A Catholic Encounter: Learning from Other Traditions

Author: Katherine Germann

Location: San Jose, Costa Rica

Religion is a part of Costa Rican culture. Although there are many Costa Rican people who are not very religious, many people are religious. I found that most people that I have interacted with in Costa Rica identify as Catholic or Evangelical Christian. The Catholic tradition in Costa Rica is prevalent and rich, which is not surprising because that is the official religion of the country. My host parents are also Catholic. Thus I had the opportunity to see much more of the Catholic tradition (particularly as it is in Costa Rica) than I have ever seen before. As an evangelical Christian, I brought in some of my own ideas about prayer and worship, and some of what I found in the new tradition challenged my own ideas. However, I tried to keep an open mind and understand this unfamiliar side of Christianity. In doing so, I found that, through its unique traditions, Catholic worship has a lot to offer one’s spiritual life. With the following examples, I hope to show how much I could learn from Catholicism and illustrate the importance of encountering religious traditions other than your own.

This is a traditional Catholic image of the Virgin Mary taken at the basilica.

One part of the Catholic tradition in Costa Rica are the Rezo de Niño ceremonies (prayers to the Christ Child). In Catholic homes, the nativity scenes are left out until this ceremony has passed. The host invites friends and family to attend the Rezo de Niño, and an appointed person leads the congregation in a ceremony of prayer and music. This consists of the whole Rosary and Christmas songs, usually lasting about an hour. Afterwards, the host serves food (always including lots of rice) and sometimes there is music and dancing. Through these Rezo de Niños I saw that religious customs are important not only for individuals’ spiritual lives, but they bring families and friends together in a very real way. I observed that the Catholic tradition is much more relaxed and accepting in Costa Rica than I had imagined. There were varying degrees and styles of engagement from the participants: some were very concentrated while others simply waited or watched. It was not a problem to arrive late, and one ceremony even doubled as a birthday party. I felt that the most important part of the experience were the relationships. The traditions within the catholic faith opened up opportunities to celebrate community.

Another part of the Catholic tradition, which at first made me uncomfortable, were the prayers to Mary. As an evangelical Christian, I am only accustomed to prayers that are directly to God, not to any of the Saints. I was afraid to pray to Mary because I did not want to commit the sin of idolatry, and I was not sure if praying to any being other than God would be right.  However, I opened up a conversation with a religious woman about praying to Mary at one of the Rezos that I attended. I learned several things that have increased my respect for Mary and for the catholic custom of praying to Mary. First, she made it clear that Catholics do not worship Mary with the same kind of praise that is reserved for God. Rather, they love and adore her. I was made to see that prayer can mean different things for different people. It can be worship or it can simply be a form of love. Second, the Catholic woman said that they honor Mary with a reverence that comes from her being chosen by God, and because she is the Mother of God (the Christ child). The woman believed that Mary was human, but she is set apart from other humans by God, and through this she deserves our reverence. She gently challenged the lack of attention to Mary and to the Saints within the evangelical tradition. This helped me see my own tradition from a new perspective, and increased my respect for the Catholic attention to the Saints.

Another custom that I had to consider was the effectiveness of the repetition of the Rosary. In my tradition, I usually do not repeat and recite standard prayers. Rather, I think of prayer as an open and genuine communication with God. However, this form of prayer showed an aspect of meditation, which I came to respect more than before. I understand that meditating on the same phrase, over and over, can help train and center one’s attitude and build patience. Catholics show discipline in repeating the Rosary. With this being said, I was still conflicted about the effectiveness of the repeated prayers. Within the Rosary, people beg Mary to bring God’s blessing to them over 50 times. I wondered: If Mary can actually hear and respond to our requests, why bother asking her for the same thing over and over? Wouldn’t this show lack of faith in her response, or at least be annoying to her? I asked one older woman my question, and she gave me a new perspective on the prayer. She said that the phrase is repeated over and over not just to communicate with Mary, but the phrases themselves are a gift to her. The prolonged attention and the prayer itself is an offering to the woman that they honor so much. These experiences allowed me to see prayer from a new perspective, and I realized that my idea and use of prayer is not the only way that prayer can be used as a spiritual discipline.

