Tuesday, December 4, 2007

I am going to miss all the things, I never thought I would miss.

As the semester comes to a close, I have been asked to reflect on my experience here in a number of different ways. It seems as it has been a never ending stream of questions about what I learning from the culture and what I learned about myself, and this is what I have decided. I am going to miss all the little things I never though I would miss because I never knew it would be the little things that taught me the most. It is not any of our group trips that stick out in my mind, or nights out with friends, instead the things that stick out in my head as my favorite memories in Costa Rica are moments with my family. As much as I do not want to admit it, I will miss my two year old Tico brother jumping into my arms when I get home from school everyday, or walking to the grocery store with my Tica sister to get something my mom needs to cook dinner. I will miss waking up to the sound of my abuela’s voice singing along with the Mariachi music on the radio. I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to study abroad and know that it is something that has changed the person I am for the better. I can say with confidence that I experienced as much as I could with my time here. Like all study abroad experiences, mine has had its ups and downs. I have realized who I care about the most by who I miss the most. I am beyond excited about returning to what we now refer to as our “real lives” but this does not mean that I will not miss being here. Three and a half months ago, I wrote a blog about my first impressions of Costa Rica and in it I included a quote someone gave me before I left for this adventure.

“The is one purpose in life and one only: to bear witness to and understand as much as possible to the complexity of the world – its beauty, its mystery, its riddles. The more you understand the more you look, the greater is your enjoyment of life and your sense of peace. That’s all there is to it. If an activity is not grounded in ‘to love’ or ‘to learn’ it does not have value.”

I can say with confidence that this purpose has been fulfilled with this trip and that it has had value. I have loved and I have learned more than I ever thought possible.
- Cullen Pitler

All of a sudden there was a ton people in the house.

I smiled last night when I walked out of my room after being in there for maybe one minute only to find that the population of Ticos in the kitchen tripled. It seemed to me that that moment was the epitome of my life here. Surprise, happiness, excitement and family. Thinking back, the first time I walked into the house no less than five strangers followed in after me: friends of Eder and Max, brothers of my host mother, cousins, neighbors and friends of neighbors. While I was meeting all of them and trying to practice their names, new, exotic fruit was being shoved into my mouth and a whole new world was forming around me and I had and hour to soak it all in before I was out of the house again and back with the group.

I have done and seen so many things and lived in such a way that I can’t even begin to describe it. I’ve eaten rice and beans all day, I’ve shaved with cold water for the past three months, I’ve been awoken to the sound of double gated homes being locked and unlocked, I’ve gotten hooked to a dubbed television series and had in-depth conversations about plot development, I’ve been to Mal Pais, Monte Verde, Arenal, Manuel Antonio, Puerto Viejo, Tamarindo, Braulio Carrillo, Cerro de la Muerte, Nicaragua and Panama. I don’t really know the best way to wrap up an entire semester of personal growth, invaluable knowledge and new experiences. I recently went bungee jumping but even that doesn’t seem as crazy as the culmination of experiences I have had in such a short period of time.

Living here in Costa Rica has been amazing and I would not trade this opportunity for anything in the world. There is really only one phrase that I can think of to really describe what I feel and, of course, it’s a Tico saying: Pura vida, mae, pura vida.

-Craig R. Campbell

Monday, December 3, 2007

Pura Vida

This past weekend I visited Puerto Viejo on the caribbean side with some of the other students. It was nice to be able to go to the beach one last time before leaving Costa Rica. Even though we were all running low on money we were able to stay in hammocks for $5 a night in a hostel. We were right next to the beach and could hear the waves crashing against the coral at night. Although the beach near us was not the best for swimming due to the reef, just a short walk into town and there were several beaches for swimming. My favorite restaurant was called Jammin' and featured Jamaican style food and refreshing smoothies. There were several other restaurants that had the caribbean influence close by. I really enjoyed being able to experience the culture on that side because it is so different than the rest of the country. ~SC

Saying Goodbye

With 5 days left in Costa Rica, I find myself experiencing a range of emotions. One on hand, I'm happy to get back to my family in the States, back to a comfortable bed and the ease of living on my own. On the other hand, I'm really going to miss the family that I've grown so close to over the past 4 months (and the warm weather and beautiful beaches).

I participated in a study-abroad homestay to Iceland in high school, and my 'real' family has hosted AFS Exchange students from all over the world. Sadly, I feel like I know how this story will end. We'll keep in great touch with our families the first few months we return. We'll miss them and reminisce on 'the good days in San Jose.' Then, communication will slow to only the occasional holiday or birthday call, and before you know it, the families we lived with and loved will just become a fond memory, a distant aspect of our past. As much as I hope this won't be the case, deep down I feel like it might be.

