Wednesday, March 16, 2011

ok, here is the final post...most likely

So, in class today we were asked to add an entry to our journals about what we might change regarding the Spanish Immersion program as a whole. I definitely think that the two areas of study (in our case, Spanish and Business) should be accommodated better and perhaps separately. That's not to say that we weren't well provided for, but, as a Spanish student, I would have liked to be around Spanish more consistently. I didn't like hearing presentations in English; although it was much easier for me to comprehend everything, it made it more difficult to speak in Spanish at my home and to remember Spanish in general. I think I would have benefited much more if everything had been in Spanish. Also, I would have liked to have been more involved with the students there in Costa Rica, like the INA students, for example. During my brief encounter with them, I learned a lot - we learned a lot from each other. More classes might have helped, too. I really loved my classes there.
Also, more free time would have been nice. Time to explore and to write and to speak with locals and spend time with our families. I wish this had been a semester-long program. Year-long. Lifetime. Can you tell I miss it? I felt nourished there, like the air was easier to breathe. Sorry, weird ranting. It takes a while for me to re-acclimate.
If I think of any more ideas, I'll add them. Otherwise, wonderful program overall!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

an attempt at a final summary

So, I came back to Asheville with a bang, and now I have an overwhelming amount of work to catch up on. However, finishing this blog is my first priority right now while everything is still fresh in my mind.
Where did I leave off? We went to the National Theater in San José to see a flamenco performance entitled Llorona: duelo, duende y compás. It beautifully depicted the story of la Llorona (woman loses her child in the river and is cursed for it - incredibly poor synopsis on my part, so I suggest looking it up) through dance and music. The theater itself was incredibly ornate and definitely a fun environment to she a show in, especially one so aesthetically pleasing, emotional and artistic.
My tica Mom's birthday was March 12, so we celebrated (we meaning Lindsey and I, both our families and nearby relatives and friends) by sitting out on the lovely porch at twilight and eating two different kinds of cake, singing (they sang in Spanish, then we sang in English) and taking tequila shots. First put the salt on your lime, then taste a little, take a shot (I just fixed a really unfortunate typo there), then suck the lemon. Probably the most unappealing combination of sensations I could imagine, but I did it, twice. They like their tequila. It was a wonderfully fun experience, and I loved seeing my tica Mom laugh and have such a good time. They definitely like to celebrate in CR and spend time together. I love it.
I think my favorite activity we did during the entire trip was visiting El Toledo, an organic coffee farm. I'm doing my final project on coffee for my course, so I tried to ask my guide, Gabriel (who, with his wife and parents, works on the farm), as many questions as I could think of during our tour. He and his family were so gracious and refreshingly passionate about their work and about living and farming sustainably. I found them so inspiring. Also, I loved being able to see the shade-grown coffee plants and learn about the incredible diversity of the surrounding plants and trees (more conventional farms have much, much less diversity - Gabriel pointed out a nearby farm that only had eucalyptus present, which was spreading a toxin) and then sample the coffee itself. So good - I bought five bags and regret not buying more. They also prepared a delicious meal for us, easily my favorite meal of the entire trip. While at the farm, we also divided into groups to work out a sort of business plan for Gabriel and his family as a way to help them expand, continue to move forward, think of new ideas. I hope they're able to bring in some interns to help out and spread the word, and I hope that any expansion they undergo doesn't dilute their uniquely potent passion.
Our last day, we went to playa Jaco, a somewhat touristy but still lovely beach in CR. (Watching the cold rain fall outside my window, I imagine myself there now, eating deliciously fresh fish tacos or sprawled out on the sand, watching the gentle, warm waves roll in, feeling the sun on my skin...then really feeling the sun on my skin since I forgot to reapply sunscreen. Definitely have blisters to show for that thoughtlessness.) Some people were able to ride horses on the beach; others perused the shops lining the main street. Oh, the sunshine! The ten dollar cocktails! Here's a funny story: I was walking along the beach, sweaty and sunburned, and I felt some sand in my eye. I slipped off my sunglasses just as a tico was passing and grimaced, winking one of my eyes in an attempt to clear out the grime. Tico totally thought I was winking at him and blew me a kiss. Ha! What a wink that must have been. Holy crap. I'm surprised he didn't bust out laughing or walk in the other direction. Hmm, us American girls must be too enticing.
