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.

 

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.

Classes in Costa Rica

Arthur White
Costa Rica
Fall Abroad 2018

FOOD

The very first slide of the very first orientation presentation very poignantly said of Costa Rica, “welcome to Costa Rica, where eating too much is the new normal.” Having been here for a short stint already, I can fully assure you that the program director, Rodney, was not joking.

Most morning, Iliana prepares fried eggs, some form of meat, an assortment of fruit which always includes papaya, various types of bread, and occasionally gallo pinto. This last one is a very popular dish in Costa Rica and consists of rice, beans, and various ingredients that are often left-over from dinner the previous nights. Like I said, we don’t have gallo pinto every day, but it is popular enough that several other IFSA students have it every morning, and at McDonald’s for breakfast you can order a McPinto Deluxe, which is scrambled eggs served with a sausage patty, two hot tortillas, gallo pinto, and a sour cream-based sauce called natilla. I would say that lunch is usually standard fare, like sandwiches and such, but we’ve also had omelettes with chiles rellenos and a personal favorite, so far, sopa de mondongo, which is a slow-cooked tripe stew. Personally, I’m already a big fan of tripe, so Iliana was very happy to hear I was excited for and enjoyed lunch that day. Most days dinner is really a wild card, my first day we had chicken fajitas, made with a small chicken that she had slow-cooked all day it was mouthwatering.

While I think that Iliana’s cooking is some of the best food that I have had in the country, Tico fare is very, very delicious and often very varied. My friends and I have gone to a creperie near campus twice now and I’m still not terribly sure how I feel about a chicken and mushroom stuffed crepe, served with a potato and beet salad, but it was definitely a new experience. As I type this, I can already imagine several reactions of, “but you’re in Central America, why are you going to a french eatery?” A fair question, I assure you, but surprisingly, or not as Costa Rica is a country with a strong tourism economy, the people of San Jose and Heredia are a diverse group. Just within a mile of the university’s campus a person could choose from crepes, shawarma, pizza, and Asian fusion, in addition to the numerous Tico and Caribbean food spots.

One of my favorite restaurants so far is a place on the edge of the central valley called, Sibu. Sibu is a pretty awesome place with roots in Costa Rican cuisine but kind of more high-end. Sibu’s real claim to fame is its incredible fresh fruit juices, flavored with herbs grown in their garden, and also its made-in-shop from scratch chocolate, cocoa fruit to bar. When we arrived at Sibu, we all received a small complimentary hot chocolate, and when I say it is the best hot chocolate I have ever received, I don’t exaggerate. We ate our lunches, and finished off with dessert, Iliana and her sister splitting a gorgeous tiramisu, and I, a drink called chorotega. When I ordered the drink, the waiter’s face lit up and asked if I had any idea what I was ordering, and in broken Spanish I replied, “nope it’s like fancy hot chocolate, right?” And he laughed, thankfully took pity on me, and explained the drink’s background in English, but one of the owners of Sibu is a historian, and as such wanted to serve a drink that is as historically accurate to the cocoa-based drink that the Aztecs drank. It was a rich dark chocolate drink, based in water, with almond, chipotle, and sweetened with honey. Truly, one of the most delicious things I have ever had in my entire life, I convinced some friends to make a trip with me soon just to try it again.

I seem to have caught myself with in a pattern of tying things up nicely with a closing thought, so this week, for obvious reasons, I want to talk about the late Anthony Bourdain. Until recently, I was not familiar with his work until a close friend recommended Parts Unknown to me at the beginning of the summer. Of all the things he spoke about, Bourdain’s most pertinent belief was that to grow as a person, you had to travel and eat local, wherever you went. So, while I may not be super extremely excited to try cow tongue for the first time, later this week, I’ll be chewing on this quotation from Bourdain, “you learn a lot about someone when you share a meal together.” Here’s to learning all I can about Costa Rica and the people I meet here through the foods that they love and choose to share with me.

I’ll write again soon, nos vemos.

 

As part of orientation, Esteban gave us an introduction to local fruits which we probably hadn’t heard of before, and it was a collection that ranged from granadillas to mamónes chinos.

 

 

 

 

 

A picture my friend April Vollmer took of the infamous chicken and mushroom crepe, served with fresh lemonade, salad, and patatas.

