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.


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Volcan Arenal: Two Different Experiences

On Friday, November 23, the group headed off to Los Lagos Hotel by the active Arenal Volcano. Arenal is one of Costa Rica's most popular tourist destinations, but it was our last group outing through Elon, so I was expecting the trip to be a little bittersweet.
Arenal Volcano is about 90 km from San Jose (but thanks to the poor roads, it takes about 4 hours to drive there). After 400 years of dormancy, the volcano erupted in the mid-1960s, coincidentally just in time for Kennedy's visit to this country. It destroyed the town of Arenal, and even today, tourists can't climb the volcano due to the potential dangers from the constant mini-eruptions. Still, the view and the natural hot springs are really popular with tourists
This was actually my second time going to Arenal because I went with my parents when they visited during fall break. The first time, my parents and I did a tour with Desafio Adventures company, which is based in nearby La Fortuna. We did a combination tour where we rode horses to a forest near the volcano, then did ziplines through the tall trees. These ziplines was perfect for my parents (my mom is afraid of heights) and the guides were very congenial, but the ziplines in Monteverde were a lot more challenging. That night, we stayed at Arenal Observatory Lodge, about 30 minutes from La Fortuna. The Lodge actually used to be Smithsonian's observation point, and is therefore the closest hotel or tourist spot to the volcano's cone. It's also very close to Arenal Lake. On premises, there is a semi-fancy restaurant, a hiking path that goes by hardened lava, and 1 cold pool and 2 small hot-spring fed pools. The view from this hotel was AMAZING, especially when we woke up at 4:45 to the sound of what I thought was howler monkeys, and my mom thought was an avalanche. It was actually the volcano grumbling, and it was beautiful set against the clear, dark sky.
This time, the Elon group and I stayed at Hotel Los Lagos, a luxury resort a little further from the volcano. It too had a semi-fancy restaurant, but it had at least a dozen beautiful, spring-fed pools (both hot and cold) and 3 water slides. It also had a crocodile farm, so we could get really close to these giant crocs, a butterfly farm, and beautiful gardens. There are hiking trails and some small ziplines on the premises too. Some of the students opted to get massages and facials from the hotel's spa, which was relaxing. The one drawback to Los Lagos is that, unlike the Observatory Lodge, it is on the inactive side of the volcano, meaning that even if there had been no clouds, we probably would not have been able to see any of the lava. Unfortunately, clouds blocked the volcano for the whole weekend, day and night. My classmates were disappointed that we had travelled so far and not seen more than just the base of the volcano.
All in all, it was a good trip. Los Lagos has everything you need; it is good for families or tourists wanting a 1-stop destination in Arenal. However, Arenal Observatory lodge definitely had better views and a more calm, private atmosphere.
Enjoy the pictures!

- Jessi

Poverty Issues in Costa Rica

I recently completed a project for my seminar class that required me to research poverty statistics and lifestyles in Costa Rica. Admittedly, I was drawn to this project after what I experienced in my trip to Nicaragua. Until this study abroad experience I had never before been to a developing/third world country. Now I have been to both. I think that the experience is somewhat strange. It is hard to describe what it is like to travel to a country that is so much further behind than mine but both living in the same world at the same time. It doesn’t really make sense that not all countries can have the same type of luxuries, commodities and necessities that other countries have so easily. For example, I (a fairly broke college student) have a washer and dryer in my apartment that I can use whenever I want. I don’t have to worry about the sun not coming out to dry my clothes or the electricity cutting off during a wash cycle. Building materials are different, luxury items are different, you drink warm milk, the diet barely varies, and everyone lives behind bars. There is so much more that is different in non-developed countries that I could not even relate to you right now because I have been living here for far too long to even notice them or note them as obvious differences.

Anyway, I was writing about poverty. Costa Rica is undisputedly poorer, as a whole, than the United States. It was clear to me when I first rode through San Jose that there were some true poverty issues that this country was suffering with. What I was surprised to discover, however, was that compared to all of Latin America, and compared to the World, Costa Rica really is not as poor as you would think. While approximately 25% of the population lives in poverty or extreme poverty, at least Costa Rica has a middle class. So many countries have a small upper class and a huge lower class and no middle class, it says something for Costa Rica that they have a visible, strong middle class. Consider Honduras, Nicaragua, Sudan, Ghana, and so many more countries that barely even have an upper class, that survive in nearly primitive lifestyles. Earlier in the year we had the chance to visit Nicaragua for a long weekend which some of us blogged about earlier. The poverty problems there are so much worse than here in Costa Rica I actually began to feel guilty for sitting in an air-conditioned bus while I watched men and women walking, barefoot, and leading their horse drawn carts or carrying their laundry from the river…I still do feel guilty.

Experiencing these developing/third-world countries truly opened my eyes up to the privileges I have compared to the struggles of a huge world population of impoverished people. I still can’t help but wonder what the world would be like if everyone gave just $10.00.

-Craig Campbell

We Went to Arenal

This past weekend we all took our final group trip to Arenal, Costa Rica. According to some Tico talk, this is one of the most favorite places in Costa Rica because of the active volcano and beautiful surroundings. Unfortunately, we all decided to come to Costa Rica during the rainy season, and rain comes from clouds, and clouds block the view of the sweet, lava-flowing volcano. We didn’t get to see it. Nevertheless, the weekend was pretty cool because we just lounged away in hot springs located on the property of the Los Lagos resort. Also, the hotel pools had some really fun, slightly dangerous waterslides that we repeatedly went down along with the 20 or so children who enjoyed them. I did get to have a first-time-in-my-life experience while I stayed there: a massage. Before coming to Costa Rica I had never had a massage before and I decided that since I have been doing so many new things like bungee jumping, eating rice and beans all day, crossing unfathomably dangerous streets, speaking in Spanish all the time, handling hummingbirds, learning Latin dances, and relaxing on beaches in September, October, November and sooner than later December, I may as well treat myself to a good old Costa Rican massage. The experience was very relaxing and definitely set me up to be in a good mood for the upcoming stress-filled week. The massage was a good life decision and a good way to start the end of my Costa Rican extravaganza.

-Craig Campbell

10 days

At this point, I find myself switching back and forth regarding my feelings on leaving. Everyday, every minute I change my mind. Each minute that passes is one less I will spend here in Costa Rica, in the country that has become my home. Leaving my "family" here is going to be very difficult. Naomi has become a second mom, and José (despite how ridiculous he is)has become a part of my family. I am going to miss their son and his newly adopted 2 year old Anthony. I knew that was going to be the most difficult part of living and as each day goes by I know I am getting closer to leaving them. It scares me that I will probably never see them again. However, I know that once I return to the states I am going to go back into my my normal routine and get back to my regular life. The same has happened every time I travel abroad. It's always hard to leave. Then the period of adjustment, missing the way things were, and then moving on. Obviously, I realize that this experience will stick with me and I will always remember my time abroad, yet I also realize that I am going to be able to move on and continue. I realize as well that I am leaving one family for another. Seeing my friends and family again is really exciting. I find the whole process of adjustment rather interesting. The way I switch back and forth between excitement and sadness depends entirely on my mood. So at this time when I feel stuck between two places, I am trying my best to enjoy these last days and make the best of the little time we have left.