One part of my experience of the Catholic tradition relates more specifically to my traveling opportunities. This was our class trip to the Basilica de Nuestra Señora de los Angeles. The basilica is beautiful, and it is built on the spot where the Virgin appeared in person, according to tradition. Underneath the basilica is a place where people leave offerings for the Virgin. There is also a spring where blessed water is said to come out, and there were several people collecting the water into bottles. I was impressed by this display of faith and discipline by the worshipers. However, the most impressive display of discipline were the people who walked on their knees to the high altar. Some people started at the entrance to the long Basilica, others started even farther away. Their knees must have been killing them. Some people, such as my host dad, even walk from far-away cities to make their pilgrimage to the Basilica. (My host dad walked over 50 miles for his pilgrimage.) These are impressive displays of faith and love for the Virgin and God. Although my personal faith experiences do not require grand offerings, do not promote the use of symbols and relics, and do not require pilgrimages to specific Holy Sites, I learned to really appreciate and respect these new types of worship through my travel experience.

This is a photo of me with my classmates (Hannah, Kyra, and Gabby) in front of La Basilica de Los Angeles.

If I hadn’t traveled, I would not have been pushed to experience so much of the Catholic tradition. I also experienced different forms and customs within a church closer to my own tradition by attending the church Oasis de Benedicción. I got to see perspectives from other religions, as well, through conversations with other international students at the University of Costa Rica. Traveling helped me step out of a context that was familiar to me and see spirituality and worship through a different lens. I learned to widen my own perspective on prayer, on Saints, and on religious ceremonies. This helped me gain greater appreciation for different traditions and customs. People can learn so much through travel if only they can be attentive and open to what they encounter abroad.

Reasons To Study Abroad

Author: Maria Clemens

Location: Newcastle, Australia

  Studying abroad has been one of the greatest decisions I have made in my life. I loved the time I spent in Australia and it honestly broke my heart to leave. Although it was very exciting to get home and see family and friends, I made countless friendships and memories in Australia. These experiences I had abroad are ones that I cannot wait to share and want to use to inspire other Valpo students to do a semester abroad.

  The first reason I think any applicable student should study abroad is because of the travel opportunities. I was able to pick a country to study in that I had never visited before and did not think I would have the opportunity visit. While I was in Newcastle, I was able to explore the city and try new kinds of foods and meet people who grew up in a different culture. My absolute favorite thing about Newcastle was that it was located on the coast and had beautiful views like the one below. Not only did I get to explore the city I lived in, but I also got to travel around the country. My orientation for CIS was in Cairns where we visited the rain forest and Great Barrier Reef. I also was located about 2 hours north of Sydney and the Blue Mountains.

  Another reason I highly recommend studying abroad is because of the types of people you can meet. I lived in a six-share apartment where I was able to get to know some local Australians very well. I also met other friends from all over the world in the international student organization. The friends I made here heightened my experience so much. By meeting and becoming close with people from the area, I was able to meet their families and spend time at their homes and local communities. Not only did I get to have family experiences, but my friends also showed me around the area and gave me tours of the city that I never could have gotten otherwise. The friendships I made abroad I learned loads from and I hold very close to my heart.

  Lastly, I would recommend studying abroad to any student because of the independence and abilities I gained. Travelling to a new place and not having the friendships and support system that most students have at Valpo can be a massive challenge. At first this was difficult for me, but it drove me to meet more people and gain more friends and find more things to do. It got me out of my room and planning trips. I took everyday with a new enthusiasm and drive to new things since I knew my time was limited in Newcastle. I hope that any student who goes abroad has this kind of attitude. At the start of every week I planned out new things I wanted to try or see. In the beginning, these were solo trips since I did not know a lot of other students yet. I had to learn to navigate on my own and have fun without a lot of other people around me. This brought me new abilities and self confidence that I did not have before. Pretty soon, I had a friend or two to explore with and before I knew it, they had introduced me to more people and I had a whole group to discover Newcastle with.

