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I Think it Worked!

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

Home at last. I have been home now for about a week and a half. Some things are definitely a transition. I keep having to remind myself that tp can go in the toilet and it doesn’t have to go in the garbage. I don’t have to get up early and yet it keeps happening. I started craving gallo pinto (beans and rice) several days ago. The cold here is causing me to curl up with a cat and a blanket all day, we started a cold snap today, it isn’t supposed to get above freezing for over a week. Wish I could still be traveling around Central America every weekend.

But it worked. I can and do now think in Spanish. It is actually a problem. I will be thinking about asking a question and that leads to deciding how to say it in Spanish. Or I will start talking in Spanish only then to realize everyone around me would much rather I spoke English. Not sure how long that will last but it speaks wonders about my time in Costa Rica. Immersion works!


Vocabulary no one Thought to Teach you

Time November 27th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

My first few weeks were littered with everyday words I never ran into in Spanish class.  I decided I would compile a list of some of these terms to help out future students.

Acá : here, far more common than aquí

Mae : slang, similar to “bro”

Mora : blackberry, more general term for berries of that type including raspberry, etc.

Amaneció – amanecer : literally to rest, “¿Cómo amaneció?” is a common question in the morning, “how did you sleep?”

Con gusto : your welcome, also “con mucho gusto” they do not use “de nada”

Mucho gusto : nice to meet you, used when first meeting someone or as a good bye after the first meeting

Plata : money

Típica : used for traditional food, dance, dress, music, etc.

Lectura : written assignment for a class

Perdón : “lo siento” is very strong, this is used to apologize for nearly everything

Sombrilla : umbrella, don’t forget yours!

Tener sueno : to be tired

Provecho : bon apétit

Esoooo : Yes! That’s it! or similar exclamations

Que dicho : Cool!, How lucky!

La matrícula – matricular : registration, to register

Clave – contraseña : password

Ahorita : anytime from 15 minutes to an hour

They also use the diminutive obsessively. gatito, poquito, pequinito, ratito, cafécito. The ending is adjusted to match gender.

They also use Voz. They almost exclusively use usted for “you”. However in close personal relationships they use voz instead of tu. Tu I almost never used. My host sister used voz with me but she was the only one.



A Historical Tour

Time November 27th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

One of the program offered classes is Historia Social de Costa Rica. A class that has taken us from before the Mayans to the end of the twentieth century. Up until the last week of classes though, all of that had been through lectures and an in class movie or two.

We used a weekend and went on a one day bus adventure to see some of that history in the flesh. Or in this case, the stone. The stone foundations an indigenous village. The stone walls of the two oldest churches in Costa Rica, built by some of the first Spaniards to settle in her jungles.  The stone that makes up the La Negrita.

We met up at the bus in front of the University.  The 11 of us in the class and our professor, Carlos, at the unholy hour of 6. Our first stop was Cartago and La Basilica de la Virgen de Los Angeles. Of course we were making this journey on a Sunday, this Catholic church still holds services. Even better it was First Communion day. We got to see a huge part of the Catholic culture of Costa Rica but it was a little awkward as tourist types.


While there we were able to see La Negrita the stone idol found where the church was built and the physical representation of the patron saint of Costa Rica. The Romeria or pilgrimage I went on in August was to this church for the day dedicated to la Virgen de Los Angeles.

Our next stop was Guayabo National Monument which puts you in mind more of a national park. Carlos described it as the Machu Pichu of Costa Rica. There lay the partially explored and uncovered remains of an indigenous cacicazgo. It is believed to be the main village of a larger controlled area where the cacique or chief lived.


All that remains are the stone foundations of the huts. There is also a still functional aqueduct system believed to be one of the oldest in the world. Leading out of the village is a cobblestone paved road. Only the first kilometer has been cleared but it is known to extend for at least 15 kilometers, about 10 miles.


Then it was back on the buses to head to the valleys containing the two oldest churches in Costa Rica. One is no longer a church, the town and church were destroyed by floods in the early days of colonization, the Spaniards abandoned the area, it is the rainiest in Costa Rica and also receives all the water from the rainiest mountain in Costa Rica. The ruins are now a town park.


The early Spaniards also built a church in the next valley over. It is the oldest church in Costa Rica that still holds services. There are paintings one the walls that are at least two hundred years old and were brought from Guatemala.


It was a long trip, with far too many hours on a bus. It was also an incredible opportunity to see some of the history of Costa Rica that your average tourist would never see. Guayabo and the old churches were amazing and even with the bus time I would recommend them to visitors to Costa Rica.



Thanksgiving Dinner: A Chance to Say Goodbye

Time November 15th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Last week was our last full week of classes. This week was all tests and collecting grades. Friday was our farewell party hosted by our IFSA Costa Rica program coordinators the incredible Tracy and Teresita at Teresita´s fabulous house in the hills.

It was a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, a few weeks early. Costa Rica doesn´t celebrate Thanksgiving so  it was something special to have one in my new country. They cooked a turkey, made gravy and mashed potatoes, provided home made cranberry sauce! And two pies, homemade pies, pumpkin and pecan. With ice cream.

There was a minor dance party during which a lot of moves only performed by drunks were displayed by the stone-cold sober. A failed attempt to say what we were thankful for in Spanish, I think we only made it through three people before we got distracted. We got our t-shirts (an awesome design by our very own Chelsea Paine). Took lots of pictures. Some of us played with Teresita´s many cats and dogs. Watched a slide show of pictures taken over our 4.5 months.