Monday, November 26, 2007

Los Lagos Hotel: The Other Side of Arenal

This weekend we went to Arenal Volcano as a group for our last Elon-planned group trip. I had already been to Arenal with my parents over fall break, and was excited to go back. I really enjoyed staying on the active side, where we were guaranteed to see lava during your stay. Therefore, I found it interesting that I did not see the top of Arenal during the entire trip due to the clouds. It seemed kind of odd to go to a hotel near an active volcano and be unable to see it during the entire weekend. However, I thoroughly enjoyed spending a relaxing weekend in the hot springs. As I had remembered, everything was overpriced in Arenal because it is such a hot spot for tourists. The hotel had mediocre food (confirmed by others in the group...this is not just me being difficult because I'm a lactose-intolerant vegetarian who prefers healthy food) but we went to a really nice Mexican Restaurant.

I also had a fun incident with Kim and Sara where we got caught in a rainstorm on our way to a "look out point" which we still aren't completely sure if we found. The best part was that we happened to have our cameras with us. The rain was intense, to the point that each drop was painful. We returned to the room completely soaked. Luckily, the cameras were saved and we have a couple pictures from before the rain got too bad. Overall, it was a good time. While a very different experience than the one I had at Arenal the first time, I was happy to have the time to relax and enjoy the beauty of our hotel.


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

National Theater: Starring Abuela

A week ago our group took a trip to the National Theater to see Cullen’s tica abuela (grandma) sing in a choir she is a part of. I’ve had the opportunity to get to know her a bit as she lives down the street from me. She’s really sweet and always willing to talk and feed you. She invited our group to come see her perform and we decided to make a night out of it. In all honesty the show wasn’t that amazing because it was mainly community group choirs and a lot from local high schools, but it was nice to be there. I especially liked watching the choirs with really little kids. One tiny girl had glasses that kept falling down her nose...she just kept on singing her heart out opening her little mouth extra wide to squeeze all the words out. It's nice to see that these kids get to be part of something in the community as there are really no after school activities for children or many extraccuricular activities.
The pictures in this post are from the night. If you ever come to Costa Rica be sure to visit the theater...and just hope that "abuela" is performing the night you come! -CM

Monday, November 19, 2007

El parque de diversiones

So Saturday Caitlin and I go to the only amusement park in Costa Rica. She called me 15 minutes before we needed to leave, and I was more than excited to accompany her. The park was just like most amusement parks in the United States. It was a little smaller, but it was really clean and nice. And it only cost 10 bucks to get in! We were with about 10 Ticos from Caitlin's church, and they were all so nice and so much fun. We went on all the rides, which took a little bit of convincing to get Caitlin to go on all of them, but it was worth it! We had a great time, even, waiting in line and talking to the Ticos, a few who spoke some English, although we got by with our Spanish. We stayed until the park closed, and we went on all the big rides at least once. We also went on the paddle boats, bumper cars, and the water rides. We got to try this typical Costa Rican candy made of milk and sugar, almost like fudge. It was really sweet and tasty. All in all it was a great day. Our new friends walked us to our bus stop to make sure we would get home okay, and we have already been in contact with them since! We hope to see them again before we leave, but either way, I will never forget this fabulous experience!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

This blog has 2 parts...

First, yesterday my Tica mom invited the neighbors over to pray the rosary. Yep. She just invited the neighbors over, got dressed up, prepared "aguadulce," a typical hot drink here, and they all prayed the rosary in thanks for everything God has provided. My Tica family is Catholic, but they don't go to church. So I found it interesting that this is how my Tica mom and neighbors spent their afternoon. When she told me, I thought I misunderstood her spanish, because this is such a cultural difference. But it was interesting, and I thought I should share.

Second, with only 3 weeks left, I am finally feeling a part of my family here. I always felt welcome, just as a guest though. Now I truly feel as though I am another daughter in the family, which is a great, reassuring feeling. When I leave school, I truly feel like I am going to my home. I feel comfortable in the city here, and I can go places by myself without a doubt in my spanish skills or confidence in getting around here. I can't believe we have only 3 weeks left! I know I will be ready to go home, but I also know it will be with fond memories and a connection to this place.


Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Community Service at Jose Figuerres

During this semester, the Sabanilla community has been really welcoming and helpful to all of us, and we all agreed that we should do something to give back to the community that has given so much to us. Staci and Cullen, who has been student-teaching all semester, arranged for us to go to Jose Figuerres, a local elementary school for a beautification project. Linda supplied us with a car-load of flowers, shovels, rakes, spades, paint, etc. and we were set to spend the afternoon improving this poor public school.
What a shock it was! Like almost every building in Costa Rica, the school is enclosed in a cage of bars and barbed wires to keep out robbers. On the property were two open air 'court yards.' One was labelled a "Danger Zone" and had a big, gaping hole and jagged rocks scattered about. A sink of sorts, with rusty faucets and dirty looking water, was in front of this courtyard, and Cullen tells me that this is where each and every child brushes his teeth in the morning as part of a government implemented dental hygiene program. The second courtyard, where we worked, was smaller and had two big palm trees in the middle of it. Our job was to clear debis (including trash, dead leaves, and shards of glass) from the courtyard, and plant a colorful garden instead. We also cleared away several large rocks around the palm trees, and planted small flowers there instead. Cullen and Maggie painted the stone wall and several of the stones that were too big for us to move away.
I was also really surprised to see how excited how the Tico students were to help us. Whenever we put down a shovel or rake, we'd basically never see it again because the little boys and girls would snatch it up and use it until their hands hurts, then pass it on to another one who was waiting in line. They also really liked talking to us to practice their English and show off their knowledge of US pop culture.
After an hour or so of work and a lot of help, we finally finished our beautification project. The little courtyard looked a LOT better, but it was still quite disheartening to see that we threw our trash into this overflowing trash pile behind the kindegarden class rooms. Still, it was a positive experience to at least give back a little something to this community.

<3, jessi

ENS Field Trip the Sequel: Cerro de la Muerte

This second Environmental Science field trip was very different from the previous field trip for several interesting reasons. First, it was much colder on this most recent field trip because we travelled to a tropical cloud forest instead of the tropical rain forest from the last field trip. Also, we stopped along the way to hike in the mountain bog, which is just a wet as it sounds. We had to be extremely careful to not fall into large seemingly harmless, giant holes of watery mud (unfortunately one of the group still had the misfortune of stepping into a deep hole and getting very wet). The rest of the first day we went looking for flowers that hummingbirds feed on for our lab work, and then spent a very cold night in the hotel (apparently people just don’t use heaters in Cerro de la Muerte).

