I’m in Costa Rica, but life isn’t always paradise. Just as in the United States, life can be hard. Especially when you’re away from everything comfortable. I’ve found a lot of people have told me, “but you’re in Costa Rica; but you’re in paradise” but it’s a little different when you’re living it. This past week has been a lot of just this-hard. I’m so glad everything goes exactly according to plan, down to every last detail. Except it never does. The past two weeks or so have been full of failed plans, plan Bs, and starting over from scratch. And it hasn’t been easy. A major thing that has changed over the last 10 weeks is my attitude and perspective on things. Three months, Six months, a year ago, when things didn’t go according to plan, I would begin to stress and panic. However, now I barely bat an eye. I’ve learned that stressing out is going to get me no where. Changing this one small thing has actually changed a lot. I don’t think a single thing these past few months has went exactly according to plan. For me or some of my friends. Starting when I arrived with a miscommunication with the KU Study Abroad Office, to getting sunburned (with sunscreen and reapplying; I listened Moms), to stronger language barriers than expected, to getting lost in a random town outside of San José, to losing a good friend back home, watching a friend loose his debit card and then losing mine a week later, a friend fracturing a jaw, another friend busting open a lip, busting open my leg, petty crime, crooked taxi drivers, failed Monteverde plans, failed Nicaragua plans, and more failed plans. With every bump comes a story. And with every story I’ve learned a little, grown a little, and matured a little. Overall, my attitude has changed tremendously (I think I already said that; oops). I’ve become the person who not only says “everything is going to be okkay” but believing it too. I’ve learned to take each moment as it comes and move on to the next one. Part of me can see how every failed plan could have ruined my adventure here in Costa Rica, after all, ‘it’s the end of the world, right?’ But instead, I’ve turned the discouragement into encouragement, and I’m still moving right along. I’m so thankful to have an amazing group of friends to travel this journey with, an amazing group back home cheering me on, and an amazing God above looking out for me. So tomorrow, after changing tickets and companions, I’m headed to Nicaragua. I’m excited for an amazing week exploring a new country, even if we have to spend the night at the border.
My first time on a plane and out of the country was in July of 2012 when I went to Spain with my high school Spanish club. I am realizing now how much of an impact this trip had on me, both then and now, and how I’ve grown in these few years.
A lot of factors played into the possibility of attending.
I didn’t have the money to spend, despite the fact I had been working all throughout high school-I had used this money to survive, to buy a car, to pay for things I needed or wanted.
I was still in foster care- and was told no from the beginning. Actually, I was told foster kids don’t do things like that. And I didn’t see any reason why they didn’t.
And that no weighed in my mind with every other no I had heard in my life. Not the no’s that children hear to keep them safe and out of danger, but the “no, you’ll never amount to anything,” type of no.
But with a little inspiration and a wonderful judge, I was granted permission to leave the country, on a plane, with my friends.
Still having $0 toward a nearly $6,000 trip, I didn’t believe it would be possible in the end. But with support and encouragement from my mom Terri, I saw that in the end God will provide and that it was possible for me to raise the money.
So it began. Candy bar sales. I sold at every gathering in the four-state area, from sporting games, to carnivals, to selling out of my locker between classes. Shhh, that probably was a no-no. But I did. And my wonderful community supported me.
10,000 candy bars later, I had raised the money needed to go. I was so ecstatic. And at the same time, I felt I couldn’t be too excited because I had friends whose parents were writing them a check every due date and it was no big deal.
So I’ll be excited now.
I remember my Spanish teacher telling me she hadn’t seen anyone work quite as hard as me, and to be proud; that I would be able to cherish everything so much more. And I’ve remembered those words, years later.
Walking through the streets of Barcelona, I think I was in as much shock about being there as I was excited to take everything in.
Although we had some spanish classes prior to leaving, I don’t remember ever really using the language for myself. However, listening to my spanish teacher speak gave me the desire to learn more of the language and be able to communicate for myself one day.
