The Final Countdown (Part II)

Buenas Dias!

Well, I guess this is it. I am (mostly) finished packing, and I’m going to call for a cab to the airport in exactly one hour!! Since sleep is clearly not an option tonight, I figured I would use my last few moments productively. My flight leaves at 7:15, but apparently here the protocol is to arrive at the airport three hours early! Anyway, I have a layover in Atlanta for about three hours or so, then am scheduled to arrive in St. Louis around 4:30 this afternoon! Fortunately, a girl in my group has a flight leaving at 7:00 and a nine hour layover in Atlanta, so that should help kill some time.

This whole last week has been truly bitter sweet. Final exams went well enough, and I passed both classes, so I can’t complain :) We had our last dance class last night, so I’m pretty much an expert now on Salsa, Marangue, Bachata, and Cumbia (but not really). Today, we all went to the market in San Jose and it was really interesting. I was able to talk to and bargain with all of the venders, so I guess I pretty much achieved what I came here to do. In the evening, we all took a really long bus ride to a restaurant, which was situated on top of mountain. From the dining area, you could see over all the city lights, and it was breathtaking. We got home around 11:00, and I’ve spent the remainder of the evening packing and stalling.

It hasn’t really sunk in yet that I’m actually leaving. Well, it kind of has, but its just so hard to believe that I am never going to see these people again. Sure, we’re all friends on Facebook, and I now have somewhere to stay in like 10 different states, but I just got so used to seeing them everyday, that its going to be so weird when I leave. Especially Frances. She is truly one of the most generous people I’ve ever met, and I’m really glad we were roommates. I’m also really going to miss my family, and am not looking forward to saying goodbye. Yesterday, however, as we were parting ways my phonetics professor reminded me of the quote, “don’t cry because its over, smile because it happened” so I’ve been trying really hard to keep that in mind. OH and on a good note, they found out last night that their youngest son and his wife are expecting their first child! Overall, I could not have asked for a better living situation.

On the other hand, I am ecstatic to see all my friends and family again! I read that when students return from studying abroad (although I’m sure for a longer period of time) they sometimes experience what is referred to as “reverse culture shock”, and that going home can be even harder than arriving in the foreign country. I don’t want to speak to soon, but I don’t really foresee that happening. There are actually a lot small things that I am excited for, such as driving my car, that I never thought I’d miss. Although it might be weird readjusting to my old life, I am looking forward to having a bit of a break from school, and, again, I CANNOT WAIT to see everyone! I am a little worried that after I get settled in back home, I’m going to really miss Costa Rica, but I guess we’ll see.

Its also hard to believe that this whole experience is finished. I mean, I spent the last nine months or so planning for it, and now its over. I feel soo lucky to have had this opportunity though! Needless to say, I could not have done without all of the support I have received. I owe a lot of it to my mother, who selflessly put countless time and energy into helping prepare for this trip (as well as life in general), and who has always supported me. I am also really fortunate to have a great family overall; seriously, all my other parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins…everyone helped me be able to do this. And of course, none of this ever would have happened had it not been for all of the people at McKendree. I’m not going to lie, the process of applying for study abroad and everything was rather extensive, but every department I encountered was extremely pleasant to work with, which made the whole thing much easier. I also owe a lot to all of my professors who have taken the time to help me cultivate my academic interest and prepare me for life after McKendree. I’m realizing that, as I enter my senior year, this is the begging of the end of my time at McKendree, so I’m going to try really hard to make the most of it.

Well, I’m running out of time to shove the last of my stuff into my suitcase, so I guess I’d better go :)

Hasta la proxima!

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These things are stationed all throughout the school and readily dispense both hot and cold water. I really wish we had something like this at McKendree... :)

These things are stationed all throughout the school and readily dispense both hot and cold water. I really wish we had something like this at McKendree… :)

Natalia with baby Niko!

Natalia with baby Niko!

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Viva Costa Rica!

Buenas!

So on Friday, we had planned to go to the cultural square in San Jose and visit some museums, but it happened to be at the same time Costa Rica played Italy. The night before, my host…brother-in-law explained that they set up a huge flat screen t.v. in the square and thousands people come from miles to watch the game. Unfortunately, ISA thought this environment might be potentially dangerous for a group of young, foreign students, so our trip had to be postponed. Instead, some of us went to the university to view the match. The amphitheater was packed with rambunctious students donning their Costa Rican colors, and it was quite the experience. I’ve never really followed soccer, but it turns out that their team isn’t usually the greatest, which is why everyone went absolutely crazy when they beat Italy.

