Valpo Voyager

Student Stories from Around the World

Category: Costa Rica (page 1 of 8)

So Much Traveling!

Author: Sarah Rosa Germann

Location: All over Costa Rica

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

The way I see it, my semester has been divided into four sections. For the month of January, I took a geography class on Central America with Heidi Michelsen, a Valpo professor, at Casa Adobe, the Valparaiso Study Abroad Center in Costa Rica. In February, I took six credits of Spanish at the University of Costa Rica and continued my class with Heidi. For these months, I was with my Valparaiso cohort, the other four students who are studying here and living in Santa Rosa from Valpo with me. In March, I separated from the usual Valpo program. While the other VU students began internships, I joined nine other students from various places across the United States in a field biology research program at ICADS, the Institute for Central American Development Studies. In January and February, those students had taken classes in Geography and Spanish similar to what I had done. This section of the program was called “Block 1.” In March, we began “Block 2.”

The focus of Block 2 was exactly what I had come to Costa Rica for. We traveled all over the country and we studied the environments we were in as they related to human geography, and sustainability of both human society and the natural environment. We traveled to two different places each week, staying 2 or 3 nights in each location, either in a lodge or with a host family. We touched base at our host families in San Jose, or in my case in Santa Rosa, briefly on the weekends. First we went to Longo Maï {Red Arrow on the map below}, a commune made up of El Salvadoran refugees. (Check out my blog solely about Longo Maï!) Second we went to Villa Mills {Orange Arrow}, one of the highest places in elevation in Costa Rica, where we did bird watching. Third we went to El Yuë {Yellow Arrow}, where we stayed in a lodge built for rural community tourism. Here we visited agroforestry farms and Cahuita, a beautiful beach. Fourth we went to Puerto Viejo {Green Arrow} for a couple of nights, which is a common place for many tourists to visit in Costa Rica, with its beautiful beaches and thrilling night life. During our stay there, we visited the Indigenous community of Bribri. Fifth we went to Isla de Chita {Dark Blue Arrow}, which is an island in between the Peninsula of Guanacaste and the mainland. Here we had the opportunity to go into a mangrove and learn how to harvest pianguas by the roots. Sixth we went to the community of Ortega {Purple Arrow}, in the mainland of Guanacaste, where we learned about the sugarcane plantation, what life is like in the community, and community opinions on tourism. Having seeing all these places, I feel like this program has truly given me a chance to see many different places in Costa Rica. What a great way to learn about a country.

The past three weeks have been an intense and exciting learning experience. One thing that greatly impacted the experience for me was the fact that, aside from in Puerto Viejo, I did not have any access to WiFi and very limited cellular connection. This allowed to me to “unplug” and focus more on my experience in the communities I was in. The people in these communities live a simpler life than I am used to. They live more slowly than I am used to, and most need to focus on the land and the local community around them. This gives me a new perspective on my fast-pace western life-style, where it is common for a lot of people to have no interactions with their neighbors. Being in these communities, which I was not used to, and speaking a language that is not my first language required me to be intentional about forming relationships, having conversations, and figure out what my host families rhythm of life was like.

The field experience I gained from my time was also invaluable. I had a chance to dip my toes into many methods of research, both for ecological and social purposes. We analyzed the biodiversity of insects on an agroforestry farm, tree and plant density on the agroforestry farm, the sustainability of harvesting a species (pianguas) from its natural environment, biodiversity of birds in both a region with human activity and in an undisturbed area, community relations with a monoculture pineapple plantation (Pindeco), community relations with tourists, challenges in rural youth education, and we participated in aquatic river monitoring by catching and identifying fish and macroinvertebrates. I have learned so much about conducting research and about the areas we visited in Costa Rica. These past three weeks of March has to have been one of the most influential and educational experiences I have had in college. I highly recommend this program to any Environmental Science or Geography student who is planning on studying abroad.

A view in Villa Mills.

A view of the sunset in Ortega.

Buildings in the Indigenous community of Bribri.

The boat which took us to and from Isla de Chita.

Map of Costa Rica with the approximate locations of places we stayed.