I can´t believe its almost over.


Scuba Diving: East vs West

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

Sorry for the long silence, things are heating up here at the end of the term with research papers, presentations, and lots of tests.

Two weekends ago I went diving in Playas del Coco. Two weeks before that I was in Puerto Viejo and had a chance to dive there too. The Southern Pacific and the Caribbean.

I dove with four Ticos in Puerto Viejo, got in a total of two dives. Everything was in Spanish as I was the only Gringo. Our first dive was to about 85 ft, I was in a shorty suit maybe 3 mils thick. I wasn´t cold at all. What a change from diving in the Pacific Northwest where with 12 mils over your core, 6 over arms and legs, a hood, gloves, and booties you still freeze! The water was increadibly clear, viz of probably 30-40 ft. I was diving coral reefs! Saw a lot of lion fish and some other cool fish I couldn´t name but not much else. 45 minutes of surface time later we were back in the water again.

I asked the ticos where else in Costa Rica I should dive before I headed home and they all said Playas del Coco. They also recommended a few others but they are harder to get to, might make it happen yet though.

So two weekends later I was in Playas del Coco. Got really lucky and the company the mentioned to me in Puerto Viejo was running a special afternoon dive on Saturday. I got in two really awesome dives with a few people from Costa Rica and a few from Spain. Dove again the next morning.

The pacific is a little colder than the Caribbean, but still just a thin suit away from comfortable at any depth. The viz is not as good disappearing after 10-20 ft, it varied between sites and the two days. The wildlife there is definetly worth the decreased viz though.

I saw three kinds of rays, some a couple meters across. I saw several types of moray eels, they were all hiding in cracks though so I managed not to get eaten by any of them. Rock fish, the best camoflaged fish in the sea. Pufferfish and porcupinefish of a variety of colors also crossed our paths as well as trumpetfish. I swam with whole schools of fish, when you put out your hand the whole school would bubble away from it and they really do make pictures in the water. I swam with a sea turtle, that´s right, be jealous. After seeing one lay her eggs and releasing babies, I got to see one in all its glory in its home beneath the sea. And last, I swam with sharks! White tip reef sharks about as long as I am tall and really not all that interested in, or bothered by, us humans.

So to sum up: for viz, warm water and coral head to the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, to see the great biodiversity for which Costa Rica is famous head West to the Gulf of Papagayo.


Liberal Arts

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

I am an engineering student. I take mostly math and science related courses. I am used to lots of tests and often weekly homework assignments.

I am now, for a term, a liberal arts student. I now have very few tests. I occassionaly have weekly assignments. I always have essays. I always have presentations.

I am not sure I like it. When professors give 10-15 page essays with related presentations and tell you that they think that is rather short I get scared. I am an engineering student, I don´t write essays! I occassionaly write reports, they have a very distinct form and frow heavily on fluff. They are rarely more than 5 pages.

In a matter of weeks I have had a presentation and attached research paper in each of my classes (two have yet to be completed). Every class! In the States I would maybe have one, possibly two, presentations and research papers a term.

On top of that I am doing the research, writing, and presentation designing in a university computer lab that closes at 5pm because I still haven´t gotten my computer back from the shop. Hopefully today. I am now half way through week 4 without my laptop, as a liberal arts student. I cuold have survived better as an engineer who had to do math equations and physics labs instead of research papers.

The end is nigh though. I have, after this week, two weeks of classes left and three in Costa Rica. The time has flown by. Hope I have my computer back before I have to go home!


Things to not Forget to Pack

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

These are all things I am either extreemly glad I remembered to bring that weren´t on any packing list or things I wish I had brought.

  • Umbrella: a must, you can not survive without one. No one here uses rainjackets and there is a lot of rain.
  • Shoes: specifically bring more than one pair of tennis/hiking shoes. You will need a pair to wear while the others are drying.
  • Travel-size toilletries: you will travel a lot. On buses the smaller your bags the better, you don´t want to go without shampoo for 4 days or have to take the entire bottle that was supposed to last 5 months.
  • Shorts: anything that says girls don´t wear them is lying. Bring multiple.
  • Deck of cards: bus rides are boring.
  • Coin purse: you use change a lot, buses, food, copies, etc.
  • Calendar/planner: it is school, you need to keep track of your assignments and some professors don´t remind you when things are coming due.
  • Whiteout pen: All tests must be done in pen.
  • Sweater: it can get cold when it rains or in the evenings. Think how deserts get super cold at night.
  • Tight jeans: Jeans stretch as you wear them and shrink again in the dryer, there are no dryers here. A belt works too if you would rather.
  • Thumb drive: all assignments get printed out at copy shops, you wont be able to get it out of your email at most of them.
  • Host family gifts: times 3! You will have two host families, they will both need something. You are also likely to be here over a holiday like Mother´s Day or a birthday when something is also appreciated and life is easier if you don´t have to try and find something they would want here.
  • Spanish dictionary: I don`t know what I would do without it. Professors will also often let you have them out during tests in case you need a word or don´t understand something.
  • Bug spray & Sun screen: take it easy on these. You wont use it everyday in Heredia and what you don´t use will just take up space in you suitcase no the way home.

I guess that is enough items for now. Can´t remember anything else that I really wish I had brought or am super thankful I thought to put in.


El Sindicato

Time October 17th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Life on campus has been loud this week. A group of campus/university employees has been striking. This does not consist of walking around the entrances with signs on posts and shouting slogans.

They have a band!