  It’s these kinds of experiences that I want more fellow Valpo students to have and learn from. I know that I am a better and brighter person because of my time abroad and I am excited to bring back this newfound attitude to my home. I am forever changed because of the friendships that I made by taking some time away from my lovely home university. I have new appreciation for my home campus but am beyond thankful for the opportunities I have had this past semester.

Campus Life

Author: Maria Clemens

Location: Newcastle, Australia

   Life at the University of Newcastle is quite different than life at Valpo. Not only are the class sizes different, but the classes themselves have a different style. Also, student life has a different twist to it here because of the culture difference. Living at the University of Newcastle has not only been an exciting, but eye-opening experience for me.

   As I said before, the classes are quite different here than at Valpo. For example, there are over 30,000 students at this university compared to the smaller size of a few thousand back home. This means that the class sizes are massive. I attended a lecture that contained over 200 students, however, the university has combated this challenge of size in several ways. First, most of the lectures are recorded online so if there are any distractions or students learn better alone, they can listen to the lectures at home. Second, not only are there lectures, but some classes also offer tutorials as well which are smaller classes of about 20 to 30 students that meet weekly in a discussion-based manner to go over the materials covered. The classes are also structured quite differently. There are significantly fewer exams and assignments than at Valpo. However, the assignments given by lecturers require more time to complete and are graded on a much harsher scale. Therefore, despite having less class time and assignments, the courses at Newcastle still presents a challenge and generates learning.

   Student life is also very different at the University of Newcastle. First of all, students choose whether to live on or off campus. That means that dorms and apartments on campus are a mix of freshmen and upperclassmen. The on campus living itself is also different. I lived in South Residence Tower which has a mix of six, two, and one-person apartments. I lived in a six-person shared apartment where I was the oldest student. Everyone in the apartment had their own bedroom but shared bathrooms, a kitchen, and the living room. The tower itself had a different culture than the residence halls back home. For example, since the sports teams of the university are not as well known and supported as they are in the US, the residence halls have created sports teams that compete each week. These get quite competitive and generate a lot of spirit for the residence halls. However, there are some similarities to living on campus at Valpo. Each residence hall has an elected student association that plans events for the building throughout the year. These events are usually well attended and exciting. At the beginning of the year, the association plans a big event called Commencement which includes dinner and a dance. Its quite similar to a formal planned by a sorority or fraternity. Similarities like these make living in Australia feel like home.

   Overall, despite being in a whole new country with different academic expectations, there are still enough similarities to make living here feel like home. The differences I have found in student life and classes have been a challenge to overcome but have made me a much more adaptable person. I have learned a lot about living with people who are not only a different age than me but come from a different culture. These differences have made me more aware of how different the world is outside of our lovely Valparaiso Campus and have caused me to have greater appreciation for home.

Saying our Goodbyes

Author: Emily Nelson

Location: Hirakata, Osaka, Japan

Coming back home, I knew the “reverse culture shock” was quickly going to set it. It wasn’t so much that everything seemed strange or alien, but rather a crippling realization that studying abroad is truly over. While I know I have plenty to look forward to, I still can’t help but miss my friends and my life overseas immensely.

To commemorate the end of my trip, I’m going to write about my goodbyes. First was a big dinner party I arranged at one of my favorite restaurants while abroad, ICC. This event was months in the making, as I had saved a bunch of points to earn a free cake via their rewards program. I invited my RAs, my primary friend group, and my Japanese professor to dinner. The night was full of great stories, laughter, and happiness, and I couldn’t be more pleased with myself and how it went. While bittersweet, I can’t help but smile.