The second day we set up our nets and caught some hummingbirds, which is both easier and more difficult than it sounds. The easy part was having the hummingbirds fly into the big nets and get entangled. The hard part was getting the birds out and then carrying them to another location. It is an interesting feeling to hold a hummingbird, one that I didn’t really enjoy simply because I thought I was going to break it the whole time, but other than that really cool. In case you are wondering, they pee a lot, but it doesn’t really get on you it just kind of shoots out. Later, we observed hummingbird feeders to see what kinds of hummingbirds visited the feeder and how many there were to aid in our lab reports. The rest of our time we spent identifying pollen on different slides and packed up to go home. We were supposed to do a second hike on the way back to San Jose, through a type of forest called the Paramo, but it was too rainy. Overall, it was a very different second field trip in that it was less comfortable for me because it was so cold, but more interesting because we got to work with and observe hummingbirds.

-Nicole Olavarria

Environmental Science Field Trip to Cerro de la Muerte

On the weekend of November 3, our biology class headed to the Talamanca Mountain Range along with Alejandra, our professor, and two teaching assistants. The weekend started with a two hour drive to an oak forest, which we hiked through, eventually reaching a remote mountain bog. The topography of these two areas was COMPLETELY different than what we have seen thus far in Costa Rica. The trees in the oak forest were shorter, the canopy was less dense, and moss and vines hung everywhere. The bog was - in a word- muddy. I made one wrong stepped and was sucked into mud nearly as deep as my stomach! It was cold, and I am pretty sure I felt creepy crawlies slithering around my legs. Luckily, Amanda came to my rescue, grabbed me around my shoulders and pulled me out. Still, I had to hike around in wet jeans and water-filled boots for another hour. It was miserable!
After a quick lunch near the oak forest, we continued our drive to La Georgina Hotel and Restaurant in Cerro de la Muerte, where we would be staying for the night. We drove all this way in order to study hummingbirds, and La Georgina was selected because of the abundance of hummingbirds attracted to the restaurant's sugar-water feeders. We went for another hike (in the pouring rain, not so fun).
Cerro de la Muerte basically translates into "Mountain of Death" because in the olden days, people who camped in the area were at risk of dying of hypothermia or other perrils of cold weather. The thermometer said it was about 40 degrees but it was raining, and after two months of living in a hot and humid tropical climate, we were all miserable. I literally wore 5 long sleeve shirts, one North Face jacket, two pairs of pajama pants, and three pairs of socks to bed, and I was STILL cold. Future ENS students should definitely pack accordingly, and be aware that La Georgina is by no means a deluxe hotel (there are no heaters or hot showers).
Sunday started for us bright and early at 5:45 am. Basically, we set up nets to catch hummingbirds who were eating at the sugarwater feeders and then checked for pollen on their bodies. The hypothesis was that feeders negatively impact growth of local flowers, because the birds who eat from the feeders aren't fulfilling their roles as pollinators. The only thing that made the experiment worthwhile was holding these tiny little birds in our hands. They're soo fragile, and it's hard to believe that their rainbow colored, irridescent feathers are natural. They were just so beautiful!
In the early afternoon, we packed up and headed back to San Jose to later evaluate the data we collected over the weekend. While the trip wasn't the most fun way to spend a weekend, holding the hummingbirds was definitely a worthwhile once-in-a-lifetime experience :)

by Jessi

Monday, November 12, 2007

Jose Figueres Elementary School

Having spent four to five hours a week at the school, I felt as if I was prepared for the experience we would have volunteering. While some needs of the school and students are immediately obvious to me, others have come to my attention only because of the time I have spent there interacting with the children. I was excited to be able to work with the children outside the classroom and get to know some of them on a more intimate level by doing something that would add life to the somewhat barren school. While I am happy we spent the time planting the flowers and painting rocks, I feel that with better organization and more effort from all of us, we could have done more to give back to the community that has given so much to us.

While I was very happy and excited to complete this work to beautify a section of a local elementary school it made me realize how much more is needed and all the things that could have been done in addition to the work we did. I think that working with students gave us a new perspective on the needs of the people who live among us and hopefully opened the eyes of some of those that may have thought otherwise. Every little thing done makes a difference and is noticed, and this is something we cannot underestimate as volunteers. My time spent at the school has taught me so much and although it was overwhelming at times I could not have asked for a more interesting experience getting to help students with my native language and getting help in return.

- Cullen Pitler

Friday, November 9, 2007

¡Alejandro´s B-day Fiesta!

The host family of one of my friends here threw a birthday party at there house for their 10 year old son. I was invited to join in on the celebration and had a terrific time. Cullen and I counted about 45 people in attendance…most probably under the age of 10. WILD. There were kids running everywhere, adults chatting while watching the soccer game on TV, and lots of birthday cake being consumed.

I love the kids here in Costa Rica, they are so excited to talk to you! A whole bunch of kids were trying to help me speak Spanish, and asked me every essential question like ,”What’s your favorite color? And do you have kids?” They are all really polite and I was quite impressed with the amount of English they also knew.

When it came time for Alejandro to blow out the candles on his cake all the kids gathered around to help out. I’m not really sure how much air was being blown as there was spit, but I smiled and ate a piece with some ice-cream.

I love that things like baby showers and birthdays are such big family and community events. Everyone is just so happy to be together and catch up. It was really nice to be included in the celebration!

Cafe Britt

I don’t drink coffee but I still wanted to see how Costa Rica makes its coffee…so Kim and I decided to take the Cafe Britt tour in Heredia. We got up early one morning and took a taxi downtown to San Jose where we were picked up by a tourism van. The van driver was really nice and gave us tour of the city in Spanish on our way to the coffee plantation. Once there we paid and joined our group which was mostly made up of an elderly tour group from the US. Even though I am technically a tourist I felt like I was a “tica” because I live here and can someone speak and get around.

The tour was fun. They do this somewhat cheesy, but entertaining production as they lead you through the plantation and processing plant. Did you know that there are like 4 layers to a coffee bean and they end up throwing out most of the bean flesh before they even use the bean for coffee? Interesting!

Part of the tour included lunch and Kim and I sat with a girl from Argentina vacationing here for the week. We talked to her about her country and the differences between CR and her home. I love the unexpected cultural experiences you get to have if you are just willing to participate!

Thursday, November 1, 2007


After spending all of fall break getting on and off buses trying to fit everything in, there was nothing that could make me excited about another long bus ride on a never ending unpaved road. And although the bus ride was just how I expected it to be, the ride through the mountains allowed us to see beautiful scenery of far away mountains. The one thing that sticks out to be about our Monteverde excursion is our canopy tour. The experience of flying through the rainforest attached to thin metal wire by a harness made me realize how close we have come as a group. And even though we might have laughed as we watched each other shake as each zipline seemed to get higher and longer, and laughed when we heard each other screaming as we gained speed, I knew that it was an experience I would never forget.
- Cullen Pitler

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Class @ UCR

On Thursday, October 25, I decided to attend a class for Educational Psychology at the University of Costa Rica. I wasn't sure what to expect, but I knew I was in trouble when I asked if the two students who had arrived before the teacher if they liked the class. They looked at each other, laughed awkwardly, and said it was alright. The teacher was nice, but I could not pay attention at all. Most of what they were discussing went over my head and I realized how much trouble I would have if I had tried to take classes all in Spanish. While I was able to follow parts of the discussion, I realized that there was no way I could participate of give intelligent answers during the class. I think that I would be able to get used to it, but for the most part I spent the entire class time asleep with my eyes open. I am sure going to class might be more fun if it were a different topic or if I had gone to more than one class.

