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!

Get Messy – by Sarah Pezold

Do you remember the TV show “The Magic School Bus”? Or, more specifically, the eccentric, fearless, red-headed teacher Ms. Frizzle? Ms. Frizzle was an somewhat of an idol of mine- fearless, bold, and always ready for adventure. She pushed her students to learn outside the classroom, and told her students to “Take chances! Make mistakes! And get messy!”

I am a total control freak, and I’m not afraid to admit it. I dislike mistakes. I dislike messiness. And I much prefer to stay inside my nice, happy bubble and not take any chances. But I’m not here to stay inside my bubble. I’m here learn, and to make mistakes, and to have experiences that pull me outside my own comfort zone in order to better understand another culture.

For the past two weeks I have been staying with a host family in the Zapote neighborhood of San José, Costa Rica. I have struggled through dinners where I can only follow about 40% of the conversation (on a good day). I have learned how to get around a neighborhood without any of the comforts American neighborhoods offer (working GoogleMaps, English speakers, etc.).  I have taken interesting taxi rides and asked for directions in Spanish and tried to navigate my way around a city that I swear does not have a single straight street. I’ve made plenty of mistakes and taken a few interesting chances and I have learned so much. To me, this feels like success.

That’s not to say it’s all adventure and laughter living in a new country. Sometimes, I want nothing more than the comfort of my own bed and my mom’s mac and cheese. Sometimes I become so frustrated with the language that I feel as though I haven’t learned a single thing, and long for the ease and comfort English offers. Sometimes, all I want is a working cell phone and my car and to not have to rely on my own two feet or taxi drivers. Sometimes my inner control freak takes over and sometimes the messiness feels overwhelming.

I think, ultimately, the beauty of studying abroad has been through this-finding the joy in the messiness all around you. Finding joy in the fact that “brownies” is the same in both languages, or learning that Costa Ricans call sloths “oso perezoso” which literally translates into “lazy bear.”  Feeling joy when you successfully converse with a non-English speaker in Spanish, or when you finally grasp a difficult concept. Finding joy when your host family laughs at one of your poorly executed Spanish jokes.

The joy and  the successes make the mistakes, the chances, and the mess worth it. Though it scares me, I fully intend to honor my childhood heroine and continue to “Take chances! Make mistakes! And get messy!” for the sake of learning.

Flushed – by Margaret Cain

“Please put all sanitary napkins and paper waste into the trash can, thank you.” Uhhhhh what?! Upon first arriving in Costa Rica, one difference that really struck me was that they don’t flush toilet paper. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve broken this rule, or how curious I find this practice, but as strange as it may seem, this custom of theirs has taught me some valuable life lessons as a first time foreign exchange student.

Thinking more and more about the word “flush,” I went and looked it up in the handy-dandy dictionary. This is what I found…

Flush (v)—to become red and hot, typically as the result of an illness or emotion

Flush (n)—a surge of emotion

Flush (adj.)—even or level with another surface

After reading these definitions, light bulbs began to flicker in my head. I realized as a foreign exchange student, I had entered into what I like to title “The Flush Cycle.” This cycle is composed of three phases related to the various definitions of the word “flush.” Phase one is where we become ill as a result of being immersed into a foreign country. Phase two is the surge of emotions such as frustration and close-mindedness. And phase three is when we begin to rationalize and see the importance of equality.

Upon first arriving in Costa Rica, I found myself entering phase one. Having been removed from my comfort zone and routine in a matter of days, it was hard for me not to let my initial pessimistic reactions get the best of me. Uncomfortable, overwhelmed, out of place—this is how I initially felt, and I found myself just about as successful as a dog chasing its tail when trying to dodge these negative sensations.

After getting a brief feel for the culture, the schooling, and the lifestyle here, I found myself progressing to phase two. I was frustrated. I didn’t understand why people would talk to me in English when I’d try to talk to them in Spanish, I didn’t understand why my classes were more difficult than anticipated, and I didn’t understand how to manage my time in a place where time wasn’t really a thing to be managed. Honking? Just another language. Touching? Forget about your personal bubble. Punctuality? Out the window. All these differences were weighing me down, and it was notably taking its toll on my character.

