Thursday, July 29, 2010

Before you read my second post, I have to make a disclaimer that I meant to publish this on Thursday, but I realized that I had forgotten something important and didn’t have time to add it before I had to go to class. Since I have already gone to the class that I was about to go to when writing this post, I decided to include it as well. Hence, read this as if I posted it on Thursday after my class. Sorry for the confusion, enjoy!

It is about 9:00 p.m. and I have just completed my first week of classes at UNA. As an active and schedule-oriented person, this week has greatly advanced my adjustment process. As I have already told all of you, my first day of classes went quite smoothly, and even smoother I suppose on Tuesday since I didn't end up having class. My only class on Tuesday, Fundamentos de Sociolingüística, starts at 8 a.m., so I had to wake up quite early to get ready and make the 25 minute walk plus extra time for getting lost. When Caitlin and I got to class, we saw that a bunch of students from our program are in the class with plenty of ticos as well. By the time 8:00 rolled around, the professor wasn't there yet, and by 8:10 still not there, and not at 8:20, nor 8:30, and finally at 8:40 the ticos decided to pass around a sheet of paper indicating everyone who showed up for class and then we all left. Needless to say, I was a bit disappointed, but I guess I'm still getting used to "tico time." Not having class, however, allowed me to accomplish a lot of other things. My friends (Caitlin, Callie, and Abby) and I were able to plan our trip for this weekend (more on that later), and then Caitlin and I signed up for a popular dance class :) Besides learning how to dance, it should be a great way to make tico friends! On Monday I bought a monthly membership to a gym nearby my house, so I went there to work out for the first time later in the day. Although I got a few stares since I stuck out like a sore thumb, I had a great workout and everyone there was really nice. In fact, ticos in general are incredibly nice. Everything is always "pura vida" and it's not odd to say a friendly "hola" or "buenos" to a stranger on the street. The way they say thank you is even friendly. Instead of the standard "de nada," they say "con mucho gusto," which essentially means "it was my pleasure." I haven't heard one person say "de nada" so I am trying to train myself to say "con mucho gusto." I am even getting used to the daily comments from tican men. It is quite standard for men here to make comments to women as they pass on the street, and my favorite so far has been when I was called "una gringa guapa."

Wednesday was a particularly good day. I had a great conversation with Claudia the night before, during which we talked about relationships, marriage, and God :) The conversation began on the subject of Carlos because I was telling her that today (Tuesday) was the first time that we had been able to talk in over a week due to the 8 hour time difference (it’s amazing how big of a difference 2 hours makes). After talking about my relationship with Carlos for a little while, I was a bit surprised when she asked me if I had ever thought about marrying him. From there we talked about how Mariela’s relationship with her boyfriend is similar to my relationship with Carlos, and then we arrived at the subject of why Silvia and her children live here. After that story, I decided that I felt comfortable enough to ask whether or not she had ever been married. Out of respect for my host family, I’m not going to share all the details of their lives, but I will say that she has been married twice and Mariela has a different father than Andrea and Silvia. After discussing how God’s plans for our lives are not always the same as the plans we have prematurely made for our own lives, we gave one another a big hug. And in case you were wondering, that was all in Spanish!

Inspired by the previous night, I woke up early to work out at the gym and then went to my Spanish class at 10. We learned about "el voseo" which is something I have never learned in any of my former Spanish classes because it is not used in Spain. I have always heard that vos is only used in Argentina, but I now know that it is used all throughout Latin America, so I am definitely thankful to now know how to use it. I have been trying to use it more often with my host family and I think that I am doing quite well. Little by little I am feeling more tican :) After class on my way back home I stumbled upon a little shop that makes smoothies from fresh fruit and other delicious ingredients. I ordered one with mango, pineapple, yogurt, and some other good! I am going to have to limit myself because otherwise, I will definitely become addicted. When I got home, Claudia and Mariella were cooking lunch and the kitchen was filled with fruit. I was so happy. I talked a little bit about my host mom's food in my last post, but I didn't mention that I haven't been eating very much fruit at all since I have been here, and because a) I love fruit to begin with and b) Costa Rica is known for all of its tropical fruits, I have been quite disappointed. But now the house is full of fruit and I have had really good food for the past few days now. Wednesday was definitely a good food day.