Before the beach (woo not chronological, but again too tired to care as I normally would), some of us participated in a canopy zipline tour. Very cool. I must say I was nervous at first because "You might get stuck and have to monkey climb forward" kept replaying over and over in my head like a death sentence. Alas, I made it through and had a wonderful time. I didn't see much wildlife, maybe because I was so focused on not spinning out of control, but the views were beautiful, and again, I love the feeling of wind in my hair (sheesh).
Our final celebration was so emotionally moving I felt like hurling myself off of a cliff. In a good way. I was also delirious from too much sun, really nauseous and dehydrated, so that probably made me even more of an emotional wreck. Anyway, we watched a slideshow and were each presented with a shirt and certificate and then shared how we felt about the group and the trip. Everyone seemed very inspired, emotional, connected, changed. I feel like I was able to see genuine facets of people on this trip, not just classroom modes and chit chat, but real emotion. Traveling brings the guards down, opens hearts. It's an enlightening and unifying experience.
The morning of departure, my Mom Maria, who usually, though nice, maintained her composure and seemed a little distant, broke down. I had sensed her looking at me sometimes in that way mothers look at their children (do you know the look I'm talking about? I hope you do and that I don't sound really weird right now) but wondered if she really liked me or not, thought maybe it was just in my head. Well, she started crying and said (in Spanish) that if I ever returned to CR, her house was my house. She considered me to be like a part of the family. I definitely lost it then, and to make matters worse, all her family members came out and kissed me on the cheek/hugged me to wish me farewell, many with tears in their eyes. I still cry just thinking about it. What beautiful people! What mixed indescribable emotions! I still smell that house in my clothes, and it makes me homesick. How strange to miss a foreign place. How strange not to know how to feel. When I asked where her oldest daughter was, Maria told me she left because she had been crying about the fact we were leaving, that she was very sentimental and hated to say goodbye. My heart breaks because I had such a short amount of time with them. I wish I had tried harder, communicated more.
On that note, although I pushed myself by going on this trip, I still feel a sort of thick and crippling barrier when it comes to speaking Spanish comfortably. It has been chipped away, definitely, but it's still there. I have to knock it down. I have to push myself, to let go of the insecurity. Nothing is more discouraging and more motivating then feeling totally isolated during a conversation you can't understand. I want to understand. I want to connect, through language. I want to learn enough Spanish to where I can mold it and polish it and arrange it and use it to create art, to reach people, to attempt to express the inexpressible. That seems so impossible right now, but I'll get there. Hopefully.
I'm sure I missed a million things, and look, no photos! So there might be another update, but probably not. Thank you for reading this if you did, and sorry again for potential grammatical/spelling errors (a product of foreign keyboards/sleep deprivation/lack of time) as well as the fact that most of my apostrophes were probably accent marks. Until next time! PURA VIDA.
P.S. On the plane, Sara spoke to the flight attendant in Spanish until she realized she was actually an English-speaker. The woman said, "Yeah, honey, we've got one on here that speaks Spanish, but the rest of us are 'normal.'" Normal. That stuck in my head the rest of the plane ride. Think about it.

Monday, March 14, 2011


I'm afraid I'll have to wait a little while to update on everything that has occurred since my last post. So much. I just got back to my apartment and started crying, feeling homesick for a home and a family that aren't my own. So many emotions. Sleep is my first priority, then I'll describe the details of the past few days. They are worth describing.

Friday, March 11, 2011

qué lastima! el fin de semana, mañana...

