days later, I went on a gira to Sarchi with my Spanish class (all fellow IFSA students), which was absolutely gorgeous and super fun! We went to the garden and to the “fabrica de carretas” (essentially wagon factory) to learn about the carretas and paint one of our own! And on top of all this, next weekend I am off to Tortuguero for a volunteer work with the turtles!

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Safety Abroad

Time September 16th, 2015 in 2015 Fall, College Study Abroad, Costa Rica | No Comments by

Safety is extremely important and it cannot be stressed enough. Although there are always things you can do to make your experience traveling more safe, there are also things out of your control.

I had the very unfortunate experience of one of the horrible potential realities of study abroad, or of any travel. One of my fellow foreign exchange students went swimming at a beach, and never returned. Luckily, his body was discovered a few days ago, which will bring some peace to his family and friends at home. My peers and I were shocked and did not know how to handle the situation. It is one of those things that rarely happens to people you know, especially when you are off adventuring together. At first, us study abroad students were the first and only people to know (besides our program leaders). I had a class with Deon and his partner for our project asked me where he was or if I had talked to him recently. I knew I was not allowed to say anything except to speak with a program leader, but it was such an uncomfortable and upsetting conversation to be having. And now that there is are news articles published, it will be interesting to see how class continues without him.

I wanted to share this story because it is a part of my abroad experience now, and I think it is important to read and to hear about. In our group meeting discussing the situation before Deon was found, our program leaders kept reminding us that we are all a family, and that we have any support that we could need with us. This even really reinforced to me how supportive of a program IFSA-Butler provides its students. Anything you could possibly need as an IFSA-Butler student, Tracy and Maureen and Paula will do whatever they can to take care of it. Te cuidas (take care of yourself) has never meant more to me, and tranquila (calm) has never been such a more soothing word.

I certainly do not want this to frighten anyone or make them reconsider traveling, just be reminded about the extra cautions you need to take as an extranjero (foreigner). Always ask if you are unsure. If it doesn’t feel right, stop, or don’t do it. Go out of your comfort zone, but don’t push yourself beyond your limits. And make sure to have fun but always stay in control. Nothing should stop you from doing what you want and following your dreams, just make sure to te cuidas and remember: tranquila.

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Another crazy, busy, adventurous week!

Time September 16th, 2015 in College Study Abroad, Costa Rica | No Comments by

This past week and a half has been one of the most stressful I have experienced. Luckily, I got to end it with a near perfect weekend exploring Bocas del Toro, Panama, which is literally paradise and there is no better way to express that.

My week started with making a big decision to split from my partner for a class assignment. We had seven weeks to complete a 15 page minimum research paper based on a piece of literature, separate from what we have read in class. Unfortunately, my partner and I have different learning styles and approaches when it came to completely this assignment, so I chose to do it solo. This meant trying my best to read, understand, and interpret medieval Spanish poems, find multiple outside resources, and then somehow manage to write 15 pages about it in Spanish, all within four days in order to have time to revise it with my tutor. Needless to say, I was terrified. But despite the multiple challenges, and phone calls home crying from being stressed and overwhelmed, I did it! And I am proud of the hard work I submitted!

So, my advice to you future students, and any person really- Don’t be afraid to do it on your own, because you can do it!

Finally, my week came to a close and I was off to Bocas del Toro, Panama! I cannot express enough how absolutely gorgeous it is there and how peaceful and relaxing my week was. I went snorkeling, dolphin watching, held a starfish, read in a hammock, and laid on the beach. While I was there, I even got to enjoy a very cultural moment and celebrate the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, with some Israelis that were also visiting Panama. It was not at all what I expected, but sharing a dinner with these strangers that I had nothing in common with except our religion (and some of their English and Spanish skills) was very inspiring. To me, it really proved why I choose Judaism and what I believe in. And it was very comforting to have people to share the holiday with when I was and am so far away from my home and my family. I also had another fun cultural moment on the bus ride back form Puerto Viejo to San Jose. I sat next to a very nice lady who was working on her math homework. Of course, me being the math nerd that I am, offered my help and spend then next 4 hours explaining algebra to her. I found it to quite fun and it really proved that my Spanish skills are coming along as well!

But now I am back to my Tica reality- cramming homework and eating lots of rice!

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Bucket List!

