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!

No comments:

Post a Comment