It's hard to believe that Saturday will be the last time that many of us see these family members and this country. Though I promise my host mom I will come back and visit one day, maybe for my honeymoon, a quote from Lost in Translation comes to mind: "Let's never come back here again because it will never be so much fun." With all the development that has happened in Costa Rica since the turn of the century, it's inevitable that this country will change even more by the time we will come back.

My advice to future students (or Costa Rica travellers):
Enjoy your time here. Every minute you spend wishing you were home is a minute you'll never have again to enjoy all that Costa Rica has to offer.
Appreciate the hardships of the country. You might complain from time to time, but be glad you were able to visit before Costa Rica became the next Miami. Appreciate all we have in the United States.
Spend time with your family. You're not a hassle to them; they do this because they like it, too. You can all learn from each other, and the more you talk with them, the better your Spanish will become.

Pura Vida!

Less Than One Week Left

With less than one week to go until we leave, I cannot believe our time here has gone by so quickly. I am very content with all that I have done and all I have seen. As a group we were able to travel around a lot of the country and learn so much from the culture. Even though I would not change how much we traveled, I would have liked to spend more time with my Tico family. I learned so much from them about the Costa Rican culture, about the food, and about living in a developing nation. This experience has also taught me a lot about myself. For one, I know I am able to move to a country in which I am not comfortable with the language and become proficient. I am also able to live with relative strangers for almost four months and become apart of their family. Lastly, I know I will never travel anywhere without my umbrella during the rainy season.
Maggie Owner

So Long, Old Chap

It’s weird to look back at how long we have been here since 3 and a half months sounds like a long time but isn’t nearly as long as anyone thinks it is. I’ve had a lot of fun exploring Costa Rica and experiencing everything that it has to offer. I knew coming into this experience that I would not spend nearly as much time with my host family as I would want to because I really wanted to see all of the country. I think I spent enough time with my family, but of course I would have liked to have spent more. Coming to this country dispelled a lot of preconceived notions I had about the country itself and about developing nations in general.

Let me take this opportunity to share my knowledge with you:
1) Costa Rica is not all beaches and rainforest
2) It does get cold
3) There is such a thing as a tropical cloud forest
4) You can bungee jump here and live (as experienced by others in the group)
5) The food is repetitive but still tastes good
6) A lot of rain is not an accurate description of the rainy season, it is more like a monsoon
7) Quedar Bien
8) Look both ways before crossing the street and then run for dear life
9) Pops is perhaps the most delicious ice cream to touch your lips in Costa Rica
10) Soccer is not just a sport, but a religion

I laughed, I cried, I got completely soaked,

Nicole O

Friday, November 30, 2007

Costa Rica Adventures

For some people, Costa Rica's beautiful forests & beaches offer a time to relax. For others, it's an andrenaline-junkies dream come true.
During of the first weeks, the whole group went white water rafting. We went with a well established company here in Costa Rica called Rios Tropicales, and they picked us up one Friday morning to go rafting on Rio Reventazon, with 2 - 3 level rapids (5 is the highest). Our group was divided onto 2 different rafts with bilingual guides. The rapids were semi-difficult, but good for beginners. At one point, they let us get out of the rafts and swim around, and some of us jumped off these rocks into a mini-waterfall! It was a lot of fun.
When my parents came, we went rafting again with a company called Exploradores Outdoors. I definitely preferred this trip. We went rafting on Rio Pacuare, which has level 3 - 4 rapids - the most dangerous in Costa Rica! At one point, our guide fell off the raft and it was TERRIFYING!! The scenery was absolutely breathtaking, and there were some calm moments where we could swim around or enjoy the views. Expoloradores makes a stop at this isolated valley for a picnic lunch, and then donates the leftover food (there's a lot!) to a local, poor indigenous family, which is a nice touch.
My parents and I also went zip-lining in Arenal. Because of the nature of the forests there, the ziplines aren't too high, but they're good for beginners. I definitely preferred the zip-lines in Monteverde, which were a lot higher. I was zipping across a canyon when I got stuck in a gust of wind and was blown all around! My heart was definitely pounding.
To top off the list of adventures, we decided to go bungee jumping! It's definitely not for the faint of heart. Craig, Cullen, Maggie, Amanda, and I went last Thursday. I was not expecting to be afraid, but I almost chickened out! A 275-foot long rubber band goes around your feet and connects the jumper to this old bridge over Rio Colorado. Essentially, you dive off this metal diving board into the air and fly for a few minutes before the cord yanks you back up for a second time. IT WAS AMAZING! You're absolutely weightless. The company that we went with is called Tropical Bungee, and has higher safety standards than most bungee companies in the United States, and has been used by companies like Levis, Smirnoff, and the X-Games for shooting commercials. Our guide has jumped nearly 800 times! I would highly reccomend the company to anyone interested in this experience.