Here are some pictures taken from one of the buildings that I have Spanish class in at the Universidad Nacional. There are other buildings on campus with a similar design. It may be the Environmental Studies major in me, but I love it! So much beautiful greenery from the moment you enter provides such a warm and inviting learning environment. People are always sitting at the tables in the middle eating lunch, working on homework/group projects, or just hanging out. I was speaking with a Tico (Costa Rican) about this today and he told me that it is very common to have this type of design in the universities here. United States, take note!
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This photo was taken at the Cerro Dantas Wildlife Refuge. It shows the water running downstream from a beautiful waterfall that was behind me. The hike to reach the area was about 3 hours long and had some slippery, muddy paths just before the finish line. At one point I took a wrong step and my foot went ankle deep in mud. But the laughs and conversation with my friends as well as this gorgeous view made it completely worth while. My only regret is not having brought my bathing suit and a towel because the water was so clear and cool and I would have loved to jump in!
If there is anything I’ve learned from Costa Rica thus far it is that, as the title states, the less you look, the more you find. This gorgeous rainbow was spotted on a walk in Monteverde. On many other occasions since being here I’ve seen nature’s beauty when I least anticipated it. One example is when I saw a troop of white-faced monkeys while on a walk back from a waterfall or a Basilisk (also known as a Jesus Lizard) while looking for the source of water from the pool I was in. Moving forward I suppose I should expect the unexpected.
Today has been a mix of every emotion from aching sadness to nervous excitement to an eerie calm. With my bags packed, goodbyes said, and tears fallen, I feel prepared. There’s nothing left to do now but get a good night’s sleep and take a leap of faith into the unknown. My excitement has faded as reality has hit that tomorrow is the day I’ve been waiting for for the past 5 months. Now I’ll be spending that amount of time in another country at another university in another language. And I’ve never felt more ready for it than I do right now.
Return to SU
So I waited extra long to write this because I didn’t feel like I had a transition back to home. The day after my flight back from Costa Rica, I left early in the morning for my REU at Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Oceanography (much to my parents’ dismay). So my transition period with my family and at home did not really take place and sort of felt delayed since I was once again moving to a new place for a few months. However, every time I’ve been home over the past eight months, I’ve noticed more dramatic differences than even after spending weeks at school without coming home.
Now, on the second day of classes and after two weeks and a half weeks back on campus (due to Residence Life training), I am starting to really see changes and differences. There are physical changes to campus that are new to me. Yet, whenever I point out some of these changes, someone will remark that that particular thing has been this way for months. Then there are other changes that are actually new to them else well because they happened this summer. In addition, faculty and staff changes took place last semester that I did not find out about until I returned to campus, so I had/have a bit of new information to digest.
At the same time, it feels like this is my first time taking classes since last fall, before I went abroad. I took challenging classes abroad, yet somehow they almost feel like they don’t count here (even though they all will transfer). I’ve only noticed a few things so far but in my friend group, there are things that happened last semester that I don’t understand the reference to since I wasn’t here. Yet, whenever someone asks me how my semester abroad was, I always have to pause because there is too much to say, but not enough time to say it. I always find myself saying something like “Good” because it’s impossible to describe months of a cross cultural experience in a sentence or two.
And I realize that in a way, this is just the beginning of the transition back. I have learned that when it comes to experiences like studying abroad, I am almost unable to fully appreciate the experience until I have put enough time and distance between it so I can reflect. This means that I will probably realize more and more things as this new semester back home continues.
I can’t believe that in less than two days, my semester abroad will be over and I’ll be headed back to the United States. At this point, there are things that I miss about the U.S. and I am looking forward to go back, but on the other hand, there are also things that I do not miss. Likewise, there are lots of things that I will miss about Costa Rica (food, host family, etc..) but there are also other things that I am ready to leave behind.
