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The Final Chapter

Time July 18th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Incredibly, my time has a study abroad student has come to an end; I have been back in the States for nearly three weeks and can hardly believe it. And sadly this will be my parting post as a student blogger with IFSA.

My last few days in Costa Rica after traveling in Panama were short and flew by. I spent my time getting some last minute souvenirs for some of my friends back here in the States, retrieving all of my final grades from the university and visiting people.

Two of my favorite memories from those few days in Heredia both involved some of the students from the Biology program there at the university. The first involves the whole of the Ecology class apprehensively waiting for the final grades to be posted. It was taking a long time for the professors and assistants to finish all the final grades, so we spent the time chatting amongst ourselves. I will very much miss the camaraderie of those fellow biology students. The other special time was when my lab group and study buddies from that same Ecology class took me out to dinner at a Caribbean restaurant in San Jose. There were some others there as well. It was a good time.

Of course there were the goodbyes to my family as well: Amalia, Alberto, Mariann, Sophia, Victor, and little Isaac. I spent some time visiting with the directors from IFSA as well. Those two ladies had become so dear to me that I almost wanted to call them Aunt Teresita and Aunt Yanori. Many of the goodbyes to other IFSA students happened right before I left for Panama, but there were still a few hanging about Heredia. One of those goodbyes was to Carli, the only other student who had stayed for the academic year with me. It was a tough goodbye after spending so much time together, experiencing so many new things together, and ultimately after seeing each other grow and change so much as individuals over the course of the year.

It’s funny the things you want to do and see when you know time is short. I remember thinking, “I really want to go see the girls from my plant class last semester one more time” or “Oh, I want to go to one more Wednesday two-for-one movie in the mall” or “I would really like to go sit in the park and people watch one more time” or “I never went that one museum or wildlife refuge. I really want to go there.” They are weird funny things and some of them I was able to do and some I was not able to do, but I tried my very best to live those few days to the full.

I studied abroad during my junior year in high school and I distinctly remember the tearful goodbyes when I left my classmates at the international school. This time, however, as I said all those goodbyes I did not shed one tear. It is not like I am in any way proud of this; it’s just the way I reacted this time and to be perfectly honest it is very unlike me to respond this way. Maybe it happened this way because I am older or maybe it was just a strange defense mechanism to the pain of leaving.

Re-entry is a very strange process. Most students experience what is called reverse culture shock. Everyone knows that during the transition into another culture there is a lot of culture shock, but what many fail to think about is the fact that this can happen when transitioning back into one’s “home” culture after being in another culture for a long period of time. Some cultural habits and customs have been dropped or traded for others while away, but now must be picked up and dusted off and put back in use. This can be personal space, mannerisms, a different language or any number of things.

Most noticeably amongst my reactions to being back home is my general evasion of people, even friends sometimes. I fear the idea of having to put into words all the experiences and feelings that I have acquired over the course of a year. Questions like “What was your favorite thing about Costa Rica?” are superficial at best and expect a one-sentence answer. In my way of thinking this deserves a ten-minute exposition. My feelings are very mixed; a part of me is sad when people didn’t even notice that I was studying abroad and that I have changed, but another part of me also wishes that I could just slip into my home life as if nothing had changed and no time had passed.

There are of course the humorous and awkward cultural mistakes that happen too. Shortly after I arrived home I nearly found myself making the mistake of kissing someone on the cheek—a very normal greeting and farewell gesture in Costa Rica. After conversing with a friend I found myself instinctively grabbing her arm as she turned to leave. Already in motion, I realized what my subconscious was doing and quickly, gracelessly, turned the almost-kiss into an awkward hug. I quickly slipped from the room embarrassed, silently scolding myself, remember, you are in the U.S. They don’t do that here!

I have also found it nearly impossible to not say “chau” as a farewell. Right now, “Bye” sounds like the most unnatural and ridiculous sounding word in the English language. And although perhaps unnoticeable to those around me, I occasionally think of the Spanish word before the English one when I am conversing; sometimes I have trouble locating the English one at all in the sea of words tossing about in my brain. One the very rare occasion one of those Spanish words will slip out along with the English. I feel sure that this is more confusing to my brain than the listener. My confusion from this stems from the following question posed: am I supposed to continue speaking in Spanish or should I go back to English? My once very fine ability for spelling has since gone to pieces as well.

After a few weeks of being home it is getting easier I think. I am sure I will still be caught by moments of nostalgia for a long time. But that is as it should be. Such an experience should be remembered with fondness.

And now, the time has come for me to bid farewell to you my readers, whether faithful, occasional, or here for the first time. I hope you have enjoyed my blog posts—mere tales of gringa in Costa Rica. So here is a kiss on the cheek and a hearty, “!Chau! Espero que le vaya bien.” (Bye! I hope it goes well with you.)

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Final Adventures: The Long-Awaited Caribbean Extravaganza and Panama

Time July 18th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

The last weekend in May was what Carli, another IFSA student, and I had affectionately called the “Caribbean Extravaganza.” We—well, it was mostly Carli who—spent a lot of time trying to fit in a weekend as many places along the middle and southern Caribbean coast. In three days we managed to visit four different places: Limón, Cahuita, Puerto Viejo, and Manzinillo.

Limón is a major hotspot for Costa Rican Caribbean culture. It is the capital of the Limón Province and contains a lot history; for example the more abreast reader will recognize the names of Marcus Garvy and the Black Star Line. Once off the bus from San Jose to Limón we put our bags in lockers there at the bus station and then wandered around the city and down to the waterfront. Carli and I were able to eat the traditional rice and beans dish and patacones (double fried smashed plantains) at the old ticket office of the Black Starline. The downstairs is a restaurant and the second floor serves as a museum of sorts. In all honesty, Carli and I didn’t have a lot of time in Limón, but we thoroughly enjoyed our walk around the city.

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After a very short two hours we rushed back to the bus station via taxi to pick up our bags and then went to another station to hop the bus to Cahuita. The bus ride goes right along the coast all the way and we got to enjoy all of the vivid blues and greens of the Caribbean. Cahuita is a very small town about one to two hours south of Limón. While there, we made sure to see the Cahuita National Park and the black sand beach. After our early morning hike the next day (May 28) we stopped by an elegant little pancake house for a late breakfast. After four miles of hiking, both of us were parched and hungry. Let’s just say we ate a lot of really delicious food!

Early that afternoon we caught the bus on its way down to Puerto Viejo, a place housing a very unique blend of peoples, music, and foods. There are the typical Caribbean folk, dreadlocks and all, the groups of European and American tourists wandering through the tents and tiny boutiques along the beach road, and the few Costa Rican families there on vacation. Aside from the beachside shops, one can find several other restaurants, a plaza of various shops, numerous hostels, and of course bars. Carli and I didn’t do a whole bunch in Puerto Viejo; we found a coffee shop complete with bakery and by the end of our five hour stay we were almost surprised that they didn’t charge us rent on the table that we had occupied the entire time. Being the weekend and not too far from finals week, both of us had packed some homework. During that five hours though, we discovered that we are hopelessly distracted study-buddies.

The next morning (May 29), we rented bikes from a shop in Puerto Viejo and then rode down to Manzinillo, which is about 15 kilometers away. It’s a lovely ride through the jungle—a jungle that tends to steal over onto the sun-baked sand almost edging close enough to swallow up the surf. Along the way there are several little turn offs to various beaches. We went down almost all of them, taking our time and enjoying the tropical sun that had just taken flight from the horizon.

We didn’t have a bunch of time in Manzinillo, but we each enjoyed a bowl of ice cream and then took a quick dip in the teal waters, before heading back. Manzinillo is perhaps smaller than Cahuita. There is little to no pavement, lots of little mom-and-pop shops, perhaps only one church and then the scattering of houses that fade back into the brush along skid roads. I personally felt that the real Caribbean Costa Rican was most present in Manzinillo than in any of the other places that we visited. However, perhaps it is best said that each place gave us a facet of what the Caribbean culture is as a whole.

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Typically the trip back to the Central Valley is boring, long, and uninteresting, no matter where from. But this time, we, along with a bunch of other college-age tourists almost got detained because we did not have our original passports with us. Almost all of us had a photocopy of our passport. It is the general consensus amongst college-age study abroad students that it is best to take just a copy of the passport, because it is very possible that one’s purse, duffle, handbag, etcetera, will get stolen. Being in a foreign country without a passport is not a horror story that I would like to deal with. Fortunately due to the large number of us on the bus without our original passports, the officer there let us go with a warning and a glare. The rest of the trip was uneventful.

And now, moving on to the final adventure while I was in Central America: Panama. This trip took place right after Carli and I finished our final exams for the semester (June 17-21). Before I even went to Costa Rica I knew that somehow, someway I was going to go to Panama. My dream was to go to the Panama Canal. I was very sad to discover that this would not be possible. Throughout the second semester I had made some preliminary plans to go to Panama and see the Canal and all of them ended up falling apart for one reason or another. This trip was only five days total and all of them were spent in a tiny town called Boquete, which sits on the edge of the one and only volcano in Panama. Although Costa Rica has what could be estimated to be as many as three volcanoes per province, humorously Panama only has one in the entire country. Two students, Steve and Chisom, both of whom had been in Costa Rica as a part of the IFSA-Butler program in the fall came back to travel through Costa Rica and Panama and naturally Carli and I paired up with them to go to Panama.

On the trip down I was able to fulfill one of my life-long hopes of finding out what it sounds like when a tire pops on a vehicle. The fact that said popped tire was on the bus and that the event took place in a Central American country definitely made the experience more memorable and interesting. The bus had to be limped to a random repair shop, which looked more like a decrepit barn filled with tank sized rusting metal…things. I honestly don’t know what all that stuff was or could even be compared to. The tire was swapped in about an hour and the rest of the trip was uneventful.

