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Ciao, Tiquicia (Goodbye Costa Rica)

Time July 16th, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Saying goodbye to Costa Rica wasn’t easy. Even after a month in Gringolandia, it feels like I still have one foot still there. Maybe I just forgot to bring my foot with me. The last few days there were surreal. Packing, kicking back one last time with all my Ticos, and arranging all my travel affairs occupied me so that I didn’t truly have to face the fact that my flight was coming. Being in a plane for eight hours seemed like a dream. It didn’t hit me that I was back in the States for good until I woke up in my own bed in Missouri with my parents downstairs eating breakfast and my almost two year old nephew rampaging around like a freight train.

Before leaving, IFSA provided a returning culture shock seminar. The speaker did a great job of explaining the many aspects and changes that we would experience: the strangeness of English everywhere, taking on responsibilities again (such as feeding ourselves and cleaning our own bathrooms), and looking at American culture with a different perspective. However, knowing about culture shock, as I had already learned when I experienced it the first time in coming to Costa Rica, doesn’t make it any less jarring. The first couple of days back, I couldn’t stop talking about my experience. Luckily, my family is patient and listened. Talking about it isn’t the same. No matter how hard I try to explain, they will never understand exactly what I mean when I talk about asking directions from six different people to find one bus stop, how the most important international affair was the first football game against Uruguay in the World Cup, or how warm it is to meet a stranger with a hug and a kiss.

The easiest, and slightly disappointing, method of coping with the awkward jarring effect is completely separating my life in Costa Rica and my former and current life in the USA. It almost feels like someone clipped a small section of film roll out of a movie and reinserted a section from a different movie. Only the freshly inserted section was a foreign film and didn’t have subtitles. Now that I’m back to the original section of the film, I can resettle quickly and move on from the strange foreign part. In some ways, it is scary how effective this method is; already there are some days where I only think about Costa Rica once or twice. I don’t often actively think about my study abroad experience. Rather, there is a constant, buried ache, slight but consistent in the back of my mind. Occasionally I get sudden, sharp reminders of tico friends. Some days are worse than others. Rather than wasting time longing to go back, it would be better to invest this transition in reflecting upon what I have learned. A year abroad has taught me so many things about Spanish, a global perspective, culture, social diversity, and myself.

I dove into another culture with an open mind and a vocabulary limited to introductions and the weather. Slowly but surely, and many times forcibly, I acquired a broader vocabulary, learned advanced grammar, and developed, if not eloquence, at least tact in conversation. I have written more essays in Spanish than I have in English. I know enough slang to translate “We pull for the goat’s nanny’s hut” to “We are going to my girlfriend’s dad’s house.” I could translate better examples, but they would be quite inappropriate for a public blog. Am I fluent? Well, I suppose that depends. Merriam-Webster defines fluency as “the ability to speak easily and smoothly; especially: the ability to speak a foreign language easily and effectively.” If I were insulting your mother or explaining feminist theory, then yes, I would consider myself quite fluent. If the conversation turns to physics or football strategy, then no, I wouldn’t be fluent, not even in English. Unfortunately, fluency isn’t an achievement signaled by a little bell ping or a finish line. If only it were that concrete. I know I am years of studying from being at the level I desire, but, for practical purposes, I would consider myself bilingual.

Culturally, I will never be the same. In the airport in Houston going through immigration being around my own culture for the first time in a year was startling. Like an outsider looking in, I could clearly see all of the American quirks and stereotypes playing around me. We are loud. We complain a lot. Everybody was in t-shirts and shorts, carrying huge duffels or backpacks. Even the ethnic diversity jumped out at me. Strangest to admit, I found myself staring at people with blue eyes and blonde hair without realizing it. Although I had only been gone a year, standing in that airport, I did not feel like an American. Apparently I was successful after having spent so long trying to negate my own culture and embrace a new one. Fast forwarding one month, the alien sensation has dissipated, but not the consciousness of “Americanisms.”

Most of all, I’ve learned about myself, specifically, my limits and of what I am capable. I went to a foreign country barely knowing the language and without knowing a single person there. I lived with two completely random families. I lived off of what I brought with me, which was limited to what I fit in a suitcase and a backpack. After such a complete upheaval, I feel like there is little that I can’t do. Costa Rica chewed me up and spit me back out with a sense of confidence and a taste for travel. Returning to Missouri isn’t returning home; it is making a pit stop before launching again on another adventure.

Blogging for IFSA Butler-Costa Rica has been a pleasure. As my last post, there are only two words I have left to say: Pura Vida!


Piddling in Panama

Time April 28th, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Costa Rica has long held the reputation as the Switzerland of Central America. Having disbanded its army in 1948 and stubbornly refused to opinionate during worldwide controversies, this is a reputation well-deserved. Costa Ricans are very aware and proud of their fame. They tend to talk about their Nicaraguan and Panamanian neighbors with condescension regarding poverty, government, quality of life, etc. (I have found the majority of ticos extraordinarily racist towards their neighbors too, but that is another story)

I had always treated this tico pride as nothing more than a type of ill-mannered patriotism. Sometimes it is easier to ignore problems with your own turf when you point out the problems of others. As a result, I undervalued the claims I frequently heard that Panama is a poverty-stricken country with huge class discrepancies. I undervalued too much.

We (Aaron, Kaitlyn, and I) decided to spend Holy Week in Isla Bastimentos, an island off the East coast of Panamá. (Holy Week is a national holiday. All schools are closed, as well as the majority of businesses. Thank you Catholicism!) Happily and naively we booked a hostel, planned our bus routes, and paid our leaving taxes. We were ready for vacation!
Our bus/water taxi route from Heredia to Isla Bastimentos
The first leg of our journey was traversing half of Costa Rica to get to the Panamanian border. Piece of cake. With 7 hours, two busses and $13 we found ourselves at the migration office waiting to have our passports stamped. After stamping, all we had to do was cross a bridge and we would be in Panama. Here we found the first indication that Panama wasn´t what we thought it would be. The bridge was ancient, dilapidated, and frankly quite scary. The original platform was make of old milled wood, but was so rotten the government had to build a second floor directly on top of it. This second layer was hardly in better shape than the first. Actually, if you weren´t careful, it was possible to fall through the base completely with one misstep where the base was missing altogether.
Bridge connecting Panama and Costa Rica
Rickety Bridge
Our impression did not improve after that. Once carefully scaling our way across, we were met with the Panama migration office… or offices. There were three different offices with a layman at each directing migrants to the next. Interestingly, there didn´t seem to be any sort of armed official on duty supervising the incoming migrants, so if we had wanted we could have completely skipped all of immigration unimpeded. Theoretically. We didn´t want to take that chance.
Migration Office


After jumping through all of the hoops, we began planning our trek from the border to Isla Bastimentos. This leg required two buses and two water taxis and this was it, or so we thought. Our second bus was impeded by a strike and we had to get off and walk. A friendly Panamanian border patrol officer helped us figure out a plan to continue our journey, in exchange for a  well-earned tip. Apparently, the main road had been closed all week due to three or four different strikes. The demonstrators were chopping down trees and putting them in the road to stop traffic. Our savior led us through a mess of taxis, walking, and negotiating to the coast.