I’m in the middle of my finals week and past the worst part. I’ve been ready to be done with classes for a while, especially after seeing friends from home finishing the semester a month ago. I am also ready to start my REU (like an internship for science students) that I have been figuring out the logistics of since mid-March. However, this means that I will be home for less than 24 hours before I leave (I live in South Central Pennsylvania and my REU is in Rhode Island), which means that I have barely any time to spend with my family and pets.
I’ve had so many experiences abroad that I don’t even know where to begin to articulate them to family and friends. And you can only understand some of them if you were here to experience them for yourself. Throughout, I’ve gotten more comfortable with public transportation, which barely exists at home, and is one thing that I will miss but will be difficult to convey to my family since if we want to go somewhere at home, we just drive there ourselves. While it’s more convenient, it is also so nice to know that if you do a bit a research, you can get to just about anywhere in Costa Rica by bus. I’m also much more comfortable with Spanish after spending a little more than four months here.
In sum, I will miss Costa Rica and hope that I can come back in the not so distant future. I will miss my host family and friends.
Ask someone when you’re unsure about something:
When I’m not sure about something, I usually just take some time and try to figure it out myself. Looking back, I wish I had been more proactive initially in seeking out answers to my questions, but at the same, everything is very overwhelming initially and it’s okay to take a step back from everything to ground yourself.
I’ve already written one entry reflecting on how my family is doing without me and how I am doing without all of my family and friends. I’ve had to deal with a number of things that have happened at home.
Shortly before I left the United States, my grandfather faced a few health scares. By the time I left, everything had almost past, aside from some minor things. I knew there was a possibility that it could get worse while I was abroad, but I also knew that going abroad would not change any outcome.
Then, almost a month and a half ago, my family had to put one of our dogs to sleep. It was very sudden and everything happened in a few days. What made this more surprising is that our oldest dog is clearly showing his age and we all knew it was possible that I may not see him again, but our other dog is a little bit younger, but he always acts like a puppy so you would never know that he was ten years old. I even remember telling him that I didn’t have to worry about him because it seemed like he was in perfect health. Of course, I feel guilty about saying this, but there is no way I or anyone else could have known what was going to happen.
A few weeks before that, my dad broke his ankle and leg, and would be out of work for weeks. For me, the biggest impact this had was related to money, since my dad is the main bread winner in our family by a mile and it’s not like we are rich or very comfortable to begin with. Now, today (Mother’s Day in the U.S.), my mom called me because something else happened and my dad has been in critical condition all day and at this point, there is still a lot of uncertainty. It is harder to deal with since I am abroad, especially since a lot of people at SU have finished the semester and have been able to go home.
I think that all of this is plenty of reason to regret going abroad…..but I don’t. Even though I lot has happened and is still happening, there is not much I could have done if I was home. More than likely, all of this would have still happened because stuff just happens in life. Don’t get me wrong, it is harder being abroad and being about from all of my friends and family but right now, I’m just reminding myself that stuff like this happens in life and often under the worst of circumstances (not that there is a best of circumstances).