This band walks around campus playing enthusiastically.  They walk through classroom buildings, a turn on every floor,  playing, during classes. They walk through the administrative buildings the same way.

They closed down the library on Tuesday.


Photo cred:  Zach C. Cohen

They do have signs, but not the kind you would see in the US. They are painted banners that they hang over the doorways of campus buildings. There are at least 6 that I have seen on any given day.

They have also been closing down streets in Heredia. A ten man band keeping hundreds (if not thousands) from getting out of Heredia and going home at the end of the workday.


Life without a Computer

Time October 9th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Also know as college student hell. Last week I had three papers due. This week I have three more papers and a presentation due. Next week another presentation but, so far as I know, no papers.

My computer is also how I stay in touch. Skyping with my family and friends. Emails with professors. Facebook chats to plan weekend trips.

All of this is gone! I came home last week and my computer worked, left it to charge overnight and awake to find one very dead computer. I am in a foreign country and even in English my computer knowledge is pretty limited. I had no idea what to do.

Tuesday was a visit to the IFSA office to ask if they knew where I should take it to get it worked on, they didn´t. But they did ask the guy who comes in through the university to work on their computers for a recommendation. That is how on Thursday I ended up wandering San Jose in search of a specific computer shop (they don´t have any signage). Costa Rica really needs to come up with a better address system.

There I met a Cuban who spent 20 years living in Florida and has spent the last three years here in Costa Rica. He speaks flawless English. He informed me after hearing what my problem was that the terrible power system here in Costa Rica was probably to blame, it is notorious for frying electronics what with its frequent outages and surges.

Today I got the call. My motherboard is fried. I was in the university computer lab trying to survive without a computer and nearly cried. Replacement will cost over $200. They have to order the part, it has already been over a week, it will be between one and two more before I can go pick up my newly repaired computer. I am unsure if I will make it.


Hostel People

Time October 8th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

After several weekend jaunts i can say with certainty that you can meet some interesting people in hostels. Between nights in Monteverde, San Jose, and La Fortuna I have meet people of different ages, from different countries, traveling through Costa Rica for different reasons.

There was the 30 something Dutch guy who now lives in Israel working for a company as a researcher on bats and echolocation. He was in Costa Rica for a work conference and decided to stick around for a few days after the conference ended to see more than just the posh resort that hosted the conference.

The Barcelonans the same night who we met but didn´t see much of as they stayed out late partying.

The Canadian woman traveling with the Colombian woman down to Colombia. They were teachers, the Colombian came up and worked at a school in Canada for a year, on summer break they traveled south together to tour Central America rather than the Colombian flying home and the Canadian doing whatever Canadians do for fun  in Canada when not working.

The French woman traveling alone who wanted to know if I thought she should go ziplining even though she wasn´t there with a group. I said most definetely. We also ended up talking about Costa Rica´s international image versus reality.

The German girl in San Jose passing the night before flying home to Germany the next day. She and her roommate were spending there school vacation traveling around Costa Rica. We actually ended up talking about the military in Germany versus the US and about Syria.

Four Spanish girls traveling together after finishing university. We were the only people in the hostel and spent about three hours playing cards with the hostel manager. Got lots of Spanish practice in that night!

And these only cover the people I talked to for a while not the people I met in passing. It also is onlly people I met in hostels, none of the people I have met on buses or on tours as I have traveled the country.



Time September 23rd, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Immigration was a $300, 3 day process. It started during orientation and ended today, Friday, September 20th, 65 days after making our first payments and filling out our first immigration forms. With exactly two weeks left before our tourist visas expire. All of which could have been avoided by a three day trip out of the country, thereby making us eligible for new 90 day tourist visas upon our return.

Day 1: four hours in a room with every other American exchange student, a total of three programs and over 35 people. Step one, figure out your height and weight in metric and your eye color in Spanish. Step two, don’t mess up your form or you will have to start over. Step three, get a copy of every page of your passport, including blank ones. Step three, go down to the bank and make two deposits, $100 into one account and $1 into another. Step four, sign your forms in front of a notary public. Step five, sign up as an American abroad with the US State Department. With our wallets now visibly lighter we are at last released, informed that information will be passed along when they know when our next appointment is.

Day 2: several weeks later, waste a Friday going to San Jose to be finger printed. This time it is only the IFSA students, everyone must make these appointments separately. We are warned, we have an appointment but that doesn’t always mean much in Costa Rican bureaucracy. Arrive at the police academy, get wanded and have our bags checked, several people turn in pocket knives, they get them back when we leave. We got lucky, our appointment, or maybe being there so early, worked. We are done, all 13 from IFSA, in about two hours. Lunch in San Jose then freedom.

Several weeks later we receive an email, make two more deposits at Banco de Costa Rica. The first for $100, the second for $90. This time we have to figure out Costa Rican banking on our own, last time we had Tico escorts who did everything but pay. At banks here the security guards keep the door locked until someone wants in, then they unlock it wand you, and check your bags, locking the door behind you. There is an electronic check in system so the tellers know what you need to do, I don’t know Spanish banking terms, the security guard had to tell me what to select. The receipts are then turned in to the exchange student office on campus. (I didn’t count this one as a day, took less than thirty minutes.)