Boquete is a charming clash of tourist friendly shops and the typical Panamanian culture from the nearby “fincas”—ranches—and coffee farms. It’s dropped in between two ridges of dark green mountainous jungle; it is cooler, but still humid, and a come-and-go rain drizzles down during the day with sunbursts every now and again.

We passed our time in Boquete quietly, often spending time together at the hostel either napping, reading, or chatting, although Carli and I did go out one night. We had hoped to see part of a reggae concert there on the edge of town, but later found out that the concert started at 2 a.m.! Exhausted, we left at about 1 a.m. having enjoyed our time dancing. There was a large open area set in front of the stage and DJ kept a steady stream of songs for those gathered to dance to. They ranged from American rock to hip-hop to bachata to typical Panamanian music to meringue and the list goes on. Aside from dancing and having fun, I enjoyed being able to watch the other people—a broad group, age-wise, and to me they seemed very authentic and unassuming.

We as a four-some went and visited various souvenir shops, a botanical garden, and various sodas and coffee shops in and around the small town. We also went out to two different fincas, once to visit some natural hot springs and another time to hike to a waterfall. At both fincas the families charged a small fee for us to be able to pass onto their property and enjoy what nature had left there. The hot springs were not that far from the small farm structures, but walled up nicely with stones from the river, making a nice cozy little hollow pooled up with hot water. On the other finca there was a fairly well kept path leading back up into the hills to the waterfall.

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Unlike other trips that I have taken there weren’t any grand adventures. I didn’t scale any volcanoes or go zip-lining or anything, but I enjoyed my time all the same. And after all, getting another stamp in my passport is a definite achievement and good way to end my study abroad travel adventures.

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Save the Turtles!

Time June 9th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

I’m all for sustainability and conservation, but sentiments, or exclamations rather, such as the one above are usually not in my repertoire of verbalisms. But that has changed a little bit since I went to the Pacuare Reserve with the IFSA-Butler group for a volunteer work project. This volunteer project has been planned for a long time and I was aware of and eagerly awaiting it since Fall Semester.

The Pacuare Reserve is on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica and is essentially an island due to the rivers and canals surrounding it. Pacuare contains one of the most important beaches in the Caribbean for the leatherback sea turtle, the largest sea turtle in the world and one of the most endangered.

We left Friday morning (May 13) and got the Caribbean side of the country by early afternoon. We were dropped off near some banana plantations and then taken by boat to the Reserve via the canals. That first afternoon after eating lunch and getting settled we had a small introductory “charla” or talk concerning the turtles we would be working with during the weekend. Afterward, we did a walk along the beach with two guides in order to get familiar with the beach and various trails. While on the walk we also did triangulations of various marked turtle nests. The nests are marked during the laying process with a stick and then later triangulated with markers or posts amongst bushes and trees along the edge of the beach. This is merely a way of keeping track of the nests and monitoring laying patterns. During this tour of the beaches, we also found a baby turtle on its back next to a crab hole; it had been wounded badly by a crab, one of the many predators of baby turtles. We rescued in and set it right side up and it started making its way toward the ocean, but the guide doubted that it would survive.

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That night at dinner we all signed up for a different night shift to patrol the beach for turtles. There were three patrols in all for four hours each, although an actual patrol will often run up to five hours, and the patrols overlap somewhat. I went on the 10 pm-2 am shift, but didn’t get back till 3:30 am. We were lucky the first night and saw four turtles: two laying eggs, a “false exit,” and one leaving just after finishing a nest with another group. We also saw some hatched baby turtles make their way to the ocean.

During the egg-laying process of the turtles, the eggs are counted as they are being laid, the mother turtle is measured both in length and width in terms of the carapace or, in broader terms, shell. (Although, leatherback turtles do not actually have a shell like those of other sea turtles; it is more alike to a hard, thick skin—thus the name “leatherback.”) Also, if the mother has laid the eggs in an unsuitable place—too close to the brush lining the beach, for example—a plastic bag will be placed in the hole dug by the mother and the eggs collected and then relocated. Other measurements are also taken, such as the depth of the nest dug; tags are checked or placed on the turtle in order to track nesting activity, and the general health of the turtle is observed.

Breakfast is late in Pacuare—9 am. But considering the work done by the workers and biologists at the Reserve, this makes sense. After breakfast we went on a quick boat trip through the canals around the Reserve. In addition to the dense banana plantations, there are areas of regenerating jungle. This tour was just to see the other wildlife of the Caribbean. Once we got back we had another “charla” about the sea turtles, less in terms of biology like the talk before and more in terms of conservation. After lunch we did work along the beach, triangulating nests and clearing sticks, logs, and debris that might inhibit a baby turtle from making it to the ocean. Afterward we went through the canals again and during dinner we signed up for patrols again. I took the 10 pm-2 pm patrol again.

That second night, although not as fortunate in terms of the number of turtles that I saw, this time I got to see the whole process of the female turtle: coming up on the beach, digging the nest, laying the eggs, camouflaging the nest, and returning to the ocean. Afterward, as with the others the night before, we camouflaged or smoothed out the surface of the nest and the tracks that the mama turtle makes when she comes up on the beach and when she leaves. Unfortunately, there is still a market for turtle eggs in Costa Rica and boats from the ocean can often see mama turtle’s tracks on the beach, which signifies the presence of a nest and therefore, eggs. Camouflaging the tracks is a way of hopefully making it more difficult for the nests to be spotted.

Although I went on the night patrol and got back at 2:30 am, I decided to go do an “exhumación” at 5 am that morning as well. This is the process of digging up an old nest in order to take data on the number of eggs hatched, eaten, undeveloped, or unfertilized. Shockingly we found three live baby turtles in the nest! They were in apparently no rush to get to the ocean. These we kept from going to the ocean due to the fast approaching heat; later that night they were released. As a biology student, I found all of the “exhumación” process incredibly interesting. Hopefully I didn’t irritate the biologist we were working with too much with all of my questions.

When I got back from the “exhumación,” I was exhausted. I took a shower, went to breakfast, and then slept. There was another work project on the beach, but we had been told that if we physically did not feel up to it, we should rest instead. And that’s what I did.

Unfortunately by this time the weekend was done and it was time for us to head back to Heredia. I was tired and was looking forward to my bed back home, but loved my time there. If it were possible for me to work there as a biology intern in the future, I would love to do it. This trip definitely didn’t disappoint any of my hopes or expectations.

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Tico-isms

Time June 9th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | 1 Comment by

Now that I have lived in Costa Rica for a relatively long amount of time, I feel as though I can comment on the language variances with sufficient knowledge. However, I still do not claim to be an expert; I learn new things every day. The rest of this post is going to be a bit like a categorized dictionary or phrase book. These lists are by no means exhaustive.

 

“Refranes”

A “refrán” is a proverb or wise saying. Often times they are meant to give advice, other times they are simply a comment on humanity. Because of the universality of “refranes,” it is not uncommon to find English equivalents. These tend to be used by the older generation, but are still understood by the younger generations too. There are thousands of these little sayings and sometimes it is a little difficult to grasp their meanings, but I have found them to be very interesting and sometimes even entertaining.

“No todo lo que brilla es oro.” Translation/English equivalent: “Not all that gleams is gold.”

“Cada oveja con su pareja.” Translation: “Every sheep with its pair.” It means that people will look for, hang out with, and be more comfortable with those who are similar to them. Anyone who knows anything about sheep will understand this saying completely.

“Aunque la mona se vista de seda, mona se queda.” Translation: “Although you dress a monkey in silk, a monkey it remains.” It means that personality and character qualities, especially those in bad taste, are evident and can’t be changed no matter what you do with appearances.

 

“Dichos” o “Jerga”

These are popular sayings in a specific region or country. These form a part of common speech and are not part of formal Spanish. In other words, they are not in the dictionary and would be considered slang. Some of the following words overlap with the next section titled “Pachuco.”

“Mae.” Translation: dude. This is most common amongst the young male population. Often it is not in any way an integral part of the sentence, but it’s there in excessive quantity. Sometimes this word can be used to describe an unknown person. For example: Un mae me preguntó por algunas direcciones cuando estuve caminando a mi casa. In English: Some guy asked me for directions when I was walking home.

“Pura Vida.” Translation: “pure life.” This phrase and “mae” are the pinnacles of Costa Rican “dichos.” This phrase can be used in many diverse situations, and because of this, it was at first very difficult for me to understand what it meant (beyond the direct English translation). It can be used as a greeting, in place of “I’m doing well,” in place of “thank you” and “you’re welcome,” as a description of an activity or lifestyle, and, in reality, whenever one wishes to use it. This flexibility in usage is still very intriguing to me.

“Tuanis.” Translation: cool. “Chiva.” Translation: cool. These two words are almost identical in meaning and usage; their differences are very slight and not worth mentioning.

“Tome Chichí.” Translation: Take that; a derivative of touché. The word chichí means little kid and is specific to Costa Rica. This phrase is like saying, “oh, burn!” or “take that.” If two friends are arguing and one gives a smart comeback, this phrase could be said to the one that got “burned.”

“Todo bien.” Translation: All’s well. Most often this is heard as a question, sort of like “what’s up?” but it can also be used simply as a statement.

“Diay” Translation: unknown. It was originally “d-i-ay,” and then later morphed into the current word. When I said that I learn new things all the time, I wasn’t lying; I learned this last week. How I missed it, I am not exactly sure. There really isn’t a good translation either. It is sort of like “mae” in that it can be dropped in almost any conversation and from what I can gather it is sort of a conglomerate of “Hey,” “Hi,” “Um,” “Oops,” and “Oh!” What is means depends entirely on the circumstances.