On our second water taxi ride we were quite sure we were going to sink. Through the entire ride our boatman was bailing water. We were so glad to hit land that we didn´t even complain when he charged us four times the amount it was supposed to cost. Finally on Isla Bastimento, we began our search for our hostel. Finding it didn´t take long, as the entire population lives on one main road. There aren´t any cars on the island. Neither are there roads, signs, water treatment, a sewer facility, nor a convenience store that has more than a dirt floor.  Our hostel room consisted of two beds, one lightbulb, a toilet and sink, and a shower without hot water.  The establishment was run by a slightly crazy Spaniard who had recently moved to the island.
Hotel Valparaiso
Hotel Valparaiso- not quite as nice as the website lead us to believe…

It soon became apparent that there was absolutely nothing to do on the island. This didn´t bother us, as that was the entire goal of our vacation. Unfortunately, at first we couldn´t find the beach. After trying and failing to find a non-sketchy path, we returned to our hostel and asked our crazy Spaniard. To our bemusement, the only path to the beach, he told us, was a 20 minute walk through the heart of the island. We set off once again, armed with low expectations and shoes for hiking.
A Red-Lored Amazon parrot- He was quite unafraid of us and lived right next to the hostel.
The first sight of the beach was what made all of our suffering, disappointment, and confusion worth it. I´ll let the pictures do the talking-
k y e
three of us
The harshest reality of the island was the living situation of the inhabitants. The homes were hardly more than shanties. Not once did we see a school. The only businesses were ones directed at tourists: two restaurants and convenience stores, a smattering of hostels, and the ferry service. Young adult men loitered around all day smoking marijuana, drinking, and cat-calling at women. The inhabited side of the island reeked from untreated human waste. It was poverty worse than I had ever seen.
view from taxi
stilted house
Further alienating us from the culture was the language. Although the three of us speak Spanish more or less fluently, and English fluently, obviously, we could hardly understand the natives. It was a type of Spanglish heavily accentuated with slang and a Jamaican twang. It seemed almost to be its own dialect; the Panamanians with whom we had conversed on the mainland definitely spoke a Spanish we understood, albeit with a distinct accent.

Our return to Costa Rica was similar to our exit. The strikes were still going strong, so we managed to find a taxi driver to navigate us. He was insightful on the current Panamanian politics and social situation, and talked to us for the entire drive. Thankfully, he spoke Spanamanian (Panamanian Spanish), which we almost completely understood. The border was equally disorganized, the bridge equally frightening, and Costa Rica all the more welcoming.

I don´t regret going. Culture isn´t always happy host families and trying new food; it is seeing the ugly realities too. What I saw in Panama wasn´t pretty, but it was real.

I´m happy to be back in Costa Rica. I´m happy to be back home.
The family
This picture is an excellent description of my host family. (left to right) Tita-being preoccupied with the rest of the family, Me-grinning over-enthusiastically, Hazel- chill as always, Andrés- adorably naive and innocent




Host Family #3

Time February 24th, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Already I am completely in love with my third and final host family! In the intimate family there are three people,  a mom, sister, and cousin. My host mother is a little old lady who tries to force me to eat way too much amazing food. I keep telling her that she is going to fatten me up, but she just laughs and tries to heap more food on my plate. I call her ¨Ti¨ which is short for Tita, a common nickname for grandmother. My accumulation of Spanish slang has somehow managed to impress her and she keeps saying that I talk more tico than real Costa Ricans. Doubtful, but I appreciate the sentiment.  She also watches a menagerie of trashy telenovelas. One program I am ashamed to admit I actually enjoy. At dinner time we always watch Caso Cerrado (Case Closed), a Latino mix between Judge Judy and The Jerry Springer Show. From an academic point of view, watching it exposes me to various accents because it is shot in Miami. Excuses.

My host sister of thirty some years is a complete jokester. She practically bounces around the house with energy and enthusiasm. I don´t see her very often because she is always busy at La Condesa, a five star hotel, where she manages wedding planning.

Her ten year old son with puppy dog eyes and hamster cheeks is an absolute teddy bear. He almost exclusively says ¨Hola¨ to me, probably out of shyness. In school he is learning English. I was checking his notebook and the only thing the students had learned so far were English salutations. ¨Hello, how are you? Good day. See you later.¨ They were pretty standard, until I got to ¨pure life.¨ I almost died. Pura vida definitely does not translate well as a greeting.  ti-y-dres



A Word to the Wise

Time February 19th, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

The following is a heartfelt letter I wrote to the incoming IFSA students to Costa Rica. It is a summation of how I handled culture shock. It feels very personal putting this on an open blog forum such as this, but I feel my advice can apply to any study abroad experience.

Chicos nuevos,

You guys arrive tomorrow, I´m so excited for you! My own arrival was so surreal, I remember it now more like a dream than like something that actually happened. Although you guys have probably been pummeled by advice through emails from IFSA, friends, family, what you´ve read in guidebooks, I have my own to impart. Please take time out of your busy packing and emotional preparation to hear me out.

I came to Costa Rica with a suitcase, shoulder bag, and a backpack filled with all the things I thought I would need for an entire year. I actually congratulated myself. I was pretty proud of having packed so lightly. Anything I forgot I could buy in Costa Rica. What couldn´t be bought could be done without. I arrived in Liberia and lived out of my suitcase for a week. It didn´t take long for me to realize, however, that I had packed too much.

My suitcase was full of toiletries and clothes, books, and small trinkets from home. It wouldn´t have weighed so much, except I packed it to the brim with expectations. I can tell you from experience, they weigh more than you can imagine.