Later in the afternoon I met my friends at UNA and we walked to the mall in Heredia because tickets are half price on Wednesdays at the movie theatre. We shopped around the mall for a little bit, which is huge and incredibly modern, and then saw The Karate Kid, which unfortunately was in English with Spanish subtitles. Although I loved the movie more than I thought I would, I definitely want to see a movie in Spanish next time.

I ran this morning and then got ready to go to class once again. This class, Tópicos de una cultura de paz, is in a different building than all of my other classes, so I had to ask around a bit to find it and then a professor was nice enough to walk me there. I have the class with my friend Callie, but we are the only two Americans. We sat in the front and the professor almost immediately pointed us out. He knew that we were exchange students, but said that he couldn't tell from the sheet whether or not we were "chicos o chicas." A little embarrassed, we just laughed. He seems like a cool professor and the class seems interesting as well. There are a lot of projects and presentations, which is a bit overwhelming right now, but I'm up for the challenge.

The class that I had tonight from 5-8:30 (much later than I am used to at Miami), Contemporary Costa Rican Literature, was the first class that put me in panic mode. I was optimistic before the class started, thinking about how much I enjoy analyzing and reading literature, and my optimism continued once I met the professor…but as soon as she started talking about what we had to read, how and where we had to buy the readings, and how little time we had to read a very thick novel (all in Spanish), I became “super confundida.” Thankfully, my peer, who is actually from Miami as well, is in the class, so I at least had someone with whom I could exchange nervous facial expressions. I planned on clarifying everything with the professor after class, so I tried not to worry in the meantime. After becoming incredibly confused by what was supposed to be an explanation, we broke into groups to analyze several poems. Finally, I was in my element. Also, I was placed in a group with two ticans and no Americans :) I gained a bit of confidence during our analysis because I understood the poems just as well as they did and I even pointed some things out to them that they hadn’t caught. So, after class I walked straight up to the professor and told her that I was quite confused because purchasing books is very different in the U.S. (there aren’t any copyright laws in Costa Rica, so instead of just buying the books, ticans go to a million different copy shops, all with names and locations I have never heard of, to get reading materials for their classes. Way cheaper, yes. More confusing, definitely yes.) Seemingly charmed by my eagerness to “clarificar” just like almost all of her former exchange students, she clearly marked which books I had to buy and which readings would be in the course packet that we could buy at the copy shop. Wow, I now feel 110% better. When I got home, Claudia had made Spanish tortilla with spinach just for me because she knows how much I like it, and she also made me hot chocolate (made with cream, not just milk…fattening and delicious).

So, about my trip this weekend...I'm going to Montezuma which is on the South Pacific coast in the Puntarenas region. The beaches are supposed to be gorgeous and Montezuma in particular is supposed to have a young, bohemian, hippie feel. I can't wait! I'm going with Caitlin, Callie, and Abby, and although we have everything figured out, I'm a bit nervous because I don't know how everything works here quite yet. We're leaving really early in the morning to take a bus at 6 a.m. from San Jose to Puntarenas. The bus ride should be about 2 and a half hours, and once we get there, we'll take a ferry to Playa Naranjo. From there we'll take a short bus to Montezuma. Quite a lot of steps, but I'm sure everything will be worth it. I can't wait to tell of you about it when I get back! We don't have classes on Monday because it is a holiday for a Saint, so we're staying there Sunday night and we'll come back to Heredia on Monday. Keep me in your prayers for a safe and fun trip and I'll write back sometime next week!