Also, walking through the streets of Madrid I told myself “I could never do that,” as another teacher shared about living abroad and her experiences.
I could never do that.
Fast forward three years to the date: I’m sitting on a bus on my way to Puerto Viejo in Costa Rica. It’s my 10th week here and I can do that.
I can live abroad. I can speak Spanish and survive. I can have a blast, meet new people from all over the world, try new food, get lost, learn to cook Gallo Pinto, spend the day on a mountain, spend it in a rainforest, I can.
I may not have learned this three years ago, but I have today.
I can’t can no longer be a part of my vocabulary. Because I can.
These words have burned in my mind this month.
During my first days of my second class, a classmate was trying to talk to our Spanish professor in English, and he didn’t understand. I watched as she became frustrated and decided to talk to her during the break. She had transferred into our class after the first day, so she didn’t know he doesn’t speak English in addition to Spanish.
During the break, I explained this to her, and her response to me was, “I’m just trying to say food poisoning, how hard can it be?” How hard can it be. These words have burned in my mind this month.
They’ve reminded me that while language barriers do exist, our response to them is extremely powerful. Positive or Negative.
How hard can it be? If it wasn’t difficult, she would have been able to tell him in Spanish. If it wasn’t difficult I would always be able to communicate with my host family, people on the street, and those who speak Spanish in my home country. But it is hard.
However, just because someone doesn’t know multiple languages doesn’t lessen their worth as a person. This doesn’t deem them as unintelligent.
In that moment in class, I felt so much judgment being placed on language barriers. Just as I don’t want Costa Ricans to deem me as unintelligent based upon my Intermediate Spanish, I desire the same for those in the US, who I may interact with in the future. There is so much a person has to say, even if they can’t communicate it. I don’t ever want someone to feel they are lesser because of my reaction to their language. I don’t want to give that impression. I’ve now lived it. I’ve now seen it from the other side.
The safety and security of Costa Rica has been a topic of conversation since I began planning for this program.
One of my moms informed me of an incident many years ago that resulted really negatively for a Kansas girl, and questioned the safety of traveling here. This lead me to do quite a bit of research, both through the Office of Study Abroad and on my own.
I found that many people surrounding me who have never traveled to Costa Rica or to other countries outside of the US felt Costa Rica is dangerous or unsafe. However, those who have traveled to Costa Rica and other countries talked about how extremely safe Costa Rica is, and how rare a major incident is.
As I have spent the last 7 weeks here, safety has been on my mind; however, I have never felt extremely unsafe or in danger.
Last week, a friend and I were studying at Starbucks when a random dude asked us if he could sit with us. We were so shocked we muttered out a “sure.” This was one of the weirdest interactions I have had my entire time here. He was really nervous to talk to us and shaking and stuttering. Part of me thought about the fact, that he was communicating with us in OUR language, not HIS. However, as the interaction felt more and more odd, I moved my phone into my lap and my backpack at my feet, in case this was a set-up to be robbed. My friend, Anosheh, asked if he was dared to talk to the only foreigners in the room when he responded ‘no, that he talks to new people for fun.’ We learned he is 17 and odd things about his ex-girlfriend and his desire to go to college. Additionally, he shared (more than once) about his view on safety in Costa Rica.
He told us Costa Rica is a dangerous country and we shouldn’t be out at this time of night. It was around 7, but was already dark (it gets dark here at like 6 every day) ((that’s winter, friends)). He talked about how likely it was that something bad would happen and that he believed Costa Rica was more dangerous than his home country. He and his family moved to CR from Colombia for more opportunities. Having been here for 6 weeks, I was surprised by this conversation because I haven’t felt in danger while here.
The next day in class we talked about safety and security in Costa Rica (ironcic, huh?). My professor asked each of us how safe we felt Costa Rica is. For me, Costa Rica is nearly the same as other countries, such as the United States. Areas like San José, where 1. 4 million people live, are similar to any other large city in the United States. In fact, five US cities are listed as “The 50 Most Dangerous Cities” while CR has zero. After a discussion about how we ‘extranjeros’ perceive CR, my classmate and I explained our interaction with the dude at Starbucks and how many times he warned us about the dangers of Costa Rica.