During my time in the classroom, I was able to see remarkable similarities between classes in the US and in CR. I saw the same "types" of students that you would find in an Elon class. I recognized the girl with big earring in the middle of the room as having the same attitude girl from my high school had. The girl who would always sit with her eyes rolled, chewing gum, looking incredibly disinterested and staring blankly (almost angrily) at the teacher. I thought it was interesting how there are always similar patterns in students. Miles away from home, I easily could have been in any diverse college classroom.

I'm glad I went, despite how long (3 hours, but I only stayed for 2) the class was and how little information I was able to extract from going. While I doubt I will return to that particular class, I may attend another class if time allows it.


Tuesday, October 30, 2007


I expected Monteverde to be a lot less monte and a lot more verde. That is not to say that there wasn’t a lot of green there, but I was expecting vast expanses of greenery and high and spacious canopies. I also expected the canopy to be a lot higher than it was, but that could have just been because I have very poor judgement in regards to how high things are. The hike through the Reserve of Monteverde was a lot of fun, even though we did not spend a lot of time looking for wildlife, but more watching our step because we chose not to get a guided tour this time. There were some very scenic overlooks and it was a little chillier than it gets in San Jose, but after all of the walking the temperature was a lot more bearable. There was a part of the trail that we took that was labelled the continental divide and it was stated that on one side, on a clear day, you could see both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

Later in the day, the group took a tour of some hanging bridges, which I was not too crazy about because I am afraid of heights, but the bridges were very secure and didn’t do as much movement as I thought they would. The next task was the one that I was most afraid of, the zip line. As previously mentioned, I’m not a big fan of heights, nor am I a big fan of zipping along the tops of trees on a wire. Both were things that I got over in order to take a zip line tour of the canopy. Although I was apprehensive, the experience turned out to be very fun with some zip lines running over the canopy, some running through the trees, and others being very high or very long. I felt safe the whole time, which is great, but I also felt a strong sense of accomplishment after conquering my fear and looking around the entire time we were zip lining. We were all very exhausted by the end of the day, considering we estimated having walked anywhere between 8 and 10 miles that day. In the end, it was all worth it to be able to get away for a weekend and enjoy the natural beauty of Costa Rica without being at a beach.

-Nicole Olavarria

Fall Break

For Fall Break, the both of us and one more student on the trip went to Puerto Viejo de Talamanca and Bocas del Toro in Panama. I was really excited leading up to the trip because I had never been to the Caribbean side of the country before and I heard that it was especially beautiful. Everyone who spoke of Puerto Viejo gave it raving reviews despite its less savoury reputation. The plan was to stay in Puerto Viejo for 3 nights, spend 2 days in Bocas del Toro, and then return to Puerto Viejo for 2 more nights, but stay a little further outside of town near Playa Cocles. The first few nights in Puerto Viejo were a little less comfortable than I had hoped, and our ´bungalow´ felt more like a sauna, but despite the poor living situation we managed to have a lot of fun. There is a lot of reef near Puerto Viejo, but not the live kind, just the rocky and obnoxious king. We were able to find Playa Negra fairly close to our hotel, which is without reef, thanks to the help of a friendly local. Puerto Viejo was extremely laid back with a good mix between locals and tourists, and everyone was willing to lend a helping hand. Also, the food was spectacular.

Our third day in Puerto Viejo, Maggie and I decided to take a day-long snorkelling trip to Cahuita, a national park about 30 minutes away from Puerto Viejo. Cahuita is known as the national park that is home to the live coral reef, and I was very excited to get a chance to go snorkelling for the first time, especially in a coral reef. We took a brief hike through the national park to get to the point where the boat would pick us up, and along the way our guide stopped to show us some of the different animals that inhabit the park. The snorkelling was beautiful and amazing with tons of different fish to see and different types of coral, even though we were particularly close to some coral at different times. Overall, the Cahuita was a beautiful park and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys marine life. We also had the chance to eat at a local restaurant and have ´Carribean style´ rice and beans, which surprisingly tastes a lot different from the food in San Jose because the rice was cooked with coconut milk.
(Nicole Olavarria)

After spending three in Puerto Viejo, we traveled to Bocas Del Toro a grouping of hundreds of tiny islands, for two days and three nights. We rode in a van for three hours which part of the way drove one a gravel road along side a banana plantation. Afterwards we boarded a speedboat that took us to the largest inhabited island of Isla Colon. The small island of Isla Colon mainly caters to tourists and booms during the night. During our second day there we went out on a 40 ft catamaran that took us all around the islands. We went snorkeling of the boat in several locations. The snorkeling in Panama was great. The water was crystal clear and at one point we were able to see meters deep below. We also saw a family of dolphins and our catamaran captain caught a barracuda.

When we returned to Puerto Viejo for the last few days of our vacation we stayed in a lovely bungalow a little outside of town. We were right across from Playa Cocles, one of the more prestigious beaches in the area. It was such a picturesque scene, the sand was white and the water was clear and warm. We spent most of our time lounging on the beach or reading near our hotel pool. Although, we were planning on leaving Saturday, we decided to stay one extra day. Since we only booked our hotel until Saturday we checked ourselves into a popular hostel called “Rocking J’s”. For five dollars we were able to sleep in hammocks at a relaxed environment near the beach that caters to young backpackers. All in all it was a great experience, very different than San Jose. We loved the Caribbean and thoroughly enjoyed our Fall Break.

Maggie and Nicole

Monday, October 29, 2007

Wow, that's a cow

Instead of talking about our incredible adventures in Monteverde, I think it's more important to mention the trip there. While we were driving we saw 2 cows hanging being cleaned outside a house on the side of the road. It was just the trunk with the legs, all skinned, but it was interesting, to say the least. There were 3 or 4 people splashing water (I think) on them to clean them off. It was quite a cultural sight, if anything. I wasn't sure what to think, except to remind myself that we are in Costa Rica. Perhaps 2 months ago this would have freaked me out. But not anymore. Apparently, this is normal. Or at least that is what I told myself. My favorite part, though, was the reaction of the 3 vegetarians...PRICELESS.

Monday, October 22, 2007

What good is a map if there are no street signs?

