Endless Summer

Last night I Skyped with two of my best friends at Seatte U, one just began her school year like normal and the other is in the middle of a semester abroad in Quepos, Ecuador. I was ridiculously excited to tell them about my life in Costa Rica, but when we got on the subject of being homesick it struck me how much I miss the family and home I have created at Seattle U. This is my senior year and I knew that if I didn’t study abroad and push myself outside of my comfort zone I wouldn’t know what I really wanted after graduation. What I didn’t expect though was that once I got out of Seattle, the place I’d been making plans to leave for the past year, I would immediately feel a different kind of homesickness that I never felt for my home in New Mexico. I’m guessing the weather is going to be getting cooler soon in Seattle and everything pumpkin-flavored will take over (I got an email from my former employer Molly Moon’s and – holy ice cream – Seattleites are in for some awesome flavors this season). While it all feels a little bittersweet to realize I am missing my favorite season in the states, this is one of the reasons I wanted to study abroad. In Costa Rica the weather feels like an endless summer, I live two blocks from the beach, I get the privilege to call this paradise home – and it feels like the bittersweet homesickness makes it all worth it because I consistently have to practice living in the moment.
It took me 2 years of planning and about 3,427 miles to get here to finally realize what I value the most in my life. Every time I get an inkling of missing someone or something back in the U.S., it’s like an exercise in figuring out who and what is important to me. It is funny how living on a beach has made me realize how much I appreciate living in the city, and how Spanish television really gets me thinking about my film classes at SU. I feel like I’m having the coolest summer vacation; I’m simultaneously having a once in a lifetime experience and getting closer to answering that looming question: “What do you want to do when you grow up?”

Allison

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New Friends, Old Friends, New Loves, Old Loves

This week I am going to divide my post into four sections, displayed in the title.
The first is new friends. It has now been almost a month since I left Seattle and I each day I get to know the people in my program better. This week we got to bond over studying for our two tests. We completed our Intensive program and part 1 of our culture class, and after tomorrow’s test to determine our levels for classes for the rest of our time here, we have a week to travel around Europe. My friends and I are going to Paris and London! I’m excited to go to new countries and to spend time with my new friends, who I have become really close with in a short amount of time.

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This week was also a chance to reunite with an old friend from Seattle U who came to visit me after spending the summer in Switzerland and then traveling around Europe for two weeks by herself. I had the chance to show her around Granada and teach her a few Spanish phrases for four days, which was really great.

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This weekend was one of the best I have had so far. I fell in love with two distinct places: the beach town of Nerja, where we swam in the Mediterranean Sea and laid on the warm, sandy beach all day Saturday, and then the Alhambra, one of the most famous and beautiful structures in Spain. See the pictures below, because words cannot describe how incredible these places were. The Alhambra in particular has so much history and cultural significance and it was absolutely stunning to walk through the palace and the gardens.

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And finally, one of the least significant (but still important) events of this past week was the discovery of peanut butter in a little grocery store in Nerja. My roommate and I have been craving food from home, despite the amazing meals our host mom makes us, and the peanut butter find was a wonderful addition to our day. My roommate bought a jar and has decided to only have a little bit every day in order to make it last until we have to leave. it’s not quite as good as Skippy, but it’s a pretty good substitute!

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That wraps up my summary of the week. I can’t wait for my trip to France and England, and I’m a little nervous to find out the results of my tests and my classes.
Saludos,
Chloe

Getting my Feet Wet – Week One in Nicaragua

Tuesday marks one week in Nicaragua. So far I am loving being here! I often catch myself in awe of the fact that I am finally here! While I want to dive right in to all things Nicaraguan, my transition so far has been more like slowly getting my feet wet.

Here are some highlights of my experience so far:

I am staying with a host family here in Managua. They host international students often, as they have a building on the back of the property with about eight small, individual rooms. I have a bed, a desk, a closet, a bathroom, and a fan (which I am very thankful for because it is humid!) The property is large and colorful; it used to be a preschool! My family is very nice, but they are pretty hands-off. My host mom makes breakfast and dinner for me and the three other girls staying here, but we don’t eat with the family. They like to keep the family space separate, which I can understand.

walking up towards my house
walking up towards the house

My room
My room

The other three girls I am staying with are from Connecticut, and they speak fluent Spanish. Unfortunately, they prefer to speak English when  we are at home, so I don’t get much opportunity to practice my Spanish. I was hoping to use this first week before classes start to practicing my Spanish here at home, but it looks like I will just have to do my best once classes start. I can be guaranteed the chance to improve my Spanish then!

The university is practically right across the street from my house! That is good news because I have a tendency to get lost! It also means I don’t have to wake up super early to walk to class.

I have class Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. Kind of a weird schedule, right? Two of my classes are only taught on Saturdays and are 2 hours and 50 minutes each. Yikes!