All of the witty guidebooks and alluring shots of beach panoramas pasted together an image of Costa Rica that I was only too happy to see. Scarlett Macaws and Leatherback sea turtles patiently awaited us eager exchange students. Billowing smoke rolled off active volcanoes. Everything was verdant and clean, everything was postcard quality. I read about the ticos as if they were another species. The more I knew about them the more readily I could accept their culture, I told myself.

No matter how many times you read about culture shock you will still never be prepared to experience it. I knew about tico time. I read how close tico families are and how kids never move out. I actually laughed with incredulity about houses not having real addresses. I knew the facts. I didn´t know the reality or how to handle it.

After a month of lugging around my suitcase I was too exhausted to drag it further. It was just too heavy. The only thing I could do was throw things out. I was drowning in stress and my expectations, already thoroughly butchered, were a ball and chain pulling me down. Culture shock is a sneaky predator. She wields frustration and doubt, but her greatest trick is expectation. Inevitably it is a trap from which we must all untangle ourselves. I have been living in Costa Rica for six months and even now my sandbag of expectation is still leaking, riddled with tiny holes. I can´t wait until it is empty.

Costa Rica is a marvelous place. It is more charming than I could ever have imagined and its beauty is breathtaking. It didn´t fill my National Geographic derived expectations. Rather, it crumpled them up and gave me something better. I´m in love with a country where exotic parrots fly over parks pockmarked with debris and potholes. I´m charmed by a people that say ´thank you´ to mean ´no´ and hug you upon first introduction. Quaint, raw, devastatingly beautiful, and thoroughly refreshing can hardly begin to describe this country.

I cannot ask you to not pack your expectations. That would be impossible. Instead, I ask you to pack one additional item- patience. Patience for another custom, patience for a new experience, for your ability to cope, but most of all patience for yourself. It takes time, tears, and all the patience in the world to adapt yourself. I assure you though, it is worth it.

On that note, I wish you un buen viaje and that you travel safely. I can´t wait to meet you in Monteverde!

Pura vida!



Starting the Semester off Right

Time February 11th, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

My first day back in class was refreshingly tico. Aaron, Kaitlyn, and I signed up for Phonology and Phonetics, an 8AM class on a Monday. We arrived thirty minutes beforehand already anticipating that the class would be hard to find. We were correct. Although the class is obviously a language class, the assigned classroom was in the Natural Sciences building. After trudging down the campus and back we managed to find the classroom; of course, it was locked. Eventually we happened upon the professor sitting at a picnic table. There, we waited until the rest of the class arrived. True to Tico Time, the last stragglers arrived twenty minutes late. At this point, the professor explained that there was an administration issue and that the assigned classroom wasn´t available for us. Lacking a better solution, we were corralled into a tiny library classroom. There weren´t enough seats and, due to earthquake safety regulations, several students had to wait outside of the classroom and take notes just by listening. The teacher dove right into the subject. It didn´t take her long to realize that the majority of the class was clueless. She stopped and interrogated us as to what we learned last semester. The class level was widely varied, so much so that the professor now has to plan a review into the curriculum to bring all of the students up to speed. By the end of class we neither had a set curriculum, a textbook, nor a designated classroom. That is how to start the semester off right!


Las Vacas

Time January 21st, 2014 in College Study Abroad | 2 Comments by

Three months of las vacas (vacation) in Costa Rica! Probably any person´s dream come true, these few months led me to experience Ticolandia like two sides of a coin: Tico style and Tourist style.

Tico Style:                                                                                                                                                                                                         For three months we rented a house nestled in back of a quinta and effectively lived as ticos. We cooked on a parrilla (tiny electric burner), washed our laundry by hand and hung it up outside to dry, kept our place clean (okay, our clean standards maybe aren´t the highest), and handwashed dishes. Our main priority in said lifestyle was economizing. We only paid $125 per month per person including utilities. Internet was a splurge at $10 per person per month.

Food was almost completely tico. Gallo pinto, plátanos maduros, and as many fresh vegetales as we could carry from the farmer´s market.  We probably spent $50 per month per person on food. Our best deals included 5 mini pineapples for a dollar and 6 lbs of tomatoes for $2.

Without any traveling, we spent less than $200 per month per person. Living like a tico in Costa Rica is waaay cheaper than living like a gringo in the USA. That said, is is essential to point out that the standards of living here accommodate cheap living in a way that North American standards can´t or refuse to accommodate.

We did a very modest amount of traveling. Several trips were dedicated to exploring San José, one trip was hiking in Poás, and one day we enjoyed roller coaster rides in El Parque Diversiones. (Tico roller coasters, just like ticos themselves, are small and intense. Coincidence? I think not.) IFSA travel insurance did not cover us during the break and we decided not to buy separate insurance, so we played it safe and didn´t tempt fate by spending an excess amount of time outside of our casita, or little house.

Tourist Style                                                                                                                                                                                                   Lucky gringa that I am, my parents flew down and rented a beach house just south of Jacó. 10 days we spent lazing on the beach, getting lost in our little rental car, wandering through souvenir shops, and being charmed by the vast array of wildlife. The casita had amenities I hadn´t used in months- air conditioning, a real mattress, television, a washing machine, and even an oven. Of course, the best part of the week was just spending time with my parents.

After living in Costa Rica for 6 months, it was strange to see it though the eyes of a tourist. Although I translated quite a bit for my parents, my skills were mostly unnecessary. The touristy towns of Jacó and Quepos are equipped to handle wide eyed gringos and their monolingual habits. Even more impressive is the menagerie of tours just waiting to take dólares. Even the ticos themselves seemed different. Perhaps resulting of dealing with gringos, ticos working in the tourist trade seem faster, grumpier, and more direct. Just as I have accustomed myself to living pura vida, it seems the tourist trade has had the opposite effect on the locals.

Here are some pictures of Jacó and around-




Final Exam: Life

Time November 22nd, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

The end of semester whirlwind has swept us up and tossed us around a bit. We pushed our puréed craniums through the final set of exams, waited ashen-faced for our grades,  and arduously packed our luggage which seemed to expand to several times their size and weight. We had one last shindig with IFSA– a lovely Thanksgiving dinner at Teresita´s house. On the last day, we bawled shamelessly  (well, some of us did) as we were saying our last goodbyes to our host families. Costa Rica is soon to be a wistful memory instead of our pura vida realidad. For most of us. For three of us, Costa Rica will still be suffering our white gringo buns a little while longer.

