Advice from the Palm Trees – by Margaret Cain

Sand, surf, tropical vacations, these are what we tend to think of when we see a palm tree. But, have we ever really stopped to think about, or inquisitively investigate a palm tree in its entirety? Palm trees tend to stand out from their fellow tree peers. The difference in appearance could attribute to this, but for me, the difference is that the palm trees, just like the Costa Ricans, know how to embrace the true Pura Vida lifestyle.


The beautiful palm trees in Playa Carillo in Sámara, Costa Rica

Several times I find myself constantly rushing to get things accomplished. I’m a “list checker offer” I guess you could say. I like to finish my tasks so I know I won’t have to worry about them later. However, the more and more time I have spent rushing, the more I have found myself reaping no rewards.

One day, while on the bus for one of my weekend excursions, I looked out the window to the endless parade of palm trees lining the streets. I began to study their structure and made several mental notes. They are tall, skinny, and erect standing trees with juxtaposed droopy and lazy leaves that gravity likes to take advantage of. Palm trees are truly something foreign and unique.

I began to realize these palm trees are a metaphor for life. Palm trees are not like other trees in the sense that they do not grow thicker, only taller. In life we do the same. We build on our previous accomplishments, learn along the way, and rise to the next challenge. Because of their inability to grow thicker, palm trees’ skinny support systems makes them known for their flexibility. When the wind blows, they don’t put up a fight, they simply follow suit. We must do the same.

I never thought I could find a guidance counselor in a tree, but the palm tree has provided me with advice especially useful while on my journey to learning Spanish. Learning a language is not about racing to cross things off a list, rather it is a process which will throw us many curve balls. We build up, not out, on our abilities to learn from various cultures, just like the trunks of the palm trees. We find comfort and relaxation in the moments when we realize gravity can sometimes pull us down, just like the leaves of the palm trees. We learn to accept. We learn to grow. We learn to reap the benefits of taking life for what it is. That is pura vida. That is the pure life that makes our journey on earth so prosperous. And, if a palm tree can master this, so can we!

Leafy, lofty, and with love,


Some things to Do While Abroad in Costa Rica – by Stephanie Ekey

If you will be studying at Universidad VERITAS, I strongly recommend enjoying a meal at Las Leñitas, a Costa Rican food restaurant very close to campus. It is less than a 5-minute walk down the calle principal from VERITAS. My roommate and I visited this restaurant for lunch during our first week in Costa Rica, and we were highly satisfied with the food! To drink, we had their mango juice, which was thick, refreshing, and filling.


You can also spend an afternoon at a botanical garden where you can explore nature. I visited a garden  where I was able to see crocodiles, butterflies, insects, frogs, and exotic plants up close. This was a nice change of pace and gave me a chance to take awesome pictures.  Ask the locals or Google botanical gardens that are around San Jose.

bbbThis is a photo taken in my Introduction to Physical Therapy class at VERITAS, which has become one of my favorite classes. Our teacher was demonstrating to the class the various techniques of massage, before we began practicing on one another.  The classes at VERITAS have proven to be great, I’ve learned so much!

I have also enjoyed the natural beauty of Costa Rica, walking down trails in the Manuel AntonioNational Park. This park is big, beautiful, and has so much to offer! It’s great if you want to see wild animals, do some hiking, or even visit one of the gorgeous beaches that lie within.

There are many many things to do while studying abroad in Costa Rica, it’s a wonderful country, so make the most of it!



Lola: My Spanglish Alter Ego – by Margaret Cain

Two weeks in, about 3,000 pictures later, and after watching the majority of my summer earnings disappear on souvenirs, I think it is only right to say I have achieved the proper stereotypical tourist status. Costa Rica has yet to disappoint me with its beautiful and well preserved environment, its endless adventures, its hospitable natives, and let’s not forget its scrumptious cuisine. This full cultural emersion has brought out a different side of me. An alter ego I guess you could say. I’d like to think of her as a taller, more dark and mysterious version of myself, who speaks fluent Spanglish. Let’s call her Lola. Yes, I like Lola, I think it suits her well.