“Al chile.” Translation: Seriously? This is another phrase that I had heard, but had never quite grasped the exact meaning from just context alone and I eventually had to ask. For those of you who know a little bit of Spanish, it is basically an equivalent of “en serio?”

“Rajado.” Translation: wow, woah. The meaning of this word is still a bit vague to me. It is a remark used in a variety of exaggerated situations—things that are just way too good to be true, or way to bad to be true. It’s often said, “!Qué rajado!”

 

“Pachuco”

This is the name for a very specific style of Costa Rican slang. It is an extremely informal way of speaking, uses a lot of dichos, and is usually fairly vulgar. Many of the dichos mentioned above, especially “mae,” are used in pachuco. It is so different from Spanish that I don’t understand it. I would give a list of the words that I do know, but all the ones that I am familiar with are vulgar. What can I say? I hang out with college kids.

 

“Bromas”

These are jokes and are common in every culture. For a long time they were very hard for me to understand. It was, and sometimes still is, common for a joke to be said in class and everyone laughs and I remain quiet with a cocked head and confused expression. Sometimes, speaking honestly, I laugh anyway. You know what I am talking about—that fake laugh, as your eyes bounce from person to person, hoping that nobody can guess that you have no idea of what just happened. In general this happens less now, though I usually do not attempt jokes for fear that it won’t make sense or be funny. Cultural humor is a strange thing to say the least.

 

Diminutives

This is a defining characteristic of Costa Rican speech, so much that the Costa Ricans are nicknamed for it. Costa Ricans affectionately call themselves “Ticos” because they use diminutives so much. In Spanish they take the diminutives usually take the form of –ito/a and –ico/a at the end of nouns or adjectives. It doesn’t necessarily mean that what is being described is small in size or portion; it’s just the way they speak here.

 

“El Voseo”

One of the other features of Costa Rican Spanish is the presence of “el voseo” an alternative of “el tuteo” or “tú,” the informal form of “you.”  In Costa Rica, “tú” is understood, but it is not used. The formal form of “you” is widely used, especially in the conservative and formal Central Valley. Although perhaps not widely known, “el voseo” is quite common in Latin and South America; it’s not just some strange conjugation form in Costa Rica.

 

I hope you enjoyed this post!

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No, wait…it’s Plan D for Semana Santa!

Time May 4th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

I will clarify what Plan D was in a little bit, but first I would like to explain the cultural and religious aspects of Semana Santa.

Semana Santa, also known as “Holy Week” in English, is a weeklong holiday in celebration of Easter. It is a very distinct time of year in Latin America and the observance of the holiday by Costa Ricans and the events that happen during the week are strongly tied to the Catholic Church. There are many religious events and services during the week such as processions and special church services. The most important days of the week are Thursday, Friday, and Sunday, which correspond to the night of the Last Supper, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday respectively.

I, myself, am not catholic, but from a cultural aspect Semana Santa intrigues me and I wanted to see a few of the events during the week. I unfortunately missed going with my tica family to a celebration on Thursday, but I did manage to see a procession and attended a service on Easter Sunday. Although not officially during Semana Santa I was also able to observe another event in Heredia’s Central Park. I was chatting with a Costa Rican friend the Saturday (April 16) before Semana Santa when I all of a sudden heard percussion instruments. There was a mini-procession of people marching into the church somberly and orderly. Although my friend was not able to enlighten me in the specifics of the procession, I still found it interesting.

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Quite honestly everything shuts down during Semana Santa. School is out for the week and all public businesses are closed if not for the week at least from Thursday through Sunday. Many tica families also take the opportunity to travel for a few days during Semana Santa. It reminds me in some ways of spring break in the States. Often times the Costa Ricans travel during the first part of the week so they can celebrate at home on the weekend, but sometimes it is the reverse and the families like to travel that weekend. In short, the buses to or from anywhere are packed full of travelers.

Now, to talk about Plan D. Obviously for us college students Semana Santa means a delightful respite from our school studies at least for a little bit and most of the exchange students take advantage of the week to take extended trips. For me traveling during Semana Santa turned out to be a lot different than I had expected. My Plan A—a trip to Panama—was torpedoed several times during the semester to the point where it was unsalvageable for Semana Santa. Plan B never got off the ground and Plan C had logistical issues. In the end a fellow IFSA-Butler student and I spent three days in Playa Sámara in the Nicoya Peninsula of the western pacific part of the country. Hooray for Plan D! At least we went somewhere. Humorously, we never actually set foot on the Sámara Beach. Instead we spent a fair amount of time at Playa Carrillo down the road.

On Monday (April 18) we took the early bus out of San José to a town called Nicoya then took a bus to the outskirts of Sámara and then another bus to the town of Sámara. We got there in the early afternoon in the middle of the heat so we got a couple of smoothies en route to our motel. Personally, I am a fan of hostels, but due to the holiday all of the hostels that I called were full. It’s not like I am complaining though. With a clean room, a pool, free coffee in the morning, and a private hammock outside our front door, I am definitely not going to gripe. That first afternoon all we did was look around the town then go to a traditional “Corrida de los Toros” that night. Although most often seen during Christmas and the New Year, there was a small one in Sámara in celebration of Semana Santa. We were tired and didn’t end up staying very long. But overall, I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. (See my post “January Jaunts” for more information about “las Corridas de los Toros.”)

The next day we went on a boat tour in Playa Carrillo. It wasn’t quite what we were expecting, but we did see a bunch of dolphins and I enjoyed it for the most part. That afternoon I went to town to get a “trenza.” A “trenza” literally translates as a braid, but this might be better called a hair wrap. It is a small lock of hair with brightly-colored cords woven macramé-style around it. I have wanted one for a long time, but this was the first time I had actually found somewhere where you could get one done. It is fairly common to see these among the national students at the university too. It looks a bit hippie-ish, but I love it!

On Wednesday we rented bicycles and biked to Playa Carrillo and spent the rest of the morning and the first part of the afternoon on the beach. That was definitely my favorite part of the trip. It seemed perfect: the bike ride, the turquoise water, the beautiful beach. The only thing that wasn’t so perfect was the sunburn that I got, but then again this is not uncommon or abnormal for me. So when we got back we slathered on the aloe vera and read books in our room at the motel…out from under the sun. That evening we went down to a little German bakery and coffee shop on the outskirts of Sámara to enjoy the food and some traditional live music.

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The next day we left to go back to Heredia. We weren’t able to get direct bus tickets ahead of time, but fortunately everything worked out and we made it back to Heredia without too much hassle. And for me the rest of the week was relaxing to the point of near-boredom, but that was fine. I think a little bit of healthy boredom before returning to college exams, projects, presentations and reports is a good thing.

 

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Feriado!

Time April 18th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Last Monday was a “feriado” or national holiday, so in light of the extra long weekend a friend and I went to the Osa Peninsula for the weekend. More specifically we stayed in Bahia Drake, on the northern part of the peninsula, and Puerto Jimenez, on the southern part of the peninsula.

The Osa Peninsula is in the southern pacific extreme of Costa Rica and contains some very beautiful scenery. There is the very large national park, Corcovado, on the peninsula housing what is said to be one of the most biologically diverse and untouched jungles in Costa Rica. Unfortunately due to the way we scheduled our trip, we were not able to go to the park. It requires a lot of time to go—at the very least a full day—but we still saw some beautiful jungle and still thoroughly enjoyed our trip to the Osa Peninsula.

We took the 5 a.m. bus from San Jose to Las Palmas on our way to Bahia Drake; however, it turns out the bus from San Jose arrives almost exactly at the same time the boat for Bahia Drake leaves on the Serpi River. Peachy. We quickly grabbed a taxi and made it to the boat dock on the river in time and were told by the captain to wait a few minutes; they were just about ready to load up. A few minutes turned into about fifteen and we started to get worried. Carli, my traveling buddy, went to go ask about the boat and found out that it had already left. With some last-minute scrambling we managed to catch a ride with a bunch of other exchange students on a private boat though. So past the mangroves and out to sea we went. Once in Bahia Drake we walked down main street—the beach—and climbed the hill up to our hostel, wet from both rain and sweat. In reality these few traveling mishaps may have been one of the most adventurous parts of the entire weekend.

We didn’t have a bunch of time in Bahia Drake and were honestly exhausted from just the ordeal of getting there. After arriving, I slept much of the remaining afternoon. The next day Carli and I got up early to go to a beach around the point of the bay of Bahia Drake. We walked and walked along the dirt road, enjoying the lush scenery and the quaint farm villages. But after a while, we, being slightly confused, asked a local if indeed we were on the right road. He told us that we were, and so we continued, hoping to see the beach after each rise we crested. But another hour later we realized that we weren’t going to make it to the beach and make it back in time to catch our bus to Puerto Jimenez. Although initially crestfallen we decided to change plans. Let’s go swim in the stream we just crossed! Thus we turned our failed beach trip into a successful trip to the stream; we told each other it had been the plan all along.

The bus ride to Puerto Jimenez was beautiful. It wound through dense jungle and through many rain-swollen streams. Often the bus doesn’t leave if there is a lot of rain, because it can’t cross the streams, but we were fortunately able to take the bus despite the intermittent downpour that afternoon. A backpacker on the bus ended up joining us on our way to Puerto Jimenez and we spent most of the rest of the weekend as a threesome. In Puerto Jimenez we found our hostel and dropped off our stuff and then went to get dinner. Afterward I went straight to bed. Travelling has a way of tuckering me out.