Unfortunately I don´t have as much time to update now as I´d like since we only have a short break before we go to the theater in San José for a flamenco show (not Latin American but Spanish, still exciting), so I´ll share with you what I can manage and add more later on.
I am flabbergasted that it´s already Friday. This week flew by, and I´m really dreading the return to Asheville. Not to sound too dismal or anything, but really, I´m falling in love with this place more and more and don´t know when I´ll be able to return. Like I said, it finds its way into your blood. I know back in my apartment I´ll feel homesick for my Costa Rican family.
Speaking of those sentiments, I´ve noticed that I´m making certain homey associations with things here (not well articulated), like when my mom here washes my clothes, I recognize the smell of the detergent, and it makes me feel a kind of indescribable familiarity, a warmth. Sitting on the porch drinking coffee in the late afternoon produces the same feelings. I think this place, Atenas specifically, has the ability to feel like home much more quickly than others. Contrasted with San Jose, its crowded streets and ugly buildings. I found some nice things to buy from the artisans there when we visited, like a beautifully colored, hand-stitched bag and a bird painting, but the city itself was too fast-paced and grimey for my liking. I will say, though, that the theater we´re going to later is really quite beautful and ornate. It reminds me of some of the places I´ve visited in Europe as far as the detail inside and the artwork. Very aged and intricate.
Last night I rode a ´´moto´´ (ATV?) with my host sister and her friend after playing volleyball with them (apparently a very popular sport here). I spent about 15 minutes trying to decipher what she was asking me to do. We rode it around the block a few times, up and down some steep hills where the view of the darkening sky and surrounding lights on the mountains was breathtaking. I love the wind in my hair (that sounds so lame) - but really, what a rush. Afterwards I decided not to go out and instead went to bed earlier than usual, around 10:30. Oh! I forgot to mention. My host sister Victoria´s friend, whose name I can´t remember, ignored me most of the night and was actually a little rude - just FYI I definitely haven´t experienced any rudeness here other than this one instance. Anyway, he was trying to tell me to move back on the ATV so that three people could fit, but I didn´t understand some of the words he was using. He just raised his voice and looked at me like I was a complete idiot. Now I know how minorities, how Spanish-speakers feel in places like the U.S. when people in public look at them like they´re idiots and only speak slower and louder when they don´t understand something. Very strange to be in that kind of situation, on the other side. I already hated it when people did that sort of thing, now especially after experiencing it firsthand.
I walked home with Victoria and another friend of hers who lives across the street and speaks a little English. They speak rapidly, so sometimes it´s hard to communicate, but I was able to help her understand some English expressions (for example, she asked me about ´´What goes around comes around´´), which was cool. I think they plan to ride horses on Saturday, and I´m hoping I can join them. Something sort of funny they said: they commented on how all the people in Atenas are beautiful, like them. I´ll admit there are a lot of attractive people here, but I found it interesting that they made such a comment so openly. I mean, they are pretty, and you know I think in general the people here are more open about acknowledging things like that. They tell it like it is (hmm, not saying everyone here is beautiful, but you get the idea).
Earlier today we had our last class (I´ll actually really miss it! First Spanish class where I felt comfortable, like I was learning quite a bit. Again, probably a result of the environment here, and perhaps the leaders of the program) and then spoke with a female lawyer cool to see women in power like that...
I would provide more details and also mention the tsunami/earthquake deal, but, shocker, it appears I have run out of time. Hasta luego...
Oh! P.S. Wonderful outdoor market this morning with lots of fruits and vegetables. Best mango I ever had. I bought an orchid for my mom here since her birthday is tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

9 de marzo (no me siento muy creativa)

