Costa Rica Adventures – Wrap Up & Reflection

If I had to choose just one word to describe the crazy mix of emotions I’m feeling right now, it’d be “wow.”

I’m back home in Las Vegas (or rather, to my new home in Vegas), five weeks have already gone by, and my study abroad adventures are done. Just wow.

A friend of mine told me it would just sneak up on me once I got really into living over there, and that suddenly the time would be gone and I’d want to stay.

And she is so right. I miss it. The people, the food, the environment, and dare I say it, after all my complaining about rain, even the weather. I wasn’t expecting all of this, especially considering how out of place I had felt at the beginning of the program. But, after getting past the whole culture shock phase, and allowing myself to open up to the culture and people around me, it lifted so much weight off my shoulders. Even though the class workload started ramping up in at the end, I started to have fun my last couple weeks. A lot of fun.

Hands down, one of the best parts of my experience was my host family. I feel like I got so lucky with mine. Originally I was nervous with conversing with my host mom in the mornings, since I was so concerned about making mistakes with my Spanish, or not having so much to talk about, but I took it as a challenge to improve myself and soon enough my meals with her were often the highlight of my day. She never judged me and always went out of her way to help me, from the language, to getting around town, to letting me vent to her about my school struggles. I can’t rave enough about Mayra. Honestly one of the sweetest and most hardworking people I’ve ever met, and I’m really going to miss our chats about life, and bonding over karaoke, cooking or ranting about how horrible the drivers and roads are.

My classes were also fantastic, though a bit of a strange mix of extremely challenging and then at other times, oddly relaxing. I loved my teachers so much, and they made class feel much more personal, and not like I was just being lectured to or like I was just another number. They loved learning about and engaging with all of us and I learned so much from them.

My Latin American Short Story and Essay class basically doubled as a history course with how much background about the culture my teacher, Carlos, would give us about Latin America, and how much energy and joy he showed while explaining it. He truly made me appreciate literature and the language so much more as a whole. Even though I was stressing like mad because he gave us like a day to finish 4 pages worth of essays for our final exam and my internet was garbage at the time, I loved being there. And as a positive, I definitely feel more confident in my speed-writing in a foreign language skill. Best coffee-fanatic, motorbike-riding teacher I have ever had.

With the Spanish Conversation class, I could really see the fruits of my labor after time went on. When I first started, I wasn’t feeling nearly as confident in my speaking ability, and I wasn’t sure how much it would help me in the end. However, having an hour completely dedicated to speaking and listening several times a week really adds up. Also, Alejandra the instructor was so sweet, understanding and knowledgeable, and also taught us a lot of ways the ticos converse and interact, as well as some cultural knowledge. This made interacting with the locals so much easier, and even though it was still difficult for me at times, I am so thankful I had that class and it really laid a foundation for me to keep improving.

Most of my time was spent studying or working on school projects, but I did take another few trips to San Jose, and was able to see the both the Jade Museum and the Children’s Museum. Would definitely recommend both! The Jade Museum had so much information about the indigenous people of Costa Rica, their customs, and of course about the pieces of jade they constructed, and a whole lot of other things as well. My amazing Short Stories professor brought my class on one of our off days, and it was definitely one of my favorite parts of the whole trip, especially since he gave us tons of history lessons throughout the tour. The Children’s Museum was pretty fun, too, even as an adult. They had a wide variety of exhibits and activities for all ages, and I was able to learn some things ranging from the country’s history, to technology, to even ancient Egypt. I was also able to make a tico friend there, when I was least expecting it, which was a great cherry on top!

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Speaking of friends, I’d say what really made the experience complete for me is the fact that I was able to meet so many great people. Before I had really come out of my shell, I still thought Costa Rica was a decent enough place, but I felt a little disconnected from everything. Even though I was surrounded by other people, I still felt this pang of loneliness because I convinced myself I didn’t totally fit in. But, once I let myself open up to more people, and not feel so anxious about trying to connect with the locals, my classmates, and my host family, as cheesy as it might sound, I felt like as if I’d been nervously groping around in the dark and suddenly the lights came on and everything was alright. And now because I’ve stepped out of my comfort zone, I’ve made some amazing friends, learned more about the world, and most importantly, about myself.

Whenever I’d seen other people talk about how studying abroad was so fantastic and completely changed their lives, I always had this thought at the back of my mind like, “Are these people exaggerating?” Even after I’d been in Costa Rica for a while, and had noticed some progress, I still wasn’t totally convinced. But now that my traveling adventures are over for now, one takeaway I have from all of this is that attitude really is everything. You can’t wait for change to happen in your life, you need to get out there and make it happen yourself. Once I changed my expectations for the better, and how I approached my situation, I realized that I’ve grown. I can handle myself in a completely different place, with a different language and culture, and successfully at that. And because of that, I feel a lot more confident about myself and my future. I wouldn’t trade this feeling for anything in the world, and I am so, so glad that I took the initial leap to go.