So...Jessi, Caitlin, and I decided to go to the children´s museum at the beginning of fall break. Seems like a good idea?!?! It was, just not at first. After a good lunch, we were armed with our map and plenty of time before the rain to head to the museum. We started walking. About 15 minutes later, we finally see a street sign and realize we are going in the wrong direction. No big deal. We checked out the map again and started heading back from where we came, embarking on a new route to our destination. Again, we found ourselves going in the wrong direction and found a little lady on the corner to ask. Of course, she wasn´t from San Jose. Go figure. We got the guts to speak spanish and ask directions, from sombebody who didn´t know. The next person we asked said the museum was really far away. Fabulous. We continued walking in, what we thought, was the correct direction. It starts raining. We realize, lo and behold, we are not going the right way, despite that at every street corner we pulled out our map to reevaluate. To no avail! Finally we figure out the general direction and walk confidently in the correct direction...only to find ourselves in Barrio Mexico, notorious for its prostitutes at all hours of the day (and night), and continuing on to Coca Cola, the specific area we were told never to walk through, as it is headquarters for the Chinese mofia (we found this out the following day). And its still pouring rain. OF COURSE. So, we continue to try getting a cab, but they are all full because it´s raining. Surprise surprise. Finally at this random gas station these guys whistle really loud and a taxi stops for us. Literally 3 minutes later we are at the entrance to the Children´s Museum. We sat down to rest, for after all, we had spent over 2 hours meandering through the more dangerous areas of San Jose. We didn´t explore the entire museum, as we were tired, but we did have a great time. And we took a taxi home, so no worries there.

Friday, October 12, 2007


After hearing so much information about Nicaragua, I was expecting the country to be a lot different than what I found it to be. I was expecting poverty everywhere, and people who looked very sketchy and dangerous, but that was not the case. I wasn’t worried about going until my own mother told me that it was a bad idea to take a trip there and then I started to get a little uneasy. I was extremely conscious of my surroundings the entire time we were at the border, as if someone was going to walk up to me, rifle in hand, and demand all of my worldly goods. Looking back on that I feel a little like an idiot, because really the people weren’t all that different from Costa Ricans. The town we stayed in, San Juan del Sure, was very similar to what I had pictured before arrival, including the construction in the roads. I honestly thought of Nicaragua as some land of no paved roads with construction everywhere and small homes and stores. This was partially true in San Juan del Sur, but only because they had recently decided to redo the road in town.

I was not able to find as many differences between Nicaragua and Costa Rica as I thought I was going to be able to find. The roads were around the same caliber as those in Costa Rica, but I do believe that there were less paved roads in Nicaragua, or at least that was how it appeared to me. I also noticed an interesting sign on the side of the road while we were in the van on the way to Granada, a major tourist city. The sign said, roughly translated, “A clean Nicaragua attracts more tourists,” and I thought that was interesting because I have not seen a sign like that in Costa Rica. Evidently, Nicaragua is still working on building up its reputation for strong tourism and trying to attract more tourists since I believe many more tourists visit Costa Rica than Nicaragua. I think the major difference that people focus on when looking at the two countries are the differences between colonization and post-independence histories, since Nicaragua’s history was much more unstable and violent than Costa Rica, and this stereotype carries into today.

Overall, Nicaragua was a lot of fun, and I recommend taking a trip to San Juan del Sur if you are ever, for some reason, in the area.

-Nicole Olavarria

Thursday, October 11, 2007

A New View of Nicaragua

During our time in Nicaragua, I had the opportunity to speak with our tour guide about some of the misconceptions and questions that I had about the country. He told me that, contrary to what I had heard, Nicaragua was the safest country in Central America. This was interesting to me, especially after the reactions of "please be careful/ten cuidado" that I recieved from everyone who heard I was going to Nicaragua. We discussed the unemployment rate, which he claimed was closer to 30% instead of 50%. That still constitutes a problem, but that 20% makes a huge difference. That is a large number of people who do have jobs. Perhaps it was at 50% a while ago but has fallen since then. The poverty, he asserted, was due to the violent history and war in the country. Nicaragua has been at peace ever since the civil war and he had high hopes for the country. Development takes time, but things are changing. There has only been a very short period of time that Nicaragua has been run by a democracy, especially compared to its southern neighbor. How could the two countries be compared in terms of economics or development? Of course Costa Rica will be better off; it has had more time as a stable democracy. He had a positive attitude in addition to a lot of confidence that Nicaragua can reach its potential. This can be seen, he claimed, in the recent increase of tourism to Nicaragua.
We continued to discuss Costa Rica and Nicaragua relations. He brought up the interesting point that perhaps the Costa Rica government does not want a good, positive impression of Nicaragua because this would hurt tourism in Costa Rica. If Nicaragua has an improved reputation, then perhaps more people would go to Nicaragua instead of Costa Rica. He told me, “nunca se habla de los costarricenses que vienen aquí para trabajar,” which roughly means that it is never mentioned that the Costa Ricans come here (Nicaragua) to work and that only the opposite that is mentioned. I have yet to decide how to take this information. I found that much of what I thought about Nicaragua was not true. While there were more people begging on the street and the poverty was more apparent, it was still not as I expected.
My feeling is that there is a large about of bias and misunderstanding on both the Nicaraguan and the Costa Rican side. Our guide is only one person in Nicaragua and does not represent the entire population. However, I do know that many of the expectations I had about Nicaragua that I had learned from Ticos were wrong and Nicaragua was far nicer than I could have imagined. My assumption would be that the truth of the situation lies somewhere in the middle. I hope that our guide was right and that Nicaragua can live up to its potential. Such a beautiful country ought to be brought out of its poverty and into a better situation. Time will tell how the country is able to develop. Hopefully, a time will come when Nicaragua has progressed enough that immigration will no longer be what people turn to in order to find work and that this will result in the two countries no longer having such tense relations. Traveling to Nicaragua was very beneficial for me, as it reminded me that there are two sides to everything. I am glad I had the opportunity to visit Nicaragua and see for myself what it is really like there.

-Amanda Gross

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Our Visit to Nicaragua

We recently traveled to southern Nicaragua for four days to San Juan Del Sur, Masaya and Granada. It was a mandatory excursion for the program in order us to renew our visas. Before the trip, we heard a lot of negative remarks about Nicaragua and the Nicas so I was not enthusiastic about going. There tends to be an undercurrent of anti-Nicaraguan sentiments among Costa Ricans, so when we told our families and other people we were going they warned us it was going to be dirty, dangerous and very impoverished. However, I am glad we ventured on the journey ourselves so we could experience the culture for ourselves. One thing is for certain, Nicaragua is very different from Costa Rica.
Even though Nicaragua is poorer than Costa Rica, it certainly does not deserve the bad reputation among the other Latin American countries. From my experience, the Nicas were very friendly and helpful. I did not feel unsafe walking around at night. Although they may be poor, the Nicas do not seem to complain about their situation. The Nicaraguans seem to be very easy-going and laid back individuals. Although I heard many negative things about Nicaragua before I went, I thoroughly enjoyed my visit and I have no bad impressions of the country or its people.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007


Crossing the boarder from Costa Rica to Nicaragua was a long and tiring process. But as we drove through the small towns and arrived at the hotel it was clearly worth it. The towns we passed through on the way to the hotel had a clear colonial influence. The houses had high ceilings and lots of wood. Most windows didn't have glass but had intricate wood panels instead with shutters to cover them. In town, the houses appear small but are actually large, most with a garden in the middle. The second day we drove to Granada and were able to spend time in the market there. We also took a boat ride around Lake Nicaragua to see the many islands formed from the volcanic eruptions. One island was inhabited by abandoned and abused monkeys. As we returned to the hotel that night we were able to watch the sun set among the trees.~SC