Time August 28th, 2015 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

My bucket list while abroad in Costa Rica:

  • visit Panama
  • visit the Panama Canal
  • go zip lining in Monteverde
  • play with the turtles in Tortuguero
  • visit a volcano
  • go repelling down a waterfall
  • see the monkeys at Manuel Antonio
  • go to Montezuma
  • visit the Caribbean coast
  • go to a hot spring
  • go white water rafting
  • go horseback riding
  • pet/feed a wild animal of some sort
  • try cacique (national alcohol)
  • try imperial (national beer)
  • visit the local Jewish synagogue
  • volunteer at a local school

 

Other things I’ve done while abroad in Costa Rica:

  • snorkel
  • go whale/dolphin watching
  • bungee jump
  • eat termites
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Tourist for the Weekend

Time August 20th, 2015 in 2015 Fall, College Study Abroad, Costa Rica | No Comments by

This weekend I got the play tourist because my boyfriend came all the way to Costa Rica to visit me! We went to two of the most well-known places in the country- Monteverde and Manuel Antonio. We did everything from zip lining, watching perezosos (sloths) and monos (monkeys), to snorkeling. We even met a ton of people from all over the world- Denmark, Spain, Israel, and even our hometown, Phoenix, Arizona (go U of A)! It was quit an adventure and definitely nice to have some time away from school. But, it was tough at times to have a piece of home here in Heredia with me knowing that I still have a long way to go before the semester ends.

This week is all about catching up on school week because in one day I head to Bahía Drake with IFSA to visit some more beaches, do a little more snorkeling, and go whale and dolphin watching!

 

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Culture Shock

Time August 3rd, 2015 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Well, I have officially lived in Costa Rica for a month now! Two weeks of which were orientation, and two weeks in school! This past month has been a roller coaster ride to say the least! However, despite this, I truly am living the “Pura Vida” (life life) lifestyle of the Ticos. There is something so peaceful about living in a foreign country, completely away from home life in the US. But it certainly has not been easy. Everyday is a new adventure and a new challenge.

The biggest thing anyone will tell you about going abroad is- beware of the culture shock! Everything I heard this word, I cringed and thought to myself it would never be a big deal. But, of course, it is.

The one thing no one tells you before going abroad though, is that culture shock isn’t eating new exotic foods, or adjusting to a new climate (even though for me, living with humidity is quite a shock!), or even being amazed that iPhones are rare in Costa Rica. Culture shock is the overwhelmingness of living in a new language. It’s the constant mood swings, good and bad moments, and questioning of why in the world you chose to study abroad, that happen every single day (yes, every day). It’s the excitement you get when a native from a class says hello or goodbye. Culture shock is getting used to living with a family that’s not your own, but right now they are. It’s the hours of homework and reading where you become best friends with google translate and spanish dictionary. Culture shock is the sense of relief and accomplishment when you walk out of class knowing what happened (or at least most of it), and the disappointment and frustration when you walk out confused and understanding nothing from the past 2-4 hours. But, culture shock is what it means to live abroad, and even though it will be the most difficult semester of your life, it will also be the most exciting, valuable, emotional, and best semester as well.

I have completed 1 out of my 5 months here as a student in Costa Rica, and it’s already bittersweet, but ¡vale la pena! (it’s totally worth it)!

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Things I’ve Learned

Time July 21st, 2015 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Well I have been here in Costa Rica for two weeks of orientation and tomorrow I start my first classes! It has been a very exciting and peaceful experience so far! I am still working on figuring out how to attach pictures to posts, so until then, here is a list of tips and things I have learned so far:

  • You will always sweat, there is just no getting around it. Costa Rica is humid.
  • Rice is served at every.single.meal.
  • Showers are cold.
  • Speak Spanish- also note that everything and anything you learned in class is going to be different in every Spanish speaking country and nothing can prepare you for being immersed in a different language. You would think that after over seven years of practicing and learning Spanish that I would be a pro and know everything, but no.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions
  • Download MapsMe on your phone!!
  • Think of yourself as a Tico (Costa Rican). After all, you are a resident living here just like everyone else.
  • Living in the center of Heredia is great! It’s a short walk from everything and a cheap taxi ride too.
  • If the sun is down, take a taxi.
  • Remember: tranquila! (be calm, always, things will work out!).
  • Your host mom will do laundry 1-3 times a week, so skip packing the extra underwear and bring another pair of jeans or a shirt instead.
  • An umbrella will quickly become your best friend, and make sure to bring it with you everywhere.
  • Even though every $1 is roughly 500 colones, that does not mean that everything is cheap, things are very competitively priced.
  • ALWAYS throw out the toilet paper.
  • Don’t pet the stray animals.
  • A few pairs of shorts will be enough. Unless you are hiking or going to the beach, you’ll wear pants.
  • You will be starred at and pointed at- especially if you are a female and are blonde.
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4 Days Until Departure

Time July 1st, 2015 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Hi Everyone! My name is Rachel and I am from Phoenix, Arizona. I am a junior at the University of Denver where I am studying English (education concentration), psychology, and Spanish so I can become a high school teacher. I am leaving in a few short days to study abroad at Universidad Nacional (National University) in Costa Rica where I will be studying Spanish and education.

Rachel

I recently got back from a 10 day trip to Israel which I feel gave me just a small taste of what studying abroad may be like. The trip was absolutely amazing and got me even more excited to travel the world and experience living life in Costa Rica. Now that I am back in the U.S., I still haven’t fully processed that in a few short days I will be leaving to find my second home in Costa Rica while I learn and explore. As each day passes I get more and more excited and nervous for the adventure, but I know that it will be a once in a lifetime opportunity that I will never forget!

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