The campus is beautiful! I would say it is about the size of Seattle U, and its landscaping is just as pretty! There are lots of places to sit and study outside in the shade. I went exploring the other day! One of my favorite places so far is the chapel. I went to mass on Thursday, and it really reminded me of the St. Ignatius chapel at Seattle U. I got kind of nostalgic when the choir was practicing before mass. It reminded me of going to student mass and seeing my friends in the choir at home.

Cathedral in Granada
The Cathedral in Granada

Hmm…Managua…I think it will probably grow on me. It’s not exactly the most beautiful place. The 1972 earthquake did some serious damage here, and the city has not recovered its former glory. It’s also a little bit difficult to get around. There are a lot of wide streets without crosswalks, and the drivers totally ignore pedestrians, so you have to sprint across the street. There is also a lot of poverty here, which is difficult to witness everyday. The majority of universities are here, though, and it is very easy to get to other cities by bus. My housemates and I took a trip to Granada is past weekend, in fact! ¡Súper fácil!

In reality, since I have only been here for a week, I have so much more of Nicaragua to experience! I start class on Thursday, which will add a new component to life here. I am excited to meet some Nicaraguan students and improve my Spanish!

Favorite Meal
My favorite meal so far, Gallo Pinto!

Lindsay

“Real Pink Wear Chuck Norris”

It has officially been a month since I took a warm shower; I never thought I would be grateful for the fact that I live in a house that only has cold water. While my body has somewhat adjusted to the intense combination of heat and humidity of Costa Rica, it is still my favorite part of the day when I get to take a break from the heat. It seems like the theme of my life here so far has worked this way; for the past month it has felt like I have encountered something that takes time to get used to but it is always accompanied by something that provides a relief. Take for example the way most women get cat called in Costa Rica. The common cat call that comes from a Tico man includes some sort of “Hola mami”, and or just hissing in any and every girl’s general direction. At first this constant cat calling felt like it was too much to handle; in fact I don’t think I’ll ever get used to it but after living here a month I’ve come to realize that this hissing sound is a general noise that all Costa Ricans use to get each other’s attention.
Although there is only minimal relief in knowing that Costa Rican men do this to all women because they consider it complimentary; the real relief has come in getting to know the cousins and nephews in my host family who do not act this way. There were times in the past month where just walking outside was depressing and a little nerve wracking due to the idea that no matter what I wear or look like, someone is going to mutter something to me on the street thinking I don’t understand what he is saying. However, I’ve recently learned not to take it so seriously. I hate to admit that, but it was only when a large man wearing a baby pink shirt that said “Real pink wear Chuck Norris” was when I had a moment similar to stepping into an ice cold shower during the hottest part of the day. Despite their habit of constantly and openly commenting on women’s bodies, I realized men like this are almost never going to act on their words – I have even scared a few just by acknowledging their existence. But all this is just a minute detail of my life here so far.
The past couple days have been a country-wide celebration of the Costa Rican independence day which is September 15th. I feel like I have been traveling nonstop and have heard and seen more desfiles (parades) than I ever thought possible in one weekend.

An ox at an Independence Day Parade.
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I was invited to go with my host parents to their other house across the bay from Puntarenas to the small town where my host mom grew up called Paquera.

The sunset from the ferry to Puntarenas.
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Life in Costa Rica is slow, and but life in Paquera moves at an entirely different pace. Paquera is a paradox, the whole pueblo is very quiet but just the noises coming from the surrounding jungle and wildlife can be deafening – in a good way!

A store front in Puntarenas.
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Also my family and I were able to pass a whole day doing relatively nothing but relaxing in rocking chairs on our porch yet once 10 p.m. rolled around it was time to go dancing and starting celebrating independence day at the fastest pace possible. Overall it has not felt like I have been here a month and I’m shocked that I technically only have two months left in Costa Rica. Today my host mom and I discussed that when I leave in December their summer season will just be starting. It’s cheesy but I now know how the saying “time flies when you’re having fun” came about.