Daily life here in Costa Rica, at least for me, is not necessarily all that different or much more exciting than daily life in the U.S. The major difference is since my workload is a lot lighter here, I have a lot more free time. Read More »
I thought it would be appropriate to write about the different educational landscape after taking my first round of exams for a number of reasons. First, it gives me enough time to adjust (kind of) to the different system, and secondly, it gives me a bit of time to reflect on the system as well. Read More »
Most Common Profile
The most common profile in study abroad is students from “elite colleges, white, female, major in arts/humanities, and have highly educated parents.” Let’s see how that compares to me. I am from a small liberal arts school (does that count as elite?), I am white (check), male (nope), I have majors in biology (nope) and Spanish (check), and both of my parents completed high school but never went to college so they would not be considered highly educated. Read More »
Other exchange students
This past week was Semana Santa, so in other words, it was spring break for us. Everyone in our program (there are 14 IFSA students in Costa Rica for the semester and two more that are in their second semester here) had travel plans. A few people went to places alone, one group traveled outside of Costa Rica, and I went with a group to Tortuguero and Puerto Viejo. There were six of us total, and the initial trip to Tortuguero lasted half a day. Read More »
One month down
On Friday, my first month in Costa Rica ended and marked the beginning of my second month here. Over the course of this month, I have noticed a lot of differences between Costa Rican culture and U.S. culture, although there are probably more that I have not noticed because I have not thought about them. Personal space and your personal bubble do not exist in the way they do in the U.S. It is common to hug and kiss people on the cheek as a sign of greeting and farewell, which as someone who likes their personal bubble, is taking a bit of time to get used to. It is very common for men to catcall, whistle, honk their horns, and stare at women walking, although every time that I have seen it, that’s all it was. It makes me think that instead of men just lacking in all forms of self control, it is more of a cultural norm to do it and it would be out of place for men not to do it. Although, it still makes my female friends from the U.S. very uncomfortable for obvious reasons. Rules of the road really just seem like suggestions and it seems that drivers make up their own rules as they go, including motorcycles and scooters that always pass cars, buses, trucks, SUVs, etc… when they shouldn’t. Most classes at the university are only once a week and there is a lot less busy work and a lot more group work. It is acceptable for people to show up late for classes and events (tico time), however, it does not apply to my science classes.
By far, my biggest struggle has been the language barrier. Looking back at a month ago, I can tell that there has been at least a subtle increase in my proficiency with Spanish. I try to listen and follow my professors, my parents, and other people that I encounter, but at times I can’t understand what they are saying, although my listening skills are still a lot better than my speaking skills. I try to talk as much as possible but my problems are when I don’t a word I need and cannot get around (although today I had a conversation about my opinion genetic modification with classmates for fun and it went really well) and if I don’t have anything to say, I usually don’t say anything. To mediate this, I’ve tried to force myself to talk more with mixed success. But I have learned that even if I understand 95% of what everyone says, the only way my speaking will improve is if I speak as much as I possibly can, knowing that I will make a lot of mistakes in the beginning.
The main topic of this post is my professional goals, but before I get to that, I want to address short term goals, and how my study abroad experience is affecting them. If anyone is reading this and is considering going abroad but is waiting for the best time, stop it. There will never be a perfect time to go abroad.
When I was trying to decide when I would go abroad, I wanted to pick a semester would not dramatically impact affect my biology major and a semester where I would have taken enough Spanish classes to feel ready. And from the beginning I decided to wait until my Junior Year. Fast forward to now and there are more biology classes offered this semester than last semester, and I don’t think an extra semester of Spanish has made much of a difference in my speaking capabilities. There are other things at Susquehanna that I am missing this semester.
BUT going abroad will always throw a wrench in your schedule. It’s impossible to choose a perfect time, because you will miss something (a class, an event, a holiday, etc…). But don’t let that discourage you from going abroad because the experience will be worth it. Just keep in mind what you are gaining outweighs any scheduling conflicts.
My shortest term goals after this semester ends is having a successful Senior Year, since all of my goals after college depend on this. This includes successfully completely my biology major and Senior Research, my Spanish capstone, finishing my minors, and being a successful Senior Community Assistant. The only one I am not worried about at all is my Spanish capstone, since this study abroad will drastically improve my command of the language. I am taking courses here that will transfer for my biology major, which is a big scheduling relief. I think in general, this experience is improving, and will continue to improve, my problem solving skills since I am basically learning how to live in a different country more or less on my own.
And now finally my long term(ish) goals. Science students are underrepresented in study abroad programs because it is harder to accommodate our busier schedules (see rant above), courses that we need are usually harder to come by abroad, etc… So that puts me in a second groups of students that are underrepresented in study abroad programs, which will be very useful when I start applying to graduate schools for marine biology/biological oceanography. Also, in one of my courses here, we have trips to biological reserves, which even though they are terrestrial, will still help. And knowing a second language is useful in basically every field, especially if I would have to travel somewhere for research and Spanish is widely spoken (i.e. a large portion of Latin America). Even though my science classes are a bit more difficult right now since I don’t know all of the terminology in Spanish, it will be worth it in the end and will be better than only taking central curriculum courses here (which I don’t need anyway).