Right now I`m in Lindsey`s house using their computer (man, I really don`t think I`m using an apostrophe key, but that`s cool). I just had the most delicious food ever - ceviche (not sure if that`s spelled correctly) with unripe platanos and rice and beans, of course, and then fried corn tortillas with cheese. That ceviche was addictive. Maria had me try some earlier and I sort of wanted to eat it by itself/bathe in it.
Some things I`ve forgotten to comment on: it`s really funny how focusing so much on speaking Spanish has me struggling with English. Not only speaking but typing on my blog, I feel like my speech has changed.
Secondly, and entirely unrelated, when women here walk past men, they cat-call and compliment them. In the United States I think women would view this as some sort of negative attention or harrassment, but here it is surprisingly complimentary, and I kind of wish men in the U.S. were as open about expressing their ´´appreciation´´ for women.
Today (where are my transitions? No existen) we did a language exchange with students enrolled in English classes at el Instituto Nacional de Aprendizaje, or INA. They have English classes for a year, every day, eight hours a day, and they began in February. The classes are free and most of the students come from poor backgrounds, but they hope to obtain jobs after learning English. I LOVED talking with them. As stressed as I can get about speaking Spanish, I really enjoy working with people one-on-one who want to learn English, too. I can practice my Spanish and they can practice their English and we can both benefit by helping each other. I really love the English language (I`m not dissing Spanish, by the way), and having that passion helps me enjoy helping others who want to learn. I don`t think that was worded very well, ironically. But you get the point. I also love learning about people, and interviewing a couple of women today (Maria and Paula - they must be common names because they also belong to mi madre y hermana) was so enjoyable - learning about our similarities and differences. The language barrier is so frustrating when you want to connect with people (like a host family), but it`s so gratifying when you persist and are able to push through it and achieve some clarity. I told a joke to my host mom today, and laughing with her felt so wonderful.
Oh, one more thing: going on this trip was a big deal for me. I didn`t feel ready at all, but I did it anyway, and I`m definitely trying hard to put myself out there and practice and take advantage of every opportunity to do something new. It`s frustrating when people don`t realize I`m working hard and that I`m actually more capable than I seem. I just have to let go of stress and push through and I can carry on a good conversation; I`ve had some great talks with some of the ticos here. I am being as present as I can, and I am trying, hard. I would encourage anyone to do this kind of thing, and definitely for more than ten days in order to really (ahh split infinitive but too tired to fix) learn a new language. I feel myself catching on slowly and know I will have to leave as soon as I feel totally at home and like I am improving significantly.
enough ranting. Until next time...

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

el día de poás

I´m back in the Internet café and definitely feeling a little rough. The food here is delicious, but I think the similarity between all the meals and the fact that they aren´t what I would normally eat is starting to affect me. Also, I can´t seem to sleep for more than five hours or so, and I´m the kind of person who can only fully function with about 53 hours of sleep. Though that´s actually impossible.
Anyway, last night some of us had dinner at the Sport Bar, which is, from what I can tell, the main hangout in Atenas. It was pretty dead last night, but during the weekend there was music and a lot of people. I think that´s the main place I´ve seen other people from the U.S. (which can be cool but usually not ideal for me, personally - I think it´s much more refreshing not to see many people from the U.S. - don´t say ´´Americans!´´ - while abroad). I saw my sister there, Maria Jesus, as well as Marcela (not sure on spelling), who is the host mom across from my house. I tried to go to bed relatively early and was knocked out pretty quickly but, again, woke up as soon as all the birds began chirping and the sun shone brightly through my curtains.
I´m never quite sure what to do after my host mom fixes me meals, like breakfast this morning, for example. I finished eating and sort of lingered as she was washing dishes, wondering if I should help her or simply follow the example of her daughters and leave my plate. I don´t think either offends her. Usually it seems when I try to help with things or do chores, everyone in the house assures me that they will take care of everything. I feel guilty but know it is only another part of their culture - the mother fixing meals, cleaning, and taking special care with everything, providing a certain role for her household. Still, I want to offer to clean and maybe even help prepare meals, if that would be acceptable.
We drove to the vólcan poás today, leaving early for the long drive. Before we hiked up to the prime viewing spots, we had a presentation from a volcanologist (what a cool title!) about the volcanoes in Costa Rica...really interesting stuff. The water in neighboring lakes changes color according to changing activity and can indicate when an eruption is on the way - the water becomes murkier when more activity is taking place. Also, the nature of the sulfur bubbles changes - they form tails when the temperature increases and they begin to melt. Another interesting tidbit: the national parks around the volcanoes aren´t really there because they are beautiful sites but because of the danger of eruptions killing surrouding inhabitants. Ha!
The crater itself, once we hiked up to it, was breathtaking. Massive and deep with a sulfurous lake and great plumes of gas and cloud drifting out as if it were on fire. I think we were lucky today since it was actually visible; often the gas shrouds the view. I wonder what it would be like to go down there into the depths and study the occurrences there. Dangerous, but fascinating!
We were also able to see a closer view of a lake - we could even see sulfur bubbles around the rim. A little other-worldly. The hike in general was lovely because of all the rich green plant life; a dark canopy of trees and plants encircled the pathway, creating a tunnel. The scenery during the drive, too, was engrossing in a way because of the overwhelming beauty of it all. We were able to see traditional coffee farms and large stretches of black tarp covering ferns. You know when something is so different and beautiful, you don´t have the words to describe it adequately and don´t even fully process it as you see it? Photographs, too, never seem to do these things justice. I wish I could somehow transfer my initial gut feelings, the idea that the earth really is holy and that we are all a small part of something so vast and complex and depthless and...what´s the word...hypnotizing, maybe. I´m definitely on a sleep-deprived rant right now, but go out somewhere and look at mountains or a vast body of water or layers upon layers of thriving plant life and maybe this will all make sense. Probably not. I´m tired.
As much as I need to continue practicing Spanish, it is so, so much harder when I´m exhausted and want to feel at home. Well, then, why am I here? Suck it up, Sarah.
We stopped to eat on the way back, again at a really stunning location I lack the energy to convey, and talked a little about sustainability and the environmental impact of tourism and greenwashing. Apparently Costa Rica is not as eco-friendly as people say, what with tourists coming in and failing to live sustainably. Etc. etc.
If I don´t use a bathroom soon I will probably burst open or just collapse on the ground, so I need to go. I am so, so, so tired. I plan to update again as soon as I can. Tomorrow we meet with students learning English and then, well, I can´t remember at the moment.
Hasta luego...

