Valpo Voyager

Student Stories from Around the World

Author: kprahlow

Meeting Up In Another Country

This past weekend, my parents came to visit me in Costa Rica.  It was a great experience, but also a strange one.  It was like my two worlds collided, but luckily they got along well.


First, I showed them around San Jose and Heredia, the cities where I have spent most of my time here.  They enjoyed getting to see my university and meeting my host parents and coworkers.


Over the weekend, we went to La Fortuna, a place known for its cataratas (waterfalls) and aguas termales (hot springs).  The waterfall was absolutely beautiful!

mom and me

Just to show the size of the waterfall, here is a photo of my mom and I enjoying the mist.  My dad didn’t want to get wet, so he took the picture from a safe distance.  Can you find us?


The hike to the falls wasn’t that far, but we had to go over bridges and climb up 502 steps on the way back.  Talk about a good workout! And there’s my dad representing the Crusaders!


While we were in La Fortuna, we visited an ecological center to learn more about the flora and fauna of Costa Rica.  The butterfly in the photo above is a master of camouflage.  On the inside, this giant insect is purple and yellow, but from the outside, all you can see is brown.  Can you find the owl and the snake head?


One of my personal favorite sights was this red-eyed tree frog.  We were lucky to see this one; they are nocturnal so normally they are up in the tops of the trees during the day.


I know I already posted a photo of cacao, but here’s another one in honor of my mom, who loves chocolate.  I still find it hard to believe that it grows like this!


The variety of plant and animal life in the rainforest is simply astounding.  Above is a gorgeous photo of an orchid, and below is a beautiful bird who posed nicely as he stopped for a snack.


Of course, we also took some time to relax in the hot springs.  Below, Sarah and I are in a hot tub the size of a pool; it had a water slide and everything!


My parents’ trip to Costa Rica was brief, but I think they enjoyed it.  Maybe when I come back to visit my host family we can get a photo of all four of my parents together!

Traveling to Nicaragua: Managua and Granada

After spending a few days on the Island of Ometepe, we took a taxi to Managua, the capital of Nicaragua.


While we were there, we visited the National Museum to learn more about the history and culture of Nicaragua.  Like we learned in Ometepe, the gueguense dance is an important part of their culture.  Above, one of the Valpo students makes some new friends with traditional dancers.


Nicaragua’s history is very different from that of Costa Rica, so it was interesting to see the differences between the two countries.  The cathedral above is no longer in use because of an earthquake that occurred in 1972.


Even though Nicaragua has faced some challenges in recent decades, the people there are every bit as friendly as Costa Ricans.  Above, one of our professors (on the left) smiles with his host family in Managua.


The final stop on our Nicaraguan adventure was Granada, a popular tourist sight well-known for its colonial Spanish architecture.


Nicaragua is a unique country, and it would take much longer than the ten days we were there to experience everything it has to offer.  We certainly learned a lot while we were there, but it is nice to be back with our host families.  Now that we have hit the half-way point in the semester, Costa Rica feels like home.

Traveling to Nicaragua: Ometepe

To mark the halfway point of the semester, our cohort took a ten day trip to Nicaragua.  The first place we visited was an island called Ometepe, where we learned new ways to reuse bottles.


First, we worked on a bench made from bottles, trash, rocks, and cement.  The plastic bottles were filled with trash to make them sturdier and to keep the waste material from going into a landfill.


I know it seems like a strange idea, but it worked very well and the final product turned out great! From the outside, the bottoms of the bottles look like colorful flowers.


We also learned how to make these containers out of all sorts of plastic bottles.  They can be used as garbage cans, recycling bins, laundry baskets, or anything else you can think of.


It was a long day, but it was nice to be doing something with our hands after spending so much time studying and writing papers the week before.


The island was a beautiful place, so while we were there we took the time to explore.  Our guide showed us some spectacular petroglyphs made by indigenous people before the arrival of the Spaniards.


The youth of the island performed a traditional dance for us.  Known as the gueguense, it portrays the trickery that the indigenous people used to avoid Spanish exploitation.


Even today, this beautiful place is threatened by foreigners.  If the Chinese plan to build a canal through this lake becomes a reality, the natural land could be turned into resorts.  Everyone we met there has mixed feelings about it, but I really hope that views like the one above will be around for generations to come.