All of this is also true when I’m ready to finally start applying for jobs (probably at a government agency or a university). There’s probably more ways that this experience will benefit me vocationally then I realize now.
Today marks the 13th day that I’ve been in Costa Rica (including the night I arrived at the airport). I’m adjusting to my second and permanent host family and to Heredia, and classes don’t start until tomorrow. Now that I’m here and mostly settled in, I have tried to make sure I contact friends and family in the U.S. on a regular, but not too frequent basis.
Aside from my first weekend here where I called home three days in a row (not everyone was available to talk at once) I’ve only texted my parents and my sister a few times or vice versa. The first time we Skyped (I did not have internet for a few days so it was not right away), our dogs were confused since they could hear me (an maybe see me) but I was not there. I miss all of the dogs, especially our new puppy, Vader, since he won’t be small the next time I see him. The same is true for my family, but if I were not studying abroad, I would still be away from them since I’d be at college, and I usually don’t come home until breaks. So currently, this doesn’t feel that different from a regular semester at Susquehanna, for me and them.
The same is also true for friends at home, however, not for friends at college. One of my closest friends is also studying abroad, so I would not see her even if I were at Susquehanna, but it is a bit odd not seeing my other friends. I have texted a few of them to see how their semester is going, but not too frequently. I think that at this point, this still does not feel like it will last until June, so it has not sunk in for me that I probably won’t see a lot of them until August.
Undoubtedly, the adjustment is hardest for my girlfriend. During the semester, we spend to most time with each other, so it’s difficult for both of us to not see each other, including over long breaks. While the adjustment is difficult for my parents too, they have grown accustomed to not seeing me for a few weeks at a time. This is different for both of us. We’ve talked frequently through texting, but I am going to try to restrict calling/Skyping to a maximum of once a week (I’m going to try to do the same with my family). Since I’m still dealing with a completely new environment, it is currently harder for her, but as I grow accustomed to my routine and classes here or confront new difficult challenges, I could see it becoming more difficult for me too.
With all of that being said, I’m going to do my best to not focus on what I’m missing from the U.S. all of the time so I can focus on what I can experience here.
Mom: Host family, packing enough, and safety
Me: all of the above and traveling outside the U.S., social norms, language barrier, academic environment, courses, people, and anything and everything that I forgot to mention.
Above, I have listed my parents’ and my own anxieties and fears about leaving the United States for the coming semester. I can still hardly believe that I am already a junior in college and I am about to begin this incredible yet also terrifying experience in one week. The entire process, from applying to study abroad through Susquehanna’s GO Office and through IFSA-Butler to everything I have done since to prepare myself for this semester abroad is entirely new to me and my family.
The same is true when I was applying to colleges, scholarships, and getting ready to leave for college. Since neither of my parents and my older brother went to college, I did not have any help from my family during my college application process, unlike some of my old high school friends. I never really thought about it during the process. Ever since late middle school and throughout all of high school, I was very academically independent. So when it came to applying to colleges, nothing change. I had a bit of help from my high school guidance counselor, but otherwise, I did everything on my own.
Preparing to leave for college, however, was a slightly different case. Not only did I have to pack material items, but I tried to mentally and emotionally prepare myself for an experience that I really did not know much about. I did not grow up with stories of my parents’ college experiences. Sure, I had older high school friends that went to college, but I never stayed in touch enough to hear about a full college experience. Many people say that college was the best four years of their lives, but aside from stereotypical representations of college, I did not know what I was in for.
The same is true about studying abroad. All of my peers who have done it have said it was one of the best, if not the best, experience of their lives. Sure, I have also heard stories, but for the most part, I do not know a lot about what I am in for. It’s true that Susquehanna’s Pre-departure class and IFSA-Butler have given me a lot of advice on what to do to prepare myself for this experience, but there are still so many things that I probably don’t even know I will encounter. And I realize that is one point of the experience, but it does not bring comfort to someone who likes to plan out different aspects of their life every few months.