The next round of goodbyes came with my final Saturday, the day of our “Completion Ceremony”. To kick off the end of the Asian Studies program, we attended an event like graduation(except the names were read rapid-fire to avoid taking three hours) with a lunch held afterwards. It was there that I had my final moments with my fellow classmates and my Japanese professor. I can’t help but think how sad it must be to remain at a university where the student body is continually changing. (Kansai Gaidai is internationally focused and sends the vast majority of students to study abroad locations). Yet with the sadness comes the most valuable memories, and I suppose that one can’t truly comprehend lasting happiness without its very absence.

Next came my family-my aunt and grandfather in particular. I must say that seeing her three times over the course of four months is a record. I traveled to her apartment on Saturday via Shinkansen and then spent most of Monday and Tuesday with her. On Sunday, I traveled to nearby Fujisawa to visit my grandfather. It was a nice visit, and I used my Japanese a lot. We discussed my study abroad experience, life at Valparaiso, etc. After showing him my portfolio full of what I’d learned, we headed to a local sushi restaurant. We then parted ways, hellos and goodbyes mixed up into bittersweet gladness tinged with melancholy.

On Tuesday the 29th, I said bade farewell to my aunt at the airport, accompanied by one of my university friends headed home on the same flight. After a ten-hour flight filled with three movies and fruitless attempts at sleeping, I said goodbye to her too. Jet-lagged and delirious, I flew back to Madison and promptly crashed.

So what now? I think it’s safe to say that I definitely hate goodbyes, but the more I think about them, the more I realize that they’re motivating. We don’t say goodbye because they’re good. It might be a customary phrase, but if we truly care about those we’re saying it to, the more it becomes our last attempt to hold onto great memories. A truly satisfying goodbye emulates the understanding that “if fate permits, let us meet again”. I don’t know when this will happen, but I have faith that it will. It’s only a matter of time.

The great dinner party!

My Japanese professor and I

On Saturday, the day of completion

Myself and my RA

My workout buddy and I

My aunt and I on the train

Life Goes On

Author: Emily Nelson

Location: Hirakata, Osaka, Japan

I write this sitting in my dorm enveloped in tinges of sadness. One of my childhood friends just lost their grandmother, who happens to be one of my grandmother’s closest friends. I grew up with this mutual friend sending me cards, taking us girls out together to fun places, and overall creating great memories. She always carried herself with a smile, even as ALS took over.

I live now knowing that while time is not infinite, you can, to some extent, control what happens to you. Some of us more than others, but there are choices in every day that eventually weave together to compose the threads of who we truly are. Occasionally there are people who add some beautiful colors into this fabric. I like to think that once they’ve left their mark, you can notice the changes they’ve made in those who remember them.

Time goes on when you’re abroad-while you’re busy cultivating yourself and building new relationships, others may break down. Whether through busyness, death, or simply not having much left in common, it can be demoralizing when the relationships you thought were secure just don’t seem so anymore. Isolation is a prevalent feeling while abroad, usually manifesting in some form of culture shock. By all means, take time for yourself, but also take time to show the important people in your life that you still care about them during this trip.

I think studying abroad helps you find your center. We talk a lot about how we “like learning about other cultures”. In reality, this is a very complex thing, but I think it can be simplified to a few ideas. Going away forces you to expand beyond yourself, whether it’s accepting that new ideas exist, different beliefs are present, etc. It also forces you to hang on to what you find most important-your values, the things that anchor you. Studying abroad can add to your values and reinforce your previous ones, and I think that’s why people come back so fundamentally changed. While you’re gone, people changed back home too. While reconciling with the differences can be jarring, I can assure you that the experience will help you appreciate your colors, and that this is always worthwhile.

I wrote the above a few weeks ago, and now that I’ve returned home, I have more to add. There truly isn’t enough time in the world to spend with those you value. I wish I could say that I left Japan with no regrets, but as many will tell you, this simply isn’t possible. My final week was filled with so many activities, from goodbyes to last hurrahs to simply reveling in post-finals happiness. There were so many invites that I could have been triple booked the last week. Now I know I should definitely be more proactive when it comes to leaving, but I also take this with the understanding that we’re never the people we need to be until we come out of it.