Day 3: another Friday wasted in San Jose, ruining plans for a weekend in Monteverde, the cloud rain forest. This time at immigration. We were there to get our visa cards. The place was packed. Ten in the morning and there were several hundred people there in various lines. All that had to be done was verify our information and our fingerprints, take our picture, and give us our cards. We were there for over four hours. The time for each individual to actually do what needed to be done summed to less than 10 minutes. We waited an hour and a half after our appointment was supposed to start before the first of us was called in. Our first stop was verifying our information, we then waited another half hour for step two. There we verified our fingerprints and had our pictures taken. Followed by nearly two hours waiting before we got called in to pick up our visa cards, where they checked our fingerprints again before giving them to us.

None of these times include traveling to and from San Jose, an hour long round trip.

But we did it. We are finally officially allowed to be students in Costa Rica!


La Dia de la Independencia – September 15th

Time September 20th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

None of us traveled this weekend. It was Costa Rica’s independence day.  And one of us had a birthday.

Costa Rica gained its independence from Spain at the same time as Guatemala, Nicaragua, and the rest of Central America. The news was dispersed from Guatemala. It was several days later that anyone in Costa Rica knew of there new status. Because of this the 14th is also celebrated with the journey of the “Torch of Liberty”. The torch is run across the country like the Olympic torch. This part of the celebration also includes a parade of faroles, lanterns, that come in many designs from typical houses to wagons to forts to cars to lanterns.

farole farole-fortin

On the morning of the 15th there are parades in every suburb and every city and every town in Costa Rica. And I do mean in the morning. At home parades start around 11 in my experience. Here they start at 8am, and are one of the few things in Costa Rica that happen on time.

I went to the parade in my “suburb”. The parade lasted about three hours and I now have an interesting sandal tan on my feet. For such a good length parade there was only one type of group marching, schools. At least ten schools marched in the parade. They all had the same components; school banner, outstanding students/student government, color guard, dance team/baton or ribbon twirlers, and often some other component as well.

Flags-crossing2 Dance leader

Tipical 2 year old Bells-lots

Earth Doctors 2 Drums

The strangest part of a Costa Rican parade, parents march with each school, they hold a rope in a rectangle around all of the groups from each individual school. They also carry water for those who get dehydrated in the heat.

The central parks were all filled with food vendors. They sold typical food plus candied apples, churros, corn on the cob, cotton candy, ice cream and much more.

I got to celebrate two Independence days this year. Too bad there weren’t more fireworks. :(


¡Vamos al Mundial! ¡Vamos los Ticos!

Time September 11th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

For the many Americans who don’t know, there were three international soccer games on last night. Honduras v Panama. USA v Mexico. Costa Rica v Jamaica. These three games were qualifying matches for the World Cup in Brazil next year.  Costa Rica has only been three times, the last in 2006. USA won last night 2-0. Honduras tied Panama and Costa Rica tied Jamaica. However, both the USA and Costa Rica clinched spots in Brazil. No matter what happens in each teams final two qualifying matches, Costa Rica and the USA will both be going to the World Cup.

You may not know this, but futbol is a big deal in Central America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, pretty much anywhere not the US. To the people of Costa Rica, getting to the World Cup is like winning the Superbowl or the World Series is for individual cities in the states. The people went crazy. All the flags flying was very fitting, it’s Costa Rica’s Independence Day on Sunday.

Costa Rica!

Following the games (had to wait for Honduras v Panama to finish to know the spot was clinched) the citizens of Costa Rica piled into the streets. I watched the game at home with my family rather than at a bar. I assure you there was just as much yelling and cheering and groaning with my 4 family members as if we had been in a bar with 100 people. My host brother than grabbed his new flag and dragged us all out to the car, we were off to join the celebrations. After stopping to pick up a cousin we headed towards central Heredia.

Host family Celebrating - ¡Vamos Ticos! My host brother.

The entire time horns were blaring, everyone we passed was cheering, flags were waving, shirts came off to be circled through the air. When we made it to downtown, we hit the traffic, everyone was out to celebrate. We finally made it to the real source of the slowdown. At least 200 people crowded into one intersection slowly letting cars through one at a time. Before we got there we were warned to tie down the flag, the crowd had been grabbing flags out of cars as they went through. We made it out the other side after much cheering and high-fiving. Then we circled around to make another pass. There were crowds on other streets too, none as big, the cheering, flag waving, and celebrating continued. As we approached the main crowd for round two things got interesting. It had been at least 20 minutes if not 30 since our initial pass, everyone had been drinking. Prior to the crowd, me, my host sister, and my host cousin had all been hanging out windows holding our flag above the car, we slid back in when we saw the rowdiness had grown. Two cars ahead of us the crowd stopped a car, and then it started rocking, a lot. When they finally let it go the car behind it powered through, refusing to stop even for the people jumping out in front of it. We followed there lead and made it through without incident.

The crowd

Costa Rica sure knows how to celebrate! Congratulations Ticos, you’re going to the World Cup!


I LOVE Chocolate!

Time August 27th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

I went on a chocolate tour. So what exactly is a chocolate tour, I mean how do you tour a piece of candy? If something as all around wonderful as chocolate can be reduced to the term “candy”.  It started with some general information about the cacao or cocoa tree. There are three kinds, the strong kind with more butter and less cocoa, the skinny, delicate kind with more cocoa and the hybrid of the two. Trees grow to about 20m tall but are kept around 7m on plantations to make harvesting easier. Trees don’t provide a reliable crop until they are 5-6 years old, and then only for about 25 years though the tree can live much longer. Pods grow directly from the trunk or from principle branches. The flowers are very small and this makes it hard to use any pesticides or the like because only one type of very small fly pollinates the flowers and they are vulnerable to those pesticides too.