P.S. Since this blog was intended for Thursday, I am obviously already back in Heredia from Montezuma. I had a great time and I’ll tell all of you about it soon!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

La Primera Semana

I cannot believe that I have already been in Costa Rica for a week, but at the same time I cannot believe that it has only been a week. In only 9 short days, I have felt a spectrum of emotions, traveled to different sites in this beautiful county, and started to build many new relationships. During the days leading up to my departure, I was surprised, and a little scared, by my lack of anxiety about coming to live and study in a completely different culture for four months; but, as I expected, it hit me quite hard when I arrived. My first sites of Costa Rica were rain and a Denny's restaurant followed by more American fast food restaurants as I looked out the window of my host sister's car on the way to my new home in Heredia (about 20 minutes from San José). My first impression of Heredia was far from the picturesque scene I had painted in my head, but I at least had lunch to look forward to once we arrived at the house. My disappointment continued when I was served a pasta dish that a) I didn't like very much and b) was far from the Costa Rican cuisine I had read about. Furthermore, I found out that the hot water was broken, so I would have to take a cold shower. Culture shock? Most definitely.

On a more positive note, I liked my host family from the beginning and my relationship with each family member continues to grow every day. Claudia, my host mom, is 54 and, like my real mom, she loves to talk. She's honest, loving, considerate, independent, and most of all, passionate. Claudia is a single mother (I haven't figured out why or had the nerve to ask quite yet) of 3 beautiful daughters. Andrea, the oldest, is the first daughter that I met. She is married to a doctor, Jorge (we have the same birthday), and they have a 3, almost 4, year old son named Isiac. Andrea is incredibly kind and always acts excited to see me. Isiac is adorable and I befriended him when he came into my room the second day I was here while I was unpacking some things. He saw a rubber frog ("un sapito" as he calls it) on my desk and immediately wanted to play with it. Since then, he looks for the sapito every time he comes over.

I met Silvia, the middle daughter, second. She lives in the same house as me with her two children, Sofia and André. Like Andrea, Silvia is very nice and beautiful. She is a hard worker and centers her life around her children. She is divorced, but her kids still see their dad on the weekends. Sofia is 5 and is very interested in me. She is very sweet and has an endearing habit of coming into my room, even when the door is closed. André is 3, and in all honesty, can be a bit whiny. When he's not crying, he is really cute.

Finally, I met Mariela who is 19 years old and lives with me as well. She is studying Civil Engineering at a different school than the one I will be attending. She is incredibly nice as well and makes an effort to include me in her plans. It seems like we have a lot in common with our dedication to school and the time we choose to spend with our families. She has a boyfriend named Andrés who is also an Engineering major. When I went to the mall with Mariela and him last Sunday, I noticed that he opens the car door for her when getting in and out and then buckles her seat belt. Either he is just really chivalrous or it is the custom in Costa Rica. The seat belt thing threw me for a loop.

Everything started to improve on Monday, my first day of ISEP orientation. Mariela and Claudia walked the route from our house to la UNA (the name of my university) with me and then dropped me off at the ISEP office where all of the other students met. Although it was a long day with a lot of sitting and a lot of information, I enjoyed doing something outside of my house and meeting other American students. To end the first day of orientation, we all went across the street to take a dance fun! The instructor, Alvaro, taught us Reggaeton (my favorite I think), Meringue, Swing, and Salsa. Salsa was definitely the hardest, but I worked up quite a sweat attempting all of them. I enjoyed the class so much that I am going to sign up for a weekly popular dance class at la UNA :)

Tuesday and Wednesday were pretty much the same with a lot of information and a lot of business-like things for our visas, classes, etc., etc., but once again, I enjoyed getting to know my peers. On Tuesday I saw my first huge thunderstorm of the rainy season. Claudia, Sofia, and I got stuck in it when we were at the bank doing something for my visa. The streets literally looked like a river and it thundered so loud that car alarms went off! We were eventually able to take a taxi home, but it took at least an hour before we were able to do that. Once I got home, I had to get "mi mochila" together for our trip to the mountains in Sarapiquí the next morning bright and early.

