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 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