When I first arrived in Costa Rica, my friends and I were discussing how sleep was going to become a thing of the past. We only have one month to experience a foreign culture and we were determined to make the most of it. However, with this lack of sleep and all the activity weighing down on me, I realized I was starting to become “someone else.” And that’s when Lola stepped in.

Lola is energetic, eager and willing. She is boiling with so much energy that sometimes she becomes a bit disoriented because she can’t find balance among all her excitement. She wants to explore the country, get good grades and take on every opportunity. Lola’s one of those people who likes to squeeze too much on her plate, and when it catches up to her, it can get ugly.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Lola. She has become one of my very best friends on this trip for she pushes me to make the most of my time here in Costa Rica.  However, just as in any healthy relationship, time must be spent apart. Balance is key, and will always be the key to living a jam-packed, adventurous life. So remember, don’t forget about who you are, and what you need. Stay in touch with your loved ones back at home, call your friends, get some rest, and don’t try to overwhelm yourself with too much, because stress is bound to ensue if you do. Take on what you can, find happiness in your accomplishments, and keep your cultural spirits alive.

Buena suerte,

Maggie… and Lola

Day to Day Life Studying Abroad in Costa Rica – by Courtney Locandro

Day to day life in Costa Rica is exciting.  I’m learning something new everyday and I’m so grateful for this experience.  Every day my Mama Tica, or one of her daughters, will make us breakfast, always including a different fruit and coffee. Then we will walk to campus, making sure to lock the double bolt gate. Our walk generally takes us about 10 or 15 minutes. In Southern Illinois, I commute in my car to my campus for classes, so being within walking distance was a nice change, and good for exercise. At first I was nervous about finding my way around, because the street signs are not nearly as prominent as in the states (if a street has a sign at all!) but the way is generally a straight shot and there are many other study abroad students all going the same direction to VERITAS.

I am enrolled in Intermediate Conversational Spanish. My class is from 8am to 12pm, Monday through Friday. This class is exactly what I need, because although I have taken Spanish grammar and literature courses in high school and college, my speaking and listening skills are not at the same level. In this class, there are 6 of us and the professor only speaks in Spanish.  We speak Spanish for the majority of the class time, only speaking English when learning new vocabulary or if we need clarification of the homework. We get a half hour break around 10am. For the past few days, some friends and I have been going to a small French panadería, or bakery, called the Le Rendez Vous. It is only a couple minutes from campus and I can get a coffee or pastry for only a dollar! The same guy has worked there each time I have been and he is so full of life and always has a smile on his face, I love going there! After class, I either have leftovers from breakfast or I buy something from the cafetería on campus. Next week I plan to try out some sodas near campus. FYI, a soda is a small restaurant that mostly sells typical Costa Rican food.

Many study abroad students also take electives in the afternoon, but my afternoons are free. Generally I will head home to do homework, since most of it involves talking with my host family. I have signed up for the cooking class on Wednesdays, so I will stay on campus until that is over, learning to cook Tico food! I also signed up for the yoga classes on Monday and Wednesday evenings, which have challenged me since I do not practice yoga regularly at home. Emmanuel, the instructor speaks mostly Spanish, but also English at times and I always feel more peaceful afterwards, it’s such a good class! After yoga, I will either take the shuttle home or walk in a group because the sun goes down about 6pm every day.  Another extracurricular activity I do is the free latin dance classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays after dinner. The instructor speaks in English and is also full of life! 

It feels like I have barely experienced all that Costa Rica has to offer, but I’m already learning so much and am excited to see what each day holds for me here. Pura Vida!

Dance Like a Tico – by Katie Richards

Today marks my second full week in San Jose. Wow, does the time fly… This week I have been able to experience the culture of Latin American dance and I am completely in awe. The feeling of dance here in Costa Rica is so natural among the ticos. I have had the opportunity to take the class Theory of Latin Dance with my beautiful, lively and theatrical dance professor, Rosibel. When you listen to her talk about Latin American dance, music and culture, her passion is completely contagious. Dancing is such an important part of the culture, which makes sense because every tico seems to have the rhythm of dance in their blood. At least there are discotecas that help gringas like myself practice moving the way they do. If anyone has the chance to take Theory of Latin Dance as an elective, I highly recommend it. Rosibel also teaches biweekly dance classes available for anyone involved at Veritas. These classes give you a taste of the true style of Latin dancing. I love having so much exposure to new music, and here at Veritas we have every opportunity for artistic exposure. I plan to come back to the states with a whole new rhythm to my step.