Classes in Costa Rica

Arthur White
Costa Rica
Fall Abroad 2018

LANGUAGE

For those wondering what life is like in a country where you have the conversational skills of a child, if that, I can assure you that the experience is a humbling one. Starting at the very beginning, people who may not know me that well may not know that I’m a Spanish major. In conflict with this fact, I only started formally learning Spanish in the fall semester of my freshman year of college. The past two years have been trying; between my grammar knowledge from three years of Latin and the conflicting vocabularies of English, Latin, and Spanish, I have felt like I have been running in circles: using Latin words, throwing in the wrong preposition or pronoun, leaving out words entirely.

Things changed almost immediately after arriving in Costa Rica; suddenly I had to be speaking in and listening to Spanish 90% of the day. In the US, I can always leave my Spanish when I leave the classroom or put down whatever book I’m trying to read in Spanish, but I don’t have that crutch here in Heredia. Three days after arriving, I caught myself beginning to “just think, instead of translating each sentence,” as my friend Grace described it when we talked about our experiences so far. I have very clear memories from the past few semesters at H-SC in which I am listening to fluent Hispanic speakers and all I heard was “estoy hablablablablabla,” the words zooming around me like hummingbirds; currently, as I type, my host mom Iliana is in the living room watching the nightly news and I feel as if everything has slowed down to a manageable speed. I can finally hear distinct words when a person is speaking at their normal speed. Do I know exactly what the Ticos are saying, and can I form concise responses and conversation with them every time? No, but this breakthrough is a good start I think.

When it comes down to speaking, the biggest indicator that you, as a speaker, are doing well is that there are no indicators, no furrowed brows or little interjections. While many Ticos in the central valley have some level of English, often most people have little to no experience with speaking English, and in a way, I’m thankful for this barrier. I’ve been told that I’m the kind of person who has never met a stranger in my life. To have a barrier in communication is like having to walk through a wet and muddy field barefoot, which is to say extremely not ideal for several reasons. Because of the distance between myself and the Ticos linguistically, I’ve been pushing myself hard to achieve a level of conversation where I feel comfortable walking around Heredia. Adjusting to a different language is a big challenge for sure but daily conversation has begun to help me familiarize myself with sound of Spanish conversation. But, for now, as I wait for my ears to catch up, I’ll settle on bolstering my vocabulary with a Spanish language edition of The Shape of Water.

Finally, classes start this week and I couldn’t be more excited and equally terrified. So, here’s a closing thought, the tag line for The Shape of Water is “prepare yourself for a connection that goes beyond words.” While my number one focus in Costa Rica is to become more fluent in the language, there are so many experiences that I am gaining already from my time here, outside of my language learning. In a few weeks or so, when I’m at my wit’s end with my Advanced Spanish Syntax course, I’ll come back here to remember to look back on my experience so far, as a whole, breathe, and diagram that last sentence.

I’ll be writing again soon, nos vemos!

After a long day, I enjoy a good book and a cafecito in the mall, Paseo del las Flores, near my homestay.

Classes in Costa Rica 2018

Arthur White
Costa Rica
Fall Abroad 2018

ARRIVAL AND ADJUSTMENT

I have been in Costa Rica now for three days, and what is there to say but I still cannot believe that I am in Costa Rica. Before this past Tuesday, I had never left the country. While I did live in Hawaii for a few years and in a way that’s a whole different country, nothing could have prepared me for the first time I stepped out of the Juan Santamaria Airport in San Jose. The first thing that I came to recognize about Costa Rica, or at least where I have been so far, is the fact that the country is so incredibly active. I walked out of the airport door and there’s a small army of taxi drivers waiting to give you a ride; in Heredia, where I will be taking classes, there are always cars and always pedestrians doing their best not to get run over; even around my homestay in San Pablo, which is a suburb of sorts, people are constantly around hanging outside their house or walking to their jobs.

In all seriousness, I feel as though the “Tico” culture of always being outside is very tied to the wonderful climate that Costa Rica, and specifically the central valley, has to offer. Every day the temperature is between 60 to 72 degrees Fahrenheit, and there’s a very good chance that every area will receive just a little bit of rain. An interesting impact of the weather here, is the absolute uselessness of the weather app; fun fact: when the weather forecast says, ‘there is a 30 percent chance of rain’ what the forecast actually means is ‘within the forecast area, 30 percent of the prediction area will receive rainfall.’ So, when at least 90% of the forecast area receives just a tiny bit of rain, the forecast probably says 90% chance of rain, as it always does in San Jose, it is a good idea to always have a rain jacket, hoodie, or hat.