Luckily, this friendly little voice inside my head reminded me that I am not here to follow my customary routine, I’m not here for things to make perfect sense.  I’m here to challenge myself and learn from those of a different culture. This oh so intelligent voice led me to the more rational phase three of the cycle. The accepting and adapting phase. I learned I must not waste my time flushing in anger, or breaking into a flush of frustration, but rather to become flush with the culture of Costa Rica. My job isn’t to blend in and live alongside them, but rather with them, in harmony and free of judgement.

As an exchange student I would like to remind all other students in my shoes, that for as scary and simultaneously exciting of an experience as this may be, this is an experience of a lifetime. This is our opportunity to be an “other,” and what a rewarding opportunity it is to be on the outside for once in our lives. It takes us out of our routine, reminds us not to take life too seriously, and increases our abilities to see from all types of perspectives.

So my challenge to you is don’t flush my friends, but crush. Crush on the people, the food, the culture, the lifestyle. Let yourself fall in love. Learn how others live, work, and play and you will find yourself transforming into a more accepting and understanding individual. With this mindset, we can become the individuals who break down pressing social barriers such as prejudices and narrow mindedness. It’s these negativities that are acceptable to flush down the toilet.

Pura vida,

Maggie

Saving My Loose Change – by Beverly Ziegler

bevChange. It’s heavy in my wallet and necessary to deal with, but eventually enough change can grow to be valuable, like the jar of spare pennies, nickels, and dimes on my desk. Life is that jar of change and, eventually, enough of it adds up and you can buy something of value with it.. My life has been full of changes this year, some good and some heartbreaking, and I have decided the best way to cope with change is to add more until the change results in something wonderful. And voila, here I am in San Jose, Costa Rica, studying abroad for the first time in my life. And what a wonderful experience of change it has been! I have been given the opportunity to be the tourist, the other. It is an opportunity to try new and rewarding things, like ziplining through the forests of Monteverde. A chance to practice a new language with the friendly locals, to fully embrace “tico time,” to enjoy every form of exotic fruit this country has to offer, and take in as many of the breathtaking sights that is Costa Rica.

While most people who have come to study Spanish in Costa Rica are looking to advance their already somewhat progressed experience with the language, I am coming as a novice – or at least, as someone who hasn’t taken a Spanish class in about seven years and spent most of high school struggling to learn Russian. I was the kind of student who was hard-working, but who always let the language class take the backburner. I never enjoyed it, and claimed that foreign languages “weren’t my strong suit”. Fast-forward a couple years and I am sitting in the office of my university’s study abroad coordinator, and he says to me, “Why not Costa Rica? The Spanish program has a group going to VERITAS this summer”. I thought about it, sought the advice of some good friends who had been on the trip before, and suddenly I was signed up. Sometimes, the simplest solution that falls into my lap is there for a reason. And thus, I said yes to Costa Rica and yes to the most valuable change I could find.

I have been here for two weeks and am already speaking more Spanish than I ever thought I could. Sometimes, my host sisters and I are chatting with our Mama Tica at dinner and these Spanish sentences fly out of my mouth and I think to myself in amazement, “did I really just say that in Spanish?”. This language is as delicious on my lips as the savory dishes my Mama Tica makes us every night. I have never enjoyed learning so much. I now realize that with the right mentality and environment, learning a language can be an incredibly fulfilling, enriching and rewarding experience.  I needed this change to discover a new passion for the Spanish language, as well as the culture and beauty of those who speak it. Sometimes, all the change adds up to something wonderful. So save your pennies, amigos!

Did you know you are a globetrotter? – by Rileigh Roberson

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You are studying abroad! It may be a class requirement or something you just decided to try, but the time is here. You are in an entirely new country. It’s probably one of the first times you have been out of your country, and most likely the first time you have traveled so far and so long by yourself. You are now beginning your journey as a globetrotter. Globetrotter. A person who frequently travels far and wide.