Author: Sarah Rosa Germann

Location: Costa Rica

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

There are three well-known volcanoes here in Costa Rica which stand next to each other in a row, Volcán Irazu, Volcán Barba, and Volcán Poás. So far I have seen two of these, Barba and Poás. Although they stand right next to each other, these two volcanoes are remarkably different from each other, and also provide visitors with very different experiences.

As many people know, when a volcano erupts it often blows away its top and creates a crater. Both of these volcanoes have a crater that is visible to the visitor. The first volcano I visited was Poás, which is reach by taking a short walk along a flat cleared and open path to a wooden platform with differing levels which overlook the crater. Visitors must wear a helmet to protect them from potential debris which could fall on them from the smoke coming out of the crater and the surrounding area. Poás is still a very active volcano. In fact, it erupted the very day after we visited! I admit, we were lucky. The crater had smoke coming out of it, which smelled like sulfur. Some yellow and green could be seen on the floor of the crater as it came out from inside the rock. The walls and much of the surrounding areas were exposed rock.

Volcán Barba, by contrast, seemed as if it must have been a very long time since it has erupted. In order to reach the volcano, I needed to hike on a narrow trail in dense forest and uneven terrain for a number of kilometers. The walls of the crater and surrounding areas were covered by dense trees and ferns like the rest of the forest, and the crater itself was filled with water, forming a lake.

Before visiting Costa Rica, I had never seen a volcano closely before. I was even more impressed when seeing Vocán Barba after having seen Volcán Poás because Poás gave me a perspective, or some context, for seeing Barba. The volcano craters were different because they formed at different times and in different ways. They are similar to each other because the basic shape of them started out in the same way, with an eruption from rock in relatively the same geographic area. But, they are different today because of what they have been exposed to. I think this concept can be applied to people as well. We are all people, with the same basic form.

But, we are different from each other because of our stories. The craters are very similar shapes, and so when I saw Barba I could imagine that it once looked dry and empty like Poás. I imagine it must have taken a lot of time and a number of geomorphic processes for Volcán Barba to become what it is today. If I had not seen Volcán Poás first, I am not sure I would have understood what I was looking at. I wonder how often I look at something without a context for what I am seeing. Having context allows a person to have a greater appreciation for what is in front of them. I hope that, in a much larger way, living for a semester in Costa Rica will give me a context to see the United States when I come back home.

Longo Maï

Author: Sarah Rosa Germann

Location: Longo Maï, Costa Rica

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Longo Maï is a rural community in Costa Rica. The community was founded by Nicaraguan refugees in the 1980s, but is currently comprised mostly of Salvadorian refugees. Longo Maï is a commune, as the community functions in a self-sustaining way. Most of the food which the people eat is grown in Longo Maï, and each neighbor shares what they have with the other so that everyone has a variety of foods on their tables. I was very impressed as my host grandmother showed me the property around her house with plant after plant of edible foods; trees with pipas, limes, cacao, and more were only a few steps from her door.

I have visited Longo Maï twice so far during my semester in Costa Rica, once in January with my Valpo Cohort, and once in March with my group of fellow environmental students and the organization ICADS. During my time there, I learned from the community members about their way of life. The community members follow a life style of simple living in peace and harmony with people and with the earth. They admit that their way of life is counter-intuitive to the way the rest of the world lives, but it is a good way of living, and it seems to work very well.

During my January visit to Longo Maï I interviewed a number of individuals who were witnesses to violence during the war in El Salvador during the 1980s. Their experience has given them an exceptional abhorrence to violence which extends to an abhorrence of any amount of greed and/or spite for other people. They not only dislike war, they dislike the mentality of capitalism. This is because capitalism causes people to work against others or exploit others instead of working together and sharing. If everyone were to share what they had and live in harmony with others, there would be much less suffering in the world. The people of Longo Maï live in harmony with each other by sharing the food which grows in their yards so that everyone has plenty, and by sharing wisdom and knowledge about farming techniques so that everyone can produce their crops efficiently and well.

The people of Longo Maï live very simply. They do not live a consumerist life-style because they have everything they need right where they are in Longo Maï. On my second trip I spent some time on the farm of Wade More. He showed us his land and the way he grows his crops. As it turns out, the government makes it very hard for farmers like More to produce organically, trying to impose standards on them which they have found do not work for their specific farm. For example, in his vegetable garden Wade uses chicken manure as a fertilizer. He needed to use a different kind of fertilizer in order to obtain an organic license. But, when he switched, his vegetables did not grow. The farmers of Longo Maï know their land, and what works to make their crops grow. In this way they live in harmony with the land.

