こんにちは “Kon’nichiwa”

Laken Williams
Akita International University

Why AIU?
I have always wanted to come to Japan because of its unique cultural traditions and the beauty of the country, especially in spring. The reasons I chose Akita International University are 1) that all the classes are taught in English, 2) the university is set in a rural area, which is important to me because I have always lived in small towns, and 3) being an international university, I have the opportunity to meet students from all over the world, in addition to meeting Japanese students.

The AIU International team, with reps. from Taiwan, Hong Kong, Estonia, Norway, the Netherlands and America, posing in front of AIU’s mascot.

What am I most looking forward to?
I am most looking forward to experiencing, first-hand, Japan’s culture as well as interacting with locals and other students from around the world. I believe that, by studying abroad in Japan, I will not only come to better understand its people, language and culture, but I will also better understand myself and how limited the way I have seen the world really has been.
What am I especially worried about?
I am most worried about isolating myself and not making the most out of this potentially once-in-a-lifetime experience. I hope that I can accept others, but, most importantly, that others will accept me. I am also afraid that, due to my lack of Japanese language fluency, many of the Japanese students will avoid conversing with me.
What are my goals for my time in Japan?
My goals are quite simple: 1) to make a lot of friends, 2) to learn Japanese, 3) to broaden my horizons and 4) to learn as much about Japanese people and culture as possible.

Martijn, from the Netherlands, and I at the AIU matriculation.

Me, Atsuki and his friend pose for a selfie after the matriculation.

After 1 Week
So far, I have had the privilege to meet many students from around the world, as well as Japanese students.




With the first week down, I feel confident that this wonderful journey is just beginning. Having met all these wonderful people, the thing I have come to enjoy the most is comparing and contrasting cultures with people from all over the world. It is not only interesting to see some universal qualities that exist across all cultures, but also the unique societal norms that have shaped each of us into unique people. For us Americans, the most commonly asked question has been, “what do you think about Donald Trump?” It is really, amusing to see what other countries think about Americans and our President, and, funnily enough, the most common stereotype is that we don’t know geography (which is kind of true). Anyway, that is all for my first blog…look forward to more later.

Here, I am posing for a selfie, which has a beautification filter, with Chisato (front), Himi, Ayana and Moena.

Spring Semester in London

Yafet Cole
Richmond the American International University
London 2019

I had been wanting to experience a semester away from Hampden-Sydney just to witness what it would be like. After I spent the summer of 2017 in Ethiopia, I thought it would be beneficial to travel a bit more. The idea of studying abroad came along, and it was then that I began to start the process to get myself to my destination. The process was honestly straightforward. I narrowed it down to whether I would spend this time in England or Australia. Australia seemed more of an adventure because it has such a different culture. Its’ climate is very different, and there are more excursions to take part in. I also have family there, so that would have made it easier. But, then I began to think more realistically. I wanted to pick the place that would suit me best. I have always dreamed about living and spending a majority of my life in England. I saw this opportunity as a trial for me to discover if this was what I actually wanted.

The reason why I chose Richmond the American International University in London was because I had previously heard of this school. Also, the school is right in the middle of London. These two factors made me feel comfortable enough to come here. My dad grew up in London, so I view London as my home. I see myself living in the city and this made the decision a no brainer.

The best part about being at this program is that I am only two stations away from Stamford Bridge which is my favorite teams’ stadium. I have already been to one football game, and I am going to two more this week. The benefit about living in London for a semester is that I am still able to travel around Europe for good prices. For example, I found plane tickets to go to Switzerland for spring break and it will only cost 91 GBP. Being in this city will allow me to really get out there and see many different cultures and customs.

A semester in Paris with Sweet Briar

David McElrath
JYF Sweet Briar
Paris, France 2018

Slow goodbyes and Yellow Jackets – on partings during the “jillets jaunes manifestations de 2018”

I find that it’s always helpful to take a moment to look back over a period of time, or an experience of some sort, and to savor and appreciate it fully before my memory naturally applies a rose-tinted filter. It’s good to remember the good with the bad, the hard and the easy, things won and lost. As I approach the end of my semester abroad (six days to go from the writing of this post), I find myself preparing to leave with a certain sense of satisfaction. This semester has been awesome – the things I have done and accomplished in my time here are worth remembering. But, I think the time has come for me to go home. While no stranger to spending most of a year away from my family and friends back in the states, I find it beginning to weigh on me. It’s not homesickness (at least, not fully), but it does remind me of being homesick. Ideally, I would want my leave-taking of the semester to be some kind of a mature farewell to this place, time, and all the people I have met here.