Luckily for me, I´m not the only lunatic who decided to stay for the academic year. Aaron and Kaitlyn are my compatriots. They are a lovely married couple from Portland, Oregon, and possibly the chillest people to be stuck with for a year. Throughout the semester, whether through pure desperation for English and American culture or through actual chemistry, we became fast friends. With them, I became the third wheel… in our awesome gringo tricycle! ka

While everybody else was suffering through exams, we were torturing ourselves in the search for affordable living for the break. During the vacation between semesters, our host families weren´t required to give us housing. We could negotiate prices to live with them, but I will suffice in saying that the negotiation didn´t work out so well. So, we decided to look for an apartment together!

This was our real Final Exam for Spanish- real life application. Over the past three weeks we drudged all of Heredia for an appropriate gringo shack, bought a menagerie of living necessities, and in general accustomed ourselves to the thought of surviving Costa Rica on our own for two and a half months. So far, we have aced the test! I think we may have even earned extra credit.


Tico Test

Time November 12th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

In my last post I posed the question, “How do I camouflage myself as a tica, Emily?” This post is here to answer it!

First, for anybody ignorant of Costa Rican lingo, tico is the nickname that Costa Ricans give themselves. A tica, therefore, is a Costa Rican woman. As with any culture, people are individuals and are highly diverse aesthetically and socially. Now I will do the moral injustice of describing and generalizing ticos.


Morenito… kinda: This is the Spanish term for stereotypical idea of ¨Latino¨ skin tone. Many ticos are indeed moreno by ¨American¨ standards. However, the indigenous influence that lends the darker tone is definitely more diluted in Costa Rica than in other Latin American countries. The population is a melting pot of indigenous, Italian, Spanish, Chinese, and African American heritage. Skin color here is actually a deep social topic, but I will save that novel for later. Main point: Most ticos aren´t pasty white like stereotypical Americans, but don´t have the striking indigenous complexion seen in other Latin American countries.

Hair: Caramel brown to black. Also, fake bleach blonde and very obviously dyed red. It is in any style for women. There is definitely a higher percentage of mohawks and shaved designs for men here than in the States. To each their own, I guess.

Eyes: Most ticos´ eyes have that mysteriously deep umber color. Others have startling bright hazel. Blue almost doesn´t exist.

Physique: Ticos, like their nickname, are tiny. They have shorter statures and finer features. At 5´3¨, I´m actually an above average height-wise.

How I compare! I´m decently pasty. My skin complexion goes between pink and burnt. My hair is dirty blonde. My eyes are definitely blue. A polite word for my height would be ¨stumpy.¨  1/4

Dress and Appearance

Tops: Ticas DON´T wear t-shirts. Every day is a fashion show for most interesting (or most revealing) blouse. And, unless you are out jogging, athletic wear stays in the closet. Ticos, on the other hand, just wear whatever.

Bottoms: Ticos wear, almost exclusively, skinny jeans. On really hot days they wear shorts. I will restate: athletic wear stays in the closet.

Shoes: Talk about hipsters. Ticos wear Converse. Ticas wear Converse, flats, or heels that double their height. Tennis shoes pretty much don´t exist.

Makeup: Ticas, in my opinion, tend to wear a lot of makeup, though I think Americans wear a lot of makeup too. Guys don´t wear makeup.

Other random things: Cologne and perfume are used daily and in vast quantities, especially in the older population. Lots of men shave their legs. Jewelry use is comparable to the States. So are tattoos and piercings.

How I compare! Well, before I came I practically lived in t-shirts and cargo shorts. The only shoes I brought were tennis shoes. I NEVER wore makeup. Same with perfume or jewelry. 0/5


Greetings: The typical greeting or introduction is an air-kiss on the right cheek between women or women and men. Men greet each other with a handshake.

Personal Space: There is less of it.

Talking to Strangers: It happens.

How I compare! I´m still awkward with the greeting kiss. I still like my personal space. I don´t talk to strangers. 0/3

My score! Well, just going by the things I can´t change, I only score 25%. Including everything, I get an 8% at the start of my semester. However, if I changed the things that are possible for me to change, my possible tica score would be a 75%.

I have actually made changes to my dress in order to fit in. I started dressing nicely in blouses and jeans every day. I bought Converse shoes. I even started wearing makeup *shudder. Possibly I´m better at the greeting and talking to strangers. So, I guess now I would give myself a 7/12, or a 58%, so I still fail. See how well you score with my tico test!


Nicholette LeBlanc, Juli Camacho, Lindsey Stoltz. (Gringa, Tica, Gringa)


Here I am with my extended familia tica. Perhaps I stick out a bit…


Cultural Camouflage Comparison

Time November 12th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Immediately after being dumped into a new country, a study abroad student faces an interesting choice of cultural identity. The student can either keep their American behavior and appearance, or the student can try to acculturate their mannerisms and dress to the style of their new temporary home. Obviously between these extremes there is a grayscale rainbow. Most students (in my limited experience) seem to fit happily in the middle, with the majority retaining many more American characteristics than mimicking new ones.

This decision affects the study abroad experience more than one might think. Here I have compiled a list of various effects, good and bad, that I have noticed. Disclaimer: This is by no means comprehensive nor exclusive. This is just my personal insight.  

American Appearance

  • Foreigner Solidarity: Other foreigners, Americans in particular obviously, will automatically seek you out or try to befriend you.
  • Dumb Tourist Treatment: If you look like an American, ticos will assume you are a tourist and treat you as such. They will try to talk to you in English, for one. In souvenir shops they are more likely to jack up the price. Assuming that you have been to a vast array of beaches, they will ask you which was your favorite or try to recommend a beach or hotel. The hotel likely will be luxurious and out of any student’s price range.
  • Sexual Harassment: This one affects women almost exclusively. Old creepy ticos love throwing piropos, or sexual compliments. Most are in Spanish, the assumption being that as a dumb American you won’t understand. Others are blatantly in English. Either way, it is offensive and slightly terrifying.
  • Language Partner: As already stated, Ticos will talk to you in English. I just have to restate it because it occurs so frequently. There have been several occasions where I have done my darnedest to speak in Spanish to some ticos and they stubbornly would only talk in English.
  • National Representation: If you do or say something stupid, it is reflected upon the United States and furthers stereotypes.