At 7:00 Thursday morning, we all met at UNA and left for Sarapiquí in our own tour bus. The drive was bumpy, to say the least, on narrow and windy streets, but the gorgeous scenery was worth my car sickness. After a little over two hours, we arrived at our first destination to go on a pineapple tour :) It was awesome! We witnessed and learned about every aspect of the production - I had no idea how complicated it is to produce pineapples. Our guide picked a pineapple right from the plant for us to sample, and after the tour we drank piña coladas, pineapple cake, and more fresh pineapple. Increíble!

From the pineapple farm, we drove a little further to Tarimbina where we stayed for two nights. It was somewhat of a campground far away from any roads surrounded by the jungle and mountains. Without any hot water, phone service, or Internet, I definitely roughed it but loved every minute of it. One family ran the entire resort and the food they prepared for us was delicious and very "tico" (Costa Rican). A typical Costa Rican meal always consists of rice, beans, a salad, fried plantains, and some type of meat or fish. For breakfast, they also eat rice and beans, but instead of eating them separately, they are mixed together with spices to form gallo pinto. They eat a lot of fruit and drink fresh squeezed juice at almost every meal as well.

While at Tarimbina on the first day, I hiked through the jungle with my closest friend in the program, Caitlin, and we came across enormous spiders, butterflies, lizards, many interesting insects, and...monkeys! The diversity of the plants and animals here is incredible, and even more amazing is how easy it to spot exciting species like monkeys, poisonous snakes and frogs, and exotic birds without going to a zoo. Also at Tarimbina, we went on a chocolate tour where, like the pineapple tour, we experienced every step of chocolate production from picking the cacao blossom to the final product. My favorite part, of course, was sampling every step of the production :)

After more eating, exploring, and bonding with my new friends, we left Tarimbina on Saturday morning for a beautiful hotel called El Tucano. This part of the trip was solely for relaxation. We slept in spacious rooms and were able to take hot showers. The hotel's attraction is its hot springs nearby. My friends and I made our way down the river through waterfalls to the main spring. The warm water was definitely worth the slippery rocks and a few falls. The rest of the day was filled with more eating and relaxing...the perfect ending to a great weekend.

After breakfast on Sunday morning we left for Heredia. On the way we made a stop at a park for endangered species of plants and animals. We saw monkeys, all types of snakes, birds, strange-looking rodents, and wild pigs. We made one more stop for lunch at a restaurant in the mountains that looked just like a tree house. The food, once again, was delicious. I ate shrimp with rice and a guava milkshake :) Once we got back to Heredia, I shared a taxi with Caitlin (we live in the same neighborhood) because it was pouring...big surprise. I spent the evening catching up with my host family, unpacking all of my wet and dirty clothes, and getting ready for today.

I certainly had a busy and very fun first week that helped me to adjust to the Costa Rican culture and feel more comfortable in my new country. I almost forgot that I came here to study, but I was reminded of that today because I had my first classes. On Mondays, I have an Advanced Spanish class at 10:00 in the morning until 11:30 with other American students from my program and other exchange programs. Two of the students are actually from Austria and it is quite obvious that they have learned their Spanish in Spain due to their accents. Then, at 1:00 until 3:30 I have a Women's Studies class about the progression of women's political rights in Costa Rica. Unlike my first class, my friend Abby and I were the only two Americans in the class and the other 14 were all ticos. I have to admit that I felt a bit overwhelmed, but I'm sure that I will feel more comfortable after a few classes. Today I realized that this is the real deal. I am a normal college student just like all the other ticos at UNA, and although this is a little bit scary, I'm really excited.

Wow, that was a lot. Now that I am all caught up and beginning a more normal schedule, I will write on more of a regular basis. More later on my first week of classes. Hasta luego!