Cacao tree

From this point on you taste every step of the way; fruit, dry bean, roasted bean, ground with sugar, hot chocolate, chocolate liquor, solid and melted, and finally, tempered and molded chocolate, milk or dark.


Ripe pods are broken open and the fruit covered beans are removed.

Cracked Cacao Pod

They then ferment for between 4 and 7 days, the more beans fermenting at one time the more heat they generate and the faster they ferment. The beans then spend at least another week drying in the sun before being roasted

Roasted Beans

They are then broken up so that the thin shell around the bean can be removed, often by fans or other blowers as the shells are lighter than the bean chunks.

Griding Chocolate

It is not chocolate until sugar is added, without sugar it is just cocoa or cacao and tends to be very bitter.

Cacao, Raw Sugar, and Cinnamon

They then make hot chocolate in the Mayan style, but with sugar. They had a variety of things we could add. Vanilla and orange extract, ground anise, chili, hibiscus, cumin, pepper, and more.


Chocolate liquor is the most processed form and didn’t come about until the industrial age where a Swiss man named Nestle developed the process of extracting the butter. This is then melted and molded to form chocolate bars. I really like the melted version.


With Hibiscus

I finished  by buying a chocolate bar that isn’t actually chocolate. It is 100% cocoa and contains no sugar, therefore is not actually chocolate.

To dark to be called chocolate!

Throughout all of this you get to learn about the history of chocolate as well as the production. Not to mention the all important tasting.


La Fortuna

Time August 27th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Volcan Arenal

A great weekend in La Fortuna. A little town at the base of Volcán Arenal. Spent three days there, if you count travel time, it was at least 4 hours in a bus both ways. The countryside the bus went through was gorgeous though. It truly was countryside.

We passed a lot of cattle. Most of them were either the black and white Holsteins most people picture when they hear the about cows, you know the ones from the Real California Cheese commercials. Or they are the breed with the big shoulder hump and deep jowls. We also ran passed a lot of cultivated land. Farms for coffee with row after row of coffee bushes. Farms for cabbage, with the heads growing sideways of of a hill. It was beautiful when we passed whole hillsides coming through the mountains of terraced land with crops planted.


I book-ended my trip with jungle adventures pushed right up against bus rides, rushing from the bus to zip lining and from a hike to buy a bus ticket. You can read all about that interesting hike on Zach’s blog, he did it the day before. A beautiful, but straight up, hike to the peak of Cerro Chato a dormant volcano right next to Arenal and much easier to access from La Fortuna. There is a lake in the crater where people are allowed to swim, after they first make the trek.


My canopy tour with three others from IFSA was incredible, will definitely be doing that again when I get to Monteverde.  There were 12 cables ranging in length from 25om to 980m. And some with a height of over 100m. The views and the thrill were incredible. We even took a cable right over La Fortuna Waterfall, one of the most visited places by tourists in the Arenal area.

La Fortuna Waterfall

I took this while zip lining along the longest of the lines run by our tour company. It can be an expensive outing but everyone should do it at least once. Take the time to look at what is offered for the price and talk to people, the employees at our hostel were very forthcoming with information about each possible package and company when we got there and started planning our canopy adventure.

In between those two extreme adventures we went on a Chocolate Tour and wandered the shops of La Fortuna. I am afraid my bank account took a hit with my souvenir spending spree. Oh well, will have to not buy any extra food for the next few weeks is all.


Reserva Playa Tortuga

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

This past weekend I got on a bus for four hours with no another Gringa. There was supposed to be a Tica with us but she got decided not to travel to San Jose with us, small panic attack, hope we make it to the right bus station. By the time she got to the bus station they were sold out of tickets, larger panic attack, hope we find the right stop to get off at. It was supposed to be a three and a half hour bus ride. Pouring rain caused delays, like the tree in the road that several muscled passengers eventually got up to drag out of the road. At last we made it to the stop. The other Tica, who we were meeting at Playa Tortuga, had arranged for a taxi to meet us at the bus stop. We found a taxi, only thing missing, a driver. But at long last we made it to the reserve, where we dropped our bags, were given 15 minutes to eat, then were marched off to begin turtle patrols.

You may be asking what lead to this arduous journey, a class. My general studies, ecological riches of Costa Rica class to be exact. We have to do an investigation as a group and part of that investigation includes going somewhere, taking photos, and interviewing an expert on you topic. We picked the threats faced by the Lora or Olive Ridely turtle. So off we went to walk beaches in the dark in hopes of seeing a turtle come to lay her eggs.

Night 1: no joy. We patrolled the early patrol, 7-10. Turtle arrives: 2:30 am, doesn’t lay eggs.

Morning: the reserve has a river clean up planned with the community. We learn about the water quality in the river as the reserve’s head biologist talks to the public about what he does and the things affecting their water. We then spend two hours walking in the river collecting trash. Catalog of finds: socks, shorts, grocery bags, glass bottles, hydraulic oil pump, hose, semi-tire, corrugated metal roofing material, and so much more.

Afternoon: daytime visit to the beach. All that rain means the road is a mess, giant puddles that are really lakes edged in four inch deep mud. I wore borrowed rubber boots after a warning from a reserve employee, the other two wore sandals. One decided she didn’t want to get her feet dirty a second time on the way back.

Sandals & Mud

That was when the car came around the bend.