Saprissa vs. La Liga Soccer Game

I got to go to a Saprissa vs. La Liga soccer game this weekend! It was wild…and sort of dangerous but I’m really glad I got to go. I went with a friend and his Tico brothers, and then a friend from his school and her Tica sister. We took a few buses to get to the area called Tibas (I think) where the “estadio” or stadium, was. It was somewhat of a sketchy area and there were police ready for anything that got out of control but luckily there were just a ton of crazy fans. It was Saprissa’s stadium so the majority of the fans were all decked out in their white and purple gear. There was one section in the stands for “Ultimo Morado” fans….the Ultimate Purple fans who sang, “Vamos…vamos morados….esta noche….tenemos a ganar” for 3 hrs straight! At the beginning everyone in the crowd was given toilet paper to throw on the field. It got everyone siked up at the beginning but then during the game people continued to throw the paper and they had to stop the game every one in a while to pick it up off of the goalie’s net. The game was for the most part entertaining but it ended in a tie. I’ve never really followed soccer before but I feel like I know more about the universal sport. The Liga fans had their own small corner but they were far from the Saprissa fans….they were all screaming really foul stuff when the other team came on the field. So much for friendly competition! -CM

The Key to Having Fun is Having Your Keys!

A short fun story I've been meaning to share:

A few weeks back after a long day trip to Cartago I was really glad to be home. I remember throwing down my things and then heading out the door to visit a lady down the street, my tica mom’s mom, and then my friend Cullen. But just as soon as I heard the door click behind me I got a sinking feeling in my stomach. I quickly dug threw my pockets hoping to hear my keys jingle but only came out with a handful of heavy colones coins.


I tried to relax…I thought, “Ok, I will just go down the street to my tica mom’s mother’s house, get some other keys and then let myself back in.” But as I approached the outside gate it hit me that I also needed my keys to get OUT of the garage! Now not only could I not get in my house, but I couldn’t get out; I was stuck in my caged-in garage. So I sat on the garage steps at 4:30pm and thought it wouldn’t be long before my tica mom arrived home as she usually got home by 3:00pm on Thursdays. Unfortunately an hour passed…and then another…and the rain came…it got a little cooler….the street dogs barked for a while…the old lady next door came out and spoke a mile a minute in spanish to me and went back inside….and I waited. I tried to sleep on the steps but I couldn’t because every time I moved a sensory light came on in the garage.

I had heard the phone ring several times inside my house and I knew it was my friend trying to call about going to a movie later in the night. Later she rang my doorbell, about an hour into my imprisonment, to see why I hadn’t pick up. She was startled when she saw me sitting curled up in a ball. We laughed for a while about my situation and then she had to go eat dinner down the street….so I stayed and she left.

Finally around 6:40pm my tica mom pulled up. She looked puzzled when she saw me sitting. I told her what had happened and she proceeded to tell me that she was down the street the whole time in her mother’s house!

Haha, not exactly the night I had planned but it taught me a lesson—always make sure you have your keys!!!!

(I took this picture during my 2 hours….


Thursday, September 27, 2007

Isla Tortuga!

So while the rest of the class was trekking through the wilderness in search of rare species of bugs, Caitlin and I decided to take relaxing break from school work and go on a tour of Isla Tortuga off the coast of Puntarenas.

It was absolutely amazing, definitely one of the best things Ive done here. They came to get us from San Jose and took us to board the boat. Then we took an hour and a half boat ride to this little island shaped like a turtle which is how it got its name. We went snorkeling for about an hour an saw tons of tropical fish an then...as soon as we got back in the boat 2 humpback whales swam up! We couldn't believe it - it was really scary but so cool, it was a mom and a baby and the baby kept jumping out of the water to get oxygen! After the best lunch Ive had in Costa Rica, where we fed wild hogs that were walking around the beach (gross, but funny) we lounged on the beach for the afternoon and enjoyed the day before we took the boat back and saw all these cute little fishing villages. It was such a beautiful day and we got lucky that it didn't rain until late in the afternoon. I am looking forward to more relaxing days and the exciting experiences all over Costa Rica.

Cullen Pitler

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


Our trip to Manú this weekend was fantastic. I have always loved nature, hiking, bird watching, animals, and those other "outdoors" activities. Unfortunately, my time has recently been more concerned with Elon life and is usually is spent in a classroom. Going to college has taken me away from my "earthy-crunchy, rock climbing, backpacking, playing-in-the-mud, let´s go camping" self due to a simple lack of time. It has been something that I miss a lot, but no longer make a priority.

Obviously, hiking through the rainforest was a lot of fun for me. It brought me back to when I was younger. I was reminded of the excitment I used to feel at summer camp walking through the forest. There is something about being surrounded by green that is very relaxing. I very much enjoy being in nature, although I hate mosquitos and tend to freak out when creepy insects with many legs crawl on me. Luckily, I did not have too many insects crawling on me, with the exception of accidentatally stepping on an ant hill and getting a couple ant bites on my ankle. I found the whole trip very worthwhile. I initially doubted whether I should take this class because I had already fulfilled my spanish requirements, but I am glad I decided to take the class and that I had the opportunity to go on this trip.

-Amanda Gross

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


Mosquito repellent and sunscreen were two of the essentials we needed to pack for this past weekend in the private reserve, Manu. Rubber boots and our swimsuits were a must also. We were packing for two days to observe the biodiversity in the rainforest. Our goal was to determine the water quality of a rainforest river by classifying the aquatic insects in the river. When we arrived in Manu we had some time to get settled in before our two hour hike in our rubber boots. The experience was amazing. We were accompanied by a guide from the reserve and his machete , two grad students to help us identify the insects, and a little dog who darted in and out of sight and seemed to be scouting out the path before us. The next day was an early day, breakfast at 6:30 and collecting water insects right after. We all split up in groups and took samples in various parts of the river. Our rubber boots didn't do much to keep us dry but it was all the more fun getting wet. We finished collecting our samples and made our way back to classify our insects. It was an amazing experience full of biodiversity and mud. This interactive experience was incredible and unforgettable. -SC

La Fe de Costa Rica

I'm sitting here trying really hard to write a paper and as always, I got nothing in my head to say. Which is surprising because my paper is supposed to be about Catholicism in Costa Rican society. In truth, the difficulty in comparison comes from the fact that their faith practices are not much different than ours. The only thing that throws them under the "blind follower" category is the fact that it is much more obvious and frequent here where literally, everyone, goes to Catholic church and Catholicism is the state religion. But aren't we criticized at home by fellow Christians as being "blind followers?" Are we not also viewed as a church lacking in relationships with Christ and as a church that follows traditions and simply goes through the motions without any thought as to what we are doing.