On the other hand, Paris is not precisely a wonderful place to be just now. France enjoys a culture of political activity and vibrancy that, I think, outweighs that of most in America. Yet, sadly, when the circumstances come around, that same passion for politics lends itself to violent displays. It’s hard to write about, in many ways, because I want to distance myself from it and view it intellectually if I can. But at the same time, I am not sure how that is possible. It’s something I can feel on the metro from day to day – a sense of urgency and pressure holding itself over the entire city. Even as I scramble to get in my last few assignments and exams, I can’t help but look out onto the streets and see where tens of thousands of protesters have been gathering these last few weeks. It’s sad to see a city renowned for charming exploration and sight-seeing suddenly rendered off-limits to most of the public. It’s an interesting send-off, and not one I expected. All the same, it does make me glad to be going home, glad for the opportunity to rest, to speak English freely, and once more to the coming semester back at H-SC.

Classes in Costa Rica

Arthur White
Costa Rica
Fall Abroad 2018

Nos vemos, Tiquicia!

This post has been a long time coming and I have to say that it also is coming so soon. About a month ago, my program members and I got to visit the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica and it was incredible. One thing most people don’t know about Costa Rica is that most of the country isn’t on the beach, and it is in fact, not, an island. From the capital of San Jose, which is rather close to me, it takes about five to six hours to reach the nearest beach. Saying that, the Caribbean coast generally has the vibes that aspiring tourists have of the country. The beaches are gorgeous, the water is crystal clear, even after three nights of rain, and the Afro-Caribbean influence in the area is incredibly strong with Limonese music groups bar-crawling and playing for a bit at each new place on the weekends. One of my favorite parts of the trip was a trip to a Bean-to-Bar chocolate plantation, called Cari-beans. We got to see every step of the process from the acres of cacao trees throughout the plantation, to the seed pod fermentation and drying area, and ending with the little chocolatier kitchen. We also had a chocolate tasting of six 73% cacao chocolate made with beans from plantations all over. It was so incredible to taste the major differences between these chocolates prepared in the exact same way. My amazing experience in the Caribbean coast aside, this was the last scheduled program trip which meant departure was just around the corner and as I finish revising this article, departure is just around the corner, I leave on Saturday. I can honestly say that the end of semester has been the hardest of my life, many several page papers in Spanish, two 10- to 20-minute presentations, and of course, finals. Having, nearly, survived finals I have all the end of program things to hurry through, dinners with friends from my program and from Costa Rica, evaluations, and, also last-minute gift shopping because tomorrow is payday. In a bit, I’ll be making a last post to summarize some of my biggest lessons, once I’ve had time to step back and think about my program. For now, though, I think the lesson I’d love to end with is that of dealing with homesickness, so you’re not rushing to end your time abroad. For everyone in my program homesickness has been different between missing specific friends, or a pet, or hoping for a hamburger instead of another serving of gallo pinto. The thing that I want to press home is that because we all had homesickness due to different things, we had to deal with homesickness differently. So, my three suggestions are as follows. Being apart from family and friends does not mean you cannot be a part of your friends and family. I’m more than sure they will want to hear about your adventures, but what most people don’t expect is that you will want to hear about things back home, so call them and stay in touch. Second, indulging in home is not shameful and should be encouraged, just don’t go wild. Remember to try those restaurants you know you’ll never find back home, but don’t be ashamed because you really need some comfort McNuggets. Finally, sometimes homesickness is a nice thing to blame when things are going sour, like a bad test grade or trouble understanding some phrase used in everyday conversation. When you feel homesick, take a breath and take account of your past week. It is possible that if you can identify the problem and work on fixing it, it could either distract you from or eradicate almost entirely your homesickness. In his memoir, Roald Dahl said about homesickness, “[It] is a bit like seasickness, you don’t know how awful it is until you get it, and when you do, it hits you right in the stomach and you want to die.” Which I think is apt, it can hit out of nowhere, and just like seasickness everyone deals with it in their own way. A person could spend the whole boat ride tossing their lunch over the side or they could find their ginger ale, or root beer candies, or whatever their preferred method is. I hope that when you’re abroad you won’t get homesick, but if you do, remember your ginger ale may be different from someone’s Dramamine, and that’s okay.
Wishing you the best abroad, I’ll write again soon!