I arrived, stayed for a day at a hotel, and now I’m at my homestay. My “mama tica”, as IFSA-Butler refers to our host parents, Iliana lives about two miles from the Universidad Nacional campus, and we are slowly getting accustomed to being around each other. Iliana lives with her two dogs, Gia and Coco, and she is an incredibly talented cook, but I’ll be talking all about food in a different post. But now, to finish here’s a closing thought for future-me, for any other students studying abroad, for anyone thinking about studying abroad, and for all my friends and family back home having trouble starting ‘that new thing’. Whether or not you are a fan of Bojack Horseman, one of my favorite quotations from the show is as follows, “it gets easier, every day it gets a little easier, but you gotta do it every day. That’s the hard part.” Over the past few days it has been easy to get frustrated over my language skills or the difference in culture, but when I learn to let it go and keep moving, then I begin to progress. Even within the time I’ve been here, I’ve gone from nodding mindlessly to responding, as best as I can in Spanish , and occasionally in English, but that is okay because it may be hard now but each day it gets easier.

For now, nos vemos!

 

Shortly after we arrived, the estudiantes estadosunidenses had to get a picture together. Yes, I am the only guy, and yes, it is a bit of a big change from good ol’ H-SC

 

 

 

 

As part of our orientation, we all took a trip up to Monte de la Cruz on the outer edge of the Central Valley. The view was incredible and impossible to fit into one picture because it was so large, but the yellow jacket squad tried its best.

In Another Country Revisited

by R. Wesley Proctor ’10

I don’t really know how to describe my preconceptions going into my May Term abroad program in Costa Rica other than about 95% pure excitement mixed with 5% apprehension about living with a foreign family whom I knew relatively little about, not to mention the language barrier.

Hindsight is 20/20 and I have the good fortune of being able to say that I would not have done anything differently. Pushing myself to speak the language and interact with the family and the local community yielded tremendous dividends in both conversational improvement as well as in social education. I learned a lot about myself and an international environment while having a good time in paradise.

There were 16 Hampden-Sydney students on the trip. Everyone lived with a Costa Rican family and made their way to class twice each day at the institute where we studied.  During the week we worked hard during the day and unwound a little a night, but the weekends were definitely highlights.

The first weekend we toured around San Jose getting acclimated to the area as well as seeing many museums and places of interest, such as the Teatro Nacional (left), which was a standout because of its fantastic architecture. 

 The second weekend we went to Manuel Antonio (right), a rain forest national park positioned next to Quepos, a small fishing town. With the help of my taxi driver, I set up a day of off-shore fishing which turned out great; although it was the off-season, we landed a sailfish.

The following Friday I was invited by my host sister, who is my age, to go to one of her friend’s birthday parties. I foolishly accepted not knowing how hard Costa Ricans throw down. They told me I was welcome to bring a friend, so I invited Holden Bryant ’10. The party was ridiculous. One thing that was hard to keep in my mind was the possibility that some of these people do in fact speak English. It was about 10 minutes of my stumbling with my Spanish trying to tell someone, whom I thought to be Costa Rican, about the plot line of The Dark Knight before he informed me that he was from California.

Getting up at 7AM the following morning wasn’t the easiest task, but there was no way I was going to miss Costa Rica’s most active volcano, Arenal.  If there’s anything that wakes you up in the morning it’s vistas of liquid hot magma chased by hot springs with waters of varying temperature both with and without aqua-bars.  Seeing this volcano may very well have been the highlight of the trip.  It was majestic, impressive, and humbling all at once.

Our final weekend we visited Tortuguero, an island in the Caribbean where turtles go to lay their eggs.  It was quite a trek to get there, but, when we did, it was worth it.  The beaches were astounding; the water was the perfect temperature, unattainable in any bath or Sharper-Image product.  I went fishing and canoeing; both offered uncanny views of the Caribbean Coast.  The canals behind Tortuguero made me feel like I was in the Amazon and far more intrepid than my mom may have liked.  We saw three types of monkeys, a sloth, toucans, crocodiles, and many other animals for which I lack the proper nomenclature. The trip was a blast.

The following weekend was our departure, which was bitter sweet.  I had such an indescribably good time and bonded with my host family, with whom I still keep in touch, but as always it’s good to be back in the old U.S. of A. as well as Hampden-Sydney.  The trip had such an effect on me that I have decided to minor in International Studies as well as a Spanish minor.  I would advise anyone who is thinking about doing a study abroad program to just check all reservations at the door because for me it was the experience of a lifetime.

Study Abroad 2003-2004

During the 2003-2004 academic year, 72 Hampden-Sydney students studied abroad in 11 different countries. The length of study ran from a full academic year to May Term courses and ranged from Europe to Central America to Australia and New Zealand.

On September 2, many of the participants gathered in the Parents & Friends Lounge and several shared stories of their adventures.