That's bad, you know. Thats not good to not think about what you are doing when you are saying the right responses at the right time, sitting, standing, kneeling, hands up, hands down, hold hands, shake hands, close eyes, bow heads, response, prayer, amen. I'm lost. So here I am writing a paper about Catholicism in Costa Rica. I'm about to comment on how so many Ticos go to church, but so many also appear to actually have a relationship with Christ. So what's the comparison with home? There is none. They get up every Sunday and go to church. The more passionate ones say prayers before meals and bedtime, sometimes a rosary and occasionally go to daily mass if they aren't doing anything.

Then there are people like you and I and other people I'm sure. People who truly love Christ. People who Love Him because of His sacrifice, people who pursue Him because of His infinite mercy, people who walk confidently and compassionately because of the love He gives so freely. We know this, we love this, we find that we can no longer live without it. And when we try, we fail and come crawling quickly back home where we know we will be embraced. And we do all this as Catholics with all the sit, stand, kneel, sing, shake and hold hands, responses, and songs, amen. What I can't understand, however, is why? Why do these Costa Ricans do any of it? Why do so many Catholics or Protestants for that matter, do any of it? What is the freaking point if you can’t find any joy in the faith that you have. And YES THEY DO HAVE FAITH. Just because it is different and very much unlike yours and ours it is faith. They do realize that they are sinful, that Christ died for them, that they have to follow Christ to live with God eternally. But they know that truth in a very shallow way and it is just enough for them to keep going. To keep praying and confessing and trucking on because they believe in heaven and hell and they don't want hell. Is it wrong? How can it be?

Look at how it affects their lives. THEY HAVE NO ARMY! They have great social services and schools. They are so kind and polite and love filled. With every thank you I receive a "with much pleasure." With every question I receive a graceful answer. And do they ever think about it? NO! If you asked them why they were so kind and why it was so easy to be rude here but no matter how rude you are they will never stop smiling at you and inviting you into their homes, they would probably tell you that it is because that is just the way Costa Ricans are. Which is true. It is the way Costa Ricans are because they are Catholic. The Church is their official religion. They practice it fervently even if it is blindly. “My God Go with you!” “In God we Trust.” “How did you rise?” “Very well, thanks to God.” “Mother prayer for us. My God pray for us. Saint Ramon, Pray for us.” They need to pray, they want to pray, they childishly trust in the Catholic Church, their faith since they were born, their ancestor's faith. It is amazing to me. Even those that go to church twice a year, they behave the same, they still have Rosaries in their cars, they still have saints in their homes and statues of Mary in their yards.

Interactive learning

The top floor of the Baltimore Aquarium boasts a tropical rainforest from the ground up. Here you will see turtles, fish, and birds among other animals. It cannot even come close to the experience we had in the tropical rainforest this past weekend. Although Saturday was an early morning, we arrived at Manu, settled in, and began our hike through the rainforest. The humidity and vegetation were in complete contrast to our homes in San Pedro. We took a trail through mud and streams to reach the rainforest and continued on through a natural trail. Our "guide," Gilbert, had a machete, which was, quite possibly, the coolest thing of all. I mean, how many times do you get to hike through a rainforest with a guy with a machate, and a dog we named perro? Anywho, with the help of Gilbert, Alejandra, Mariano and Mauricio (2 grad students in the field), the rainforest enabled us to learn about different plants and some animals. Two hours of hiking brought us full circle out of the rainforest, and we went for a little swim (with a turtle and some fish) before a lecture on bioindicators. After dinner we hung out as a group and played cards and a fun game called "Signs." It was a nice relaxing time and we all had a lot of fun. The next day I woke up early and went bird watching. We took a short walk and saw different birds and birds' nests. They were so beautiful. My favorite was the King vulture and the woodpecker, but, above all, I really enjoyed just listening to the birds. Breakfast followed at 6:30, and then we head out to the stream to begin our work. We stood in the stream and collected data in 2 minute samples. I fell in immediately, and the water felt great. From then on, most of us weren't worried about getting wet, and we had so much fun. It was nice to be active outside and in the water, especially while the weather was so beautiful. We continued collecting data and moving throughout the stream for different samples. It was beautiful, and I actually really enjoyed searching for the bugs we were collecting and picking them up with my fingers (who needs forceps anyway)? We headed back to organize our data and identify the orders of the aquatic insects we found. After lunch we head out and came back to school. Overall, the weekend was really nice, and much better than I expected. I cannot convey to you the beauty in the natural environment we explored here, nor how fortunate we were to use it to learn in an interactive manner. It was truly a once in a lifetime experience.

-Kim Hultslander

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


Music is an essential part of any Latin culture. Costa Rica is no exception. On Monday we had the privilege of hearing Manuel Monestel, who is quite knowledgeable and talented in Afro-Caribbean music. We learned that the Afro-Caribbean culture and music was mainly influenced by the slaves and cheap laborers brought, at various historical intervals, to the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. The distinction in music and development of different styles reflects the class system that emerged upon emancipation of the slaves, as well as assimiliation into the upper-class European ways. Manuel Monestel guided us in playing and singing traditional Afro-Caribbean music, before he shared some of his own. It was a pleasure enjoying his music and lyrics, in both English and Spanish.

While we didn't discuss other popular types of music here, many are present on a daily basis. In taxi rides we are accustomed to hearing some type of 80's music, while a live band in a bar usually plays popular Latin songs. Salsa, merengue, cumbia, and other traditional styles are also popular, but nothing outweighs reggatone. This style music equates to our hip-hop music, and naturally draws a younger crowd, especially on the club scene.

There is different music here for whatever mood you are in. Part of our experience here is experiencing all styles of music. We have heard some Afro-Caribbean live, traditional salsa (out and in our dance class), and reggatone. I look forward to learning all the dances that accompany many of these music styles, as dance is another prominent aspect in this culture.

-Kim Hultslander

Monday, September 10, 2007

Manuel Antonio

Manuel Antonio is a tropical Paradise. A picturesque vision of what I originally imagine our semester abroad would be like: lounging in the pool, Oceanside while monkeys and iguanas frolicked nearby. For these reasons, Manuel Antonio is a hot spot for many tourists who come to Costa Rica. This past weekend when we visited, we were able to experience all the ups and downs of the one of the top destination areas.
Manuel Antonio is a very unique area in that tropical rain forests are juxtaposed against white sand beaches. On Saturday we took a guided tour through the Manuel Antonio National Park, one of the smallest but most visited National Parks in Costa Rica. During our tour we were able to see a three-toed sloth with her baby, crabs walking along the beach, the Jesus Christ lizard, a pack of monkeys, a crocodile staring at us from the marsh, a deer walk up to us, and other wild animal. I am so glad we took the tour because without our tour guide, Juan, and his telescope we would not have noticed most of the creatures along the trail. At first glance, the trail did not look like much, but with Juan’s information we were able to learn so much more. For instance, as you first enter the park, the trail is lined with seemingly innocuous trees that are actually poisonous to the touch; however we would have never know that on our own.
Overall, the weekend was a great respite from the hectic first week of the semester. Manuel Antonio’s forest and beaches provided an experience like no other. The wildlife and the sunsets were amazing. Hopefully, we will have an opportunity to return.
-Maggie Owner

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Manuel Antonio

Manuel Antonio is a beautiful place on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. This destination is very touristy and "americanized;" it is the quintessential image most Americans think of when they picture Costa Rica. Almost everyone speaks English, which was frustrating at times as we are all struggling to keep up with our Spanish. Although, honestly, we all needed a break from the overwhelming feeling of learning another language 24/7.