Tico Appearance (if you manage to pull it off)

  • They will treat you like a tico!!! Weird. Okay, I will go more in-depth.
  • Lingo: Ticos won’t slow down their Spanish for you. This is good if you want to see how you are truly progressing in your speaking ability. The best part is that you will start to pick up slang.
  • Camouflage: You won’t stick out like a sore thumb. That said, ticos won’t gawk at you. You are less likely to be a victim of scams or petty theft.
  • Self-representation: If you do or say something stupid, it only reflects on yourself, not the American people.

Perhaps it is obvious that my preference is to camouflage myself as a tica. You may ask, “How do I camouflage myself as a tica, Emily?” That is for the next blog post!


Nose to the Grindstone

Time October 21st, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Personally I feel this weeks update is tedious, but at the same time necessary. This post serves two functions: to explain my workload as finals week approaches and to serve as an excuse for why I didn´t post something more interesting. With only 3 weeks left of the semester the projects and papers are piling up higher than Volcán Arenal. My classes and to-do-list is as follows:

Español Avanzado-

  • Final Paper, topic of your choice (I chose Costa Rican slang) 12 pages
  • Final Exam
  • Final Quiz
  • Field Trip to UCR theater

Historia Social-

  • Final Presentation
  • Final Paper, topic about history obviously, 5 pages
  • Exam

Riqueza Ecológica (Ecological Wealth)-

  • Final Exam
  • Final Advance, Semester-long project, 15 pages

Bases Coersitivas y la Desigualdad de Género (Coersion and Gender Inequality)-

  • Final Presentation
  • Final Paper, 5 pages
  • Mini Essay on an equality event, 3 pages

Harmonía y Polifonía (Harmony and Polyphony)

  • Compose a Jazz piece
  • Compose a Fugue

At the same time, we also have two IFSA field trips, evaluations, and last minute traveling. For the year-long students, we also have apartment hunting since we are staying in Costa Rica over the break. To end on a better note, here are some pretty pictures from around Heredia!



La U

Time October 14th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

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!



How the Time Flies

Time October 4th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

With little more than a month left of the program, our IFSA group is beginning to have mixed feelings. Although it seems everyone is ready to be done with classes and misses the States, we also are in a mad scramble to trek the yet-unknown parts of Costa Rica. Every weekend has been packed full of excursions, tours and such.

Personally, this mad scurry to experience Costa Rica has affected me very little. I made the right decision when I opted for the year-long program. I have the opportunity to discover this beautiful country at my own pace, to immerse myself in the culture, to tell myself that, yes, I don´t have to be perfect at Spanish right this second because I still have time.

What´s more, I also made the decision to remain in Costa Rica for summer (November-February) break. My host family is graciously allowing me to stay with them. Although I definitely miss my family dearly every day, this gives me the chance to experience so much more. I will have:

  • The pleasure of serving Thanksgiving, which Ticos obviously don´t celebrate, to my host family
  • A tropical Christmas (I am soooo going to miss the snow.)
  • No classes, so I can enjoy Costa Rica without the added stress.
  • Possible visits from friends and family in the States. I can´t wait to be a tour guide!
  • The additional time to improve my Spanish.

Overall, I think I made the best decision. Thanksgiving will be the most bittersweet, being a day dedicated solely to appreciating friends and family. I already miss being assistant chef to my mother, the best pie-maker in the Midwest. Hopefully I can impart upon my host family the special atmosphere that Thanksgiving brings me when I celebrate it with my family in the States.

To break the sentimental atmosphere, here I have some semi-random photos. I feel it also necessary to post these because my last few posts haven´t had pictures. These are the painted oxcarts of Sarchí. They are one of the few purely Costa Rican crafts. Ticos used these carts to transport coffee from the plantations to the railroad for exportation.

Top: The world´s biggest oxcart, certified through Guinness World Records). 2nd: mini oxcart souvenir, about the size of a nightstand. 3rd: a normal sized oxcart. 4th: a souvenir wheel

big-cart cart-1 cart2 cart3




The Mona Lisa Smile

Time September 24th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Exactly two and a half months ago I arrived in Costa Rica fresh, determined, and very naive. I had only one goal: to be fluent in Spanish. Before coming to Costa Rica, I had studied Spanish in high school for three years and in the University for two. ¨Surely,¨ I thought, ¨I will be able to communicate in Spanish after studying for five whole years.¨ However, I stepped off my claustrophobic United Airline jet  into a cascading landslide of disappointment.  I was wrong. I couldn´t speak Spanish.

Fast forward to exactly two and a half months later. I have been immersed in the culture, the language, the atmospheric soup of Costa Rica. From ¨¿Cómo le amaneció?¨when I wake up to ¨Buenas noches.¨ when I go to bed, I am pummeled with vocabulary, grammar, comprehension, and pronunciation. I walk to school and read advertisements in Spanish. I sit in class and take notes in Spanish. I talk with my family, order food, watch T.V. and even browse Facebook in Spanish. The semester program will be ending in eight short weeks. I ask myself, ¨Can I speak Spanish?¨ If I really answer honestly to this question, my answer is no; I cannot speak Spanish.

At this point I must differentiate. I can communicate in Spanish. If I were to never get better than I am now, I could probably get along quite easily in a Spanish speaking country. Ticos understand me and I understand them. My level is acceptable. However, I cannot truly SPEAK.

The more Spanish I learn, the more I realize that I have a long way to go. And I have already come so far. Learning a language is the most beautiful experience I have ever undertaken. Spanish is like an oil painting. From a distance it is merely a simple picture. Grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation are just blobs of color. The closer you get to the picture, however, you more you realize that the picture is so much more. It is a combination of shading, brushstrokes, lighting, perspective. It has a mood and a message. Spanish is the same. Metaphors, phrases, and voice inflection color what you say. Body language can take the meaning of a phrase and turn it into the opposite. Whether you drop a consonant at the end of a word can indicate your education and in which city you were raised. How you address someone can make or break a relationship. Add in slang and you practically have the Mona Lisa smile.

This is the task against which I set myself. My goal is not to communicate; my goal is to master an art. I may not be there yet, but I´m further than I was yesterday.


Culture Shock 2.0

Time September 10th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Catalyst for shock: sidewalks

For walking in Costa Rica you have two options; you can pick up your feet, or you can eat dirt. Many of us ate dirt our first week. Some of us still do.