Traveling to my aunt’s place one final time via the Shinkansen

A Country (Or Even A Neighborhood) Doesn’t Fit Under An Umbrella

Author: Katherine German

Location: San Jose, Costa Rica

Have you ever approached a new situation with assumptions? How about assumptions that you didn’t even know you had? When I went to Costa Rica, I knew that it would be best to go with no expectations, completely open-minded to what I would find. That was my intention. So when I got to Costa Rica, I was astonished when my unrecognized expectations and assumptions were broken. I was ready to learn about Costa Rican culture, but I assumed that all Costa Ricans would display the same “typical” behaviors and customs, and I had some assumptions about what those customs might include. The main thing that I learned through my actual experience is that there are no “typical” Costa Rican families, nor is there a “typical” Costa Rican. Yes, there are shared behavioral patterns, phrases, and common foods on the menu. But you simply cannot fit an entire country, or even an entire neighborhood, under a single umbrella idea of “typical behavior”. Think about it: when it rains, only one person fits under a single umbrella. Try to fit even two people and both will get wet.

One of my assumptions going into Costa Rica was that every family would have a long, slow meal together every night. This is because I had heard that Latin American cultures tend to emphasize relationships, have a slower concept of time, and use meal time as a major social event. So I was incredibly surprised, and a little disappointed, when I learned that my host family doesn’t really eat dinner together every night. They all have different evening schedules: with my host mom working in the evening, my host dad running with his team, and my host sister coming home from work at various times. It just wasn’t very practical for my family to have a fixed meal time.

As I talked to other girls in my cohort, I realized that all had different situations regarding meal time, although every family was larger than mine and ate more-or-less together at least some of the time. I also began comparing how we did coffee time, homework time (for families with kids), morning routine, et cetera. I began to piece together something that I should have already known. All families in Costa Rica have their own styles and customs – their own way of living together– just like different families in the United States do things differently, as well.

This is not to say that there is no such thing as regional culture. In fact, there are many aspects of life that Costa Rican’s share. For example, the emphasis on relationships and the “slower” movement of time is a real thing. My family displayed these values of Costa Rica, just in different ways than I originally expected. When I came home from class or internship, if my host mom or dad was in the kitchen, they would always ask how my day was. We would spend some time just talking to each other. We would often have long conversations, about anything, whenever we were home together, or even just sit together at the kitchen counter. My host sister, Kathy, sat with me for nearly 3 hours one day, just talking about music and playing the guitar. Building relationships and spending time together without having an agenda is a beautiful aspect of Costa Rican culture that my host family displayed in their own way.

On a lighter note, Gallo Pinto is a typical Costa Rican food. Some may call it the typical Costa Rican food. It is a preparation of rice and beans with a particular flavor and it appears on almost every restaurant’s menu. If you order a “typical Costa Rican breakfast,” you will surely get Gallo Pinto. Almost every Tico (Costa Rican) will claim that they love Gallo Pinto. With this being said, there are different ways to prepare and eat this typical dish. One can make it with black beans or red beans, providing different flavors. It can be served with eggs, alone, or with meat. It can also be eaten at any time of day. Although many people eat Gallo Pinto at breakfast, my host family almost never did. On the occasion that we did have Gallo Pinto, it was often for lunch on a weekend. Although the love for Gallo Pinto is almost universal in Costa Rica, there are no rules about how to prepare and eat it. In other words, although Gallo Pinto is a common Costa Rican food, there is no “typical” Costa Rican diet.

One more thing that is common to Costa Rica is the phrase “Pura Vida,” which means “pure life.” It can be used as a greeting, when someone is excited, or within a normal conversation. I found that everyone in Costa Rica embraced the idea of “Pura Vida.” However, the phrase had slightly different meanings for everyone, and everyone used it with their own style. There are some aspects of culture that are common to a country, but the whole country can’t fit under a single umbrella. Everyone displays the values and culture of the region in their own way. There is no such thing as a “typical” Tican (Costa Rican).