Allison

Rollercoaster Ride

After almost 3 weeks, I am finally beginning to understand what the study abroad staff kept telling us before we left. We didn’t really believe them when they told us that our emotions were going to be up and down for awhile, like a roller coaster. There is the Honeymoon Stage, the Culture Shock (accompanied by acute homesickness), and then finally Adaption way down the road when you finally feel comfortable in a place. As it turns out, they were definitely right. Some days I feel like I’ve got this- I have a conversation with my host mom without feeling super confused, or I do well on an assignment, or I find my way to the other side of the city to meet up with a friend without getting lost. But there are also the days when I feel like it would be so much easier to go home (thinking in another language all the time is really exhausting!) or that 3 more months without my friends and family will be impossible. Talking to my new friends here makes me realize that we’re all in the same boat. It’s harder some days than others, but overall, we’re so glad to be in Spain. We are not just learning about the Roman and Arab influence in a textbook, but actually spending the afternoon walking around the city looking at churches that have arches that reflect the century in which they were built and by whom. This weekend my friends and I went to a discoteca and had an incredible view of the Alhambra, a famous palace that we are touring next week. Every day we learn more about the culture, the history, and the language and every day I am more glad I decided to come.
This last week, my 30-something cousins came to visit me from the Seattle area and I was able to experience a different part of Spanish culture because their budget was a little different than mine. We went to a couple fancy restaurants, and one of them was a Flamenco bar! I had never seen Flamenco dancing/singing and it was amazing! Their visit was also really nice because it helped my homesickness and because I was able to help them order at a restaurant and call a cab since they didn’t speak any English. They were relying on me and that improved my confidence in my speaking skills immensely.

I spent this weekend studying for my first set of exams. I have two at the end of this week and one on Monday that will determine which level of classes I will be in for the next three months. It’s a little overwhelming because it is a lot of information and a lot of pressure to get into the higher level classes so I’m studying extra hard.

They say here that its important to work to live, not live to work, so I’m trying to enjoy each day and not stress out. I like that philosophy.

Hasta Luego!

Chloe

Learning How To Be a Local

Forcing myself to sit down and write this blog entry was a week long struggle, I’d like to blame it on the fact that I am adjusting to the Costa Rican sense of time. I’m guessing it is also because I am starting to create a life here in Puntarenas after three weeks and I’m having too much fun to sit in a computer lab for longer than five minutes. At the end of my third week here in Costa Rica life has gotten a lot easier. Sure I’m still struggling to understand every other sentence my mama tica (Costa Rican Mom) says to me, but generally it feels like I am getting better at living in a foreign country. I have finally overcome the slight yet constant homesickness that haunted me for the first two weeks, and I feel like I am able to now appreciate where I am living and how comfortable I am with my host family and fellow students.
There have been a lot of very small idiosyncrasies in Costa Rican life that I have had to adjust to, most of them being in my host family’s house. My host mom makes me three meals a day and every meal has felt like an exercise of figuring out when, what and how much I want to eat and somehow politely communicating that to my mama tica. Most of our conversations about food are comical, like when I thought I was asking for a bread bun and was actually asking her for a monkey. The Costa Rican perception of a healthy/attractive body is also different than that of Americans, I am by no means as chubby as my host mother wants me to be. I’m pretty sure the first week I was here my mama tica thought I had an eating disorder when I tried to tell her I couldn’t finish the mountain of rice and beans on my plate. It’s wonderful to be taken care of to such to a degree that she refuses to let me wash my own dishes and clothes, but it has taken some getting used to.
What I thought was going to be an extremely relaxed and slow-paced semester here has changed dramatically this week as well. This past weekend I went with some classmates to a small tourist town on the Pacific Ocean and was woken up by howler monkeys stealing a cell phone off our hostel’s balcony. Wednesday my friends and I hiked to a remote beach with our surfboards and promptly got rained on in tropical proportions – if there is one thing that I am definitely used to by now it is being salty and sandy all the time. I haven’t been to the beach in two days and I’m sure you could still find sand in my hair. Tonight there is a huge futbol game between Costa Rica and the United States in San Jose, Costa Rica’s capital. The entire country is fired up and even my host parents are excited to take part in the fiesta that will consume our tiny beach town and the rest of the country. In class today even my profesora was telling us that no matter if Costa Rica wins or loses there will be dancing, singing and guaro (the local liquor) all night.
Allison

Dia 3

On day 3, I am beginning to feel more comfortable in Spain. It has definitely been a challenge thus far. Even before we arrived, our plane from Dallas, TX to Madrid was delayed four hours, so we missed our connecting flight to Granada, meaning we arrived in Granada after 11 p.m. rather than 1 p.m. Luckily, our host mom was informed of our delay and was still happy to see us! She gave us a delicious meal before showing us our rooms and letting us sleep for 12 hours! My roommate and I definitely needed it! Yesterday was Orientation, where we received important information about Granada, living in our home stay, and how the program works. We have an exam on Monday to test our knowledge. Yikes- better start studying! Speaking and listening to Spanish almost every moment has been the most difficult part to adjust to, because I keep wanting to lapse into English. But even in the last 48 hours my listening and speaking skills have improved, so I know it won’t be long before I barely have any problems! My favorite parts so far about Granada: La arquitectura- the details and the history of each building is fantastic! I’m learning so much!
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El perro- Evie, our host mom’s dog, is so cute, and such a great conversation starter!

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Tapas y vino- It’s such an integrated part of the culture here, and it’s an inexpensive and fun way to try the food and hang out with friends!
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I’m so glad I am here and can’t wait to see the rest of the city!

Hasta Luego,

Chloe