Wade also talked to us a lot about the concept of perceived needs. This is when a person believes they need something, or wants something, that they do not actually need. He said than many times people believe they need something even though they do not, especially in our western societies. Consuming more than we need is wasteful and harmful to the earth.

The people of Longo Maï invite tourists and visitors from Northern countries into their community so that we may have an opportunity to learn from them and gain a new perspective on our own lives. After my visit, I will remember to evaluate what I need versus what I think I need, consider where my food comes from, and remember that living peacefully with others is better for me and for the environment than living in contention.

I found Longo Maï to be a very neat and beautiful place. Please enjoy some of my favorite photos which I took in the community below.

Just upstream from a popular swimming spot.

A horse in a yard near my host family’s house.

Baby ducks and their mother in a little stream near a foot path. (Ducks in Longo Maï do not mind people being near them very much.)

The porch at Edit’s house. (Edit is the woman who takes charge of organizing the tourist who come through Longo Maï.)

The wood burning stove Edit cooks tortillas on, in her house.

Su Casa

Author: Sarah Rosa Germann

Location: Santa Rosa, Costa Rica

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

Your house. A phrase spoken by Ivannia and Carlos, the couple who lives in this house with their teenage son Alejandro, multiple times over my first couple days here to signify that this is my house as well as theirs.

I arrived at this house in Costa Rica at approximately 11pm, after having woken up around 3:50am for my flight out of Cincinnati. Understandably, upon arrival I was a little concerned. On top of my not knowing Spanish in order to communicate with the people in this country, the house also seemed a little strange to me. There are three sections of the house. One triples as a garage with plants, and a sitting area with a roof. It seems like the main room, but some of this area does not have a roof and one wall is halfway open to the air, with bars instead of a solid wall. This is like an outside room, which feels more inside than most yards.

On either side of this big area there are indoor rooms. The interior sections are not completely closed off from each other, there are full glass doors which usually stay open, and from my bed room I can easily hear kids playing on the street, cats on the roof, and even the wind as if I were outside. So, the indoors feel more outdoors than I am used to.

I was timid on the first night, but as soon as the second or third night here I had come to a deeper appreciation of the house. There are imperfections such as varying types flooring in the outside room, a cracked tile here and there, missing paint at the bottom of some walls. But I  soon grew to like these aspects of our home, too. And as I got to know my host family better I learned that they built this house, with the help of extended family, themselves. Roofs and all! How impressive is that?

I would not do an explanation of this house justice if I did not talk about the people in it. Not only do I spend time with the three other people who live here, but every day at least 3 and up to 10 other family members and friends come through our house to eat, and talk, and laugh with us. On the first day I must have met at least 12 sisters, nephews, cousins, friends, boyfriends, and girlfriends. This was intimidating because I could not fully understand what was being said, and everyone knew that I hardly spoke any Spanish. But I could understand what was being said a little bit by what was going on. Because the sound of a family together in one language sounds much like family and friends together in other languages, with a difference only in the accents of the voices. Everyone here has included me and treated me as one of them, working to overcome the language barrier, which becomes less of a barrier every day.

Me gusta aqui, es muy bonito.

Author: Sarah Rosa Germann

Location: Santa, Rosa, Costa Rica

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

“I like it here, it is very beautiful.”

I have been in Costa Rica for a week now. During the first few days, people would ask me how I was feeling about being here. With my limited Spanish vocabulary, this was the simple phrase I could use to express what I think about what I have seen of the country. As I walk to class at Casa Adobe, I enjoy the beautiful weather which I do not usually have this time of year, with a warmth of 72 degrees. I like the sun, the wind, the plants, and the sky. In many ways it is different here than it is back in Valpo, and I feel very lucky to be studying abroad here. In the yard outside of my open-doored classroom, there is a garden, a swing set, picnic tables, a hammock, dogs, cats, children playing, and even a cow. How lucky am I? I should be blown away by my good fortune at being able to go to school in such a place. But, honestly, I am not.