All four spring 2018 students with their host families and Heidi. All people reflected the culture of Costa Rica. However, there was quite a lot of diversity in how each family lived, worked, and interacted with each other. 

International Travel: Revealing Our Huge World

Author: Katherine Germann

Location: San Jose, Costa Rica

Before coming to Costa Rica, I was super excited to expand my horizons – to see more of the world that we live in. I had never been outside of the United States, and I knew that I would get to visit Costa Rica and Nicaragua during my study abroad experience, visiting not one but two new countries. However, I was also a little afraid to cross the borders and see more of the world. I thought that after seeing more of our planet, it would seem smaller, less grand, and more confining. After all, the more you explore a house or neighborhood, the less exciting and mysterious it is. Furthermore, I could have been disappointed with what I found. Perhaps the new places would not be as culturally shocking or thought provoking as I expected. Then I would be left with the notion that all parts of the world are quite similar, and there is nothing left to discover. However, getting to see more of the world has had the exact opposite effect on me: the world seems bigger and bigger. I am plagued with the frustration that I will not be able to cover all of Costa Rica before I leave this beautiful country.

This is not to say that I have encountered startlingly exotic features in every place that I have traveled. In fact, there are many similarities between beaches in Costa Rica and beaches in the U.S., mountains in Costa Rica and mountains in the U.S., etcetera. But the richness of my travel experience is apparent when I go to a new place, explore what is unique to that area, and appreciate the beauty and excitement that I discover there.

I felt the wave of awe and appreciation for how big the world is when I visited Guanacaste with a friend from the University of Costa Rica. At this point, I had already been to Longo Mai, a beautiful, rural, immigrant community, and to Cahuita, an exciting and culturally-rich Caribbean town on the Coast of Limón, with the Valpo cohort. These two places thrived with cultural differences in the way people lived, spoke, cooked, and interacted with each other. They also had different forms of natural beauty, one offering a biodiverse beach front and the other a river hidden in the woods. I enjoyed encountering the special beauty of each place, but I didn’t reflect on what this meant until I took a more personal trip to Guanacaste. I went for a morning walk on Brasilito beach, and as I walked up the beach I watched the people, who camped on the edge of the beach, and I tried to notice all the features of the coastline. I realized, a little disappointed, that I wouldn’t have nearly enough time to walk up the entire beach. And Brasilito isn’t even the “featured” beach in Guanacaste. Playa Conchal is far more popular. Yet in its simplicity it had a lot to offer.

That’s when I sat down with a question in my head: Is the world pretty much all the same, making it seem far smaller than I would hope? I realized that it is not small at all. Every place has something unique, something special, to offer. It hit me that there is no way that I can possibly cover every place that there is to visit in Costa Rica during my time here, and there is no way that I can cover the whole world in my entire lifetime. There will always be more to discover. What an exciting realization!

Ever since then I have traveled around Costa Rica as much as I can (and into Panama and Nicaragua). Gabbi, my most frequent travel partner, made a great point. She says that there are two attitudes when it comes to travel. You can either assume that one beach is just like any other beach, that one waterfall is just like any other waterfall, and that one city is just like any other city. Or you can realize that each one offers something different, new, and exciting. The world expands dramatically when you adopt an attitude of appreciation for every new place that you visit. As Gabbi really likes water, I would like to illustrate this point by highlighting some of the waterfalls that I have visited during my stay here.

We visited la Catarata (waterfall) de la Paz, Catarata La Fortuna, and Catarata Cangrejo. To get to Cangrejo, one needs to walk about 5 kilometers through Rincon de la Vieja National Park. The journey to the waterfall is just as beautiful as the waterfall itself. The pool is a popular place for people to swim, rest and have their lunch. La Fortuna is accessible only by walking down 500 steps (which then need to be climbed again when one returns). It is a much stronger waterfall, with a deeper pool. We could swim in the pool, and the waterfall created such a strong current that one could swim and swim towards the falls and never get very close to it. Finally, one could see the Catarata de la Paz right off the side of the road. La Paz means peace, but this was the largest and most powerful of the waterfalls. There were many people taking photos, but no one could swim in that pool. It was far to grand and dangerous. Even though every site was “just” another waterfall, each waterfall offered something new and special to a traveler.