Night 2: we will see a turtle, no other option exists. After last night we decide we will spend the night at the camp rather than leave to have a turtle arrive after us. We take the 10-1am patrol with the reserves biologist so we can interview him. 11 o’clock, tide is all the way up, no beach to walk on to patrol, half hour break back at camp. Walk for another hour. And then it happened, the biologist sees a turtle track up the beach! He turns around tells us to be quiet and wait here as he goes to check it out, he comes back and confirms, THERE IS A TURTLE!!!!!

Petting the Turtle

Turtle: we stand back as the turtle digs her hole, then the biologist sneaks up behind her and enlarges it so he can remove the eggs as she lays them. The eggs will then be moved to an easier to protect location as they are threatened by bother natural predators and poachers, eggs are big business in Costa Rica. We are then called over to watch as she lays her eggs. No lights are allowed except the staff’s red lights as turtles don’t like bright lights, darkness means security for there eggs, too much light and they wont come back to a beach.  She lays 117 eggs, 120 is the high end of their range. Then she must be measured…but she doesn’t want to be measure, she wants to leave. Turtle wrangling ensues.

Turtle Wrangling

It takes two people to hold her still, if just one tries they get dragged across the beach at a turtle’s pace. Man is she strong.

We head back to camp and the next patrol agrees to wake us if they find anything else. We wake at 4:15, no more turtles. Time to pack up and head out if we are going to make the 30 minute hike to the bus station and catch our 5:30 bus. Made it home to Heredia by 11, beat Mama Tica home from church.


The Extended Family

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

First, sorry about the pictures. I thought they were all up, they weren’t. There are lots more up now for anyone who wants to browse.


So. This weekend I went to Pérez Zeledón to meet my extended family. I left Friday afternoon with a cousin who works in San Jose. She works at the San Jose Palacio, a really swanky hotel just outside central San Jose. We met there and she left from work. We then drove the three and a half hours across the mountains to San Isidro and Pérez Zeledón. I spent that first night at her house with her mom and dad. I got to meet a cousin, her husband, young brother in law, and one and a half year old son, Johannes. Johannes likes to play soccer in the house with his tiny yellow ball and really likes my cousin Tati. My aunt had made tamales and we ate a late dinner before heading off to bed.

The next day I spent most of the day at their house as lots of people came over to wish my aunt a happy birthday. I met cousins, aunts and uncles, and lots of family friends. In the afternoon we ran to town to visit the grocery store and then the salon, Tati wanted a hair cut. After that they ran me out to my Abuela Tica’s house outside town. She has a beautiful house out in the country where you look out and its all looks like a jungle right up to the porch.

Grandma's Front Porch

I saw over twenty kinds of butterflies looking out onto that garden the next morning.

There I met more cousins and more of my Mama Tica’s brothers and sisters. She has a lot of them, I met at least five and am pretty sure there are more I didn’t meet in my two days with them. I was once again fed, Costa Rican’s seem almost obsessed with feeding people, before being introduced to yet more family. I was introduced to everyone as “Tia Betty’s” new American student. After which I was always asked “¿Habla Español?” a question to which an exchange student is never sure how to answer, if you say yes they start talking a mile a minute with college level vocabulary, if you say no you feel like an idiot who shouldn’t be studying abroad in a Spanish speaking country in the first place. My reply, a “so, so” hand gesture and “mas o menos, cuando habla mas despacio” meaning “more or less, when you talk slower”

The next morning I played games with my younger cousins, one of whom was fascinated by my kindle. We played dots and boxes, my only two player game, for over an hour. After the cousins left I sat on the porch cuddling the cat, whose name I am still confused about, and taking pictures of flowers and butterflies. This was of course interspersed with being introduced to yet more family. Nearly every house on their street is owned by someone descended from my Abuela Tica, I learned this when a cousin, I think she was a cousin, took me on a tour of the immediate neighborhood.

Maco el Gato

Maco el Gato … I think.

All followed by a three and a half hour bus ride home on what had to be the one of the most uncomfortable buses out there. The seats were permanently tilted back and had weird lumber support bumps that leaned you back even more and arced the spine in a strange way. But I made it home. It took one ride from a cousin, the bus to San Jose, a ride from another cousin’s friend, a twenty minute bus ride, and a ride from my host brother, but I made it home at last. What I learned from my adventure . . . families are the same no matter what country the call home.


My Abuela Tica


Time to Start Working

Time August 8th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Only one class left in my third week of classes. I think it is time I started doing some homework! My first test is next week, I have a paper and another test the week after that, and then things really get rolling. I have essays, research projects, exams and presentations nearly every week from now until I come home. So far though, the only work I have done outside of class was the three readings I was assigned for different classes. Never was big on doing readings, especially from the textbook about the coming lecture back home. I figure here though I need all the help I can get, and that includes reading up ahead of time so I have a better grasp of concepts for when the professor starts running off in Spanish.

Three of my classes involve group projects and presentations. Starting with my Ecological Riches of Costa Rica class. It is a program class with Ticos too. My group is doing a project on the threats faced by sea turtles. We are going in a week to spend three days on the beach at a volunteer organization that helps protect their eggs. We will spend get to some time on the beach at night guarding nests, interview one of the programs leaders and explore. This will end up being the first of two turtle volunteer weekends for me as IFSA organizes a turtle volunteer weekend too.

I got really lucky with my group though. One of the other girls is studying to become an English teacher. She currently works weekends near the coast teaching gringos Spanish. What better group partner could you have as an exchange student? She also works close to where we are going and was able to make all the arrangements for our travel stay.

Lunch Buddies

The one standing in the back is Karla, the best group project partner to be found in Heredia.