Hiking in Longo Mai

Sorry for the delay in posts!  We have been super busy during the last couple of weeks since we finished up classes at the Universidad Nacional.  To finish up our class on the history and ethnography of Costa Rica, we took a trip to Longo Mai, an immigrant community in the southern part of the country.


While we were there, we took a hike around the community to learn about how they live.  The individual families don’t own the land, but they have the rights to cultivate different types of agricultural goods like sugar cane, coffee, and cacao.  The photo below shows cacao, the fruit used to make chocolate.  The white part is covering the seeds that are later roasted and mixed with milk and sugar because by themselves, the seeds are quite bitter.  We even got to make some of own chocolate, and the process will be outlined in a guest post later this semester.


We tried some other interesting foods while we were there as well, like fresh sugar cane and termites!


Some of us were brave enough to eat them, and they don’t taste that bad if you can get over the fact that you’re eating a bug.  They taste sort of like wood.


Besides being an agricultural community, the people of Longo Mai work to preserve indigenous cultures and the natural beauty of the area.  It is said that if you hug one of these giant trees, as seen below, they will take away your negative energy.   We didn’t hug them for long enough to see if it worked, but we did enjoy the time we spent there!


Protecting the Planet


In class this past week, we learned about the environment and sustainable development.  Costa Rica really is a beautiful country with lots to offer to its citizens and tourists alike.   


The first exhibit in the National Museum is a butterfly house, which clearly highlights the nation’s desire to be seen as an eco-friendly, green, and natural country.


But Costa Rica is not all mountain and beach; it has its fair share of big cities…


…that come with their fair share of pollution.  The picture above was taken in a park in downtown Heredia, and piles of trash like this one are not an uncommon sight.


So what do we do about it?  This week, we learned about things we can do to help alleviate the environmental problems faced in both Costa Rica and the United States.  Above, you see the compost pile at Casa Adobe, where we take some of our classes.  Composting organic waste means that less material is going into landfills, and you end up with your own fertilizer, which also lessens the need for chemical fertilizers.


Growing your own produce (or raising your own chickens like they do at Casa Adobe) is a great way to make your life more sustainable.  And if that’s not possible, try buying local items–you’ll be cutting down on the fuel required to transport products thousands of miles and stimulating the local economy at the same time.  Costa Rica has a long way to go before they reach their goal of becoming carbon-neutral, but every little bit helps protect the planet!

Relaxing for a Weekend


We have completed three weeks of Spanish classes at the Universidad Nacional de Costa Rica!  To relax after these intense classes, we took a weekend trip to the cloud forest in Savegre.


The land there was absolutely beautiful, and it was a nice change of pace from the city.


We went with high school students from Sola Fe Lutheran Church, where our professors serve as pastor and music director.


It rains a lot in the cloud forest, so we passed the time by playing cards, which is quite the experience when only one person in the group is completely bilingual.


 Getting to know each other was a great experience for all of us, and we had a lot of fun riding horses, bird watching, fishing, and playing soccer together.


Savegre is a beautiful place, but the people we shared it with made it even more beautiful!

Traveling Around the Country

Costa Rica is known for its beautiful beaches and volcanos, so while we are here studying we decided to make the most of our free time by traveling around the country and visiting some of the more famous sights.


Yesterday we went to Volcán Poás, an active volcano located just a few hours away from our home city.  The large leafy plant in the foreground of the above photograph is called a “poor man’s umbrella,” which would have come in handy in the afternoon.  These gorgeous views disappeared quickly when the clouds came rolling in!


Needless to say, we stayed there longer than 20 minutes.


The National Park also has a short hike to Lake Bogos, which used to be the secondary crater of the volcano.  It is currently inactive, so the water is cold but very acidic.


 Our quick trip up the mountain made for a nice break from studying.  The views were simply spectacular and we hope to visit more volcanos before the semester comes to an end!

Exploring Our New Home

Greetings from Santa Rosa, Heredia, Costa Rica!  We have been here for a week now and are enjoying exploring our beautiful new city.



This is downtown Heredia, just a short bus ride away from the neighborhood we are living in this semester.


We are not far from the nation’s capital either;  this is our cohort and professor outside the national museum in San Jose.


On Friday, we went to an archaeological site called Guayabo, where we saw mounds, tombs, and aqueducts.


We had to do some hiking…


But the view from the top was worth the trip up!


We are excited to have the opportunity to study in this beautiful country and have plenty more to explore!



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