The history of Limon and the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica is deeply entwined with the history of the train rails. During the time of the track-laying, many people came and were brought from the Caribbean Sea and Asia. Even today, this effect is seen with the makeup of people who live on the eastern coast.




Something really, wonderful we learned about cacao trees is that like apples, every tree is completely different from another. In the same way that Granny Smith apples all come from cuttings of one tree, there are heritage strains of cacao. The plantation we visited elected not to grow commercially accepted heritage cacao, in order to keep prices down, also to have more control over the final taste profile of their chocolate.


A semester in Paris with Sweet Briar

David McElrath
JYF Sweet Briar
Paris, France 2018

You know, I feel as if I should caveat my blog posts by assuring you that yes, I actually do have school work to do most of the time. What you don’t see (largely because I only remember it as a kind of edifying blur) are a great many hours sitting in large classrooms crowded with other students, most of whom speak French far better than I do. In terms of material, it’s pretty similar to what I imagine I would be learning back at H-SC – just with longer lectures, larger classes, and, mercifully, less homework. Overall, it’s nothing to complain about, but neither is it much to write home over either. Timed written tests are the name of the game here, of which I have already had two. They are highly structured affairs, and I would be lying if I did not mention that I was absolutely terrified going into my first one a few weeks ago for fear of messing up the format.

Visiting Mont St. Michel

But enough about that: it’s time for me to show you another string of unreasonably scenic pictures. October came and went in a flurry of schoolwork and travel – a weekend trip to Normandy lightening our spirits under grey, cloudy skies.

Coastal wall of St. Malo, Brittany

A wonderful trip to remember, full of ancient castles (acoustics for days!), historical battles, and galettes (the fancier, full meal version of crepes), as well as several hours on a surprisingly comfortable bus. We spent the better part of a golden afternoon strolling across and through the shattered and cratered cliff edge of Pointe du Hoc, as well as the American cemetery just inland from the D-day beaches.

Bunker at Pt. du Hoc

I have personally always held a profound respect for those in or with family in military service, as cemented by visits to places like that cemetery. While certainly emotionally painful, such opportunities to reflect are priceless, and will endure in my memory far longer than any fun romp through a part of restored medieval Europe.

Bayeux Tapestry

That all too short visit, while not my first experience with the monuments we build to the fallen, was more meaningful to me than our visits to the dramatic abbey Mont St. Michel, the seaside town of St. Malo, or the intricate and compelling Bayeux tapestry.

A semester in Paris with Sweet Briar

David McElrath
JYF Sweet Briar
Paris, France 2018

I was asked this week to write about my commute to and from my classes during the week. To be honest, I was (and still am) not entirely sure where to begin – and I think the confusion stems from the fact that my commute is never the same any given day. Now, there are a few reasons for this. The first is this: there are always at least two ways to get to any given destination (thus, an enormous variety of routes to explore). Personally, I have always preferred to avoid the more crowded stations in favor of more reliably roomy transportation, though this is not always an option. Some routes are quite scenic, including overlooks of various parts of the city, though often you are treated only to an identical sequence of grimy platforms. Beyond one’s preference of route, you also have to account for the endless variety of people one is likely to encounter in Paris’s unnaturally warm, labyrinthine tunnels. It is hard to imagine the many, many thousands of individuals that cross paths down there each and every day. One never knows if the next train will seat you next to a wealthy businessman, on his way to some important engagement, or across from a homeless musician, playing out his heart on an old, worn accordion before a captive audience. Though, in a sense, commuters are hardly captive. Easily two thirds of the occupants of any metro are thoroughly engaged with a private performance of some kind, made possible by a wide variety of earbuds, headphones, and what have you. Indeed, seeing people having a conversation on the dirty, rugged trains is rarer than seeing a 10-piece string ensemble playing jazz at an interchange (which I have seen – no picture unfortunately). And, to a degree, the companionable silence of the metro makes sense. We are all strangers on our own journeys – forced by chance and necessity to inhabit the same squeaking, soiled carriage for a few minutes before never seeing each other again. Why invest in those around you when the escape of your favorite music is literally a button press away? Why not distance yourself from the flow, observe and reflect, and go on your happy way when the train stops moving?
If you can’t tell, I’m challenging myself with these questions. Unpacking my nearly unconscious decision to shut out the real world for one of my own choosing when I can. I can’t say now whether I will follow up on the conviction that I should at least try to start up a conversation or two. I honestly can’t say at this moment if I will, or if I will retain the precious time I have to myself on my longer rides to read, to relax, to escape to someplace more familiar than the dark passages spreading like arteries beneath an ancient city above. Perhaps I am simply waiting for the right moment, the right stranger to talk to. However, if that is the case, I might be waiting indefinitely. Still, time is on my side, for the moment.

