When studying abroad, you never know when your first chance to do something may be your last. An example of this would be when I was able to visit this gorgeous Volcano, called Poas, with some friends. Just a few weeks later it was shut down to the public as it had become active, as many volcanoes are in Costa Rica. It is still inaccessible to the public and which makes me all the more grateful to have had the opportunity to visit it while I could. So my advice to anyone studying abroad is that if you’re up for something, do it and if you’re on the fence about it, do it anyway.
Student Blogs & Vlogs | College Study Abroad Programs, IFSA-Butler
This is a photo of something I painted while on a field trip with IFSA to the city of Sarchi. While we were there we visited the Lankester Garden where we took an art class. At first, everyone was stressed out about staying within the lines and not making any mistakes. As the teacher told us that we should simply relax and enjoy our time, someone joked, “We’re Americans, we don’t know how to relax.” In a way I think that’s true, but after about fifteen minutes of painting with birds chirping in the background and a gentle breeze surrrounding us, we did all learn to relax. It was the most gorgeous garden I’ve ever been to and a beautiful place to learn such an important lesson.
I’ve never been more pleased with public transportation than I have been with the bus system in Costa Rica. Instead of a thirty minute walk to class, for fifty cents I can get there in seven. I’ve seen drivers pull over to pick up people standing with their arm out on the side of the road where there wasn’t a designated stop. I’ve been able to go to San Jose, a national forest, and a beautiful waterfall, all through this system. And when someone holding a baby, an elderly person, or a pregnant woman steps on, the handicap seats become instantly available. Not to mention the gorgeous view of the country you get to see along the ride and the support for the national soccer teams on some of the drivers’ dashboards, as pictured here.
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!
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.
Here it is, my first post on this blog. I have been talking about writing this post for over a month, but somehow I am here writing it as I wait for my flight. Even now as I sit here in my hiking boots typing this post, going abroad doesn’t seem “real” yet. Studying abroad for Spanish is one of my life goals, and now it is almost here, as in a few hours away. Enough reflection though, let’s get to the logistics!
For packing I brought a personal item (backpack) and a small checked bag. My checked bag weighed in at 38.6 pounds. I will include a packing list and what I wish I would have packed different towards the end of the experience, right now my guess of what to pack is as good as yours! Read More »
Today marks three full weeks in Costa Rica, well almost three weeks. Really it’s a day shy… but who’s keeping track? Given that the past couple of weeks have, more than anything, been an exotic extension of my summer break vacations I certainly have not been keeping track of the days. But even while my lazy summer mindset hasn’t quite worn off, my days have been filled with anything but lazy summer afternoons. In the two weeks since the program has started I have gone to the beach, to the mountains, to the country, around the neighborhood, around the university, around the city, and halfway across the country. (Okay maybe just a quarter of the way across the country, but halfway sounds a lot more dramatic). In short, I have done a lot. And instead of boring you guys (and myself) with a list of what I did I’m just going to make an extensive photo gallery with rocking captions that will hopefully give you a picture (*knee slap* I am tooooo good) of my past two weeks in Costa Rica. So for those skimmers out there, READ THE PHOTO CAPTIONS they are important!
P.S. For those of you tracking me on the map, I have had the hardest time getting Google to find Heredia the city. So for future reference, when it says San Jose I really mean Heredia.
July 5, 2014
Ah! There is so much to say, I keep getting disheartened at the idea that what will end up in this post is only a fraction of what I experienced. And now, as more time passes without me writing a post, there is so much to share that I feel it’s just impossible to write anything of substance! But fear not citizens of America, I will do my best.
I left off when my mom and I were still in Houston, TX en route to Costa Rica. Well, we made it that night and spent the next couple of days touring around Liberia and the surrounding area. In short, it was great! We ate delicious typical Costa Rican food (Casados, fruit drinks, rice, rice, and more rice, beans, etc.) and had some good conversations with locals be it at the hotel or on our tours. On one of our tours we met a family from Mexico. The dad was Mexican and the mom was German born and raised but has lived in Mexico for… oh goodness, 20, 30 years now? She talked with my mom more and I talked with the 13-year-old daughter. It was so much fun hearing everything she had to say because she was so excited to talk about her country and the different places she has visited. She was very patient with my Spanish and was very perceptive and just super sweet It was a totally awesome experience and reminded me why I love to travel! The title is courtesy of our new German-Mexican friends. It means “The bird is in the tree”. So for you fledgling Spanish speakers that were having trouble translating the title, don’t fret; it’s not Spanish.
My mom flew out Saturday morning, which left me anxiously awaiting the arrival of the other students and, more importantly, the start of the Costa Rica v. Netherlands game. Man, was that an experience. I watched the first half with another student from the program at a nearby restaurant, which was exciting. Then, at half time, we went to the hotel to meet up with two other girls from the program and we spent the rest of the game at the hotel. That was an absolute riot. In a good way of course:) While the Ticos didn’t win, (By summarizing that way I leave out all of the intensity, passion, and downright beautiful athleticism of the game, but let it be known that it was a great game) the enthusiasm never faded. Though you could tell the air was slightly heavy with disappointment and sadness the streets were filled with proud Ticos waving flags and honking their car horns in show of their love for this country and their team, or the sele (sele, short for selección, because the teams for the world cup are a selection of the best players from that country that don’t normally play together). It was altogether surreal. Saturday night, as we settled in to sleep after the long day of excitement the rest of the group arrived weary from travelling, but excited.