Costa Rica will always have a special place in my heart now, and I will go back someday, guaranteed. I’m so thankful to everyone that I met for making my first trip abroad amazing beyond belief. This was just the beginning for me, and I’m going to take everything I’ve learned from this experience as I keep on trucking on this journey through life.

Pura vida, everyone.

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Costa Rica Adventures – Days 1 & 2

Alright, finally getting more settled in here nearing the end of day 2 of my Costa Rican experience. It still feels a little surreal that I’m actually here and will be for the next five weeks. Surprisingly, I haven’t had any major freak out moments like I thought I might, but hey, there’s always still time for them to show up later! Mostly just joking about that last part. Mostly.

Really though, I’m happy to report that overall it’s been a pretty nice experience so far. Even the process of getting here was really smooth, which was a super pleasant surprise. because I hate dealing with airports half the time for domestic travel, let alone international where you  have to get there at least two hours early and often deal with lines for days. Getting up super early isn’t exactly my thing (probably an understatement), but aside from that, my dad and I made it through LAX easily and with plenty of time to spare.

I wanted to try and catch up on sleep during the five hour flight, but my brain was so wired thinking about everything that was going on. Was my host family going to be chill? Would I totally forget how to talk to them properly? Would I even be able to locate them at the airport? Time seemed to go by way too fast, and after the captain announced that we were about to descend into San Jose, I had to remind myself a few times that remembering to breathe is a good thing.

Immediately after we got off the plane, the humidity smacked me in the face; Nevada life has destroyed all of my wet air tolerance. It didn’t help that it was pouring, but such is life when you travel to a tropical area in the wet season. Once we made it through customs, we found my host mom, Mayra, and her niece waiting for us. And to my surprise, she’s a pretty sharp dresser! I wouldn’t usually walk around with strappy heels in heavy rain, but hey, I can respect wanting to look good. She’s so sweet, too, though once we got the introductions out of the way, she mentioned that she speaks virtually no English. Now, that would’ve made me less nervous under more normal circumstances (well, slightly less), but since my dad doesn’t speak any Spanish, I had to act as a pseudo-interpreter and my nerves combined with my extreme lack of eloquence when speaking Spanish made for a very interesting car ride.

Speaking of an interesting car ride, was anyone else aware of how bad the traffic can get in Costa Rica at peak hours? I wasn’t prepared. When we were trying to drive from the airport, we probably moved less than 500ft in an entire hour. Well maybe it was a little more than that, but not much better. Also, the drivers are . . . intense, to say the least. The roads don’t usually seem very wide, people try to cut around each other all the time, and people seem to be able to park in way more places than in the U.S. They’re also not afraid to honk. Apparently people will honk when they’re annoyed, or grateful, so just lots of beeping going on. We also got a bit lost when trying to find the hotel my dad was going to stay in, so trying to deal with all this in the first couple hours of coming here was quite the experience.

I thought it was really humbling though to see what the limits of my Spanish are, and what I need to work on while I’m here, and it was nice to learn about Mayra and life in Costa Rica a bit. When we finally made it back to her house, she gave me a little tour. I have my own comfortable room and bathroom, and the house is really just cozy with its soft green walls. She made a delicious dinner for me. It was way too much food for me at once, so I wasn’t close to being able to finish it, but she’s a great cook.  File_000 (3)

And she’s still looking stylish in the kitchen. A bit after that, we managed to find the correct hotel for my dad, and we drove him there and said our goodbyes. I’m definitely going to miss him.

Mayra and I chatted a bit more on the way back to her house, and she really tries to help me understand what she’s saying as much as possible, so that makes me feel a bit better about sounding like a five year old. Her husband, Alexis, is a cab driver and was out working late so I wasn’t able to meet him the first day, so that was about all the excitement for day one. Aside from some information overload, it went better than I expected for sure. I got myself unpacked and then tried to get to sleep for the study abroad orientation at the university and my first full day here.

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My new space during my stay here.


Day two also started bright and early at 6AM, which I’ve learned is pretty typical for the Ticos (Costa Ricans). After I got myself dressed and together, Mayra put together some breakfast for me complete with coffee, fresh bread and some fresh, delicious mango. I don’t think I’ve ever really had such fresh produce so that’s been a welcome discovery, especially being a mango fanatic. I was able to meet her husband that morning too, and he was also very sweet and they seemed genuinely interested in learning about me, so I’m really glad I got the family I did. I brought a candle and some chocolates as a gift for them, too, and Mayra really loved them so that also made me feel pretty good. I forgot how to properly say “I’m glad that you like the gift” in the moment, so I felt a little silly, but can’t always have your cake and eat it, too.