The next day we took an early trip up the nearby mangroves via kayaks. So as not to be “paddling on dirt” we started at about 7:30 a.m. and leisurely made our way up the river. It is best to go up near the peak of high tide and then come back when the tide starts to change. Our guide was a tico about our age and eager to be friends. The mangroves are not a zoo, even though the diversity is incredible in this part of the world, one has to be patient and observant. We saw several types of birds, crabs, and butterflies. On the way back we stopped at a sand bar separating the mangrove stream from the ocean bay. By this time the sun was high in the sky and blazing. I slathered on some sunscreen and then we all took a dip in the ocean. The color of the water was a beautiful light turquoise and very calm. Later, after we had come back up on the beach, we heard a loud slapping sound. Turning, we saw a small ray flapping wildly on the edge of the surf! Our guide ran down to look at it and we followed. We think it was a baby manta ray. Carli commented saying that that made a lot of sense; of course a baby manta ray would get stuck on the beach—“it doesn’t know what it’s doing!” We tossed it back into the sea. Hopefully that little baby manta ray is a little wiser now.

That afternoon Carli went to Matapalo, a town on the tip of the peninsula and I stayed in Puerto Jimenez to people watch and enjoy the tranquility. Later that night we met up with our guide again to enjoy dinner together. We retired early; we would be getting up to take the 5 a.m. bus back to San Jose. From Puerto Jimenez it takes close to 9 hours to make it to San Jose and then we still had to take the bus to Heredia. Never mind that we both managed to hop the bus to Alajuela accidently and then, because of that, had to take yet another bus in order to get to Heredia. One would think that after 9 months in Costa Rica we both would know which bus to take. It happens, I suppose. So close to 11 hours later I made it to my front door, exhausted but content with the weekend as a whole.

 

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“Boring” Weekends

Time April 13th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

One doesn’t have to travel the long distance to Guanacaste or the Caribbean in order find fun activities to do. Weekends in and around the Central Valley are anything but boring. And there is the added plus of still being able to get some work done on the weekends. I love being able to travel a little bit without having to entirely sacrifice my school studies.

On March 25 a bunch of the IFSA students got together for a “Tex-Mex” night. Apparently some the students were having tex-mex food withdrawals and so they decided to have a fiesta and make a bunch of tex-mex food. Teresita Camacho, one of our IFSA-Butler directors, was gracious enough to open up her home for us. Nearly all of us from the group were able to go, which was an unusual treat considering all of our different schedules. And so a team of taxis stuffed with students made the long drive up to Teresita’s home. A couple of the girls had gone earlier and had been busy in the kitchen cooking both dinner and desert. Most of the evening was enjoyed on the back patio by the garden. During the week several students were going to be celebrating their birthdays, so after dinner there were the obligatory birthday cards, songs, well wishes, and pictures. Shortly thereafter we called a bunch of taxis again, so that we could make our way back down to Heredia.

The next day (March 26) was the official opening of the new National Stadium. In a token of friendship with Costa Rica, China donated and built a National Stadium in San Jose. As part of the ceremony, there were fireworks, dances, singing and other performances my both Chinese and Costa Ricans, followed by a soccer match between the national Chinese and Costa Rican teams. My tica family had a mini-barbeque with some of the extended family and enjoyed the festivities and the game from the kitchen TV. Although I would have like the Costa Rica team to win, it seemed fit that a soccer match of such an occasion should end in a tie.

The following weekend (April 1), six of us girls from the program donned our best dresses and went out to dinner and then went to the National Theatre in San Jose. It is always fun to have an excuse to dress up a little bit. Dinner was delicious and a bit extravagant, but suited the occasion. The “Teatro Nacional” is a beautiful building near downtown San Jose and has a long and rich history. There are usually concerts or plays every weekend of varying style or genre. We enjoyed a concert by the Costa Rican National Symphonic Orchestra along with a guest violinist from Germany and a guest conductor from India. The program boasted pieces by Beethoven and Moray and were beautifully performed, so much that, some of us struggled not to nod off. After a hard week of classes and such relaxing music I suppose we can hardly be blamed.

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Saturday (April 2) a group of six of us went to the Irazú Volcano for the day. Located near Cartago, Irazú is about a two hour bus ride from San Jose. It stands at roughly 3,500 meters and is one of the tallest peaks in Costa Rica. “Volcan Irazú” contains a large crater with a teal-colored pool of water at the bottom. From a “mirador” or lookout point at the top of the ridge overlooking the crater, one can see the “Valle Central” or Central Valley as well as the numerous valleys on the other side with “Volcan Turrialba” smoking not too far away. It was here at the mirador that we decided to plop down on the rocks and dirt (outside of the fencing I might add) and enjoy a late lunch with the clouds creeping over the valley view below us.

“Boring weekends” in the Central Valley? I think not!

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The New School Semester

Time March 22nd, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

I am in the middle of reports, projects, labs, and midterms are just around the corner. School is busy as usual. I am studying away and doing homework while at the same time trying to make time for friends and traveling. It is a tough balance.

Class registration was a very difficult process this semester. I had had very little difficulty with the process last semester; however, this semester was a nightmare. Registering for classes here requires that I be in constant contact with my advisors at my home university, the IFSA-Butler Staff here in Costa Rica, as well as the UNA exchange student advisor. In short, it requires constant emailing. There are other difficulties too. Official schedules change, the distributed packet of classes sometimes does not match up with the list of classes on line, classes are full, some classes are deemed too difficult for me, classes don’t transfer or fulfill requirements, and the list goes on. After nearly three weeks I finally was able to settle on a school schedule.

I have five classes this semester: Ecology, Spanish Sintax (a linguistics course), a literature class focusing on short stories and poetry, a ceramics class, and History of International Relations. It’s kind of an odd and broad mix of subjects, I’ll admit, but I am rarely bored. I also have a “taller” of Latin dance. These are no-credit, no-grade classes that meet once a week for roughly two hours.

I think it should be mentioned that there are many student groups and activities on campus too. For example, there are sports teams, competitive teams of dance, various volunteer projects, sports competitions between different university departments, cultural festivals, music and other student performances by the main “soda,” or cafeteria, every Thursday, film expositions, choir groups, music groups, theater, and so on and so forth. I am hoping to be able to attend more performances from these student groups this semester.

For me there has been a significant and wonderful lack of confusion this semester. Now that I am familiar with the education system, it is a lot easier to focus on my studies and not be preoccupied with understanding the system. My Spanish language abilities continue to improve as well. I still occasionally suffer from bouts of shyness and embarrassment concerning my level of Spanish. But as a whole, it is much easier to be an active part of group projects and class activities. It is also easier to converse and get to know the other students in my classes as well. There are several students in my Ecology class that were in some of my other science classes last semester. Having this little bit of familiarity amongst other students is wonderful; it makes me feel at home.

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A Short Recount of Various Short Trips

Time March 14th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

I have been gallivanting about the country and it is high time I wrote all about it.

I took a trip with three other girls from the IFSA-Butler program to Uvita, a coastal town on the Pacific side of Costa Rica. I had been to Uvita during a volunteer project last semester, but didn’t have much time to enjoy the tranquility of the town or discover its hidden beauty.

We arrived by bus early Friday afternoon (February 11), and after dumping our bags off in our hostel room we headed straight for the beach. Near Uvita is the National Marine Park of Whales (“Parque Nacional Marina Ballena”). This park is known for a unique strip of rocks that juts out from the beach and then branches out perpendicularly on both sides, taking the form of a whale’s tail, thus the name for the park. Although I was unable to see it, during high tide the waves crash into another over the rocky strip of land and it is said to be visually spectacular.

The following day, armed with a couple thousand “colones” (about $4), we pillaged the local supermarket, later retreating to the hostel with our cheaply-paid-for spoils. From an assortment of crude ingredients we crafted some hefty sandwiches and then headed up the road from the hostel to explore a series of waterfalls. It was a long hike up an old skid road. The insects in the trees droned stridently and incessantly. Over an hour later we discovered the first waterfall, its water tumbling across the road. We hiked down the river and then up an adjoining river, discovering a waterfall every hundred meters or so. Without a doubt this is one of the most beautiful places I have been to in Costa Rica. We devoured our sweating sandwiches, chatted, enjoyed the cool water, swam, lazed about, and jumped into the river from overhanging rocks. We grudgingly left late that afternoon to go back to the hostel and headed back to Heredia the next day.

Not too long ago (February 25), we IFSA-Butler students went on a fieldtrip to Palmichal, a rural area about 2 hours from Heredia. It was a very full day. That morning learned a little about the history of the town and the people living there. Later we hiked up to a “finca” or farm to learn how to make into the van and headed for hocheese, starting with the cow and ending with samples of squeaky deliciousness.

That afternoon we enjoyed coffee and cheese-filled fried tortillas. By this time with warm and tasty goodness in our stomachs, most of us were tired and ready for a nap, but we still had to take a coffee tour before we headed for home. So we loaded up in the van and then headed to a coffee processing plant. Families, groups of families or co-ops bring their freshly picked coffee berries to the plant to be fermented, dried, roasted, ground, graded and packaged. We were fortunate enough to be able to tour the entire plant and see the entire process.

Last weekend (March 4) I went on another “gira” or fieldtrip, but this time with a class that I am not actually part of. The IFSA-Butler Social History class was going to the National Guayabo Monument and there was extra space in the van for those who were interested in attending. This monument is dedicated to preserving and studying the indigenous group that had live in that area at one time. There are several excavated areas revealing roads, the bases of homes, aqueducts (some of which still function today), grave sites and so forth. Interestingly enough, this group of people was not contacted by the conquistadores. Estimates pinpoint the duration of this people group from 400 BC to 1400 AD, if my memory serves me.