All of the information-packed documents and packets that I’ve received from IFSA-Butler have been extremely helpful in quelling many of my anxieties, but I still have many more. And again, I know the point is that I will have to figure things out for myself, at this moment in time, it is still unnerving. On the contrary, six months from now, I bet I will feel just the opposite.
Oh, have I forgotten to mention the questions? Oh the questions. Like me, my parents want to know what I am in for to comfort their own nerves, but like preparing for college, I simply cannot answer most of them or I can only answer them just after I find an answer to my own question that I posed.
So a week from leaving, I’ve started packing (keep IFSA-Butler’s packing list handy), and have most of my official documents in order. I get more anxious every day, but I know that what I am about to embark on will be an amazing experience.
Well, I have been home for four days now and things have been great so far! I have eaten most of the foods I missed and gotten used to being asked how being abroad was. I don’t think I have experienced much culture shock since being home, except having to put the toilet paper in the toilet again, but I am sure it will kick in soon, especially when I head back to school in January.
Luckily, since I have been back, I have kept myself busy with running errands, working on some things for school, and visiting friends at the University of Arizona. I think this has been a really great way for me to get accustomed to my life back here in the US because I jumped right back into my routine of things. Although I most definitely miss CR, I love being back home.
I have had a lot of time to reflect on my experience abroad during the hours of bus rides across the country when I was too exhausted to sleep so I just listened to music and starred out the window. My experience definitely had its ups and downs, and like everyone else’s study abroad experience, it is completely different! Study abroad is very popular and common at my school, almost like an unwritten requirement. At first I was a little upset that I would not be studying in Spain in Europe and connected with everyone else I knew studying in the area. But, I was also very excited to truly get away from my school, be in a country that most people don’t study in, and meet completely new people. This was a challenge for me but also a great benefit. Studying abroad in a country with a different language is also a huge barrier as well. Although I am not fluent, I am very confident in my Spanish language skills now, and I am not afraid to speak Spanish to anyone, which is great! I also already miss it. Going back and forth between two language is a wonderful and unique experience and I certainly do not want to lose all of the skills I worked so hard to gain the past five months.
So that being said, I also did a bunch of cool things and traveled all of the country. I went to 6 out of the 7 regions, 18 cities, 4 national parks, and 9 beaches. Not only did I accomplish just about everything on my bucket list, but so much more as well!
- San Jose
- San Jose
- Puerto Viejo
- Talamanca, Bribri
- Monteverde/Santa Elena
- Manuel Antonio
- Bahia Drake
- La Fortuna
- Bocas del Toro, Panama
- Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio
- Parque Nacional Santa Rosa
- Parque Nacional Volcan Poas
- Parque Nacional Tortuguero
- Reserva Biologica Bosque Nuboso Monteverde
- Reserva Biologica Isla del Cano
- Refugio Nacional de Fauna Silvestre Ostional
- Estacion Biologica La Selva
- Playa Jaco
- Playa Manuel Antonio
- Playa Gemeles
- Playa Espadilla Sur
- Playa Cocles
- Playa Naranjo
- Playa Rio Claro
- Playa Ostional
- Playa Estrella, Panama
- visit the Panama Canal
go zip lining in Monteverde play with the turtles in Tortuguero(I didn’t play with turtles but got to see some in Ostional) visit a volcano go repelling down a waterfall see the monkeys at Manuel Antonio go to Montezuma visit the Caribbean coast go to a hot spring go white water rafting go horseback riding pet/feed a wild animal of some sort(I didn’t feed any, or pet them really, but I touched a starfish, a bat and a turtle egg) try cacique (national alcohol) try imperial (national beer)
- visit the local Jewish synagogue
volunteer at a local school
- snorkel (three times!)
