The semester ends officially on November 15th, exactly one month from today. As such, it is high time I went into detail about the Universidad Nacional. It is a small campus located on the East side of Central Heredia. It is the busiest part of town and easily accessible. There are approximately 15,000 students. Probably the most prestigious programs are the school of teaching and the school of dance.
My classes are: Advanced Spanish (IFSA), Social History of Costa Rica (IFSA), Ecological Wealth of Costa Rica (IFSA), Harmony and Polyphony, and Coercive Bases and Inequality of Gender. This is a pretty diverse set of classes. Language, history, biology, music, and humanities. The only connection is that they are all taught strictly in Spanish. Advanced Spanish is hands down my favorite class. The professor is super chill, not to mention absolutely hilarious. She tells jokes, explains slang. Every class we learn something new about Costa Rica and the culture. One day is is different local vegetarian restaurants and the next is the fact that shrugging your shoulders is considered offensive. My least favorite is Ecological Wealth. The professor in that class… is lacking.
Differences between la Universidad Nacional and universities in the good ol´ USA:
- Group projects- extensively used and profoundly annoying here in CR. I´m not a fan. Perhaps I´m just not accustomed to them. I find that the majority of the time only one person in the group actually works while the rest lollygag around. Even my Spanish profe agrees. She says professors make group projects because they are too lazy to grade more individual projects.
- Essays- I can honestly say that I have now written more essays in Spanish than I have in English. However, this is due to the fact that I was a music major at Mizzou, so I almost never wrote papers. Still… Also, there are differences in the papers themselves. Professors want more writing and smaller paragraphs. My final essay for my Spanish class is supposed to be 12 pages. I had better get started!
- Punctuality- Tico Time applies to classes too. It is very common for professors to be late. The students commonly walk in 30 minutes after the class began.
- Duration- Rather than meeting two, three, or five times per week for an hour, classes here meet once a week for three hours. Unfortunately, my attention span doesn´t last that long.
- Formality- Some professors dress nicely; others wear jeans and a tee-shirt. Also, students call their professors ¨profe¨ which, at least to me, sounds kind of informal. In emails, we address the professors by their first name. This is one aspect of costa rican education that I appreciate. Although, it also has its downfalls. I have encountered some professors that just play around on their phones while students are giving presentations. Perhaps a little too informal…
- Organization- Schedules and classrooms all seem to have a distinct lack of organization. I had to wait an hour the first day of one of my classes because the class started an hour later than what my schedule indicated. My Spanish class meets in two different buildings, depending on the day.
- Cafeterias- I DEFINITELY prefer Tico sodas (cafes) to the ones in American universities. I can eat a full meal for less than $2, and it is decent Costa Rican food: rice, beans, fried plantains, picadillo, salad, flan, coffee, local fruit juices, etc. There are 3 or 4 on campus and they are all privatized, so they compete price-wise. They also sell any number of snacks and drinks to-go. The doors are always propped open, so the local stray dogs are always wandering between the tables begging for food.
- Textbooks- Costa Rica wins on this one too! Instead of using expensive textbooks, all of the professors utilize photocopies. There is an entire street filled with copy stores that is locally called Copy World. I think my most expensive book was $6. For students, this is a dream come true. I doubt this would fly in the US. I feel like it would break so many copyright rules. Plus, book publishers aren´t making a dime.
- Giras- So, some University classes involve mandatory giras, or fieldtrips. I have never encountered these in the US. One fieldtrip we went to a sea turtle conservation site. Another, we went to Sarchí. Interesting, but disruptive schedule-wise as they are sometimes planned to overlap other classes.
- Organizations- There are a lot fewer student clubs and organizations. The one that surprised me most is that there isn´t an LGBT group on campus. Unthinkable in the US. Also, I haven´t found any intramural sports teams, nor school teams. This is probably due to the fact that there are only two main universities in Costa Rica: UNA (mine) and UCR. If there were school teams, they would only have one rival.
- Dorms- To the best of my knowledge, there aren´t any dorms located directly on campus. There is student housing, but it is on the side of campus. Most students either live in Heredia with there parents or in apartments or commute every day. Another interesting effect is that fraternities simply do not exist here.
- Majors- The class schedules, dictated by a student´s major, are very strict. As a result, students take classes with all the same students for the entirety of their university career. So, all of the students are friendly and know each other well.
- Class Size- I haven´t encountered a single lecture hall on campus. My largest class has only 30 students. My smallest (Harmony) has 4.
- Buildings- Most of the buildings are designed with an open-sky garden in the center. When it rains, you can run through the middle and get wet. Few of the classrooms have air conditioning or heat. However, they all have zillions of windows.
- Price- Ticos without any scholarships generally pay less than $2000 per year for a full course-load. Even directly enrolled international students only pay $4000. Yay for affordable public universities! In contrast, the private universities can cost $8,000 or more per year for just tuition.
Overall, I believe I prefer American universities education-wise. For convenience and price, Costa Rican universities win!