The holes and fissures sported on sidewalks are comically referred to as gringo traps. Ticos are accustomed to carrying their feet like show-horses to avoid tripping. Gringos take a while to train. We are so used to perfectly level, uniformly even sidewalks. In Costa Rica, there is no such thing. Some sidewalks are more dirt with random chunks of cement sticking up than actual sidewalk. Water drainage traps can either be non-existent or be gaping three foot deep moats. Handicapped ramps are always questionable. Probably, it is the city’s effort to train people in wheelchairs for the Olympics.

Although I have not been specifically told, I believe there to be two reasons that the sidewalks are in such pitiable condition.

1)      Costa Rica regularly experiences tremors and earthquakes. Obviously, this isn’t good for rigid structures. If anybody is in doubt, concrete is rigid. It feels especially rigid when your face falls into it.

2)      Home and business owners are required to maintain their own sidewalks. I am making this assumption based on my own observations. My evidence is that banks always have amazing sidewalks and I frequently see businesses fixing their own sidewalks. Also, there is no uniformity in sidewalk design. At the least, I can enjoy variety when I am watching where I am stepping.

There are so many idiosyncrasies that Americans take for granted. I never thought that showers and sidewalks could cause such frustration. Hopefully, I will soon experience culture shock more profoundly related to culture than to American luxuries.


Where the Pavement Ends

Time September 10th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

The majority of my two months in Costa Rica has been spent in Heredia. It certainly didn’t fit my expectations, but I’ve become accustomed to city life. Two months ago, I would have said, “Wait, is this really Costa Rica? Where’s the third world poverty, the ravenous jungle swallowing unsuspecting conquistadors, the MacGyver sensibilities saving one from certain death?” Well, I´ve learned that it certainly isn’t in Heredia.

This past weekend, however, I was lucky enough to experience Costa Rica as how I had imagined it. Our program disembarked early Thursday morning on a small tourist van. The destination was El Parque de la Amistad, or Friendship Park, so named because half of it is technically part of Panamá. It is Costa Rica´s largest and oldest conservation area. For five hours Warner, our driver, guided our little posse through the panorama of mountains, the van belching oily fumes the entire way to la Amistad. Our collective sense of wonder and expectation mounted as we left behind helter-skelter disarray of cities and descended into country that only one who has seen Jurassic Park can imagine. The highlight of our ride was Crocodile Bridge where Warner stopped the van so we could take a look. Monstrous crocs, fat from tourist flung chicken breasts, lazed below us in the shade the bridge provided. After a short while of oohing and ahhing, Warner called us back to the van. The majority of the ride was spent climbing our way up to Asoprola, our hostel. There were several points along that ride where I was sure that our lives were going to end by our van toppling sideways down the mountain. Obviously that didn´t happen or I wouldn´t be recounting this story. croc

At Amistad we took a four hour hike up to a ranger hut. Three hours were spent tediously climbing brush and wending our way through creeks without getting muddy and wet. The trail was little more than squashed weeds in some parts. We must have been too loud for the animals because the disappointing lack of wildlife was… disappointing. We did, however, stumble across a tapir footprint. tapir

Once at the ranger´s stations the weather took a turn for the worse. The slight drizzle that kept us fresh while we were scaling the trail became a torrential downpour. All of our precaution against getting filthy was for naught. We were much quicker in our descent. Any hopes of staying clean were immediately quashed as, like dominoes, we toppled down the trail.

We had more luck with seeing wildlife on the way down. At the station we captured a beetle of unknown variety the size of a small mouse. Further down, we sighted monkeys at a distance. They stared at us from between the branches, almost invisible until they moved. Finally, muddy, exhausted, and in pain, we made it to the van.

The next day we drove to hot water pools. By drive, I mean that 6 of us were piled, like goats, into the open bed of a Toyota pickup. Once settled, be bumped and jerked for two hours on our way to the pools. The roads were a mixture of orange clay and fist sized rocks slung in narrow winds around the mountains. Our truck slid its way up 50 degree inclines with surprising tenacity. The hot pools ended up being only tepid, but it really didn´t matter.

On the return trip, we truly discovered the Costa Rica we had imagined. Descending the mountain was immensely more dangerous.  We took a rougher but supposedly faster route. It took much more time, however, because we had to get out of the van at every bridge. Each bridge was more rickety than the last. We almost lost our trucks on one. The right side of the bridge was little more than a fallen tree trunk and river rocks. Our team got out and began rebuilding, IFSA style. The guys found more wood and drug it across to beam the gaps. We assembly lined a rock transport system to move boulders from the creek below the bridge to the top. We thought our new bridge was pretty stable, but when the first truck was halfway across it had to slam into reverse to miss toppling to its watery doom. After another 20 minutes of rebuilding, both of our trucks made it across. We could have been certain that if it had been raining during our trip, we would have been stuck on those mountains. fix bridge

On our return bus trip on Sunday morning, the IFSA crew were little more than zombies. Even Teresita and Tracy, our usually animated directors, seemed worse for the wear. I passed out when I finally made it to my house. Exhaustion, and muscle pain overcame hunger as I trudged directly from the shower into bed at 2 o´clock in the afternoon. I´ve never slept so soundly.


Muy Well

Time September 3rd, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

My host parents always do their best to make me feel comfortable. For example, they invite me to all family activities, offer me all sorts of food, and listen patiently when I tell them a story that takes 5 minutes when, for an adept Spanish speaker, the story would only take 45 seconds. What I appreciate the most, however, is when they try to speak English. ¨Try¨is the operative word.

Between my Mom, Dad, and Sister, my Mom knows the most English. She can construct basic sentences and imitate pronunciation. When I help them with English, my Mom also tries to teach. Sometimes she is spot on with pronunciation, sometimes… not so much. My sister hides her English. She seems to know some phrases, but almost never says them if front of me. Maybe she is embarrassed. I don´t know how she can be embarrassed, though, considering she always listens to me vomiting a combination of Spanglish and nonsense. Which brings me to my Dad…

Papi is the worst at English, but, ironically, tries to speak it the most. When he gets home from driving, he greets me with ¨¿Cómo le how are you?¨ I always answer with ¨Muy well, ¿and you?¨ His favorite word is ¨delicious,¨ but he also says my love, let´s go, very good, and other short phrases. He has a lot of trouble distinguishing ¨sh¨and ¨ch,¨ as well as making the English ¨r¨ sound. For example, tree and three sound exactly the same when he says it.