The weather cooperated adn we were able to spend a lot of time shopping and walking around the small downtown area. We watched the sunset on the beach and spent a lot of time here during the day enjoying the waves and the relaxing atmosphere. Our hotel was beautiful and our backyard looked like an exotic picture out of a magazine. There were iguanas and colorful flowers and beautiful trees. We were able to see iguanas and other animals like monkeys, sloths, spiders, and crocodiles while hiking through the National Park at Manuel Antonio. We also had a great time lounging at the pool, where the monkeys joined us one afternoon!

Manuel Antonio is a beautiful place to visit, and I highly recommend it to anyone. However, do not miss out on the different aspects of Costa Rica that extend beyond the stereotypical beach, paradise vacation!

-Kim Hultslander

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

First Impressions

My first impression impressions weren’t those of great cultural shock as I walked off the plane to see Burger King staring back at me, but as my knowledge grew I broadened my horizons. The first night we stepped into the pouring rain we were taken to our new homes of our Tica families. I was too dazed and tired to fully understand what I had gotten myself into. This trip will be amazing, but by no means easy. Over the last few days the gravity of this experience is actually setting in. It is one thing to expect a study-abroad to be challenging but the realization of this fact has now set in.
My Tica family is great; exactly what I hoped for. My Tica mom has been welcoming and cares for me. She is a hair-stylist and works at home, which is something I am not used to. No one speaks fluent English at home which forces me to improve my Spanish for which I am thankful. The family appears to be close knit. Oppose to the typical Costa Rican family, my Tica mother and father have a very loving relationship, referring to one-another as “mi amor.”
I enjoy the company of my Tica family but it is difficult to communicate with them. I probably understand about 40% of what they are saying but responding is much harder. This is the main source of my frustration. I have to keep reminding myself that it is only the first week and that I cannot expect too much, too fast. It is especially frustrating when I am out with my peers and they are far superior at communicating than I am. When I hear about previous students who came without knowing Spanish and left without learning any either, it makes me think their semester was a waste of time. I am making an active effort to learn as much as I can.
This is not only true for the language. I love all the cultural differences between Ticos and North Americans. I have only experienced a few cultural differences during my short stay. The first being the fact that Ticos rarely walk on the floor with bare feet, be it for health or warmth reasons I am unsure, but they always wear shoes or slippers. Ticos also always adhere to “quedar bien,” constantly ensuring others are happy. Ticos will avoid saying something that would upset another. I have found this to be true. Most of the people I have met have been nice, welcoming and very helpful.
As for a first impression, Costa Rica has made a very good one. The situation is difficult, being in a foreign country in which I don’t speak the language well and living with a host family, but I am trying my best. The people and the atmosphere have made it easier. Costa Rica is perhaps one of; if not the most beautiful country I have ever been to. Our walk to school is surrounded by mountains and the streets are lined with palm trees. The people are friendly and willing to help and I am so excited about getting to know my surroundings and explore the Costa Rican environment.
-Maggie Owner

First Impressions

I arrived. I am not very good at reliving my experiences with words besides the all encompassing “it was good” or “it was amazing” or “I had a good time.” Sin embargo, I am going to try and keep you all informed of my adventures. I hope I am not too long winded.
The plane ride was uneventful and getting through customs, etc. was easy. For most of the trip I didn’t think much about the fact that I was living abroad for four months or that I had classes to take and adventures to experience. I was mostly worried about my host family. Would they like me? What would they think of me? How does Doña Laura run her household? Will they be able to understand my poor, broken Spanish? Thousands of questions just ran through my mind. They literally ran through because as soon as I thought of one, another one immediately seemed more important and, thus, preoccupied my mind to the point where I forgot the previous. It turns out that my family was comforting. Don Iván y Doña Laura y su hijo Éder were very welcoming and seemingly excited to have me in their home. As far as my Spanish, I get by all right. They talk so fast that I am constantly asking them to slow down and my Spanish is so poor that I am always using hand motions or opting to not say anything at all. I think I’ll begin a list of all the things I want to tell them or ask them once my communications have improved.
The country is beautiful though the city is very obviously “third world” (that may not be the PC way of describing poorer countries but I cannot think of the better word). They have several amenities like the Internet and excellent doctors. It seems that Costa Rica is slowly improving their efficiencies but the process is long and not necessarily welcomed. The roads are still very poor and it is difficult to walk on the practically nonexistent sidewalks, not to mention the rain is a monsoon every afternoon. My shoes and pants were soaked by the time I got back from lunch today. The food, however, is delicious and the people very friendly.
I think that the strangest experience I have had thus far is waking up in the morning to a Spanish language and Costa Rican culture instead of English and United Staten culture. Its amazing how hard it is to speak in Spanish immediately after rolling out of bed. Thank GOD they make good coffee here.
Well I don’t think I have much more to say besides I’m learning to live here and I am enjoying it thoroughly. Classes start tomorrow and I am sure that they will be very much like those in the U.S. so I dread their beginnings with the same enthusiasm as always. School is school not matter where you are. Oh yeah, I saw a volcano and some waterfalls and they were all pretty sweet.
-Craig Campbell

First Impressions

As soon as I boarded the bus, I began to think about my Tico family and what kind of people they would be like. Would they be outgoing or shy? I met Brenda, my new Tica mom, and knew that this family would do everything to make me feel comfortable while teaching me as much as they could about their own culture. It was not long until I began to recognize differences in family dynamics. Jose the youngest child, only 2 years old jumped into my arms as if he had known me his whole life. My abuela, Maria also opened her arms to me and began speaking to me as if I was a fluent Spanish speaker. I loved that she had so much confidence in my ability to quickly learn what she was so intently trying to tell me. The other two children, Paola and Alejandro, were more reserved going about their own work and allowed me to get settled in my new home. Immediately I noticed that way they played with each other, watching TV together and telling jokes. I would never expect to see two American children playing like this and it was refreshing to see them getting along so well, making it obvious that family played an important role in all of their lives.
In addition to family dynamics, it was obvious that these people lived in a world where material things did not matter to them. Although I expected this type of mentality when coming in to the program, I did not realize that this lack of need for material things would be replaced with other things such as singing, dancing and of course time spent with family members. The mentality is also present when I talk to the children about how much they value their education. Paola has shared her excitement with me about learning English which also struck me as different from the mentality of an average American thirteen year old girl.
I know that throughout the next four months, I will go through a wide range of emotions, from excitement, to adventure and homesickness. When I feel like this, I have to remind myself that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity and to take advantage of the obstacles that have been put before me. When leaving for this adventure, someone gave me this quote and I could not agree more:

“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.”

- Cullen Pitler