We also went to the Basilica de Nuestra Senora de los Angeles in Cartago, the most famous Cathedral in Costa Rica. There are several traditions, stories and even some holidays pertaining to the church. During our tour, we learned about the origins of the church and the appearance of the virgin of los angeles. As the story goes a figure of the virgin appeared on a rock in the woods and was found by an indigenous girl. She took the doll home with her. The next day she went to the woods and discovered what she thought was another doll, identical to the one that she had found the day before. But when she went home with the doll she discovered that the one she had found the day before was absent. The next day, the figure was gone again but the girl found it at the same rock in the woods. By the end of the story, it was realized that the virgin wished to stay in that place, and eventually a church was built over the rock. The rock is still there underneath the church and the original virgin of los angeles is preserved in the church.

We also went to see the ruins of an old Catholic church relatively near the National Guayabo Monument. Upon arrival we all tumbled out of the van, wandered around the ruins and the small, quaint park surrounding the ruins, and then we all piled back me.

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Reality Show Recap

Time February 16th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

This blog is a lot different than previous blogs that I have written. The creative juices were flowing and I went with it…enjoy!

During the last few weeks the IFSA-Butler program of productions has launched a new season of the hit reality show “Gringos in Costa Rica.” The original cast has been completely revamped, with guest appearances by Carli Trail and Jerusha Hawkins (myself) who were participants in last season’s show. However, rumor has it that these two plan to be regular participants in the show. Modern viewers (those of you reading this blog) have reported that this is a much better picture of living and surviving in another country. Participants in the reality show say that it is a truly remarkable and eye-opening experience, often scoffing at the ever-popular Survivor TV show and its failure to bring realistic experiences to its viewers.

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While the outline of the series remains the same, the challenges, experiences, and adventures are sure to be different. Already, there have been changes in the location of the IFSA-Butler Orientation. This season it was held in Monteverde with the participants (students) arriving on the 22 of January. Orientation commenced with the traditional lectures on Costa Rica etiquette, study habits, language learning, and several need-to-know tips on banking, visas, embassy registration and so forth.

The weekend excursion this season was a trip to Fortuna, a town near the Arenal Volcano. It was during this episode (January 28-30) that Jerusha Hawkins made her first appearance on the show alongside the new participants, but Carli Trail, due to scheduling conflicts, unfortunately wasn’t able to make an appearance at that time. The students spent an afternoon in the town shopping, sight-seeing, and chatting. Later that evening the participants relaxed at a “big Jacuzzi”—a large man-made pool naturally heated by the many thermal vents in the area around the Arenal Volcano. The following day, the participants tested their strength and stamina in a hike to a waterfall (a short and relatively easy hike in reality).

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Back in Heredia, the new participants to the show continued their orientation, while Jerusha and Carli were content to pass the time amongst themselves, only appearing with the other students to take part in registration—a challenge of often bitter memories amongst foreign exchange students. At the end of the week, Carli and Jerusha presented a slideshow and gave a short presentation of general advice to the other participants. There have been reports that the new participants are asking Jerusha and Carli lots of questions about the previous season and what they can expect from this season’s show.  

During the most recent episode, the participants face their biggest challenge yet—university classes. This challenge is expected to last a total of 18 weeks, by the end of which the participants are hoping to be able to handle the Spanish language with relative ease. Of course, throughout the season there will be other challenges as well, but those are not on the forefront of the students’ minds right now.

We recently caught up with Jerusha, in order to hear her thoughts as she starts a new season and continues the brutal challenge of university classes in a foreign language.

Are you excited to start a new semester in the university?

“I am very excited for this semester. It is still a challenge for me sometimes. I feel like there is still a lot to learn about the Spanish language and the Costa Rican culture. ”

Why did you choose to stay for another season?

“Originally, when I was deciding whether or not I wanted to study abroad, I asked the IFSA-Butler Costa Rica Program Advisor if it would be worthwhile to spend two semesters studying abroad. She said that many who had only gone for one semester wished that they had stayed for two and those that had stayed for two were glad that they did. So I decided to stay for two semesters.”

How are you feeling about the new group?

“One should never judge a new group by the old group. It is not fair to the new students. I was blessed to know the participants of last season’s show and I am working hard to get to know this group.”

How do you think the new participants are handling the show’s challenges?

“I think they are doing quite well. They are a very diligent group and try to speak in Spanish all the time. I think they will be able to look back on this experience with many memories and lots of pride in their accomplishments.”

What are your hopes for this season?

“I am excited to have already experienced and succeeded in those daily cultural challenges, which were so overwhelming last semester, allowing me to focus on Spanish even more this semester. I really want to increase my vocabulary and speaking ability during this season.”

We wish the best of luck to the new participants and as well as Jerusha and Carli during this season’s show. Tune in to this blog as often as you want to get up-to-date information about “Gringos in Costa Rica” right here on the IFSA-Butler website!

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January Jaunts

Time January 21st, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

January is moving right along and I am still on school vacation. I spend most of my time reading, sketching, and going to the movies, the mall or coffee shops. I have done a little bit of traveling too. In reality it has been pretty slow around here.

New Years was very similar to Christmas Eve Dinner, although it was a much less formal occasion. My tica family and much of their extended family met at my “sister” Sophia’s house. Many friends of the family came over for dinner too. At midnight we went outside to see the fireworks that are set off from all corners of Heredia. Afterward I went out on the town with my sister, Mariann.

A popular New Year’s tradition in Costa Rica is “Las Corridas de Toros.” It is a combination of the Run of the Bulls in Spain and the traditional bullfighting seen in other Spanish-speaking countries. Here in Costa Rica a bull is antagonized and riled up and then released into an arena with a crowd of participants. The bull tears about the arena as people try to evade it. Once the bull has calmed down, it is roped and taken out of the arena, and another bull is released. There are other games and events as well, such as bull riding, roping, and so forth. Although the bulls themselves don’t really suffer any injury, there are a significant number of hospital visits from participants. There are “Corridas” all over Costa Rica, but the two that I have heard about the most are in San Jose (which just recently ended) and in Palmares (which just started).

Since I don’t have any school work or responsibilities right now, I had time to go to the Poas Volcano. It is actually very close to Heredia; by bus it takes about two hours to get there, making it an easy one day trip. However, I might go again in February or March, because when I went, it was extremely cloudy and very difficult to see anything. I had been told that the clouds and the tourists roll in at 10 a.m., but I didn’t think it would be that bad. When I got to the crater a little after 11 a.m. the clouds were a lot thicker than I had expected. Fortunately there were a couple breaks in the clouds, so I was able to get a few quick glimpses of the crater.

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I have also gone on two trips with my tica family to the beach. The first trip was with a large number of their extended family and we stayed in little cabins near the beach Playa Avellanas. It was a lovely four-day trip—a day of travel, two days at the beach, and then the trip back home. The first day at the beach, I took several short walks and enjoyed the cool surf.  Even though I used 50 spf sunscreen, I got a beautiful sunburn. My tica sister, Mariann, used spf 4 sunscreen and got a beautiful tan. Gotta love my white skin. So due to the sunburn from the first day, I spent the next day hiding from the sun and reading a book. Honestly I didn’t mind. It was still very pleasant to sit in the shade with my toes in the sand and read. Coming home was definitely an adventure due to all of the mechanical difficulties amongst our cars, but we made it back. It wasn’t that bad—just a good exercise in patience.

I also went on another trip to the beach with my tica family. We went to Playa Bejuco, roughly a two hour drive from Heredia—perfect for a day trip. Many of my tica family’s extended family were there too, leaving me to wonder if this is common among ticos. Are trips always a big family event? This beach wasn’t quite as secluded as the Playa Avellanas, but it wasn’t full of people either. It was a simple day—time spent on the beach, a small BBQ-style lunch, and time spent chatting. We made it home later that evening.   

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My Parents’ Visit to Costa Rica

Time January 3rd, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

When I was planning for my year-long study abroad in Costa Rica, I told my parents that I would probably come home for Christmas. They quickly put a stop to that notion, saying, “No, no. Don’t visit us…we’ll come visit you!”

My parents were here for ten days (December 16-26). I tried to squeeze in some fun activities for them so they could see Costa Rica a little bit, but I didn’t want it to be an exhausting trip either, so there were also some afternoons in which we simply had a cup of coffee and chatted. We also spent a lot of time with my host family too.

My dad, always the adventurer, kicked off his vacation in Costa Rica with gusto and went for a short run in Heredia. He got lost. (Don’t tell him I said that.) He eventually made it back via two policemen, a kindly tica at another hostel, and a cab driver. But I am not sure what I would have done if he had been gone for much longer. Maybe it is better not to speculate.

The day after my parents arrived they came over to my tica family’s home for coffee in the afternoon (a very common mini-meal in Costa Rica). Although I had feared a long, awkward afternoon, it turned out to be a lovely visit. And it wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be to translate between my tica family, who don’t speak English, and my parents, who don’t speak Spanish. Once, I forgot to translate and turned to my parents and started repeating in Spanish everything my host dad had just said. After five words or so, I stopped, confused at what had just happened and why my parents were looking at me so strangely. A chorus of laughter followed.

Most of my presents from my parents came later, but early on they insisted on giving me one of my Christmas presents early—the movie A Christmas Carol. It is a holiday tradition in our family to watch as many of the movie adaptations of this classic story as we possibly can and then compare them to the original book by Charles Dickens. So we all piled on one of the beds at the hostel and watched Scrooge’s character transformation for perhaps the hundredth time. It is one of my favorite memories of my parents’ stay.