A semester in Paris with Sweet Briar

David McElrath
JYF Sweet Briar
Paris, France 2018

These last two weeks have flown past in a nearly uninterrupted flow of lessons, experiences, and memories made with new friends, at new places, and with new adventures each day. Our extended orientation weeks have given us, as a group, time to get to know one another and our respective host families here in Paris. Last weekend, we took a group trip down to the Loire river valley, enjoying an extended look at the plains of France’s heartland. While there, we visited three different royal palaces, each with its own unique history, architectural style and artistic design. Chenonceau, featured right, offered an opulent view over the calm waters of the Loir river.

Arriving in Paris, I now begin to realize how much I had acclimated to the calmer pace of life we enjoy in such isolated areas as Farmville. To be sure, I have enjoyed being back in an ever moving, ever changing city-scape – I simply find myself fondly remembering cool, breezy days walking the Wilson Trail after a long day. It is hard to find anything quite so peaceful here, as even the calmest moments still teem with attention-grabbing details. Still, I have found ways to relax apart from the frenetic day-to-day activity of the City. Just this last Saturday, I (and a few others) visited the Musée d’Orsay – a veritable trove of famous and stunning art pieces from all over the world. Even the view from one of the upper floors of the museum was incredible. Before such famous and intricate works of art, one could not help but feel a little more relaxed about the future.

Looking thru the clocktower from inside of the Orsay Museum.


View near the study abroad center.

Each week brings with it a new variety of opportunities. Chances to experience new and incredible things, but also new challenges. We truly are living in a different culture, with different values, habits, and most obviously, language. One of the most humbling things about my time here is how it has showcased how much I have yet to learn to be able to express my thoughts to others in another language. And while I have several months here to begin to address that problem, I begin to think that time will run quicker than I expect it to. Despite this dour thought, I look forward to the coming days and weeks as my chosen classes commence and my routine for this semester finally emerges.