I thought the scene at the university was a spectacle, but afterwards some of us went downtown. We walked along the main road, and every single car that passed us had people honking or hanging out the windows yelling and waving their flags. When we finally arrived, I stopped in Carlos’ shoe store to say hello, and he explained that this is only the second time in history that Costa Rica has made it to the second round. As we got closer to the square in Heredia, the masses of people got thicker and everyone continued to shout, chant, blow horns and cheer; it was really like one big party. The streets around the square were completely blocked off and the people filled the roads, dancing to the music coming from one of the bars. Its really hard to fully describe the scene, but just imagine what Chicago might be like if the Cubs ever won a World Series, and  multiply it by five. I’m not sure if the day was technically considered a national holiday, but I don’t know how anyone could have been at work, as they all seemed to be celebrating in the streets. It was really awesome to see such national pride!

On Saturday, we went to the feria; basically, farmers from all over the country come to Heredia every Saturday morning to sell their products. There was an entire street blocked off, and the booths went for probably at least a mile. There was every type of produce you could imagine, and many I had never heard of. Many vendors had similar items, so the patrons took advantage of the free market and bargained until they were absolutely sure they had gotten the best deal. Afterwards, we continued exploring downtown Heredia and visited any of the shops we had previously missed. In the evening, Frances and I accompanied our family to church. It was a very small, tight-knit congregation and an interesting experience. Overall, the weekend was a great opportunity to experience the local culture.

Today was mostly spent working on (or avoiding) homework, but we did go out to watch the USA game in the afternoon. We had been winning 2-1 until the very last like 30 seconds when Portugal scored a final goal! Apparently, they will have to play each other again to determine who moves to the next round. I’m really excited for the next Costa Rica game on Tuesday,and I’m kind of hoping we get out of class early to watch it!

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The one with face paint is my Phonetics professor!

The one with face paint is my Phonetics professor!

La Playa Tamarindo

Hola!

So last weekend we went to Tomarindo Beach! Although the bus ride was six hours, it was pretty smooth so it wasn’t too bad. The resort where we stayed was incredible! Seriously, I thought the one in Arenal was nice, but it was nothing compared to the this one! It was right on the beach, and had three pools, one of which had a wet bar. Soon after arrival Friday evening, we were served a delicious dinner, then entertained by traditional dancers, and it was awesome. The only downside to all of it was that it was pretty touristy. In the evening, we explored the town, which mostly consisted of high-priced restaurants and souvenir shops. Even the clubs we went to had more gringos than ticos, but it was all still really fun.

On Saturday, three of us had signed up to take surf lessons, so around noon we trekked down the beach to the shop. Our instructor, whose name escapes me, looked to be about 40 and he had long blond hair that was really close to being dreadlocks. When he first approached us, I really thought the lesson was going to be like in Forgetting Sarah Marshall when Paul Rudd is teaching Jason Segal to surf, but it ended up being much better. We spent some time practicing on the beach and then hit the waves. We began as the tide was coming in so the waves started small and gradually got bigger. I managed to stand up on my first wave, but, because I looked down at my feet, I immediately wiped out. I started to get the hang of it after that and managed to have some pretty good rides. About half way through, a storm rolled in, which intensified everything. I’ve always said I wanted to experience a storm at sea, I just never thought it would be on a surf board! Riding the waves in turned out to actually be the easy part; fighting the tide to get back out to the instructor was the real challenge. Seriously though, riding a wave all the way into shore through the rain had to be one of the most incredible sensations of my whole life. Although it was taxing, the entire experience was amazing and totally worth it!

After our oceanic adventure, we got cleaned up and joined some of our classmates for lunch. A group of us found a small restaurant off the beaten trail that was full of locals, and, although the food was fantastic, the best part was seeing everyone’s reactions the Costa  Rican fútbol game! Anytime they scored, the entire street would erupt into a frenzy of dancing, cheering, and hugging, while a Costa Rican anthem (I don’t think it was their official national song) blared and other people waved their flags. It was really neat to observe, especially after they won, because everyone just seemed so united and happy.