While my parents were here, we were able to take a short trip to the province of Guanacaste. The plan was to go and see the leatherback turtles at Playa Grande, because it is the high season for when the females come to lay their eggs. At the Parque Nacional Marino de las Baulas (National Marine Park of the Leatherback Turtles) at Playa Grande there is the opportunity to hear an educational talk and then, if a female leatherback comes up onto the beach, take the tour to go see the turtle lay its eggs. Unfortunately, there was a nearly-full moon during our stay in Playa Grande. Unbeknownst to me at the time, when there is a lot of moonlight, the turtles don’t often come up. So we didn’t see any turtles.

While the original purpose of the trip was a flop, we still enjoyed ourselves. We had time to relax, wander around, read, and enjoy some delicious food. We also took a tour of the mangrove swamps up the estuary between Playa Grande and Playa Tamarindo. Crocodiles, howler monkeys, crabs, fish, and a variety of birds were amongst our discoveries during our two hour tour.

During my parents’ stay, we went to San Jose a couple times so that my parents could visit the artisan market, the gold museum, and the jade museum. We also spent a couple lazy afternoons in Heredia and I took my parents on a quick tour of the Universidad Nacional campus too.

We spent Christmas Eve with my tica family and some of their extended family. I was initially very nervous, because not only would I have to be translating for my parents, but much of the extended family I had never met before. Fortunately, my “brother-in-law” (my tica sister’s husband) speaks English and he was kind enough to spend almost the entire evening with my parents and me. It was a huge blessing, and it was a lot easier for me to enjoy the evening.

We also spent the afternoon of Christmas day with my tica family. It was a very simple and pleasurable afternoon. We had lunch, took a short siesta (my dad very much enjoyed their hammock on the back patio), and then had coffee with tamales later that afternoon.

Ten days is a fair amount of time, but it flew by very quickly. It was definitely a pleasure to have my parents come for a visit and I believe the trip allowed them to better understand my life here in Costa Rica and everything I am learning during my time here.

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Intrepid Adventures in Nicaragua

Time January 3rd, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

I recently returned from a trip to Nicaragua with several other students from the IFSA-Butler group. While many returned home right after the end of the semester, several stayed to go traveling. It was wonderful to have one last trip with them.

The trip as a whole did not go according to plan, but then again, few things do in Latin America. And looking back on the trip now, I would not want to change it. I ended up staying in Nicaragua for 13 days (November 30 to December 12) and was able to see a large portion of the country.

The first part of the trip was spent in Granada. We took a bus from San Jose, Costa Rica at 5 a.m. (November 30) all the way to Granada—roughly nine hours long. Granada sits right next to Lake Nicaragua and is a popular tourist destination due to all of the colonial architecture. After getting everything settled in our hostel, we wandered around a little bit, just absorbing all the colors and details of the city. Costa Rica was not influenced much by the Spanish colonial period and therefore lacks a lot of old architecture. Nicaragua, on the other hand, was settled very early and many structures have been well preserved. We spent the next day relaxing by the side of Laguna de Apoyo, a beautiful spring fed lagoon near Granada. The following day we toured Granada again, guide books in hand, determined to find as many of the old buildings as possible. I think all of us came close to filling the memory sticks in our cameras; however, I would imagine that there are more pictures of us and our craziness than of the abundant architecture.

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From Granada we went to Leon (December 2). The sole purpose of going to Leon was to go volcano boarding or volcano surfing, but we were also able to wander about the city a little bit and hang out with the backpackers at the hostel.

We had all agreed to scrimp and save during the rest of the trip so that we could go volcano boarding and it was definitely worth it. It was a six hour guided tour, most of which was spent hiking up Cerro Negro, the volcano that we were going to board down. It is a huge cone of black pumice and rock with a large crater that is situated more on the slope of the volcano than centered at the top. Once we reached the top of the volcano, we suited up in what appeared to be orange prison uniforms and goggles that I would swear were raided from a chemistry lab. The boards that we carried up with us were made of the finest quality plywood, metal sheeting, a glued on piece of plastic, and a handle attached via a rope to the front of the board. Believe it or not these contraptions of speed can accelerate the rider to above 80 km/hr. I only managed to attain 45 km/hr (via a speed gun during the last 50 meters of the run) and will be the first to admit that I toppled three times on the way down. Long story short, my board kept veering to the left despite my efforts to steer, would catch on the pumice, and then flip, sending me rolling down the hill. It was definitely one of the most enjoyable activities I did in Nicaragua, despite the fact that I was pulling bits of pumice out of my hair for two days afterward.

The rest of our time in Leon was spent seeing a few of the sites in Leon and just relaxing. The last evening there, one of the girls in our group borrowed the guitar of one of the backpackers so that she could play and sing a little bit. It didn’t take long for a group of backpackers and other travelers to gather around and listen or play and sing. That evening was one of my favorite moments of the entire trip to Nicaragua. There were people from Holland, Ireland, Britain, Israel, Germany, the US, and other places. I was genuinely struck by how we were all pulled together by just a guitar and a couple of songs.

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Our original group ended up splitting—two others and I went up north and the rest headed south. It was a long trip up to the northern pacific corner of Nicaragua (December 5); in reality we weren’t that far from Honduras. We stayed in a little hostel that sits right on the beach in the middle of a little fishing village. It was a very beautiful and isolated place. We swam in the surf, relaxed in the hammocks, wandered up the beach to the estuary, and chatted with the others there at the hostel.

From the north coast we went back to Granada (December 7) (via a chicken bus, a taxi, a bus, a taxi, and another bus—gotta love traveling in Latin America!). The next day we went on a tour to visit the artisan market in Masaya, go to the Masaya Volcano, and see the towns San Juan el Oriente, Catarina, and another little town nearby. This excursion was actually a random tour hosted by the owner—a rather quirky Frenchman—of the hostel we were staying at in Granada. Not unlike our guide, the tour was a bit quirky, but quite enjoyable at the same time.

The final part of the trip before I headed for home (Costa Rica) was on the Island Ometepe. To get there, we took a four-hour ferry from Granada to Altagracia on the Island (December 9). It was a beautiful ride, although a little rough at times, with a beautiful sunset and the stars peaking out just as we arrived in Altagracia. In Ometepe we stayed in a little family-run hostel that sits amongst the homes of several other families. I really liked being able to live in what could be called a neighborhood instead of a touristy section of the town.

The first day in Ometepe was spent at Ojo de Agua, a stream that is dammed up into a manmade pool. It was a very relaxed afternoon, which was fine by me since the next day I got up at 4:40 a.m. to hike the Volcano Concepción. I have done a lot of hiking before, but this was very different from anything that I had ever done. It would not be accurate to say that it was a hike, nor was it hand-over-hand rock climbing; it was a lot of scrambling over boulders and volcanic rock. Near the top our guide insisted that we all get down on our stomachs and carefully commando crawl forward a little bit in order to see the crater. Apparently the ground is really loose, thus the reason for his insistence that we all get down and not get too close to the edge of the crater. We stayed there lying on our stomachs for several minutes, absolutely enraptured, and then finally shuffled our way back down the slope a little ways, ate lunch, and then trooped back down the volcano.

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Unfortunately, the time had come for me to leave off adventuring for a while and head back to Costa Rica. We traveled to Moyogalpa (December 11) and I hopped the Ferry the next morning to San Jorge then took a taxi to Rivas so I could hop my bus back to San Jose.

Hopefully many more adventures are to come in the upcoming month!

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The End of the Semester

Time November 30th, 2010 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

It is the end of the semester. I knew it would come fast, but it still managed to surprise me.

For our last gira, we IFSA-Butler students went to Playa Conchal in Guanacaste for two days (November 19-20). Playa Conchal is extremely unique because sand doesn’t exist on the beach; instead, it is grains of shells worn down so that they appear to be coarse grains of sand. It is a really calm, isolated bay and the water is a beautiful deep blue. We did group activities on the beach, kayaked, spent time in the pool, had long chats and reminisced, danced, played games of cards and of course laughed a lot. It was a short trip, but full of memories.

These last few weeks at the university have been full of final projects, presentations, and exams. The school system in Costa Rica is really big into final projects and presentations at the end of the semester. I personally found this to be rather irritating. I am not accustomed to having so many projects in addition to finals. Unfortunately during finals week I had three exams and a presentation in one day—Monday. I suppose it was a blessing to have all of the work done, but it sure made for a crazy day.

Since I am done with all my classes and everything, I can’t help but compare my Spanish abilities from the beginning of the semester to my abilities now. At the beginning of the semester I think I understood about 30% of what was said during my classes and it was so exhausting. By the end of the semester I understood about 75%-80% of the information that was said in the classes. I am thinking mostly of my biology classes, because those were the classes that were the most difficult. In other classes (easier classes) I understood up to 90-95% of what was said.  I say this because there are always words or phrases that I don’t know, but the context of the conversation keeps me on track.

I think I have noticed the greatest improvement in my ability to listen and understand Spanish. Obviously I can speak and read better, but because I spend so much time listening, that is where I have seen the biggest improvement. It still baffles me sometimes when I am listening in Spanish and then I realize how little I have translated into English in order to understand. Sometimes I don’t have to translate at all. I really want to improve my speaking and reading abilities next semester.

I feel incredibly accomplished for completing classes in Spanish and am very excited to stay for Christmas break and another semester.

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Quiz Question: Does water flow in or out of drain pipes?

Time November 8th, 2010 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

My last few posts have been mostly about what I have done—I went here, I hiked there, I did that and so on. I think it would cool if I write a little about the crazy, random, and often humorous things that happen too.

First let’s start with the food, since I feel as though my days revolve around mealtimes here. I am fed so much by my family here, and despite the fact that they stuff me for every meal I find that I am hungry for the next when it rolls around. We students have often joked about the Tico quince, a variation of the freshman fifteen. And it just might happen.