Our professor went on the explain that many people live in fear that CR is a dangerous country. Oftentimes, people hear about the extreme situations and generalize them for a whole country. Not only do North Americans do this for other countries, but people do it for their own country as well.
I asked my host family if they believe Costa Rica is dangerous or safe, and they told me CR is no different than the US. Having talked about this, learned about it, and living it: Do people live in fear because they’ve been told to be afraid, or because they have reasons to be afraid?
Disclaimer: I realize that CR isn’t a perfect country, and there is a possibility for unperfect things to happen, but CR isn’t an extremely dangerous country that I have found some people to believe.
Communication is completely different on so many levels. It was during week one and it still is during week four. Ironically, if anything, it has gotten harder.
Communicating with my host family has in some ways, become easier. I have been able to learn the different phrases they use regularly and I can now distinguish the differences in pronunciation and vocabulary between Costa Rica and Spain.
However, communicating with them has also become more difficult. Culturally, everyone is extremely excited to help when it comes to the spanish language. This means that oftentimes when I become stuck on a word or phrase, my family will begin trying to finish my sentences for me. I struggle with this a lot. Over the last two weeks, I have realized it comes purely from a place of wanting to help, which has helped me to feel better about the situation. Additionally, during many conversations I will have to abruptly stop to take a moment to formulate a sentence or write down a correction to further understand and learn.
Overall, I am thankful my family works with me, every time I speak, because I can see how I am improving weekly.
Right now, my biggest struggles occur outside our home. Oftentimes, I feel like a complete idiot, sometimes based on the way others respond or treat me.
Last week, I went to the post office to mail some postcards to the US. I walked in feeling pretty confident and walked out just the opposite. I know I have a very “gringo” accent, and don’t speak as quickly as others. After telling me how much it would cost to sent my postcards, the teller knocked on the glass to hold up the number of fingers that corresponded with the cost. When I looked up, I already had the appropriate number of colones out. I found myself offended, most likely because I did understand what was being said and what was asked of me; yet I don’t completely believe she meant to offend me.
It seems that many struggles happen when out and about buying things. Another time, I was buying some things at the grocery store and the employee automatically took out a calculator to show me the numbers instead of verbally tell me how much I owed. It’s hard when you’re not even given a chance, most likely based upon looks.
However, a fews days ago, when shopping in the market, a few people asked if I speak Spanish, and then allowed me to try. Others, didn’t even bat an eye when I spoke Spanish and responded just the same as anyone else. This also happens at a café near campus where I like to spend my time completing homework. The servers are always really patient and work with our Spanish.
All of my experiences with a language barrier continually remind me of those in the US who do not speak English as their first language. I’ve even thought of this with classmates from other countries who communicate with us in English.
Specifically in the US, I have found a lot of negativity toward those who speak English as their second language. Additionally, I have lived in a bubble where people believe that because “we’re in America, they need to speak English” which infuriates me more and more.
As time passes, I am sure I will have more opportunities to reflect upon my language barrier, my improvements, and those living in the US.
I don’t think I can adequately express how this past week has been–in either language.
Overwhelming. Divertido. Unpredictable. Alegre. Motivating. Vergüenza. Awkward. Adventurero. Beautiful. Lindo. Treasured. Simpático. Rewarding. Apasionado. Humbling. Real.
This past week has been real. I spent my first few days in Sa
n José shocked that I’m here. Everything was as real as real gets when I enrolled in class last Monday. I’m not a tourist (well, not completely). I’m a student. At the Universidad of Costa Rica.
Monday was also the day:
- I thought the world was going to end.
- I believed I would be okkay.
- I walked around San José extremely overwhelmed.
- I laughed with classmates as another Costa Rican student joked with us and we didn’t understand.
- I realized my entire life in San José is in español.
- I wanted to just hop on a plane and go home.