I finally got around to talking to Tracy, one of the program coordinators, about volunteer opportunities. After reviewing my options I plan to tell her tomorrow about the two I hope to participate in. One is with InBioParque. A biodiversity reserve very close to town that does tours. There are a wide variety of things I might be assigned to do while there. The other is what most of the volunteer opportunities for  exchange students here are, assist in teaching English or Spanish in a school of any level. There is a school really close to me that I could volunteer at teaching English. The problem with that option is that starting this year all schools are requiring criminal background checks on volunteers. Because this is new the Tracy is not sure how getting them will work for exchange students. She was going to look into it after we talked yesterday.

I love volunteering and have so much free time compared to my overload course loads in the states that I hope to get lots of volunteer time in before I come home. Should help keep me busy and out of bars on weeknights. And still leave my weekends free to travel around Costa Rica w


Suprise Differences, Suprise Similarities

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

The main reason I came up with this post was so I could talk about two things, one similarity and one difference. It kind of exploded from there.

So to start. Doorknobs. That’s right, doorknobs. Some inside doors have handles like we know in the states. Some. However, all outside doors do not. They have these weird handle-less things that you can’t open from the outside without a key, even if it is unlocked. The outside is just a metal panel flush with the door with a key hole. The inside has a boxy thing I am guessing holds the locking mechanism, a key hole, and a little lever you can pull to open the door from that side without the key if it is unlocked. I can’t get over the fact that they don’t have doorknobs!

Door - Outside Door - Inside

On a similar note all the houses have fences around the property and a gate. The houses in downtown Heredia, the houses in the surrounding “suburbs”, the houses out in the country. I guess home break-ins are common and these are the measures they take to prevent them. Some places even have razor wire circling the top of the fence. My mama tica keeps the gate unlocked when people are home though, you can reach through and open it with the inside lever when it is unlocked. Haven’t had any problems with theft or things like that but it is strange having to get through the gate with its key before getting to the door and having to find that key so I can open the handle-less door.

Relating to rain, no one here uses rain coats. They all use umbrellas. This is just weird to me in a place that gets as much rain and as heavy a rain as they get here. I come from the NW were no one uses umbrellas, we all use rain coats. Two places renowned for their rain that have completely opposite stands on the rain coat vs umbrella debate. We were all talking about it and I think we decided a good umbrella is cheaper than a good, compactable rain coat, urban environment supports umbrellas, it rains for shorter periods of time here (an hour instead of all day), and the wind doesn’t blow the rain sideways. Not sure if any of those really affected the evolution of our different cultural norms or not though.

Another NW difference, pedestrians here, definitely do not have right of way. Drivers down here scare me, I would definitely not rent a car to go somewhere or anything like that. As a pedestrian you wait and hope for a break in traffic. On big streets and small. Makes it interesting when I try to go running. Or even just walking to school.

On similarities, college students are a lot the same here as at home. They live on caffeine to survive long classes after late nights. Drinking and partying are a common pastimes, with soccer the sport of choice to watch and mourn or celebrate a loss instead of football. Though, same as in the states, I have no idea where the money comes from as even here college students are perpetually broke.

They dress the same here too. Girls if you read somewhere that you will need to wear dresses and skirts, they lied. Most of the time girls here wear pants, to them 70 degrees is cold. But shorts are seen too, they are not just beach wear. I have seen Ticas on campus wearing bootie shorts same as in the states. When I went to church with my family there was a girl there in shorts. Yes some girls wear skirts or dresses, but they are no more common or uncommon here than in the US.

Those are just some of the ones that surprised me; different from what I heard back home or from my preconceived notions.


Classes – Week 1

Time July 26th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Well, it is definitely a transition. I think I prefer one hour classes to three to four hour classes. Here classes are between two and a half and four hours one day a week instead of one to two hours two to three days a week. This means to stay awake for the whole time you have to have gotten plenty of sleep and caffeine and be interested in the subject. If you are taking a class because you need it and not because you find the topic interesting you are in trouble. This can be hard as we register after everyone else and some classes are full.

Registration is definitely an interesting process. You don’t want classes on Fridays so you can extend your weekend for travel. For same that means no classes on Monday either. No such luck for me in that department. You also want to try and register for a few extra classes with the intention of dropping them after a week or two. This means if a classes is harder than you thought it would be, not as interesting as you had hoped, or the teacher speaks in Spanish you have no chance of understanding you aren’t left stuck.

This week I had three extra classes. And three classes I have yet to go to. I think I know which classes I will keep but we shall see after I go to the last few. My host sister took one of them her first year and she said it was a good class. The prof is friendly, you don’t get graded on attendance or tardiness, and everyone gets an A. It is also a class that sounds really interesting, Indigenous Ecology. But it is on Fridays.

The big thing this week has been missed communication. My  first class was in a hidden classroom none of us could find and started two hours before we were told. My third class had a room change. My fourth class started an hour later than we were told, in the States everyone would have left, here we were all still waiting around when the prof showed up at ten til. I wasn’t going to leave if the Ticos weren’t! I will have to see how things go tomorrow with my last new classes. Then it is back to Jose the registration help to drop my extra classes.