Common foods here are gallo pinto (rice and black beans), lots of fruit and fruit juices, cheese (we IFSA-Butler students like to call it “squeaky cheese” because of the sound it makes between your teeth when you eat it), yucca (a root similar to a potato but denser) and other potato-like vegetables, bread, bananas and plantains (another type of banana) and coffee. (Apparently there are laws in Costa Rica about the caffeine content though, so the coffee here doesn’t quite have the same desired effect as the coffee in the States.)

Next let’s talk about the weather. Boring, I know, but it has a way of permeating everything. Literally. Water is water; good ol’ H2O. But I really think the chemical make-up of this very common substance is different here. I think it is wetter. I’m from a pretty wet State originally—Oregon—so I am used to rain and can usually get by with just a good water-proof coat. But here, umbrellas are a necessity and coats are often too warm to wear. I’m a very anti-umbrella person, but I eventually caved. My coat may be waterproof, but my backpack isn’t, and neither are my textbooks. Oops!

Apparently this year Costa Rica has had much more rain than usual. This has caused several floods and mudslides in almost every region of the country and several roads and highways have been washed out too, making travel difficult. Recently conditions have been so severe that Costa Rica has declared itself to be in a current state of emergency. So while I sometimes joke about the rain, it is important to know that conditions are very serious right now and many people have lost their homes and sadly some have lost their lives. We are still in the wet season, but moving into the dry season, so hopefully we have seen the worst for this year.

Thunderstorms occur quite often, especially during the wet season. And it rains quite heavily. But the drain pipes here don’t appear to handle the copious amounts of water too well. I didn’t read the instruction manual on drain pipes, their use, and function, but I am pretty sure water is supposed to flow into them. However, most here in Costa Rica do not follow what I thought was a basic principle. Water flows out of the drains, not into the drains. One completely sunny morning I forded a near-river of water that was flowing out of a drain and into the street.

I was told that if you are lost, try not to look like you’re lost. Great advice, but I don’t think it is physically possible, especially for gringos. And if you have walked down the same block three times, no matter how good your “I’m not lost” face is, you’re going to look lost to those standing in the shops on the street. And yes, I am speaking from personal experience and I have received some very humorous stares at times.

Showering is absolutely necessary; the climate here requires a shower at least once a day, sometimes twice a day. However, I can’t help thinking sometimes that it is completely pointless. By the time I have walked to the university in the morning I have streaks of sweat running down my face just due to the heat and humidity. Feeling sticky all day isn’t the most fun thing in the world.

Crossing the street is always an adventure. It takes a lot of skill, agility, and accurate timing. There can be no hesitation and you have to be quick, because pedestrians do not have the right-away here. We students joke that if you get hit by a car, you win. What you win is still yet to be determined—crutches most likely. And if you get hit by a bike, you get bonus points.

You also win if you get Dengue. That is a crowning achievement. For some reason, this very serious disease has become a joke among us IFSA-Butler students. If someone shows up to school feeling just the slight bit sick we automatically attribute it to Dengue and tease the individual about how miserable he/she is going to feel over the next few weeks. Luckily, no one has won that game yet either.

There are numerous other oddities here. These are the most common. I hope one or two of them made you giggle.

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Giras in My Biology Classes

Time November 1st, 2010 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

I am taking two biology classes here at the University and have had several fieldtrips, or “giras,” to various parts of Costa Rica in order to observe that natural flora and fauna of the country. I recently had two giras that were a couple days long and filled with wonderful adventures.

The gira with my Fauna class was the 8th through the 10th of October. This class is an overview of all the species of animals in Costa Rica with a large emphasis on conservation as well. The gira was at a wildlife reserve called Tirimbina in a region called Serapiqui.

We students all arrived bright and early Friday morning, toting backpacks stuffed with flashlights, clothes, hiking boots, sunscreen, binoculars, books for species identification, and other gear. The bus ride to Serapiqui wasn’t long, maybe two hours from Heredia, but it was a tight fit. Upon arrival, we unloaded our gear into our living quarters (conveniently located just outside of the reserve), ate a quick lunch, and then headed into the reserve for the afternoon.

The reserve is a myriad of pathways and small hanging bridges running through the hillside jungle with a river running along the base of the hill. Most of the reserve is primary forest—old growth—and absolutely beautiful.

That night, after dinner, we also went out into the reserve, because many species of snakes and frogs, as well as other animals, are nocturnal. I was exhausted after the afternoon of traipsing around, but still really enjoyed going out late that night and searching through the jungle with flashlights.

Saturday was very similar to Friday. We went out that morning and explored some more as well as later that night. We made a quick trip Sunday morning as well, right before we left to go back to Heredia.

All in all, I saw a poison dart frog, as well as a couple other types of frogs, various birds, lizards, a bright green tree snake with a blue tongue, a black and white snake (both of which I held), and a poisonous viper. And I’ll admit we were stupid enough to mess around with the viper and, consequently, get it irritated enough to lung and snap at the air, fangs fully extended. Sometimes, we came across tracks in the mud of larger mammals too.

This last weekend, the 23rd through the 25th, I had a gira with my plant anatomy and physiology class. This gira was a little different, in that groups of students designed their own research topic and collected data to test their hypothesis against.

Like the other gira, I was near Serapiqui at a research station next to a national park. We were fortunate enough to stay in little cabins at the research station during the three days and two nights we were there.

We arrived Saturday morning and had a short tour of the reserve which extends to the edge of the national park. Part of the reserve is a primary—old growth—forest and part of it is a secondary—developing—forest. I was amazed at the variety of vegetation in the jungle. Everything was huge and leafy. It was strange to see leaves so huge and plants growing out of the bark of trees. I felt like I was in pre-historic times—the huge palm leaves, thick vegetation, sweltering heat, strange noises—and sometimes let my imagination run wild with thoughts of dinosaurs.   

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Saturday afternoon we all convened and went over the group projects together. Afterward all of us headed back out into the jungle to start collecting data. Most of Sunday was spent collecting more data as well and doing some preliminary analysis. My group had a little bit of a rough time at first, because we couldn’t find enough specimens of the proper species and spent hours, upon hours, walking through the reserve looking specimens. We eventually had to change our research topic and use a different species, but it all worked out in the end. We left for Heredia early Monday morning.

Both Saturday night and Sunday night a bunch of us students walked through the reserve to look for frogs and other animals. We were extremely lucky and saw numerous species of frogs and even some snakes. I saw more animal species on this trip than on the previous gira to Tirimbina.  

In all, I saw several species of frogs, a couple snakes, one of which was eating frog eggs off a leaf, an iguana, two toucans, several other tropical birds, a howler monkey, capuchin monkeys, a caiman, a turtle, wild pigs, and what we think was a jaguarondi.

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I really enjoyed both of these giras, not only because they related to my field of study, but also because I really got to know many of the kids in my classes better. I was really nervous for both of the giras initially, because I am the only expatriate in these classes and for me it is hard to push myself to make friends when I don’t speak the language that well.  But now, after these two trips, I would love to take more trips with theses students, all of whom were very amiable.

My biology classes have been really big on giras. I have also had a gira with my Fauna class to the “World of Snakes” and in a few weeks I will have another gira to a marine zoo. There was a gira to a Marine Turtle Reserve too, but unfortunately I couldn’t go to that one. I still feel very fortunate to have been able to go to so many locations and see so many species of plants and animals.

Never a dull moment as a biology student in Costa Rica!

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UNAventura

Time October 22nd, 2010 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

During the weekend of September 23-26, I went to a National Park for a volunteer project. The park is called “Parque Nacional Marino Ballena.” The volunteer project was organized by the Universidad Nacional under a group called UNAventura. We were a group of what I would guess was about a hundred students, maybe less, from three different campuses of the Universidad Nacional from around the country. Two other students from the IFSA-Butler program went as well. The trip included two work projects, a couple of presentations about sustainability and recycling, team-building activities, a boat tour, and random hours of free time.

All of us students stayed at an outdoor recreation center. The floor was concrete, but we were blessed to have foam mattress pads to sleep on. During our hours of free time most of us hung out in this area and chatted, slept, or played cards and other games. It was a great way for us exchange students to practice our Spanish meet other students. There was a field near the center too and occasionally there would be pick-up soccer games o other games. For the entire weekend a group of students prepared the meals for us—simple, but they were good too. Even though this group stayed at the center the whole weekend and didn’t participate in the actual work projects, they were still definitely a part of the group and their efforts were well appreciated.

Due to the large number of people we were subdivided into smaller groups and did mini projects; so what I did is not exactly an accurate representation of the entire volunteer trip. The first work project that I did was in one of the main stations of the park with cabins, showers, and a garden. My group raked leaves and cleaned the garden area near the beach for most of the day, while others repainted and cleaned up the cabin areas. The next day all the groups were assigned a specific beach to clean up. Picking up garbage is tedious work, no matter what, but the pouring rain definitely added to the tiresome work.

The boat tour was awesome. There was a dolphin that swam along the front part of our boat for almost five minutes, first one side, then the other, as if it knew that we were watching him. We didn’t see any whales unfortunately even though it is the right season for whale watching and supposedly the area is a well known whale watching area.  

On the last day, right before we packed up and loaded up on the bus to head for home, there was a mini-presentation of certificates for all the participating students. On the certificate is the name of the student, the specific volunteer project, the number of hours completed, and the signatures of university staff. In addition to the certificate we got free UNAventura tee-shirts too!

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Independence Day and a Gira

Time September 30th, 2010 in College Study Abroad | Comments Off on Independence Day and a Gira by

Wednesday, the 15th of September, was Independence Day for Costa Rica, meaning there were no classes that day! Additionally, that Friday the entire IFSA-Butler group had a “gira.” Literally translated, a “gira” is a field trip. I don’t know if rafting and chocolate sampling usually counts as a fieldtrip, but I am not going to complain about this slight misnomer.