The other night at dinner we were having a somewhat extended English lesson. Papi was really putting on an impressive show. He counted all the way to 26. I taught him how to say ¨I drove 16 hours.¨ We probably spent 10 minutes on that phrase alone. Next, he started naming random objects in the room. Window, table, plate, flower. He then attempted, bless him, ¨The flower is purple.¨ It came out ¨Dee flow´r ees perpoo.¨ My Mom chastised him about ¨perpoo¨ to no avail. After 6 or 7 tries, he still wasn´t getting it. My Mom threw her hands in the air and said that she was giving up. Papi turned to me, an ornery twinkle in his eye. Giggling like a child, he said, ¨Teacher is bad.¨

Now I feel a little better about my Spanish. familia And here is the family! Left is my sister María Fernanda, (aka Fer, Nana, Mary, Princess, and Meme.) Middle is my dad Raúl (aka Negro, Dadi, Papi, and Gordo.) Right is my mom Gera (aka Mami, Gordis, Negris, Negra, and Mam.) On a side note, Papi always looks derpy in pictures. As soon as you aim a camera at him, he takes on the expression of an 8 year old confronted with quantum physics.


La Fortuna

Time August 28th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

This weekend the majority of our group traveled to La Fortuna, a super touristy area Northwest of Heredia. It is famous for Volcán Arenál, an active volcano that constantly spews smoke. With $140 in my pocket and two days free, I´m pleased to say that I made the most of my time there. Here is a rundown:


3:00am                 I woke myself up and packed.

4:45am                 Three friends and I met at the University to walk together to the bus stop.

5:00am                 We left on a bus for San José to get to another bus stop that would take us to La Fortuna. The bus ticket cost roughly $1.

6:15am                 Our bus left for La Fortuna. This ticket cost approximately $5.

11:00am               Our bus arrived at La Fortuna.

11:30am               We checked into Backpackers Resort. Each night is $15 in the dorm-style room. We stayed with two guys from Barcelona and a fellow from Holland.


3:30pm                 Zip Lining! With our student discounts, we only paid $48 each.


2:00am                 In this grand time span we perused the souvenir shops and enjoyed the pool and nightlife.


Taking a look at the schedule now, we were awake for 23 hours on Friday. Talk about a long day!

Zip Lining: There are no words to describe how incredible it was, so I won´t even try. Here I have a video of a buddy taking off… and there he goes, gliding into the mist. I think the lack of sound makes the video a little anticlimactic, but oh well… And the return!

Saturday we went on a chocolate plantation tour. It was surprisingly very enjoyable. We got to see the process of how chocolate is made, beginning from growing the tree from seed to the final product: a chocolate bar. This tour only cost $8 with our student discount. Definitely worth the price.

At 2:45 we made the reverse trip back to Heredia, exhausted. In total, the trip cost me about $140 (I refused to take out more money than I initially thought I was going to spend.)

And here we have a helter-skelter collection of photos-





Encontré el Horror: The Gecko

Time August 21st, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

I finally caught one of the little poopers! It took me 10 minutes of running around the kitchen, but I managed. The poor thing must have been terrified. After his photo shoot, I released him back into the wild, er, the kitchen.


I´ll Have Nun of It

Time August 16th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

The best part about studying abroad with a group is that you aren´t the only gringo that looks stupid. The second best part is sharing experiences and perspectives. I came to really appreciate the value of fellow IFSA students´ solidarity when one of my compatriots recounted an unfortunate experience. I practically fell off my chair when he nonchalantly told me that he was slapped across the face by a nun.

The story begins on an overcrowded and under-maintained bus. Traffic in full flow, the bus shudders to a halt. My IFSA peer, along with the herd of grumpy ticos, stream off the bus and into the street, forced to find another mode of transportation. Impatient, the car behind the bus zooms to the right, almost steamrolling the dismounting ticos, including my friend. He unthinkingly exclaims, ¨Jesus Christ!¨ A tica behind him, conspicuously dressed in all black, angrily tells him off for taking the Lord´s name in vain. Disregarding her, he turns around, only to hear her muttering  something about stupid gringos. Perhaps it was his facial expression. Perhaps it was his tone of voice. In any case, when he turned around and said, ¨¿Perdón?¨ the nun was moved to slap him across the face.

My peer took it all in stride. Actually, he seemed more fascinated and amused than put out. I can empathize. It is definitely a unique experience. You aren´t assaulted by a nun every day.




Culture Shock

Time August 15th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | 1 Comment by

Merriam-Webster defines ¨culture shock¨ as the following:

a sense of confusion and uncertainty sometimes with feelings of anxiety that may affect people exposed to an alien culture or environment without adequate preparation

Relating to me and the rest of the IFSA-Butler crew, this is the equation:


Now, let us put culture shock into action. Unexpectedly, my first “shock” in Costa Rica wasn´t the language, pollution, salutation customs, or hunting down a taxi. May I direct your attention to Exhibit 1 – El Baño.


Tico baños and baño customs, to put it bluntly, are different. Here´s the lowdown…

  • Cold water, only cold water
  • No hot water
  • No tepid water
  • Cold water
  • Toilet paper goes in the trash can, not the toilet. (They should call it trash paper)
  • People shower in the morning
  • If you don´t shower in the morning, you are regarded as strange and unhygienic
  • The above statement is a lie, but morning showers are definitely the norm

My host-family in Liberia didn´t have hot water. The climate there is like wearing a soggy sleeping bag in a Texas July, so I didn´t mind taking cold showers. Heredia, on the other hand, has a very temperate climate. Luckily for me, my host-family in Heredia DOES have hot water. The trick was figuring out how to use it. Most families here don´t have water heaters. Instead, the water is heated by an apparatus connected to the shower-head.

To turn on the hot water, click the switch to the right. Although there are three settings, left, center, and right, switching it to the left doesn´t do anything. Maybe mine is broken… Also, don´t touch the shower head. It will shock you. I know from experience. 225 There isn´t a direct control of how hot you can make the water. Rather, you lower to water pressure so that the water spends more time in the shower-head to make the water hotter. For colder water, vice-versa. My host-mom told me to never run the hot water for more than 5 minutes, or I will bust a fuse. I´m not proud to admit it, but I have broken her rule on a daily basis. ¡Qué vergüenza! (What shame!)

226 My shower has two shower heads, the main one that will shock you, and a dangly one. On a side note, the drying rack in my shower is for my “bloomers,” which is the only article of clothing I am required to wash myself.