- I felt at home here.
I’ve thought a lot about those who come to the United States, for various reasons, whose first language is not English. Although I have a taste, I cannot imagine how overwhelmed they may feel. In my experiences, I have not seen them welcomed into the country and supported while they do their best to survive.
Costarricenses have definitely welcomed us with open arms. Prior to coming here, I had been told how friendly the people are. This couldn’t be more true. Even with a language barrier, people have done so much to help us in any way we need.
I am extremely grateful for my host family. They are wonderful people who are extremely patient with me day in and day out. My second morning here, It took me almost an hour to work up the energy and motivation to get out of bed and jump in to the day. Spending every moment of the day immersed in another language is exhausting. It is so difficult. But, it is also rewarding. In one week, I have seen improvements in my communication (which is the area for me that needs the most improvement), along with my vocabulary and written language. Other aspects of my host family have been extremely rich as well. We have all our meals together (which is yet another opportunity to speak and hear spanish) and have our lunches sent to school with us. I live with one other student from KU, Allison, who will be here until the end of June. I enjoy the family dynamics and my Papá Tica usually spends time every evening patiently talking with me As each day goes by, I notice our conversations go a little deeper in content and my language comes out a little more fluid. As someone who likes to talk, there are times that are difficult. If I can’t say it in español, I can’t say it at all. I struggled in the beginning because my conversations went from being rather complex and detailed to very surface-level and simple. Those of us from Kansas and some of our classmates traveled to Manuel Antonio this past weekend. It was nice to spend a lot of time with friends and see the beauty of Costa Rica outside of the city. During this trip, I realized when there is a need for spanish, I’m able to make it work and communicate. We had a few bumps in the road, which were all worked out, but I further grew in my confience of navigating the world. Las montañas outside our hostel. La playa de Manuel Antonio. All I wanted was to climb this rock and get a picture. And the daily downpour begins midway. Fam Din! The National Park was really beautiful. I love nature.
We saw many monos y bebés!
Can you spot the cangrejo? These were some of the biggest palm trees I have ever seen. Our iguana friend also wanted some sun at Las Gemalas. We always find the best places to eat with great food and smoothies too! I absolutely do not like spiders. But this big guy was pretty cool. He was almost the size of my hand. San José at night. Returning home.
This week I have learned a lot. I’ve grown each day. I am so extremely thankful I’m here and excited for the rest of the summer!
As most already know, I arrived safely in San José, Costa Rica! My flight was rather enjoyable and I’m somewhat in shock that I’m here for the next two and a half months!
One of the first things I saw upon my arrival was the landscape. It’s so beautiful! Pictures are worth a thousand words, but reality is much sweeter!
I have been pretty uneasy about my spanish abilities, and as a good friend and mentor, Mauricio, reminded me several weeks ago–“You don’t have to be confident, you just have to be competent.” I’ve reminded myself of these words often. I navigated through immigration and customs with ease in Spanish, and I’m feeling rather proud. It was also cool to find a sign with my name on it!
Later last night, Eva arrived! We had such a blast exploring the city today. San José is divides into two parts–old town and new town. We’re staying in old town. There are so many museums and things to see!
The last photo is of the Italian Embassy-which is where many of my friends are now!
Food was one of the most difficult parts of of our day. Our meals cost about $3 each. Once we began looking for food, we couldn’t find anywhere other than pastry shops or markets with raw meat. By the time we arrived here, I was soo hungry. The way my day fell into place yesterday, I missed all meals.
After ordering, in español :), we waited until our food was lowered down to where we were. It was pretty cool and maximized their space for seating.
There is artwork, graffiti, and paintings all over. I enjoyed how colorful everything is.
This says Arte=Libertad, or Art=Freedom
We stopped at the Universidad Político to enjoy the view.
It’s amazing how varied the scenery is.
We thoroughly enjoyed the day, with all 9 miles of exploration! The sun rises at 5am and sets at 5pm, which is an adjustment! I’m sure I will rise again with the sun! Hasta mañana!