This weekend our program brought us to Arenal volcano too. The waterfalls and hot springs looked like they were taken out of a magazine. What an amazing view. Replenishing our minerals and dancing all night is just the recipe for a long lived life. I’m now understanding why all the ticos are so young and fresh looking. It was incredible to be immersed in the culture more this week. Loving every second of my time here.

Pura vida mis amigos! Until next time…



My Selfie with a Monkey – by Tobi Oke

My first excursion in Costa Rica involved a four hour drive to Manuel Antonio. Before I arrived I was told that the weather in San Jose would be totally different than that of Manuel Antonio. I found this to be true upon my arrival and I was elated. Manuel Antonio was sunny, hot, and ideal for taking great photos which I was anxious to do. On our way there we had a wonderful view of the mountains which was breathtaking. We took a stop half way to Manuel Antonio and we got to see crocodiles and capture photos of them. To briefly describe my experience while actually at Manuel Antonio I’ll say this: our place of residence was beautiful beyond belief, our breakfast and dinner was good, we ate amazing ice cream from Pops, our tour was exciting and unique with animals I’ve never seen. I even got close to some of the animals. Here’s my favorite:


My selfie with this white-faced monkey was the highlight of this trip for me. I would advise anyone studying abroad to take an opportunity to visit Manuel Antonio while in Costa Rica. However, bring bug spray and sunscreen; the bugs are ruthless and nagging! The beach had great waves and temperature but the water was super salty (take caution). I also bargained for souvenirs and got great deals. Moreover I had a great time. I hope this picture below summarizes the beauty of my experience in Manuel Antonio.

2015-07-12 11.06.00

Gracias a Dios!

A Week of Firsts – by Courtney Locandro


Since arriving in Costa Rica about a week ago, Ive experienced many firsts. My list of firsts is fairly long, but here are some I´ve encountered so far.

  • Taking a flight by myself
  • Living with a Tico Family aka Costa Rican family
  • Dish paste instead of dish soap
  • Taking a public city taxi (I am from a small suburb town in the Midwest)
  • Taking a public city bus
  • Eating new foods (Some of my favorites are Patacones, Gallo Pinto, and Cajetitas de coco)
  • Walking. EVERYWHERE. Note: Bring walking shoes, not just sandals or flip flops
  • Discovering my way around a new city and campus
  • Speaking Spanish with the majority of people daily
  • Beautiful Rainforest
  • The AMAZING view of mountains on my way to campus and near the Caribbean Coast
  • Exotic animals in the wild (so many monkeys!)
  • New form of currency
  • Drivers in San Jose

Getting There

From the start, I was extremely excited to study abroad, yet still a little nervous to be flying by myself to a new country where I barely know the language. I had a very early flight and one connecting flight. Luckily, living in the Midwest, I only had to adjust to one hour difference in time zone. As it turns out I was pleasantly surprised how easy it was to navigate through the SJO airport and find the CEA representative waiting for me right outside of the exit. From there I had transportation already arranged. My first impression of the landscape of San Jose, Costa Rica was that, even though it is the capital city, you still have the beautiful view of the lush, green mountains in the background.

My Tico Home

My stomach was filled with butterflies when  I arrived at my host home to meet my new family. My neighborhood is located in Barrio Cordoba. As we pulled up I saw my mama tica standing outside the gate of the house waiting for me.  She was very welcoming and hugged me as I came into the house. My favorite part of the home is the kitchen and dining room. The dining room opens straight out to a beautiful patio with a multitude of plants and their clothesline. The patio was covered but the natural light still was let in by a small open space over the wall. My room was also very nice and included a bed with sheets and comforter, a desk, a lamp, a safe box, a wardrobe, a full length mirror, a fan, a laundry basket, a couple outlets and a small bedside table. So far my tico family has made me feel very welcome and I’m sure this is going to just get better and better!