- go whale/dolphin watching
- bungee jump
- eat termites
- visit an indigenous community
- went to a wedding
- got barked at by a raccoon
- painted a carreta
- chocolate tour
I was lucky enough to spend my last weekend in Costa Rica with my sister! We went back to what I think are the prettiest beaches in the country (that I’ve seen at least) in Manuel Antonio. And we went to La Fortuna/Arenal which ended up being my favorite city in the country!
I highly recommend going to La Fortuna/Arenal because you can spend a few days there and do everything! The hot springs are beautiful and super fun and relaxing. My sister and I went rappelling down waterfalls which was an amazing experience and a ton of fun. I wish I had more time in town because there are still so many things I could have done and little shops and restaurants to visit.
Overall, it was a perfect way to end my trip. Not only by doing and seeing amazing things, but getting to share the experience with my sister as well! Now I am on my way home, which is definitely a bittersweet experience. Even though most of my friends are sad to leave, I am not. It is upsetting that my time abroad is over, but it I just a closing to a chapter in my life. I am very excited to be heading home, back to my own culture and family, because five months is a very long time. And, I know that one day I will be back.
Hasta luego, Costa Rica
This weekend I went to Ostional in Guanacaste in search of more turtles. It was a super casual and relaxing weekend with just myself, the IFSA Costa Rica advisor Tracy, the IFSA-Butler Health and Safety director Eryn, and her daughter. It was really nice having a weekend by myself with them to get to know them better and to just hang out and have fun. IFSA students are so lucky with the amazing staff members they have!!
So we went to Ostional, which is a very big tourist area because the beach gets thousands of turtles each year that come to lay eggs. At the biological reserve we stayed at, the lady in charge loved telling us about the town and the turtles. It is a small pueblo with only 250 people. All of them work together to help the turtles by cleaning the beach, doing research, and providing tours. In fact, only people born and raised in Ostional, and over the age of 15, can work as tour guides. It is also the only city in the entire country that can sell turtles eggs (yes, for people to eat). The beach is filled with white egg shells from all of the eggs that hatched and I even saw a skull from a turtle that has recently passed away.
I saw four turtles this weekend, finally, but unfortunately did not get to touch one like I wanted. However, I did get to touch a freshly laid turtle egg! They feel like a little empty plastic ball. It was quit an amazing experience to watch the process and it takes some time. The turtle has to come to the beach, find a good spot, dig a deep hole, lay the eggs, fill the hole, and move around in circles to spread the sand out and make it look like they were never there.
Anyway, moral of the story is wildlife in CR is amazing. And any opportunity you get to volunteer or see or do anything- go for it! Especially if it is with IFSA!!
I am down to the three week left marker! Myself and many other of the students on our program are really starting to reach a point of mixed emotions. As much as we absolutely love it here in CR, we are really starting to miss home and our families- and the US munchies we are used too, of course.
Last week we had our final IFSA gira which was all about us. It was a beautiful biological reserve with nice showers, private bathrooms, drinkable water, and AIR CONDITIONING- by far one of the nicest places we have stayed, mostly because we weren’t sleeping in bug spray and AC!! We got to explore a little and learn about chocolate and bats (I even got to touch one, and it was a little weird) and we went rafting, which is one of my favorite activities! It was super nice just to have a weekend away in a calm environment. We had a break from the stressful period that school is at and it really reminded me of why CR is such an amazing country and that I am really going to miss it!!
I am taking another break this weekend since I have been away for the past three weekends traveling. Tomorrow I am doing a day trip to Volcan Poas to cross ‘explore a volcano’ off my CR study abroad bucket list. This morning I also dipped my toes into the culture here a little more and went to the weekly farmer’s market here, which is the largest in Heredia. Even though it was tough waking up at 6am on the Saturday, it is much better than waking up a 4am on Friday’s to catch a 6am bus, and it was totally worth it!! I highly recommend going! It was something totally new full of colors and smells and a million fruits and vegetables- a bunch of which I have tried but never would have known.