We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the hotel and all of its pools. There was one hallway that had trees right next to it, and in them was an entire family of monkeys! They were seriously like 10 feet away from us!! Oh, and there were iguanas running around all over the place, so that was really cool. The best part was laying on the beach to watch the sunset, which was absolutely gorgeous. Overall, it was a really great weekend, and I managed to only get a mild sunburn. :)

So I just realized today that we only have 10 days left until we go home! This of course brings all the rigor of final projects, papers, and exams, but I’m no longer intimidated by the work load. In fact, I’m really starting to enjoy my school. The other day, we had to come up with some skits that played out a specific situation, but we were working with Costa Rican students who were supposed to help us incorporate colloquialisms. When our professor noted that vulgarities were acceptable, some of the students in our group added a ridiculous amount of obscenities. Although the words didn’t make a lot of sense in context, it was hilarious when we performed it in front of the class, and I really broadened my vocabulary.

I just cannot believe that my time here is almost over. I know it sounds kind of weird, but I feel like I have been living here forever, and it seems like I have known these people for years; the thought of returning to U.S. is actually sort of surreal. Don’t get me wrong, I’m really excited to see to see all my friends and family again, its just going to be so sad saying goodbye to this amazing country and everyone in it. I started to get a little down about that this evening, but then I remembered a sign my mom bought me last summer that reads, “Don’t count the days, make the days count”, which is exactly what I plan to do!

Ciao!

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Photo credit: Kayla Wentzig

Photo credit: Kayla Wentzig

Photo credit: Kayla Wentzig

Photo credit: Kayla Wentzig

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Photo credit: Kayla Wentzig

Photo credit: Kayla Wentzig

 

La Copa Mundial

Buenas Tardes!

Well, today not only marked the end of my third week classes but also the beginning of the World Cup. I thought being in St. Louis when the Cardinals are in the World Series was a big deal, but this is like a whole other level! At school, they set up t.v. screens at the amphitheater and cafeteria, which were soon packed full of students. After class, a few of us went to a sports bar to watch the game, and the whole atmosphere was quite jovial, especially for 3pm on a Thursday. Classes have been going alright, but its becoming increasingly difficult to stay focused on schoolwork. On a good note, I found  out that I did really well on my test from last week, but I think I may have legitimately failed the exam for my other class today. Fortunately, the entire class seemed to feel the same way, so maybe she will end up curving it or something.

Some of us went to see Maleficent this evening, and this time it was entirely in Spanish. I was able to understand, for the most part, what was going on, but I think it helped that I’ve seen Sleeping Beauty and there were a lot of visual cues. Overall, I’m not really sure where I would rate my language skills at this point. I mean, I can basically understand and be understood by my professors and host family, but in public its hit or miss. Sometimes I’ll go somewhere and say something to someone and they will respond and I’ll understand and its almost like we’re having a conversation, but other times I’ll walk into a store and say something then the person will say something that I cannot understand for the life of me,until they eventually shake their head and ask one of their coworkers if anyone speaks English, and they usually don’t, which can be rather discouraging. On the one hand, I feel like I’ve improved while I’ve been here, but other times I feel disheartened at how far I still have to go.

This experience has definitely proved to me that I have been taking language for granted. I wouldn’t say that I’m homesick, but I do miss being able to openly and clearly express my thoughts, feelings, wants and needs to anyone I feel so inclined. Oh, and I also hate never knowing exactly what is happening. Like sometimes class will end and I’m not certain about what to do for homework. Its not all that bad because I’m here with a group of students that all speak English, and there is always ISA staff available in the event of any kind of emergency, but its still scary going out alone and sometimes not being able to effectively communicate with the general public. I cannot imagine how difficult it has to be for someone who comes to the U.S. without having a good grasp of English, because I think there are definitely more people here that speak English than people in the U.S. that speak Spanish or any other language for that matter. I imagine it would be rather terrifying and isolating, which is why I’m motivated, now more than ever, to further develop my abilities in an attempt to aid people in this situation. I don’t even know for sure yet what I want to do with my life, but I do know that talking to someone in your native language makes you feel less like a stranger in a strange land, and I want to be able to someday provide that comfort for others. 

Aaaanyway, thats my rant for the evening! Despite everything i just said, I really am enjoying it here. This weekend we are going to Tamarindo which is a beach on the Pacific side. We are mostly just going to hang out on the beach, but I’m signed up to take surf lessons on Saturday, so I’m really excited for that!

Hasta la proxima!

Arenal!

Hola!