Classes in Costa Rica

Arthur White
Costa Rica
Fall Abroad 2018


Safety Abroad

So many of the individuals in my study abroad program have been abroad before this semester, not specifically to studying but in general they have all left the country before this year. For me, this is truly my first time out of country, and it is for a substantial amount of time and independent to a degree. That said, when you are abroad there are a lot of precautions to take while abroad that an aspiring traveler should consider. Now, I know this list is nowhere near revolutionary, but I want to discuss some of the major problems I have had to face since coming abroad.
The first thing I cannot recommend enough is proper research about your own cellular plan and available cell plans in your country of study. Personally, my plan on Verizon is incredibly expensive abroad, so my family decided to buy a local telephone in country. Now, here is the part about research, I did some digging but not nearly enough. I bought a phone at the airport, where only one of the two local companies was available. The company available only has monthly plans, instead of a pay-as-you-go, so every 17th I must return to a company store to renew; this fact is not a safety one, just a word of warning. That said, having a reliable phone is so incredibly important when you are meeting up with friends or need to work on a group project. When my friends and I go out on a weekend, we always make sure to text an “I’m home” text, so we know that we are all safe and alive.
My second word of advice is to get to know your daily area well, if someone stops you and asks how to reach a local landmark within a couple blocks of your house or school, then you should have the amount of knowledge needed to help them. This isn’t only to help you be a more helpful person, but on several occasions I have ended up close to home, but maybe 10 or so minutes away. Being able to say, “do you know X landmark?” to a local is so important in understanding how to find your house. More often than not, someone may not know the pharmacy right next to your house, but they may know the church or police station nearby. Part of this, as alluded to with my comment about “I’m home” messages, be aware of times of the day/week in which you may need to choose to uber or taxi home, instead of walking. I live fairly close to and from campus, so I can walk most days. I do usually uber home on Monday nights, because my class lets out rather late in the evening. Part of this, is a matter of time and discussion with the people who live in the same area as you, but take the time to learn about where you’re living.
This next one is easily the most pertinent to my life right now, and you will be told this by the study abroad office, by your on-site program directors, and even the STEP alerts: stay out of political action in country. Right now, there is a major national strike happening in Costa Rica; the group of strikers is composed of several major unions in protest of several problems with the government, but the unifying complaint is a current tax reform legislation. Now, whether or not I support the unions or the government is not important right now. This is an incredibly dangerous situation, which affects all points of life between transportation to academics. People have been hurt, others arrested, and school has been shut down several times. Now, the reasoning behind non-interaction is several-fold. First, and foremost, the “correct” answer is that you are abroad to study, and helping shape a political environment is not the purpose of being abroad. On a more relatable level, as a foreigner on a student visa, you can have your visa revoked for being arrested. You will have to pay for your fines, a new airplane ticket, and your experiences ends there. You will be sent home. Furthermore, a lot of study abroad programs absolve themselves of financial problems due to arrest and you will one hundred percent have to pay for that yourself. On a physical safety level, yes, as a study abroad student you have some of the best insurance you can really get for the price you pay to study abroad. That said, if you break an ankle or get physically harmed in some other way, you are possibly going to be dealing with that for the rest of your time abroad.
So once again, I’ll be ending with a quick word. From a current student abroad to someone who may go abroad someday soon: go abroad, but most importantly go safely. You don’t want to end up the person told as a precautionary tale because you got robbed four separate times in one semester (that’s a true story) or the person who didn’t finish their semester abroad because they had their visa revoked.

Seriously, some of these strike events are huge and make getting to classes nearly impossible.
So, in the event of something like this be prepared to take a different route altogether
and keep that local phone handy in case you receive a message that class is canceled.

Classses in Costa Rica

Arthur White
Costa Rica
Fall Abroad 2018

Manuel Antonio, Cerro de la Muerte, and Monteverde, Oh My!

So, the past few posts I kept teasing information about my adventures outside of Heredia, and now that I have finally gotten pictures back from my trip to Monteverde, it’s finally time for an adventure post! Shortly after we arrived in Costa Rica, the group decided to take our first and only available long weekend to go to a town called Quepos, specifically about 15 minutes outside of Quepos, near a national park called Manuel Antonio. The actual little area around Manuel Antonio is basically a little beach town, but for all intents and purposes it is considered part of Quepos and not an independent town. Due to the proximity of the beach to the national park, we spent most of the time on the beach. This is where we get to the lessons learned from Manuel Antonio. 1). If you go to an unknown area, check the heat index; Manuel Antonio is actually one of the hottest areas in Costa Rica, and although the group stayed at two different hotels, neither hotel had air conditioning or even a ceiling fan. Yes, the hotels were only about $13-$15/night, but that’s probably because a person can barely stand to stay in the hotel during sunlight hours, making the hotel only usable at night. They also didn’t have towels, but that was fine, I had already prepared myself to buy a towel once I got there. Furthermore, if you recall, sunscreen is incredibly expensive in Costa Rica, so if a person is outside of his hotel all day, he better come prepared with a lot to cover up with or bite the bullet and invest in sunscreen… I did neither. My mistake resulted in one of the most bizarre sunburns I have ever had. It didn’t hurt at all, but boy howdy it peeled for nearly two weeks.

I’m not joking when I say that the redness stuck around for a full week, easily, and the peeling another week after that.
So, I’m here today to tell you, don’t let your stubborn stinginess stop you from enjoying a beautiful beach/national park because you decided to go with the cheapest hotel and no sunscreen. That said, Manuel Antonio was incredibly beautiful, and I cannot wait until the next time I go to the beach in Costa Rica, this time armed with sunscreen.