This year Costa Rica celebrated its 189th year of Independence. Tuesday night I went out with two others from the IFSA group, Carlie and Madeline, to the Central Park in Heredia to watch the various festivities. There were several performances of live music as well as traditional dances from Guanacaste. Another tradition that I thought was particularly beautiful were the lanterns that the children carried about in the park. These lanterns are, in reality, little houses made of cardboard and paper hanging from a rod with a candle or other light source inside the house. Supposedly, there were fireworks that night too, but they must have been much, much later, because I went home at 11 p.m. that night and neither saw nor heard them. However, all in all, the night was very enjoyable.

The next morning, Carlie and I went to Central Park to view the parade. There were banners and flags on the houses and buildings lining the street and the sidewalks were packed with people, many of whom were dressed for the occasion, especially the children. Much of the parade was dance groups and bands from various primary and secondary schools in Heredia. Carlie and I remained perched up on top of a bench for close to three hours watching the parade, before leaving to go home.

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That Friday, the entire IFSA-Butler group went to Puerto Viejo for a guided rafting trip and to tour a cacao plantation. The trip to Puerto Viejo was about two hours by bus and toured some splendid mountain scenery. For rafting the river, we were divided amongst three rafts, each with a guide. The entire trip lasted about three hours with a quick stop in the middle for a snack of fresh pineapple and watermelon. I hadn’t been too sure at first if I was going to enjoy rafting. Now, however, I really want to do it again and perhaps try kayaking.

That afternoon, after lunch, we toured the cacao plantation. We learned about the history of cacao in Latin America and the whole process of making chocolate. First, the fruit is picked and the seeds are removed and fermented. Following this, the seeds are dried in the sun, roasted, and then ground up with sugar. The grounds then go through a very specific process of heating and cooling to make the chocolate. And let’s not forget the best part of the tour—the chocolate samples! I think the best sample was the roasted seeds ground up with sugar and cinnamon into a course powder that melted in your mouth. We also got to try the cacao fruit, the seeds when they are both sundried and roasted, melted chocolate, and traditional hot chocolate.

Although not planned, the hike out to the plantation was also very educational in terms of tropical biology. We saw a pit viper, another arboreal snake, a parrot, a couple frogs the size of my fingernail, a walking-stick the size of my forearm, and some fearfully large ants that apparently have a very nasty bite.

Until next time…Pura Vida!

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Settling into the Day to Day Life of Costa Rica

Time September 7th, 2010 in College Study Abroad | 2 Comments by

Now that I have gotten used to my classes and living with my family here in Heredia, it is time to write another post about my life here in Costa Rica.

I love my family here in Heredia. My parents, Alberto and Amalia, are older and retired, so usually, there is always someone here when I come home. There are two daughters as well. The younger one, Mariann, is 23 years old still lives here at home and will start working again this fall. The other one, Sophia, is married and has a one-and-a-half year old son, Isaac. Usually, Isaac is here a couple times a week, so I tend to think of him as a part of my immediate family.

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At the University, I am taking five classes: Plant Anatomy and Physiology, Fauna (a class devoted to the animals of Costa Rica and conservation), Advanced Spanish (through the IFSA-Butler Program), Social History of Costa Rica (also through the IFSA-Butler Program), and Culture and Development in Latin America. I am also taking soccer class for fun.

School has its ups and downs; I really enjoy my classes as a whole, but there are things that cause frustration too. For example, most of my classes only meet once a week for two hours or more and often it is often hard to pay attention in class for that long. Additionally, I feel as though my homework takes about three times longer than it should. Reading tends to be really slow going and I use my Spanish dictionary constantly. Another difficulty is the use of copy stores instead of the bookstore on campus. Specific copy places have materials for certain classes and sometimes locating the proper store can be difficult, since there are approximately three to four copy stores per block near the campus.

However, that being said, there are many things that I love about school. Mostly, I enjoy the small classes. I am from a very large state school, so the idea of a being able to get help directly from the professor during a class or a lab is strange to me. My lab in plant anatomy and physiology is only 16 people. And during the lab the first day, all the students were raising their hands and yelling, “Profe! Profe! No entiendo. Explícame.” (Professor, I don’t understand. Explain it to me.) And I kept thinking to myself, what the heck are they doing? You can’t just ask the professor for help. It doesn’t work like that. Unlike labs in the States, these tend to be really relaxed and I feel like I am learning a lot. Often times my labs in the States felt like a to-do list, not a fun hands-on activity.

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I have no idea if this is normal, but there have been three “marchas” or strikes—protests in Heredia or San Jose by students and faculty. These could also be termed “holidays”, because there are no classes. It is advised that exchange students avoid these demonstrations. I have walked by one or two of them and felt perfectly safe, but I do try to go around them if possible.

I have continued with the hobbies that I did in the states, such as, reading, running, sketching and so forth, but there are several other things that I enjoy doing the week or the weekend. I have already gone to two professional soccer games at the stadium near my home. I am also playing soccer at the university on the women’s soccer team. I very much enjoy going out with my “sister” and her friends too, as it is a fun way to practice my Spanish, meet new people, and experience the culture.

While I don’t really miss home, I think I am suffering a little bit from homesickness. Little things tend to bother me more. Long waits and lines, confusion during my classes, verbal blunders in Spanish, being stared at, whistles and other calls from men in the streets…all of these things seem to be slightly more aggravating than usual. I was told that it is typical for most students to start feeling homesick between weeks six and eight. We’ll see what the next few weeks are like.

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A Whirlwind of Activities

Time August 6th, 2010 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

I have been in Costa Rica now for over three weeks. Orientation is complete and classes have started. So much has happened. Where do I start?

I remember very distinctly the first night in Liberia at the hotel. What started out as group of four chatting outside under the awning eventually turned into all seventeen of us from the IFSA-Butler group. We did mixers, chatted, and played games in order to get to know each other. I was amazed at the way the group gelled in just that one night and ever since then it has been a pleasure to be among this group of people.

That week of Orientation in Liberia was good, but exhausting. In addition to orientation, we had intensive Spanish classes and testing for our placement in the IFSA-Butler Spanish class. It wasn’t all work and no play though. There were some free mornings or afternoons and we, the students, used them well. We went to Playa Coco for an afternoon and wandered around Liberia another morning.

I moved in with a family for the week I was there in Liberia. It was a pleasure to be with that family for the week and even though the time was short, I was sad to leave them and move in with another family. The final dinner included a presentation of dancing, bombas, live music, and Costa Rican food.

For those of you who are interested: bombas are short poems or rhymes. Typically they are said by a man to woman and are meant as a compliment to which the woman could in turn answer if she wishes. Bombas are best known for their wit and word-play.

Here is an example in Spanish:

Yo no soy flor de josmeca, ni concha de mal aguero, ni tampoco soy guitar para que me toque cualquiera. –Bomba de la Mujer

In English it would be translated more or less like this:

I am not a josmeca flower, nor a shell of bad luck, neither am I a guitar on which you can play anything you want. –Bomba of a woman

Before exiting Liberia, the IFSA-Butler group did an excursion. We hiked through the jungle to hot springs and a mini-volcano. It looked really cool, but didn’t smell so great due to the sulfur. The next day part of the group went rafting and the other part went zip-lining. Seeing as I am from Oregon and can white-water raft fairly easily, I chose zip-lining. It was amazing!

The first week in Heredia was very similar to life in Liberia—orientation and adjusting once again to another family. We also toured San Jose. It is absolutely beautiful, but not nearly as easy-going and laid back as Heredia. But there is no questioning the art and culture that permeates the city. There are numerous parks and museums and the Teatro Nacional was beautiful and unlike anything I have ever seen. We also toured Heredia and got a feel for the city and the campus of the Universidad National.

Last weekend most of us from the IFSA-Butler group went to San Manuel Antonio to enjoy the beach and national park. San Manuel Antonio is on the Pacific coast, but I have been told that the beaches resemble more closely the beaches on the Caribbean coast—the jungle is very thick and extends down almost to the waves it seems. I went hiking, enjoyed the waves and sunshine, and saw monkeys and sloths! I have always wanted to see sloths and I was fortunate enough to be within five yards of a three different sloths. I was ecstatic and took tons of photos. Without a doubt that was my favorite part of the weekend.   

Right now I am busy with classes and am trying to immerse myself as much as possible into the culture and look for opportunities to use and learn Spanish. It is very exhausting and often at the end of the day I want nothing more than to talk to a friend, read a book, listen to a song, or watch a movie in English. I know it will get easier, but it makes for long days. Right now everything is very exciting and I feel like I slipped into the lifestyle and culture all too easily. But I know that eventually, homesickness will come and likely a frustration with my classes or the culture.

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Mental Preparations

Time July 8th, 2010 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

I always said, “I am planning on going to Costa Rica.” I was accepted into the program months ago, I read the email updates and newsletters from IFSA-Butler, I did an orientation at my home university, I got courses approved by my advisor, and I bought my plane tickets. Even then, I still said, “I am planning on going to Costa Rica.” Finally, I realized that this wasn’t some day dream or possibility. It was happening. When, you may ask, did I finally grasp this reality? Two weeks ago. Needless to say, I panicked slightly. Irrationally and absurdly, I thought about calling the whole thing off. What was I thinking? I couldn’t spend a whole year in another country more or less by myself. I was not prepared for that sort of thing. I hadn’t thought things through. I hadn’t mentally simulated different scenarios. But then again I couldn’t quit now; I had already spent a lot of money. Besides, I had been overseas before; I should be able to handle this. Ok, so I have only a little time left…how on earth do you prepare for a year-long study abroad Read More »

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