Well, there was another landslide (or maybe it was the same one), so the bus ride to Arenal was rather interesting. Instead of taking three hours, it took six and most of it was on curvy, bumpy, mountain roads, so needless to say, we were all very relieved when we arrived to the resort. It was incredible! There we two pool, several hot springs, and even a thermal pool with a wet bar! There was also a crocodile exhibit and a butterfly house. Anyway, we got in Friday evening and everyone was pretty exhausted. Then, on Saturday morning, some of us had decided to go repelling.

Once again, we had to wake up before 6, but we were picked up from the resort so that was nice. The bus didn’t take us very far when we had unload and board some smaller trucks that took us deep into the jungle. We were given a brief orientation, then we trudged through the woods until we arrived to a platform. The first waterfall we did was 165 feet! Now, I wouldn’t exactly say that I’m afraid of heights, but I was just a little apprehensive when I stepped to edge and the guide told me to turn around, lean back over the side and let go of the rope. They say you should do something everyday that scares you, so after this trip I think I’ll be good until my next birthday. One of the very first things I did when I began was, of course, look down, and it was surreal! It was definitely scary at first, because the rocks were slick and I was afraid of loosing my footing and smashing against the side, but it was also really fun. We then hiked to the next one, which was not quite as high, and repeated the process two more  times. The feeling was truly indescribable, and afterwards, I felt like I could do just about anything! Oh and while we were hiking from the last waterfall WE SAW A MONKEY! It was pretty far off in the treetop, but I saw it nonetheless!

After the excursion, we took a trip into the nearby town of La Fortuna; supposedly, the citizens gave it this name in the 60’s when the volcano erupted and the two neighboring towns were destroyed and most people died. Our guide the next day, however, said that was just something they made up for the tourist and that the name had been changed before the eruption. Back at the resort, a couple of us hiked one of the trails to a lookout point for the volcano. The trail turned out to be 2 miles straight up a mountain, but when we reached the spot, it was so worth it! Our resort is at the base of the volcano, but the view from the other mountain was awesome. It was all just so serene and peaceful. Afterwards, we went to see the crocodiles and enjoy the hotel amenities. Before dinner, we swam in the main pool, which had a water slide. I figured it was more for kids, but we went on it anyway and it turned out to actually be really intense. After dinner, we went to the thermal pool where we passed the remainder of the evening, which did not go without incident. Apparently, one of the pools had gradually been draining for a couple of hours, and when everyone was getting ready to retire, one of the students from the my group decided to dive into it; he ended up scraping his head and he needed stitches. The scary part was that we were up on a mountain and it was around 11 p.m. so any nearby medical center was closed. Eventually, a paramedic was able to come to the resort to stitch him up, so I guess alls well that ends well.

I got up early Sunday with the hopes of seeing the top of the volcano, but, because its the rainy season, it was always covered by clouds. I did however, get to hear the howler monkeys. Howler monkeys do not sound like regular monkeys; its kind of hard to describe, but I thought they sort of sounded like pack of ferocious, snarling dogs. One of my classmates compared the sound to wild boars, but I’ve never heard wild boards so I can neither confirm nor deny it. Anyway, there were hundreds of them in the trees, and it was really cool getting to hear them. After breakfast, we took a lake tour around the volcano and we got to the see the island were they filmed the show Survivor and Jurassic Park! Fortunately the bus ride home was shorter and went without incident.

Classes are back in full swing, but they are going well. On a bit of a more somber note, it turns out I have contracted conjunctivitis. Tonight, my mamatica walked me to the pharmacy; there was a man just sitting behind the counter who she addressed as “doctor” and to whom she helped me explain my symptoms. He asked a couple of questions, called it conjunctivitis, and gave me a bottle of eye drops for a little over $10; it was all actually very easy. Hopefully it will hurt less tomorrow, but I wouldn’t mind if pink eye was worst thing to happen on to me on this trip :)

Hasta luego!

This picture was taken from the bus

This picture was taken from the bus

View from our back porch!

View from our back porch!

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The Cloud Forest in Monte Verde from a distance

The Cloud Forest in Monte Verde from a distance

Survivor Island!

Survivor Island!

 

Workin’ for the Weekend

Buenas!