The beach at Manuel Antonio is very, very long. My group stayed at a hotel a little bit away from the real touristy area, which was nice because we got this wonderfully quiet view.

If Manuel Antonio is one of the hottest places in Costa Rica, I can say with confidence that Cerro de la Muerte is one of the coldest places in the country. For my Ecology and Sustainable Development course, we have several field trips planned in order to visit ecologically significant places in Costa Rica. Our first trip was to Cerro de la Muerte, and when the professor said that the mountain was cold, we laughed and shrugged off his warning. Now I have to say, I think that was a warranted reaction, ticos are “friolentos”, which is to say when it is 50 degrees outside they are pulling out heavy coats. As soon as we stepped off the bus, we realized that the professor wasn’t saying cold, as in tico cold, he meant just absolutely frigid.

Yup, we were not prepared for 36-ish degree weather, with rain and heavy winds.
Freezing our butts off aside, the trip to Cerro de la Muerte was really interesting, we learned about the types of adaptations that the mountainous species have, such as shorter plant heights or that bees nest under the ground at that altitude. This coming week, my class will be giving presentations about the plants and animals that we observed and the ways in which they interact with each other.
So, we dealt with extreme heat, then terrible cold, is there a goldilocks style medium climate that we could finally visit? Trick question, the other IFSA students and I actually already live in one of the most moderate climates in Costa Rica, but that doesn’t mean we can’t go visit one. About a week and a half ago, we visited the area known as Monteverde and its neighboring town Santa Elena. Having dealt with two crazy opposites, we all came with clothes for any weather so that we wouldn’t get caught unprepared again. Even had we removed the factor of temperature from my previous adventures and from Monteverde, I can say with confidence that Monteverde has been the most fun so far. The first day we visited a sustainable coffee plantation, called Life Monteverde, which is part of an association of twelve coffee farms in Monteverde run by an extended family. We got to see the ecological practices of the farm from composting to the use of a methane biodigester, and we got to do a little coffee tasting. The next day we hiked part of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, which was awe inspiring. The section we explored contained a section of the continental divide as well as a view of an area of the forest known as The Elven Forest.

We arrived at the observation deck during a lucky cloud break and the view was impossibly vast.

Following the adventure in the cloud forest, we were invited by the Monteverde activities director, Maricella, whom graciously invited us to her home to teach us how to cook “comidas tipicas” and we had such a fun time making dinner. Dinner included several types of empanadas, guacamole, chimichurri rojo, a salad, and patacones.

My friend Fu and I learned to make patacones, which is a sort of chip made by double frying and smashed green plantains. They were my favorite food of the night, without a doubt, and I’m definitely going to keep that recipe in my back pocket.
We finished the trip on Sunday with one more visit to the cloud forest, and we got to either zipline or walk the sky bridges at 100% Adventura Tours (I’m going to name drop here because this experience was so awesome and if anyone reading is thinking about going to Costa Rica, this place is a Must-Do). I chose to zipline, which was a new experience for me, and I am so glad I made that choice. It was an incredible adventure.

What an adventure! In this picture I am concentrating so hard because I’m about to hit the first landing platform and I was so focused on not dying I forgot there was a photographer.
The first line was terrifying, and I could barely bear the thought of stepping off the first platform, by the end I was hooting and hollering as Fu and I tandem rode the kilometer long “Tarzan Swing”. All in all, the adventures in Costa Rica have been so fun, but even more so, I am really glad that I get the opportunity to stay in Costa Rica for a few months with occasional adventures in between classes. This structure makes the adventures mean so much more, as they are a time to relax on one hand, and on the other hand I have time to “recover” between trips and better absorb every cool thing that I am experiencing here. This week I don’t exactly have a famous quote to close with, but I do have a closing thought: the things you’ll learn while you travel are rarely the lessons you prepare for. Like the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy will tell you, always bring a towel with you, I will add on and say, sunscreen and a good rain jacket are travel essentials. Once you have those, keep an open mind, open plans, and have fun finding the hidden lessons. Nos vemos! I’ll write again soon!