Sunday was the official start of programming, but I won’t get into that. I’ll leave that for another post that focuses just on orientation happenings because, let me tell you now, there is a lot to be said. So for now, it’s goodbye, until next time.
July 1, 2014
It’s 5 am. With my eyes still red and stinging from the lack of sleep, I sit in the back of the car and pull out my phone to check my email just in case something travel-related has come up. *Bing* an email from United Airlines. I start skimming, “flight has been confirmed…. One or more of your flights has been changed…” I groan. My flight hadn’t just been changed; it had been completely rerouted. We were now leaving at 5:10 PM from San Antonio to go to Chicago where we would be staying the night to catch an 8 am flight to Liberia, Costa Rica.Maybe if we go to the airport we can hope and pray that this isn’t really happening…
Long story short, after much keyboard tapping, a gracious airline representative was able to squeeze my mom and me on a flight to Houston at 2:45 pm so that we could make it to Costa Rica by tonight.
So instead of this day being an exciting prologue to my months of adventure and exploration in the beautiful green paradise commonly referred to as Costa Rica, it was an extended tour of the cozy and air-conditioned Terminal B at the San Antonio airport. Still it hasn’t been a bad day at all, I’ve gotten to sleep, read, write, eat, and, most importantly watch the second half of the US v Belgium soccer game. Sadly, it did not end favorably, but my spirits are still high because 1) I got to cheer for our team along with a frenzied huddle of strangers in the Houston airport 2) Los Ticos are still going strong in the World Cup and 3) I’m going to Costa Rica – tonight! All in all, a good day.
Costa Rica bound,
June 30, 2014
‘Yes!’ Despite the growing concern that all of my belongings wouldn’t fit, I have managed to stuff everything and then some into my suitcase. Along with tightly rolled bundles of clothes, I have managed to stuff all sort of toiletries, hiking boots, tennis shoes, Chaco sandals, and an inordinate amount of Cliff bars into the various nooks and crannies of my suitcase. I stand up and survey my work hands on my hips; I can’t help but be proud.
‘I guess all I have to do now is close it!’ 5 minutes later I’m still on the ground struggling against the bulky zipper. It’s 10:02 pm and I’m painfully aware of the fact that I have to be up in less than seven hours. I’m now sitting on top of my suitcase, steeling myself against the floor in an effort to force the brute shut. The zipper moves about two inches. Some more tugging and then I almost get it to the corner where it stays despite my best efforts. ‘Okay, maybe I’ll try the zipper at the other end.’ I turn over and splay my body across my suitcase hoping that by bearing all of my weight on the suitcase I can get the zipper to move around the bulging and awkward lumps that are threatening to burst through the thick black fabric. After a couple more minutes of seemingly pointless struggle I give up; if I have to break a sweat to get my suitcase shut, I’m probably doing something wrong. ‘Sigh.’ This means rearrangement.
It’s 11 pm now and my suitcase is once again tightly packed, so tightly packed I’m afraid that removing the wrong thing will send all of my items flying out like some sort of Pandora’s Box, and there is no going back from that. ‘Now for the moment of truth.’ I sit on my suitcase and after a small tug the zipper starts to glide continuously, if not smoothly, along the seam. ‘Got it!’ And with my suitcase finally packed and my futbol vocabulary well under way – jugada (play), toque (pass), tira de esquina (corner kick), disparo (goal attempt) and GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOL (goal) – I was ready.
Nov. 15, 2013
Tomorrow I’ll be on a plane to Miami, and from there, to Newark, N.J.
And that’s that. That will be the end of my 4-month life in Costa Rica. No more Spanish, no more amazing mountains, jungles and beaches, no more delicious tico food.
No more hometown. No more host family.
No more study abroad.
It’s all a memory. And I’m OK with that.
Probably my favorite class I’ve taken here is Social History of Costa Rica. Our professor, Carlos, is brilliant and likely one of the premier scholars on the socioeconomic and political history of Central America.
He took us on a bus tour to travel back in time.
First, we went to La Basilica de Los Angeles, the same place I visited during El Día de la Virgen de los Angeles. It’s the most important church in Costa Rica.
Then, we checked out Guayabo National Monument, which is, for all intents and purposes, the Machu Pichu of Costa Rica. It’s the most important archaeological site in the country and the home of the remains of a pre-Columbian capital.
We also visited two churches. All that’s left of the first are ruins of the oldest church built in Costa Rica.
But the second is the oldest functioning church in the country.
We also checked out an incredible vista of the surrounding area.
Our last program trip was an adventure. Unfortunately I don’t have many photos of the rafting and ziplining that bookended our trip, both on or over Río Sarapiqui.
We started off with a tour of a chocolate farm, where staff showed us how to make chocolate the same way it has been done for hundreds of years by indigenous Native Americans of Central America.