Well, I have officially made it through another week of class! I had my first exam this morning, and I think I did alright on it, but I guess I’ll find out next week. Overall, I think schools getting better in that I am understanding my professors better, but its still a lot of work. I am, however, really enjoying the other students in the group as we are getting to know each better. We had our second dance class last night, and I suppose I am improving, but I don’t think its my calling. Its still really fun and an interesting way to experience the culture, not the mention the instructor is awesome! Oh, so I had my first kind of scary moment this morning! Frances and I were walking to school and after we turned onto the main road, we realized there was a group of young men walking behind us. They immediately began calling at us saying things like, “ay chiquitas!”. We did a sort of half turn, and they all cracked up laughing and continued to pursue us with more vigor. I did get just a little nervous as we could tell they were getting closer and weren’t giving up, that is until they called our names. Turns out it was couple of boys from our program that were also headed to school…we all had a pretty good laugh at that one :)

Tomorrow, some of us are presenting in a Costa Rican English class about where we are from. I’ve yet to make my presentation, but I can’t think of too much to say about Illinois except, you know, corn…Chicago…Blagojevich (ha jk I’ll probably leave him out). Then, at noon, we are departing to Arenal! I haven’t checked out the website yet, but from what I’ve heard, the hotel we are staying at sounds like a resort. On the grounds are several hiking trails and nature preserves, so I am excited to explore them. Also, on Saturday I am going to repel down some waterfalls and visit the town of La Fortuna; the weekend will end on Sunday with a lake tour around the volcano. I think its safe to say that the work put in during the week is definitely worth the weekend adventures!

Here are some pictures I took on my walk home from school the other day; it was around 3 in the afternoon, so there wasn’t much traffic:

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looking back toward the university

looking back toward the university

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we then take  a shortcut up this hill...

we then take a shortcut up this hill…

...through some basketball courts...

through some basketball courts…

...across this "workout park"...

across this “workout park”…

...down a side street...

down a side street…

...onto our road...

onto our road…

...then to our house!

…then to our house!

El Rio Pacuare!

Hola!

So on Sunday we once again met at the university at 6 am and boarded a bus to San Jose. We drove about two hours to the river, but the scenery was incredible! We went through Cartago, which is much more rural than Heredia, and there was so much greenery. Seriously, it was the prettiest scenery I’d seen so far, and the entire drive was breathtaking. We stopped for breakfast on a mountain top, at what I think was a hotel, and then continued towards the river. The night before, there was landslide on one of the main roads so we had to take some less-traveled paths, which were interesting. The closer we got to the river, the more rural it got; eventually we were passing farms few and far between, and the other traffic was mostly just horses, some with riders, others without. There was one part that was just a little sketchy (I recently taught that word some Ticos the other day by the way, and they loved it) when we were going down the mountain toward the river. The road was very steep and curvy and of course, there was not any type of guard rail, so the bus was slowing down to go around a corner, and when he applied the brake we actually started sliding! Fortunately, we did not over the cliff and made it to the river.

The Pacuare River was named by National Geographic as one of the top five white water rafting rivers in the world, and it even hosted the 2011 world rafting championship. On the ride, we had been extensively briefed about what to do if someone fell out, so we were all slightly apprehensive when we arrived. We went in a group of probably 10 rafts, and there were three kayakers whose sole purpose was to rescue men overboard that got swept up in the current! Anyway, our guide gave us another debriefing before we embarked and we reviewed the commands for paddling then practiced rescuing each other from the water. Our guide’s name was Manuel, and he was hilarious and knowledgeable about the area.

The very first rapid we went through was pretty intense, but after that we were ready to face anything! Somehow, we managed to only have one person fall out the whole trip, and she was able to hold onto the boat so we pulled her up just as we had practiced. There was one rapid we went through where all of us on the left flew over to the right, which was totally submerged, and I honestly thought we were all goners, but when we resurfaced we were all thankfully still aboard. On some of the calmer rapids, he had us turn around and row backwards with our eyes closed just to keep it interesting, so there was never a dull moment! We eventually stopped for lunch in what was legitimately the jungle and apparently in the province of Limon. We made burritos and had quite a substantial and delicious meal.

Although navigating the rapids was a blast, I think the best part had to be scenery; it was incredible! There were a couple times we went through canyons and we could actually get out and swim. The trip ended up being 18 miles, and we spent about three hours on the river. The bus ride back to Heredia was pretty quite because everyone was asleep! Overall, it was a fantastic day and probably my favorite so far!

This bridge is all thats left of when they began to build a dam here in the 90's.

This bridge is all thats left of when they began to build a dam here in the 90’s.

There were kids jumping off this bridge when we passed under it!

There were kids jumping off this bridge when we passed under it!

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Cartago!

Cartago!

This is from where we stopped for breakfast

This is from where we stopped for breakfast