Globetrotters are the people who long to be where they’re not. They are curious and self-motivated. They fear stagnance and rather seek fluidity and adventure.

As you continue through your study abroad journey, this word becomes more and more appealing. You long even more to see more parts of the world, and to truly become a globetrotter. This has been my experience. When I began my journey to Costa Rica in the Indianapolis airport, I cried a couple times while making my way through bag check, saying goodbye to my family for two months, and boarding the plane.

My tears were not tears of joy, but rather tears of terror. I kept asking myself, “What the heck am I doing?… This is not the person I am.” But boy was I wrong. I didn’t even realize who I was or what I was capable of. Little did I know a month later I would be swimming in bioluminescent waters in the dark of night, white water rafting, and bungee jumping 500 feet!

This trip abroad truly turned me into a globetrotter. At this point in my life, I have never wanted anything more than to travel the world and experience new cultures, new experiences, and new ways of life.

In the last two months I feel as though I have grown more than I have in my whole life. I feel like that is the biggest part of being a globetrotter. That is what motivates us to travel. We love to learn and expand our horizons. It becomes a lifestyle more than just a desire.

Wherever you travel in your life, take in every moment. Let go so that you are able to experience every single second. Don’t miss out on opportunities because you are afraid of the unknown. Embrace the unknown. Jump into the unknown with open arms because that is where you will find the greatest opportunity to learn, to experience, and to grow.

So yes.  You are a globetrotter.  A #VeritasGlobetrotter!

 

Out of Breath – by Morgan Coil

1

This seems to be a reoccurring theme this trip. From the moment we woke up in Monteverde, I was speechless. We arrived late the night before and had no idea what kind of view was in store for us. To our surprise, the next day at 6am we woke up completely surrounded by the mountains. I have never seen so much green beauty in my life. No picture can even do the justice that this view deserved.

2

Our first adventure, zip-lining yet again took my breath away, literally. Not only was I in shock looking at the beautiful sights in front of me, but I also was heaving after the several hikes up the mountain that slowly decreased my oxygen intake.

3

As if I wasn’t out of breath enough, both literally and figuratively… The saga continued. Each time a local spoke to me I found myself at a loss for words. I might not be perfect at Spanish, but I definitely know more than I was showing. It’s beyond intimidating to converse with someone else in their native language yet also it’s one of the most culturally enhancing things I could ever do -I need to start pushing myself. It’s good to be out of breath. Isn’t the saying, “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone”?

4

There’s truly nothing -no experience or adventure, that has taken my breath away like Costa Rica. If life can be this lovely and challenging every day, I will GLADLY be out of breath -especially in Costa Rica.

PURA VIDA!

How to Make the Most of Your Study Abroad Experience – by Stephanie Ekey

  1. Set aside limited time to talk on the phone or video chat with your loved ones back home. Don’t spend too much time conversing with people from home; take the opportunity to build connections with new people. Make yourself socially available. You may be able to form long-lasting relationships with people you meet while abroad.
  2. Be uncomfortable. Venturing out of your comfort zone will inevitably be part of your experience, so you will have to become comfortable with being uncomfortable. Visit different parts of your host country. Expand your horizons by joining a club at school, volunteering, or attending a dance class. You will not regret it.
  3. Take risks. Studying abroad gives you a chance to try new things, visit new places, and meet new people. Taking risks is advisable, depending on the potential danger to your health and safety. Of course you should be safe and conscious about your choices; do not engage in activities that seem too dangerous. Always weigh your pros and cons because every decision has repercussions.
  4. Dance.
  5. Engage in cultural activities. Bars are fun, but you should also explore the art and science that the country has to offer. Have conversations with the local people -yes, it’s okay to talk to strangers. Visit the local artisan market. Spend an afternoon at an art gallery or theater. Attend a jazz jam. Learning some history about your host country and immersing yourself in the new culture will help you better understand and connect with the native people.