Our night hike around Hacienda Pozo Azul, where we saw, among other things, mating red-eye tree frogs, is probably where I got my best photos of the wildlife of Costa Rica.
Monteverde is known for three things: quetzals, cloud forests and ziplines.
I only got to enjoy the last two.
Ziplining was first on my to-do list, and it was a blast. One line is billed as being the longest in Latin America, soaring over a valley for over 1,500 meters.
With that out of the way, I hiked around Reserva Biologica Monteverde (Monteverde Biological Reserve) looking for the famed quetzal bird, with no success (closest my guide and I found was a nest). Found a couple of other critters, though.
Finally, I spent my final morning there rappelling down waterfalls, the tallest about 40 meters. Quite the adventure, and quite the workout.
The Caribbean side of Costa Rica is like a different country than the western half. More beaches, of course, but beautiful in a different way. The culture is spectacularly Rastafarian and carefree, and all of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, where I stayed for a weekend, is filled with surfers and bikers.
I also made a trip to Bribri, an indigenous reserve that included waterfalls and an indigenous reserve.
Finally, I went snorkeling at Punta Uva (“Point Grape”) to explore some of the best coral reefs in Costa Rica.
Right before we left, a view of River Sixaola and, just beyond, Panama.
Volunteering at a turtle conservation project in Matapalo was by far the most meaningful experience I’ve had in Costa Rica.
We visited the hatchery as part of our “Ecological Richness of Costa Rica” class. All of us were split into patrols, either walking along the beach collecting eggs or releasing hatched turtles into the ocean. All of them were at night.
My first job was a 3 a.m. shift at the hatchery, monitoring the nests for any hatched turtles. Just as the sun was rising, we found one, lone lora turtle walking around its nest. It was part of another batch that had been born earlier that evening, and it was just late to the party.
We named it “Vida,” which mean “life” in Spanish. Watching it waddle along the sand, back into the ocean, to its home, was incredible and life-affirming.
Normally, these turtles are born in a nest in the sand. But threats, both natural (snakes, crabs, foxes, etc.) as well as man-made (poachers), have driven them to near-extinction.
To protect those eggs, I went on a four-hour patrol in the dead of night. We hiked a total of 9 kilometers at a power-walking speed. On our way back, our guide Daniel spotted a mother lora turtle making her nest. It was majestic, watching this mother laboriously, yet gracefully, make a home for her babies.
We carefully took her measurements and removed the eggs, all 103 of them, and placed them in a bag to bring back to the hatchery to be cared for by the volunteers until they hatched.
The work that these volunteers do every day and every night is not easy, but it is necessary. If these volunteers are successful, they could serve as an example for all turtle conservation efforts in Costa Rica.
Without them, without us, these turtles, as a species, would not survive.
We visited Parque Nacional Carara in our “Ecological Richness of Costa Rica” class.
It was honestly pretty disappointing. Though it’s billed as a sure-fire place to see the famous scarlet macaws, we saw none.
My trip to Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio was by far my favorite part of my trip to Costa Rica. Beautiful, white sand beaches, jungles and hordes of monkeys.
The southern tip of Nicoya Peninsula is known as “Mal Pais,” which literally means “Bad Country.”
It’s anything but bad.
First, a wonderful ferry ride across the Gulf of Nicoya.
After two bumpy bus rides, we made it to Mal País, and, more importantly, the beautiful Playa Carmen.
The next day we took a horseback ride around the surrounding jungles and beaches.
We capped off the weekend with a trip to the famous waterfalls of Montezuma, where we jumped and swam to our hearts’ desires.
About a month ago our Spanish classes visited the small town of Sarchí, known for its beautiful, hand-painted oxcarts. We toured the factory, where we painted little wheels in the same style and fashion as the professionals, whom we also watched at work.
We also went downtown to see the largest oxcart in the world, made in the same factory we visited.
This from Lonely Planet: “Costa Rica’s most famous crafts center, where artisans produce the ornately painted oxcarts and leather-and-wood furnishings for which the Central Valley is known. … It’s a tourist trap, but it’s a pretty one.”
Just like the States, choices between cell phone providers are limited. Here, Claro, Movistar and Kölbi reign supreme.
I bought a Claro cell phone one of the first days I was in Costa Rica. And for months, I’ve been trying to get them to stop harassing me with promotions and ads in the form of text messages multiple times a day. Buy these minutes! Two for one minutes today! Buy today!
This is a story of lies, doublespeak and corporate incompetence.
I spent two days in mid-September at the Simón Bolivar Zoo, both for a group project on Costa Rica’s public zoo in San José. I even got a chance to interview the director. Useful trips if for nothing other than to cross animals off my “to see in Costa Rica” list.
Lonely Planet: “The 4070-sq-km Parque Internacional La Amistad is an enormous patch of green sprawling across the borders of Panama and Costa Rica (hence its Spanish name La Amistad, ‘Friendship’). This is by far the largest protected area in Costa Rica.”
Most of our time on this 4-day program trip in early September was spent in and around Asoprola, a small community of organic farmers and craftsmen. No, I didn’t see Panama. It was too cloudy.
This was the same trip I used to unplug from technology. Great trip, overall.