The same type of thing happened for every beach, city, or park that we visited. All the beaches in Puerto Viejo were quite close together, however they were very different. One had black sand and calm waves, while another had brown sand and crazy, dangerous waves, and still others offered beautiful rock formations or wildlife. The moral of the story is: nothing is exactly the same. There is always something new to discover, you just have to adopt an open mind to see and appreciate everything. This goes for both the differences in land and the cultures of the people. I learned that when you have an open mind, all people and all land has something special to offer. There is no way I will ever be finished exploring the world that we live in!

Gabbi at the River in Longo Mai

Road in Longo Mai

Cahuita beach

Brasilito beach

This is me on Volcán Concepcion, which is on Omatepe Island in Nicaragua. This is not mentioned in the blog, but this is yet another amazing place that I got to visit. I hiked up this Volcano, and it was very different from other mountains that I have hiked in the past. There are differences in vegetation, soil, and views.

This is my father at the Catarata La Fortuna.

Finding Peace in the Memories

Author: Hannah Purkey

Location: San Jose, Costa Rica

       Ten days ago, I did the thing I was dreading all semester. I sat on a plane and said “see you later” to my new home. Costa Rica had become a place I felt comfortable, a place where I could be my pure self, Costa Rica became home. So where do I go now? As I come back to the hussle and bussle of life in the United States, I am not the same. Sure, study abroad did not completely change my world, but it sure shook it. But it taught me more about life and myself than I ever thought was possible. I won’t lie, I am happy to be back around my friends and family. But a large piece of my heart will always be in that country. I find myself trying to focus on life now, but what do I do with the overwhelming knowledge and memories I formed in Costa Rica? And how do I answer the most difficult question, “How was Costa Rica?” When I have these thoughts, I have to remind myself to slow down, find peace within myself, and find joy in the memories. It is impossible to accurately describe what my study abroad experience was like. Words do not do it justice, but I have been able to find some peace with my explanations through photos.

So I would like to share some of my favorite photos from my semester in Costa Rica. I truly believe a picture is worth a thousand words.

I fell in love with my host sisters. Their smiles made my day, everyday.

The Spring 2018 semester group: Katherine, Kyra, Gabbi, and I.

What is important to ticos? Fútbol! (Soccer) Especially when you get to watch it with the family.

Some things get done differently, including fishing (they use string instead of rods)

Not to mention the nature itself can take your breathe away.

We got to do projects in the community!

Bond with locals!

There is incredible art that portrays the real situations of Costa Ricans and Nicaraguans.

We took Spanish classes with incredible people from all over the world!

We all learned so much from the classes we took!

The animal life was incredible to see!

There was incredibly deep conversations in the coolest of places!

We were blessed to see so many incredible places!

When I think that life is rough, I must remember that the sun will rise again the next day.

There are no words to describe the intense, amazing feelings I have for the country. I can only hope to take what I have learned and bring it into my life going forward. Pure Vida!

Golden Week: Japan’s Most Anticipated Holiday

Author: Emily Nielson

Location: Hirakata, Osaka, Japan

Golden Week is something that I first heard about from my mom. Essentially a pre-summer break, Thursday and Friday combine with the weekend to create a marvelous mini vacation for Japanese people. Everyone seems to have big plans for this holiday, and the crowds everywhere testify to that.

I spent a good part of Golden Week doing homework, but I did manage to go outside and experience some new things thanks to the invitation of friends. Mason, my former roommate, invited me to Kyoto for a barbeque hosted by her friend’s restaraunt. We enjoyed a wonderful variety of food, including grilled beef and pork, corn on the cob, shaved ice, and takoyaki. Beef is especially expensive in Japan, as there is little space for farmland, so this was especially tasty. Takoyaki are spherical golden shells made of batter that’s filled with octopus, grilled to one’s liking. I also tried whale-and thought of Finding Nemo the whole time. Whale has the consistency of beef and the taste of fish, which was a little unsettling, but perhaps that’s just me.