Monday, March 7, 2011

día cuatro

Right now I am using the Internet cafe in Atenas. I´m still adjusting to the different keyboards here. Unfortunately I have not had time to update as much as I´d like or to upload pictures, but I will post some later.
Today I woke up early, as usual, since the sun rises around 5 and is incredibly bright and the birds chirp continuously in the mornings. Did I even describe the house I´m staying in? There is a mother who teaches religion at an elementary school, Maria Gonzales (sorry, don´t know where the accent keys are, either) and her three daughters, Maria Jesus (20), Victoria (15) and Paula (13). Paula is the easiest to communicate with since she´s currently taking clases de ingles at her school, but none of them can speak any English, still. At first that was terrifying but now I´m adjusting. Anyway, their house is relatively small for the number of people with only one bathroom, but it is still lovely and definitely more than sufficient. It is interesting how much more simplistic life is here, probably why everyone is so much more calm. I hear the phrase ´´Es tranquilo´´ often. There are two dogs, one is nineteen years old! And right outside there are fruit trees, one with sweet lemons which are delicious. Frequently Maria and her family members will sit on the porch in rocking chairs chatting or playing games. I am sleeping in Victoria´s bedroom. There is no AC but you certainly don´t need any of that here. Also, the water is cold, but I haven´t minded at all, except yesterday the water was out for a bit and no one could shower.
We went to the iglesia last night, I cannot remember if I already wrote about that, but it was a lovely experience. After dinner some of us went out again for my birthday. This morning we went to el centro para la educacion y nutricion de Atenas to sand and repaint chairs and the outside wall of the building. The children there come from poor homes and really unfortunate circumstances, so it was good to help them. Another group cleaned a river, apparently pollution is a problem here, people throw trash in the water without really considering the consequences. Then we went to San José (there is the accent key!) to visit Intel and learn about the company and why they are based here in Costa Rica. The hugeness of the building and the intimidating amount of security was a little off putting, but the guy who talked to us about his job was so enthusiastic and friendly, describing the aspirations of the company and how important ´´being green´´ is to them, I felt much better.
Something else I failed to mention, when we first arrived at the student center Friday, our families came to pick us up. Strange feeling, like being adopted! There are two Sarahs in the group and we mixed up our families, so we had to do a little exchange, which was kind of awkward. Whoops, wrong student, here´s another!
I feel like I have so much more to write about - Michelle, our Spanish professor from back home, just arrived, and it was good to see her. Oh, and on the way back to Atenas today we stopped and had some delicious corn pancakes, not sure what the official term for them is, but apparently they are a traditional and common food here. Speaking of food, everything I´ve eaten has been delicious, except the beans are definitely having an effect on my stomach - hmm, that´s a lot of fun.
You know, I can´t tell if my Spanish is really improving yet. I think it must be, and I´m more comfortable speaking at this point, but it´s so easy to forget if I speak English with students during the day and especially since I mostly talk with my family in the mornings after -5 hours of sleep or in the evenings when all the delicious coffee is wearing off and the lulling heat of the day has sunken into my skin, my brain. The atmosphere really gets into your blood here. It´s a beautiful thing but perhaps stunts productivity a little, at least for me! That´s why there´s coffee.
I have to go soon because we have our Latin dancing class tonight. I took a ballroom dancing class once and it was pretty disastrous, so we will see how this goes. I am excited, though! Then tomorrow we visit the Volcano Poas.
Sorry if there are mistakes, I am anal about that kind of thing usually but have limited time now. Overall, things are so lovely, perpetually, intoxicatingly!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