G. W. Zuban ’06 of Chesterfield, VA, studied at University of St. Andrews, Scotland, for the Spring Semester 2004.
G.W. chose St. Andrews because of its solid academic reputation and it because is substantially larger than Hampden-Sydney College but not in an urban environment. Early on, he could not find a building where one of his classes was held and stopped another student and asked directions; it turned out to be Prince William, who gave him directions.

Full Story…

Forrest Smith ’06 of Farmville, VA, spent the academic year at University of Glasgow.
He arrived the end of August. Forrest called it a “surreal experience.” “I always wanted to go to Scotland, and I threw myself into the culture. First, I tried haggis. It is a brilliant dish; I loved it. With haggis and a pint of Guinness you can’t go wrong. The people of Scotland are warm and friendly; if you ask directions, they don’t just give you directions they take you there.”
“The university experience was like independent study. Professors are very approachable but you are largely on your own. There is much reading. The routine is paper, project, exam, and go home.”
The rugged terrain is just as it would have been 400 or 500 years ago. This was the Scotland I went to see, and I was not disappointed. I traveled to Loch Ness and Loch Lomond and took 3- or 4-hour hikes on trails up the mountains. Scotland is so very green.

Jordan Gaul ’05, of West Chester, PA, spent the academic year at St. Catherines College, Oxford University, England.
“At Oxford there were no tests, study was entirely independent, lectures were optional, but evaluations were intense and individualized. It was the most thorough and rewarding system I have ever had the opportunity to study under.”

Full Story…

 

Mathew Anderson ’06 of Staunton, VA, spent his junior year in Paris on the Sweet Briar College Program.
“It was the best decision I have made thus far; of the 95 in the program, 10 were men.”
“We began with a month in Tours and then moved to Paris, where I lived with a host family and attended the Sorbonne. The Sorbonne is extremely different form Hampden-Sydney – huge classes, little support – a different experience.”
“Sweet Briar was great about side trips. We went to Monet’s Garden a Giverny and the American Cemetery at Normandy. I spent Christmas in Brussels. All the guys in the program decided to go to Sweden, and we found a 19 Euro plane fare to Stockholm. Several of us took a 16-day spring-break trip to Morocco including riding camels across the Sahara for two days. It was a phenomenal trip, so very different from anything I had ever seen. The skies and colors of Morocco are beyond belief.”
“Paris is a gift. It is all the sparkle and all the life you could hope for. Last year was the best year ever.”

Joseph Yarborough ’06, of Golf Shores, AL, spent the spring semester at James Cook University in Cairnes, Australia. He took courses in management, psychology, and aboriginal culture.
“I went with Mike Vassar (’06 of Midlothian, VA). Our study abroad conditions were that it was warm and everybody spoke English, and we found the right place.”
“In Australia what you learn above the surface is nothing to what you can learn under the water; diving with a whale is like being with a dinosaur.
We took a 3,000-mile 16-day road trip from Cairnes to Sidney. Up in the rain forests, there are trees that take a hundred years to grow. On the beaches the views are breathtaking. There are gorges with waterfalls that shake the earth. At Barron Bay are the prettiest sunsets you will ever see.”
“It was great experience. Anyone who gets a chance to study abound, just go for it.”

Monti Mercer ’06 of Fairfax, VA, took the May Term course in tropical biology in Costa Rica.

Full Story…

Daniel Gordon ’05 of Burke, VA, studied abroad in Grenoble, France, for two months last summer as part of the requirements for his French major.
“Grenoble is not a tourist town and most foreigners there are students. It is well located and I visited Paris, Verdun, Normandy, Dijon, and Monaco.”
“It was an experience everyone should have. I hope to return to spend a year.”

May Term 2004 in Costa Rica

By Monti Mercer ’06Dr. M. Carolina Y?er, Visiting Assistant Professor of Biology, parted from her family for two and half weeks to take eleven Hampden-Sydney men to Costa Rica for tropical biology research.  We were able to perform studies on plants and animals found at three biological stations located around the country, each with its own tropical forest genre.  The stations are run by the Organizations for Tropical Studies (OTS), a non-profit consortium that focuses on undergraduate and graduate level education in tropical biology.