I am really excited for what the next three weeks have in store for me- visiting some more turtles in Ostional, maybe one last trip somewhere, and then having another tourist weekend when my sister visits. Only two more papers and two finals to get through; wish me luck!
This weekend I got to take another break from the study part of study abroad. I went on a volunteer field trip with some other students from IFSA to Tortuguero to protect the turtles! We all had a little something different imagined for what the trip would be like and what exactly we would be doing, but I think in the end we were all left a little surprised.
After traveling by bus and boat, we arrived at a cute little camp site which would be our home for the weekend. It is literally in the middle of the rainforest full of bugs, animals, and trees. After some basic turtle training that included learning about the four species in the area, and practicing taking measurements of turtles (what we would be doing if we encountered one), we were off to take some power naps before our nighttime journey.
The work involved walking up and down a 3 mile stretch of beach in the dark in search turtles tracks to hopefully find a nesting turtle. Although my group did not find a turtle, we did see two tracks, which was really cool. Even though I was frustrated that after walking 20 miles that weekend and barely being able to walk up the stairs to my room Sunday afternoon, it was still a great experience.
The camp has two purposes when in regards to turtles- check their well-being and monitor eggs that are nested, and maintain a strong presence on the beach to prevent poachers. They also do a lot of other research with the caimans in the river and the other animals near them, such as snakes and bats.
So, even though I stayed up from 8pm-2am and from 9pm-3pm in hopes of getting to see and touch a turtle, at least I was able to help keep them safe so that when my children are older, they will have opportunities to see them as well!
Well I have officially reached and past the half-way point of my study abroad experience and I am seeing the finish line for school, which is both very exciting and very sad. It is truly amazing that I have actually been living in a foreign country (in Spanish) 12 weeks already!! It has been quite a roller coaster adventure to say the least.
This past week or so I have realized that I am finally at peace and comfortable with my new reality and lifestyle here in Costa Rica- yes, it did take that long! Things with school have finally calmed down a little and I have a better grip on just about everything here, or so I think. I still get starred out (which is not something offensive here, but actually very obnoxiously common), hissed at, and pointed at. And you would think that by now people would know that I can actually speak Spanish, they do not need to talk to me in Spanish, but of course that is not the case.
One thing I have definitely learned since I have been here is that it is okay to take a weekend for yourself! A few weeks ago all of my friends started leaving for their abroad experiences and arriving in their new countries. At first I was jealous and frustrated- they were all so excited for their new adventure and I had already been living and experiencing the challenges of that adventure that they still have yet to face and understand, especially those also going to a country that does not speak English. But now, I am more at peace with it and I know that soon enough, once they surpass the honeymoon phase, they will understand the culture shock and what going to school outside of the US really means and entails. All of my friends are out exploring and seeing new cities and countries, and I was enjoying a relaxing weekend at my host home with some snacks, some homework, and some netflix. And that’s okay! Being abroad is an amazing experience, but it is also tough. It is mentally and physically draining and there is nothing wrong with staying home for a weekend to take a breather and catch up on some reading for class. After all, the locals I live with RARELY travel during the school year- ONLY during the holidays and vacation!! So not only am I and every other study abroad student here studying, but also traveling at the same time, which is no easy task. So, friends, do not forget to take a mental health weekend every now and then!
This week I had two class giras (field trips), which are surprisingly common in Costa Rica. For my education classes I spent the weekend living in an indigenous community in Bribi, Talamanaca in Limon. This little place had no clean water, no electricity, wood floors to sleep on with ‘walls’ about the height of your waist, and trash bags help up by wooden poles for showers. Needless to say, it was quit a weekend. But, I did get practice catching a fish (archery), string palm leaves for the roof of the hut, and dance in a traditional ceremony. Despite all this fun, the best part was bonding with my classmates and seeing how close we became after just a few short days. Then two days later, I went on a gira to Sarchi with my Spanish class (all fellow IFSA students), which was absolutely gorgeous and super fun! We went to the garden and to the “fabrica de carretas” (essentially wagon factory) to learn about the carretas and paint one of our own! And on top of all this, next weekend I am off to Tortuguero for a volunteer work with the turtles!