mis cumpleaños

I am currently in Lindsey´s house, she is another student on the trip and is also my neighbor. Our families are related, so they leave their doors open and drift in and out of each other´s homes (I´m not sure if these are apostrophes because this keyboard is different), sharing food and drinks and talking. It´s a very simple, beautifully open environment, very tight-knit and relaxed. Children live with their parents until they are married and start their own families, and still they don´t seem to go far. Here, where Lindsey and I are staying, nearly everyone is related and lives within walking distance. How different from the United States where families move far away and children distance themselves from their parents - not all the time, but frequently. Being here is nostalgic somehow - I want the closeness for myself. The air, the slow time.
I don´t have enough time to update because Maria, my host mother, is cooking dinner for me, and then I plan to go out for my birthday. We celebrated today at Odi´s house (a lovely home with a pool and spectacular view of the mountains and valleys, you will see pictures soon) - she is one of the directors of the program - there was a piñata and tres leches cake and everyone sang to me. Also, this morning, everyone in our area came in and wished me a happy birthday. I received a beautiful necklace and earrings from them and many hugs with a kiss on the cheek. They all remembered my birthday and are so thoughtful! Before the party a woman came and talked to us about Walmart in Central America and in Costa Rica. I took many notes but don´t have time to go into detail.
We did many other things yesterday - last night we went to a dance club on the outskirts of Atenas, me and a few other people, where we danced and celebrated my 21st. There was a wrap-around terrace and a wonderful view. We also went to a local fiesta in Plansillos where there were many locals and delicious food and dancing as well as a bull show. I spent a good ten minutes this morning trying to communicate the word bull to my family because I could not remember how to say it!
Overall things are lovely, but it was definitely hard to adjust at first. More much to share! I wish I had more time and energy.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

I am updating from one of the bars in Atenas and don't have much time to go into detail. Things have been both strikingly beautiful and incredibly challenging. The cultural differences here, especially with families, are really interesting. Kids live with their parents for much longer, doors remain open, everything is on tico time - very laid back. More details soon, I promise!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Oh Hello 5 A.M. I imagine my next post will be in Costa Rica!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

un día

In one day, I will be leaving for Atenas, Costa Rica from good ol' Asheville, North Carolina, bright and early. I am partially packed (meaning I've taken everything out of my closet and moved it to the floor) and maybe a little nervous. Spanish-speaking is not my forté (irony, anyone?), but I am eager to challenge myself. I am also eager to lay on a beach in 85 degree weather. Not sure which one is taking precedent in my mind at the moment...
Really, though. This will be a fabulous trip. We're visiting the volcano Poas, interacting with local students (and our individual Costa Rican families), discussing business and economics with experts, working with an organic coffee cooperative, taking a zip line canopy tour, participating in a Latin dance class (this will be an interesting entry, I can assure you, considering my dancing skills), and also spending a day in Playa Jaco...this is a beach...did I mention the temperatures there?
So, let me see how many more pairs of underwear and tiny bottles of shampoo I can shove into my carry on, and then let las aventuras empiecen...
Oh, and I hope the blog title isn't too cheesy for you. I couldn't resist.