Adding another event to my cultural bucket list was watching Japanese men carry mikoshi, which is a kind of portable Japanese shrine. Wearing traditional white robes and headbands, they carry the shrine for a short distance to honor deities. According to Mason, they believe that the gods become bored sitting in their shrine, so they jostle around the mikoshi as much as possible. Spectators gather to watch them hauling the shrine. When the men took breaks, some of them offered mini cans of Asahi beer and tea, although the beer was strictly reserved for the men doing the heavy lifting. Ironically, many people took smoke breaks in between hauls, and I eventually got a bad headache from the air.

After making several loops around the neighborhood, the men finally returned back to the temple. Several men took turns beating the taiko drum, applause following each round. Finally finished, all of the participants were rewarded a bottle of sake and a whole pack of beer! They all seemed really happy.

It always interests me as to how much Japan enjoys honoring tradition yet also welcoming, or at least showing curiosity in, innovation and the latest trends. Holidays like this often give us a glance into what was once a norm in the lives of a people. It makes me wonder what the U.S. will look like in a few centuries, and what holidays the whole world could partake in.

Working, Learning, Growing

Author: Hannah Purkey 

Location: San Jose, Costa Rica

As college students, we generally intern at some business, hospital, school. I personally have had two internship experiences  since coming to college. They are great opportunities to learn, grow, and truly see if you have an interest in a specific field. Although I experienced all of these things, nothing could have prepared me for my time interning in Costa Rica.

The amazing organization that I got to intern with is called Fundación Mujer (Womens Foundation). This organization itself works to contribute to the social and economic development of people in Costa Rica. They focus on working with refugees from other Central and South American countries. While interning at the foundation, I worked with a woman named Laura. She is in charge of running the education programming and development for the people wanting training. My main jobs were to assist in these education programs, help with the job fair logistics, and simply learn more about the company.

Women talking to different companies the Refugee Job Fair.

To better understand the need for this organization, I want to share a little bit about the story of immigration into Costa Rica. Immigrants make up over 10% of the population of people in Costa Rica. Since the 1960s this percentage has been continually growing. In the eyes of many Central and South Americans, Costa Rica is a secure place to be. Their economy is very stable and their government is kind to people seeking refuge. The highest number of people wanting to come into the country are from Nicaragua and Colombia. Because of the economic situation of Nicaragua, many people are coming to Costa Rica seeking work. It is in CR that they will find a lot of job availability  within domestic work/agriculture, higher wages, universal health care, and higher education standards. It is important to note that Nicaragua is a good country too. People do not want to leave their home country; but sometimes it is needed. To add on, the immigration of Colombians to Costa Rica is mostly due to people seeking refugee from the long standing Colombia Civil War. Some of these Colombians are leaving their country so they can save their own lives. Learning about the amount of refugees that live in Costa Rica has allowed me to appreciate this organization even more.

My personal experience with Fundación Mujer has been educational, eye-opening, and hard. I have learned so much from working with immigrants. I’ve gotten to hear their stories, hopes, triumphs, struggles, and dreams. In this process, I’ve learned so much about the real situations of different countries. This experience has also been eye opening because Costa Rica has a very different view on immigrants. Fundación Mujer believes they can add amazing things to the communities of Costa Rica. They are raised up, supported, and loved by this organization (and other organizations as well.) I have never seen this kind of support system for these types of people. Because of that, my eyes have been open to the resources and support these people really need. On top of all of this, everything I did with this organization was in Spanish. Although I am confident in my Spanish language abilities. I am lost at least 30% of the time. Because of this, interning here was hard, but in a good way. It pushed my language abilities to a level I never knew I could reach. All in all, this internship experience taught me a lot about the life of immigrants and what they need to be successful in a new country.

Me at one of the job fairs.

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