The streets and sidewalk are uneven, there are powerlines, paint on picnic tables and the walls of houses is peeling, and alleyways are crocked and, at times, grey. Santa Rosa is not a perfect paradise; it is a place. And just like every other place in the world, it is filled with both beautiful and less-glamorous aspects. I could choose to look at only the glamorous aspects and say that this is a paradise, and Valpo could never compare. But I won’t.

Asserting that I like it here, and that it is beautiful is a natural and appropriate response from a student who is studying abroad. But, in the contrasting beauty and imperfections of this place I realize it is alike in many ways to every other place on earth. I am not going to be duped into belittling other places in comparison. There is beauty to be found everywhere. I can visualize Valparaiso University right now, with its similar colored brick buildings, zig-zagged sidewalks, covered in thick layers of snow. There isn’t a cow in the front yard of the classroom. But, it is saturated in beauty just like every other place in the world. And I am lucky to call Valparaiso one of my homes.

But, what about Costa Rica made it obvious to me that I am fortunate, surrounded by beauty no matter where I am? I could be filled with gratitude for the place I am in, always. Perhaps the answer lies in my expectations for something different. Aware that I am in a new country, I have focused on my surrounding, intent on learning what it is like here. And in doing so I found things that were good, and things that were imperfect. In my anticipation, Costa Rica has simultaneously mystified and under-whelmed my heart and mind. I am left with a desire to travel to more places on this earth, so that I may again observe the beauty and imperfection which underlies everywhere.

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.

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. 

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!

Open Houses, Open Hearts

Author: Katherine Germann

Location: San Jose, Costa Rica

Your first impression when you walk through the barrio (neighborhood) of Santa Rosa might be that people don’t like talking to their neighbors: they prefer to stay shut in their houses and close themselves off to the world outside. This is because almost every house on the street displays bars in the front. The first impression may strike visitors as hostile, but I soon realized that my host family’s house is actually quite open to the outside air. I can feel wind coming in through the garden and the garage when I am sitting in the kitchen, because the house is not fully closed to the outside. Furthermore, the door leading into the living room is never locked. The front gate on the house, then, functions like the front door of a typical house in the States, which is naturally locked most of the time so that people can feel secure inside.

This is a photo of the front of my house. Most houses on the street have bars on the front and a gate.

Just like the houses is Santa Rosa are open to the outside air, the neighbors are open to unexpected conversation. My host mom sells merchandise, such as perfumes and cosmetic goods, to people in our neighborhood. Her job takes her everywhere in Santa Rosa, as she visits clients at their houses to sell. By accompanying her on several trips around the neighborhood, I have been able to see the way that our neighbors tend to interact. I think that the openness that I have observed in this community is beautiful.

The kitchen

Another photo of the kitchen









When we arrive at a client’s house, they sometimes invite us inside, and we can chat for a fair amount of time. My host mom and the client catch up on things that are happening in their lives, taking their time to talk and listen to each other. This aspect of my host mom’s job takes time. But despite the fact that she has about 100 clients to visit each week, she is never rushed. This affirms something that Heidi, our director, told me about Costa Rican culture. The emphasis of daily life is not to get tasks completed, but to have relationships with people. Two specific instances of relationship building really stand out to me.

The first was when I was visiting clients with my host mom, one of the women who invited us inside and invited us to sit down. We stayed there for about 20 minutes, or maybe a little more. The conversation went pretty deep into the women’s lives. They shared personal experiences, encouraged each other, and laughed together. This woman is my mother’s friend, so perhaps the occurrence was not too abnormal. However, I am still impressed that they took time for each other right on the spot. They did not have to schedule a time in advance to talk to each other. Both were open to stop what they were doing and build the relationship.

This is a picture looking down the street from in front of my house.

Other neighbors were open to long conversation with me, as well. Another time there were three gentlemen. I was pleasantly surprised by their openness toward me and their genuine desire to get to know where I am from and to teach me a little bit about Costa Rica. I commented on how colorful Costa Rican currency is, beginning a conversation about the artistic colones. The bills have historical people on them as well as animal and plant species that are important to Costa Rica. The gentleman went inside to get a wide variety of bills to show me. He taught me what he knew about the historical people and the species of plants and animals. In this way, I learned a lot about Costa Rican history and biodiversity.