227 It took me a week to figure out the dangly shower-head. I feel like a dolt, because it is actually really obvious. Pull out the stubby thing to stop the water and push it in to let the water run. ¡Qué mensa! (How stupid!)






Time August 12th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

I´m getting this post out a little late; Actual today is much later than the ¨today¨ below. Oh well.  Enjoy anyway!


Today marks the second week of classes, a benchmark for sure. All of the IFSA crew has survived a week in school. None of us have failed (yet,) which I see as a major achievement. Never mind that the first week of classes is spent solely and agonizingly on the syllabus.

So, here is the scoop on classes:

Each exchange student is allowed to take 4-6 classes or 15-18 credit hours. We started registering a week before class started with the help of José, the intercambio advisor, and some friendly Ticos. There are three IFSA sponsored courses: Advanced Spanish, which is required, Costa Rican Ecological Wealth, and Social History of Costa Rica. Between the latter two we had to pick at least one. The majority of us opted to take all three of the IFSA classes. I can´t speak for the others, but I chose to do this because these classes will probably be easier. They are catered to us “gringos” and, therefore, will have professors that understand our Gringo Lingo. Moving on…

The first week of classes we are allowed to add or subtract classes as we see fit. If we needed to change classes, we could go talk to Jose. Monday morning, the Advisor Office looked like a Gringo cage. All of us had come to see Jose with various queries. Actually, none of us knew where or at what time our first class was. Our official schedules lacked these important details. I don´t blame Jose at all if he resents us. At one point, 5 of us were trying to squeeze into his miniscule cubicle at one time. Poor fellow.

As for the classes themselves, the majority only meet once a week. Class generally lasts at least two hours. Our Social History class is scheduled for four hours, though the professor told us that the class would only last for three. As of yet, I don´t know how classes generally function. Without fail, every class was spent going over the syllabus. Interestingly (actually, incredibly uninterestingly) it took the entire class period to go over the syllabus. Two hours or more we spent reading rules, the grading system, and the calendar. The silver lining? No homework, of course!

Check out my schedule: My weekends start on Thursday!!!




El Horror

Time August 5th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Sitting in front of the television watching the soccer game couldn’t have been a more relaxing way to spend a Wednesday evening. During the commercial break, I was trying to teach my sister and dad how to pronounce some of the American players’ names. My sister’s rather good attempts turned to shrieks as she bolted off of the couch and started hopping in circles. My dad was busting a gut, but I was just dumbfounded. She continued to shriek in indiscernible, high pitched Spanish and then fled to the bathroom. With me looking obviously confused, my dad calmed down enough to explain to me, still chortling, what had happened. Maria, to her audible horror, had been pooped on by the gecko that lives on the ceiling.

Geckos, here, are welcome house guests. They eat spiders and other crawlies that would otherwise overrun the house. You wouldn’t know that they were there except for their occasional peeping in the evenings or the incredibly rare poop bomb. I have made it my mission to capture one. They skitter along the walls within reach sometimes, but are very agile. Also, I don’t want to lunge at them, miss, and look like an imbecile in front of my host family.

Eventually I will succeed. Just you wait, gecko, just you wait…


… ¿Qué?

Time July 24th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Looking back, I don’t remember my expectations of Costa Rica. I was too excited about going to actually imagine what it would be like to live there. If I had expectations, they were probably visions of intrepid adventurers with safari hats and machetes hacking through pristine forests in search of jaguar cubs and a cure for cancer. Or, laid back beach life with relaxed inhabitants and tranquil waves lapping at white sandy beaches. I can’t really say if these expectations are true or not. I can just give my first impressions…


When I arrived in Liberia:

Flying over Liberia, I already noticed something drastically different from the States. The city is dark at night! There were lights, but not many, and not bright. Next impressions: the climate is a sauna and I can’t understand a single word of Spanish. Having studied five years, I would have expected to be able to understand the majority of our program director’s instructions. Unfortunately, the opposite was true. She may as well have been speaking in Mandarin.


It got better:

I stayed in a hotel the first night and then met my first host family the next morning. A little explanation is in order. Our program has orientation in Liberia, a medium sized town near the beach in the Guanacaste province, for a week with one host family. We stay there for a week taking language and dance classes. Orientation ends with a party for the host families. After, we move to Heredia, part of the Central Valley, to stay with our permanent host families and go through another week of orientation.


So, after a few days of living with my host, I could understand, well, better than before. I still felt like a complete dunce. Luckily my host “Tía” has a niece that lives with her. She seemed to understand how completely deficient my Spanish was and spoke to me at half speed with small words.

Although I understood very little, Tía invited me to come back and visit during vacations! My host cousin also invited me to visit her in Santa Cruz. Road trip!


Our week culminated with a trip to Playa Coco (Coco Beach) on one day, and a trip to Vulcan Rincon. The volcano was amazing! The tourguide was exceptionally easy to understand. We hiked through three microclimates, climbed trees, and saw mudpots.


Antes de Salir

Time July 16th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

In 42 days I will take a six hour soar (economy style) from Kansas City, Missouri, to Liberia, Costa Rica. YIKES! It is impossible to escape the kaleidoscope of apprehension, exhilaration, uncertainty, and disbelief wrestling inside me. How am I going to cope with biology classes taught entirely in Spanish? What if my host family thinks that I am strange? Am I really prepared to uproot myself from my friends, family, stability, and jump headfirst into another country, another culture, another life?! Well, the answers, whatever they may be, do not really matter. I’m going!

Thankfully, my pre-departure/pre-study abroad checklist is steadily shrinking. Believe me, it was long.

Let us look at it from the top:

I chose the Universidad Nacional in Heredia, Costa Rica, for an academic year, through IFSA-Butler. Next…

Well, maybe a mountain is a little dramatic. Between advising appointments, budget worksheets, collecting signatures, and watching orientation modules, there was a lot to do. Even now, I am still filling out last minute itineraries.  Personally, getting a passport photograph was the most difficult part. It took me three day, four trips, and a brief crying spell. I learned a lot from the experience though. If you need passport photos, go to Wal-Mart! It only cost me $10, which is a bargain in comparison with the $60 it was going to cost me at the post office.

This is my passport photo, taken at Wally World. Hawt, right?

Now, here I am with 42 days and a knot in my stomach. Costa Rica, estoy lista!