 

Six days were spent on campus preparing for all the research that would be performed in Costa Rica.  It was decided that we would break up into five research groups to conduct the experiments at each station.  We got up early Sunday morning to catch our flight out of Richmond at 7:30 AM, only to have a seven hour layover in Miami.  After we explored either the beach or the airport to pass the time, we finally turned back our watches two hours and walked off the plane into the Costa Rican capital, San Jose.  We all made it through customs with no problems and were greeted outside the airport by a mass of the native people taking pictures and shouting, “Need Taxi?”  A bus soon carried us away into the heart of San Jose where we would spend one night at hotel la Amistad (Friendship) before going to the first biological station, Palo Verde.
During the four hour bus ride to the first station, the change in vegetation became evident.  Palo Verde is a dry forest located in the northern section of Costa Rica on the pacific coast.  Driving up to the main gates, a collection of dragon flies and iguanas were present to greet us.  Settling at this station for four nights, we were provided with three rooms containing two sets of bunk beds per room, a fan, and our own bathrooms with no hot water.  We were also given mosquito nets that fortunately weren’t of much need.  Besides having to check the beds for scorpions every night, the annoying insects that seemed to be immune to DEET, and the long hot afternoons, we were able to make Palo Verde home for the given time.  The five research groups spent the days hiking the different trials in order to obtain information on our topics.  On the second day we took a boat ride down a river that dumps into the Pacific.  A large variety of wild life can be spotted if you have a good eye.  The river is crocodile infested; one of the guys was able to touch one from the boat.  Three guys and Professor Yaber were able to sample raw shrimp sprinkled with fresh lime juice, caught by the boatman in the middle of the ride.  The last day was spent writing papers and we gave presentations of the research that night.  To take a break from research before going to the next research station, we found ourselves on another four hour trip to the beaches of Manuel Antonio, still on the Pacific side.  It began to rain a few hours after our arrival.  We had already agreed to spend this night together as a group, and the rain didn?t spoil that adventure.  The next morning the guys met with Dr. Y?er to go to the beach inside the National Park.  To our entertainment, as if the beach itself wasn’t enough, the guys watched a Squirrel Monkey climb down out of a tree, steal a package of Oreo cookies off a young lady’s towel, climb back up the tree, and enjoy the creme center.  Guess he never heard of the Honor Code.  After basking in the sun all morning, the group returned to the bus for yet another four hour drive.
The Wilson Botanical Garden at Las Cruces is located in the south, about twenty miles north of the border with Panama. Four nights were spent here with spectacular accommodations for researchers.  We had rooms for two with wooden floors and blinds, a balcony overseeing part of the forest, a bathroom with hot water, and a phone.  Although, Las Cruces has the best accommodations out of the three stations, it was the most difficult to gather research topics.  Since it is a botanical garden, most of its wild life is comprised of various plants and birds.  There is division in the group over which station had better food, La Cruces or Palo Verde.  La Cruces has more international style food compared to the typical Costa Rican food served in Palo Verde but it can be hard to please some international travelers especially when every Costa Rican meal contains beans and rice.  We all enjoyed La Cruces and would not have been in a hurry to leave except the next stop was at a volcano.

The nine hour bus ride north to the active Arenal Volcano turned out to be a great experience for those who could stay up.  As the group got closer and closer to the volcano, we became surrounded by overcast and there was no change once we arrived at our destination.  The school had already arranged for an elaborate candle light dinner, so we became indulged with that believing we wouldn’t see the volcano erupt.  After dinner, a little before midnight, seven of us were relaxing in the Jacuzzi and celebrating one of the guy?s twentieth birthday, when we glimpsed a break in the clouds revealing fireworks shooting out of the mouth of Arenal into the empty black sky for a teasing five minutes.

We all watched Arenal in the morning light with hopes of seeing something red as we headed towards the last station in La Selva.  Being in a tropical rainforest, La Selva is full of more species of plants and animals than Las Cruces and Palo Verde combined.  The lab equipment available at this station was the best of the three stations; each group made efforts to use and learn about the different types of equipment.  The best research projects were performed here and were comprised of the following subjects: Leaf-cutter Ants, Bullet Ants, Fig Wasp, and Helliconiae plants.  The food and living accommodations were least liked here out of the three stations and it rained a lot, but the students still enjoyed their stay.  To celebrate the end of all of our research, the group played ultimate Frisbee and took their last hike through the tropical jungle together.

The Last day in Costa Rica was spent in San Jose.  It was comforting to return back to our starting place, la Amistad.  Most of the guys made use of time trying to see everything in the city before it was time to head towards the airport.  We learned a lot from this trip, from increasing our own biological knowledge, to experiencing Costa Rican culture and customs.  The guys began to discuss and really to respect true family values witnessed here.  We were all ready to go home and share our experiences with friends and family.  Thanks to Dr. Y?er and Hampden-Sydney we did it together in the brotherhood, and some of our experiences will never be forgotten.