Colones: Costa Rican Currency

Finally, he showed me a 5 colones bill (which are no longer used in Costa Rica). The bill displays a copy of a mural, and he explained the mural to me and the history behind it. Finally, he gave me a 5 colones bill as a gift! This amount of kindness took me by surprised and made me feel welcome in this community. In short, I have been extremely pleased by the openness of the people that I have met in Santa Rosa and the willingness to share in each other’s lives.

5 colones billete

I am finding that the culture in Santa Rosa is also open to spontaneous interruptions in everyday life. Or, perhaps more accurately, taking time to talk to other people in the neighborhood is just a part of everyday life. People will stop what they are doing to engage in relationships and conversation. Sometimes as we are walking through the neighborhood, my host mom stops at someone’s house just to say hello and chat for a bit. The first time that she did this, I asked her if it was rude to just stop by someone else’s house in the middle of the evening. They could be in the middle of doing something, I thought, maybe they have other things to do. In my past experiences, I usually don’t go to someone else’s house without planning to do so ahead of time. She assured me that it isn’t rude at all. She walks up to the front of the house and calls “Upe,” which is a greeting commonly used in Costa Rica to call on someone at their house. If the neighbor is home, they usually invite us inside and we talk for a while. The same process goes the other way around – sometimes neighbors call on my host family and we invite them inside. It is also very common to simply stop and talk to people that we meet in the street. In general, I think that the people of Santa Rosa are beautifully open to share their lives with their neighbors and to build community. I love the experiences that I have had in this way.

Your Everyday Granada (From My Perspective)

Author: Gabi Neuman

Location: Granada, Spain

I’ve talked about the adventures I’ve had in Granada, Italy, and Morocco, but not much about what happens during the everyday life of Granada.  A little bit about the city and people of Granada and my daily life experiences, some good, some bad, and others just simple observations or as we say here in Granada, “no da igual”:

  • People are always shopping (don’t ask me where their seemingly constant flow of money comes from)
  • The majority of stores and restaurants close around 1:30pm and reopen around 4:30pm every day for siesta time
  • I’ve eaten more bread, oranges/nectarines, soups of all kinds, and drank more hot chocolate in the past month than I have in my entire life
  • Tapas are also a very regular activity to go out with friends and get after dinner.  If you don’t know what tapas are, they are essentially an appetizer that you get for free when you purchase a drink whether the drink has alcohol in it or not.
  • The architecture in Granada is very heavily influenced by the Arabic culture when they were inhabiting Granada before the Christians conquered the city.  Hence, the Alhambra exists, which if I’m not mistaken is an Arabic palace.  There are also many side streets where you can see the remains of the Arabic influence.
  • Siesta is now a daily activity for me
  • I also have more free time than I ever have in my life and don’t really know what to do with myself (plus no class on Fridays–I’m definitely not complaining about this one)
  • Wake up late, stay up late.  Pretty sure that’s the motto here in Granada
  • Everyone smokes, and when I say everyone I mean everyone (down to the 14 year olds)
  • You concentrate your brains out to understand what a professor or someone else is saying to you in Spanish and still don’t catch it all so you have to ask for them to slow down or repeat it and feel like a dummy
  • In this same manner, it’s a mini achievement when someone in a store speaks Spanish to you and then continues to speak Spanish to you even though you know you’ve totally botched what you were trying to say
  • When I first arrived, many of the locals were telling me how small Granada is and I didn’t believe them because for me it seemed huge.  However, after a month and walking around the city quite a bit, I have to say that they’re right.  There are two main roads to orient yourself by (Calle Recogidas and Camino de Ronda) and if you know where those roads are you’re all set.
  • Granada is a seriously gorgeous city.  If you look up to the east (I think) you have a clear view of the Sierra Nevada mountains, you can look out to the country side, there’s beautiful plazas everywhere, a river that goes through the city which makes for a nice walking area, and so many other places to adventure to.

Although I’ve observed and experienced quite a bit in my short time I’ve been here whether good, bad, or just simply an observation, there is so much I still don’t know about Granada, the people, the language, and Spain in general, but I guess that’s why I’m here so that I can learn all I can about this awesome place.

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