After all that, Mayra showed me how to walk to the university. It’s about 15 minutes or so if you don’t have to wait too long to cross the streets. The cars apparently have the right of way here, so it makes me more than a little anxious, but my mamá tica had my back. As a major positive, the view from where she lives is beautiful.

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Once we got there, we were greeted by the other host family moms and students. We were about 25 minutes early so I talked with a few of them. A lot of the other students seemed to be around my level of Spanish, and we all had similar stories about not understanding a lot of what was being said to us. Nothing like bonding over the struggle of language learning!

At the orientation, we went over a lot of basic rules and procedures, received our schedules and learned more about the country, cultural norms and living with our host families. Then we took a break for a lunch and for a tour of the campus. I swear, Heredia has so much natural beauty, and it’s just so vibrant. The university was no exception, and I love how open it is and that it looks so different from my own.

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We also covered all the events that we’ll be having through the program, like some plays, sporting events and city tours, and I’m super hype for those. Thankfully it didn’t start to rain until it was about time to leave, and after all that I went back to Mayra’s house and had some afternoon coffee with her and Alexis. Later we had a bit of an adventure trying to buy me a cheap cell phone to use here, since we didn’t have enough money, but the shop owner let us get one anyway, and I have to bring him the rest of what I owe on Monday. That’ll be quite a time since I don’t remember at all where it is, and people give directions here like “Oh, it’s just x amount away from the church,” but I’m sure I’ll be able to figure things out in time.

Overall, even if I’m still struggling a bit with communicating and understanding how Costa Rica functions, day two was definitely a success, and I’m eager to start my classes on Monday and get my Spanish in gear, and most of all keep challenging myself.

 

 

 

 

 

A New Chapter – Moving & Study Abroad

Wow, first post and it’s a big one!

So many things have been happening these past few weeks: final exams, prepping to move, and getting ready to leave the country for Costa Rica. I haven’t been both this excited and nervous at the same time for a while now. I’ve never really gone abroad before (well, Canada once for about a day with the family, but I don’t really count that), so going somewhere really different, especially for five weeks alone will be a totally different experience for me. I’m excited to meet my host family, though I’m a little anxious too, adjusting to living with other people and also the foreign language setting.

Have you ever felt like there was something that you just had to do, though? Like if you passed up on it, you knew you’d regret it? That’s pretty much how I’m feeling about my study abroad opportunity. Although I do well in my classes, when it comes to real-world Spanish application, I’ll freeze up in conversation. It feels like there’s a barrier there preventing me from really grasping the language and communicating naturally. I’d wanted to do it last year, but backed out of it because I wasn’t feeling confident, and now, being a senior, it’s my last chance to do it through my school. Languages aren’t meant to be learned in a vacuum, and I need to just jump in and immerse myself. I want to become a more capable, independent person. It’s probably going to be tough, and I’m sure people will have to explain things like I’m five for a while, but it’ll be worth it in the end. Also, my Costa Rican host mother sent me some really nice introductory emails, and that definitely eased my worries a bit.

I’m still going to miss the ever-living heck out of my family though, that’s for sure. I can’t thank them enough for supporting me through everything.

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Oh boy, and the whole selling the house and buying a new one thing. I knew moving was supposed to be a pretty intense process, but this is the first time I’ve ever really been involved in the process. I definitely would not want to do that again any time soon. Living in the same house for basically 13 years makes for a lot of stuff that needs to be either donated or thrown out. Especially in my case, since I had things in my room from when I was a kid that were just buried in the back of the closet as I got older.

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Just to give you an idea. Bags, bags, and more bags. And this is from after I had already taken out three other garbage bags worth of things to donate, and some other ones that were full of things to be thrown out. I’m pretty sure I had the most things to get rid of out of everyone else in the house.

Digging through my stuff took me on a trip to Nostalgia Town. I found a lot of things I’d forgotten even existed, like old science experiment kits, art projects, and baseball gear. Even as a kid I had way too many interests. Maybe that’s just part of my charm. Or something like that.

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Sample of some mixed media artwork I did in elementary school. I went ham with those patterns.

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And some pictures of me from when I was a chubby-cheeked five-year-old. Hadn’t seen those in ages. No idea why I look kind of intense in that second picture. Also, I think I recall that giant skull in the third one creeping me out. Ah, memories.

Alright, coming back from Nostalgia Town now. Getting the chance to look back on my life from going through all this has actually been really motivating; it’s good to remember where you came from. I’ve spent too much time in my life holding myself back from fear of the unknown, or from fear of failure, but I want to keep growing in as many aspects of my life that I can.File_000

I’m proud of myself for stepping out of my comfort zone, and I can’t wait until I can meet my host family tomorrow and start documenting my progress through this new chapter of my life (thanks again for this awesome journal, Noemi). Ready to enjoy the Pura Vida of Costa Rica.