It is interesting here though. They don’t have textbooks. If there is reading material you need for a class the professors take the originals to the copy shops and tell them what pages are needed for the class. You then go and pay anywhere from $3-10 bucks for the copied version with only the relevant pages. The readings could all be from one text or from many all compiled and they are all properly cited. I have had to do that for two classes and I have a literature class that has a few individual readings you have to buy that are going to cost less than a dollar and a few others on a CD that the class provides. The University is surrounded by copy centers, over twenty plus one actually on campus. Each prof has a different one that they go to for with the class readings so you have to find out which copy center they use on the first day when you get your syllabus. Then it is packed after class as half of the students go straight there.

It is nice to have my Mama Tica make me breakfast every morning and send me to school with lunch. It is pretty common to have a lunch from home here since most of the Ticos still live with their parents while they are in college. She just asks me every night if I am coming home for lunch or if I want her to pack me one. Then whenever I do get home she has an afternoon snack ready. Which is a good thing since my particular family tends not to eat dinner until about seven. Normally someone from the extended family or my host sister’s boyfriend comes and eats with us.

Now that the first week is almost over and I will be starting to go to classes for the second time soon it is time to start thinking about homework. I have readings and some research to do already. Better get to it.


My New Home

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

I have been with my host family for the rest of my time here for five days. They are really nice. I don’t have to worry about getting too much food, she lets me serve myself but always offers more or something different in case I want it. I have two brothers and one sister here. Plus a seemingly never ending stream of cousins and aunts. The middle brother is married and lives down the street the oldest and the 19 year old daughter live at home. Most of the immediate family have some English but not very strong, some of the extended family have very good English, I ended up spending fifteen minutes talking in English about my major with a cousin I had just met yesterday because he talked to me in English and I fell back into it. The lack of English is good though, I think, it forces me to explain concepts I don’t know the word for in Spanish rather than simply ask for the word. The have all been welcoming and helpful, talking too me, explaining things. The first two days my host mom took me to the campus and came to pick me up to make sure I found my way. The buses here are rather complicated.

The program coordinators talked to us about culture shock this week…I don’t think my culture shock will be all American vs Costa Rican ideas and life styles. Most of mine is big city shock. Heredia with its many “suburbs” is far bigger than any city or town I have ever lived in. All the house are fenced and gated due to high incidence of robberies, I have four different keys! There is one bus that passes my house, still not sure what its schedule is, I just know it comes by at 8:03 and then some other times too. There is another down the street that comes more often. To come home from downtown and campus I have two options, the one that passes my house but only comes about once an hour or the one that I get off four blocks away. If I take any of the other buses to my suburb, San Rafael, I get incredibly lost. It happened yesterday on my way home. I didn’t take the Terrazzo bus that passes my house or the generic Heredia-San Rafael bus. I managed to find my way home by walking towards the church until I found a street I recognized. My first great city adventure. Here’s to hoping it is my only strange bus adventure!

The suburbs are really nice though. They have a very community feel and lots of little shops run out of the front of houses as well as some larger stores. I know how to get home from the church, the bus stop, the police station, and the sports park. I went there this morning. Got in my first run since I left home. It would be on the strange day that it rained in the morning though. There were lots of people out running the track and lots on there way to school or work on my way too and back. I am slowing starting to know the people closest to us that my host mom is friends with and feel quite safe walking my street even early in the morning and later at night.

That’s it for now, the last day of orientation is about to start and I have to catch my bus into central Heredia. Monday classes begin…wish me luck!



Three days in….

Time July 11th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Written Wednesday night about 10 pm.

I am three days in to my four and a half month long adventure. Costa Rica is beautiful and I am definitely a little overwhelmed. Who knew my Spanish was this limited! But everyday it is growing by leaps and bounds. Listening to everyone speak it and being forced to speak it myself has refreshed my knowledge and already taught me knew things. Plus four hours of Spanish class every morning.
This week is the first half of orientation. We are in Liberia and on Sunday we will leave for our long term homes in Heredia. The host families here in Liberia are incredible, the amount of patience they have and how much they want to help us figure out what is going on. My family consists of my host mother, her husband and my host brother. She has another son and a daughter going to school in San Jose.
Everyone keeps feeding us. There is so much food. Most of it is really good but there is so much! I am going to gain my freshman fifteen down here in place of what I didn’t gain my actual freshman year in the US. We eat rice and beans at nearly every meal with some kind of meat and vegetable or bread. The fruit is so fresh! I have two mango trees in my backyard. We eat watermelon or papaya or pineapple or mango at least once a day.
Yesterday some Tico students, the locals call themselves Ticos instead of Costa Ricans, helping out the program took us to lunch and around town. Then to buy phones, we have to communicate with each other somehow! Tomorrow everyone heads to the beach for the afternoon. I hope it doesn’t rain too much. There are normally thunderstorms each afternoon or evening; today was the first since we arrived late Sunday night.
Every morning here in Liberia we have Spanish class for two hours, a break for a snack, and back to class until noon. Then we have dance class with a local woman who is teaching us a few local dances for the party with our host families on Friday. I am not sure how that is going to turn out… there is a good chance it will be hilarious to watch.
Today after class some of us looked at trying to make our schedules for when we get to Heredia. We get to register Monday. Most classes meet once a week for between two and four hours. I hope to take some culture and history classes, some classes on ecology and maybe a Costa Rican dance class. We will take Advanced Spanish all semester and four to five other classes of our choosing. It is so hard to know what to pick since we know what level the class is for the Ticos but have no idea if we will be able to keep up with more complicated concepts in Spanish. I will have to let everyone know how that goes. Most of the classes I am looking at would be the equivalent to our 200 level courses but one or two are a higher level. We have the first week of classes to drop out or change our schedule without any problems.