Safety is extremely important and it cannot be stressed enough. Although there are always things you can do to make your experience traveling more safe, there are also things out of your control.
I had the very unfortunate experience of one of the horrible potential realities of study abroad, or of any travel. One of my fellow foreign exchange students went swimming at a beach, and never returned. Luckily, his body was discovered a few days ago, which will bring some peace to his family and friends at home. My peers and I were shocked and did not know how to handle the situation. It is one of those things that rarely happens to people you know, especially when you are off adventuring together. At first, us study abroad students were the first and only people to know (besides our program leaders). I had a class with Deon and his partner for our project asked me where he was or if I had talked to him recently. I knew I was not allowed to say anything except to speak with a program leader, but it was such an uncomfortable and upsetting conversation to be having. And now that there is are news articles published, it will be interesting to see how class continues without him.
I wanted to share this story because it is a part of my abroad experience now, and I think it is important to read and to hear about. In our group meeting discussing the situation before Deon was found, our program leaders kept reminding us that we are all a family, and that we have any support that we could need with us. This even really reinforced to me how supportive of a program IFSA-Butler provides its students. Anything you could possibly need as an IFSA-Butler student, Tracy and Maureen and Paula will do whatever they can to take care of it. Te cuidas (take care of yourself) has never meant more to me, and tranquila (calm) has never been such a more soothing word.
I certainly do not want this to frighten anyone or make them reconsider traveling, just be reminded about the extra cautions you need to take as an extranjero (foreigner). Always ask if you are unsure. If it doesn’t feel right, stop, or don’t do it. Go out of your comfort zone, but don’t push yourself beyond your limits. And make sure to have fun but always stay in control. Nothing should stop you from doing what you want and following your dreams, just make sure to te cuidas and remember: tranquila.
This past week and a half has been one of the most stressful I have experienced. Luckily, I got to end it with a near perfect weekend exploring Bocas del Toro, Panama, which is literally paradise and there is no better way to express that.
My week started with making a big decision to split from my partner for a class assignment. We had seven weeks to complete a 15 page minimum research paper based on a piece of literature, separate from what we have read in class. Unfortunately, my partner and I have different learning styles and approaches when it came to completely this assignment, so I chose to do it solo. This meant trying my best to read, understand, and interpret medieval Spanish poems, find multiple outside resources, and then somehow manage to write 15 pages about it in Spanish, all within four days in order to have time to revise it with my tutor. Needless to say, I was terrified. But despite the multiple challenges, and phone calls home crying from being stressed and overwhelmed, I did it! And I am proud of the hard work I submitted!
So, my advice to you future students, and any person really- Don’t be afraid to do it on your own, because you can do it!
Finally, my week came to a close and I was off to Bocas del Toro, Panama! I cannot express enough how absolutely gorgeous it is there and how peaceful and relaxing my week was. I went snorkeling, dolphin watching, held a starfish, read in a hammock, and laid on the beach. While I was there, I even got to enjoy a very cultural moment and celebrate the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, with some Israelis that were also visiting Panama. It was not at all what I expected, but sharing a dinner with these strangers that I had nothing in common with except our religion (and some of their English and Spanish skills) was very inspiring. To me, it really proved why I choose Judaism and what I believe in. And it was very comforting to have people to share the holiday with when I was and am so far away from my home and my family. I also had another fun cultural moment on the bus ride back form Puerto Viejo to San Jose. I sat next to a very nice lady who was working on her math homework. Of course, me being the math nerd that I am, offered my help and spend then next 4 hours explaining algebra to her. I found it to quite fun and it really proved that my Spanish skills are coming along as well!
But now I am back to my Tica reality- cramming homework and eating lots of rice!