Classes in Costa Rica

Arthur White
Costa Rica
Fall Abroad 2018

Money Matters and the Formal Dude

So, the topics of my first couple of blog posts came to me rather easily, I basically just took the things rattling around in my head post-arrival and sorted the major things out until they were coherent enough for anyone to read. When contemplating the topics for this post, I reached out to my mom and asked what she thought would be interesting, and she mentioned that it might be a good idea to cover some of the things that had me stressed. One thing she brought up was the foreign concept of foreign currency: what does it look like, what is the exchange rate, and, finally, where does someone go to get money exchanged? There’s a whole load of things to tackle so let’s get started.

In Costa Rica, they use a currency called colones. There are 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, and 50 thousand bills, as well as 5,10, 25, 50, 100, and 500 coins. The colon bills are incredibly beautiful, in my opinion, each denomination has a different color, and feature art of Costa Rica, from famous buildings to plants and animals like sloths and butterflies. The 50 thousand colon bill, which none of the IFSA students have actually seen in person, is a gorgeous purple color and showcases the Morpho butterfly, Bromelia flower, and parasol mushrooms; these bills highlighting the biggest industry of Costa Rica, ecotourism.

Now, how much is that pretty 50 thousand worth in USD? Currently, as type this post, 50,000 colones is about 88.30 USD. So yes, an American could walk around with an app like XE Currency, which updates constantly, but a good rule of them is ‘multiply the colones by two and then remove the last three digits, so 50,000 x 2 = 100,000, remove the last three digits and it’s about $100. The overage is rather evident, but in a pinch 100 colones is $0.20, 500 is $1, 1 thousand is $2, and so on from there. Finally, where to exchange, and I assure you, readers, this is easily the most important question to be answered; I can say that from experience. Having just arrived in Costa Rica, one of my first instincts was to exchange about sixty bucks… at the airport. This was my first mistake in the country, the airport exchange booth actually short changed me at a rate of 480 colones per 1 USD. This means that a 50,000 colon bill would actually trade for about 104.50 USD at that rate, abysmal, really, when compared to the actual exchange rate. So places that will give you a much better exchange rate: any Banco Nacional ATM, there will be a bit of a surcharge to pull out from a non-affiliated bank but it’s really not that much, a lot of hotels will exchange cash and you’ll probably be lucky enough to have a receptionist who speaks English; or in a pinch most business will accept USD as far as I’ve observed but there is always a bit of a holdup when they check to see if your money is real and everyone kind of rolls their eyes at the foreigner who couldn’t spend five minutes at the ATM to get some local money.

One more quick topic before I end this post, and this is for the Spanish learners back at Sydney and just generally out there: what is “usted”, and when/how is it used. As a basic definition, “usted” is a formal second person pronoun, it takes the place of “tú”, but it acts more like a third person noun. That being said usage of “usted” varies from country to country, how it is used and if it is used at all, someone going abroad will have the best luck with doing a quick search on Google, or even better, asking a local. In Costa Rica, “usted” is used for basically everyone, until you feel close enough and comfortable to “tutear”, or speak with “tú”. Now, I’m the type of person that uses dude as a gender-neutral form of address. Retraining my brain to use “usted” instead of “tú” has been a little bit of a trick that if you could fit “dude” into an area of a sentence in English and it makes sense, then that’s a spot where “usted” can go in a sentence, for example, “hey, dude” -> “hola usted” or “can you pass me that, dude?” -> “puede me lo regalo usted?”. It’s not a perfect rule, and I’m sure the entirety of Spain just felt the hairs on the back of its neck raise in indignation, but the “dude rule” has worked so far for me.

So, before I leave, a closing thought: when it comes to learning new things and acquiring skills like on the spot money-handling or using a language facet you hadn’t used before, everything comes down to what works best for you. When it comes to money the 2:1 ratio is good enough for me and in the case of “usted” I don’t think I could have possibly thought of a more personalized method of learning than the “dude method”.

With that, cheers to weird brain shortcuts and learning the best way we can, nos vemos.

While none of us have actually seen a real life 50,000 bill, I did score this really rad towel this past weekend while in Manuel Antonio, but you’ll hear all about that in my next post about my trips to Quepos and Cerro de la Muerte.