Wednesday, December 23, 2009


In Costa Rica, Christmas isn't Christmas without tamales. Today we made 102 tamales! (we have a very big family)
Allow me to explain the art of tamale making:
First, one must purchase cooked banana leaves. Then wash them... every single one.
Next comes putting all of the ingredients on top of two banana leaves in a neat little lump. First comes the dough (special corn flour cooked in pork broth.) Then, add one little piece of cooked green bean and one little piece of cooked carrot and potato, one quarter of a hard-boiled egg and a cube of cooked pork, and spoonful of dyed-red rice and a little slice of green pepper.
Next, fold up the tamale and stack two on top of eachother to be tied up with white string. Boil them in a big pot of water, let them cool, and enjoy!
And let me tell you, they are GOOD!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Volcanos, Beaches, and Zip-Lining. Oh my!

Costa Rica prides itself on the beautiful flora and fauna that it has to offer. It's a country FULL of national parks and preserved wildlife reserves. In my first weeks here my family took me to Volcano Poás. It was really cool to look down into the volcano from the observation deck and see the blue lagoon. I've also enjoyed the beautiful beaches here on the Pacific side (Jacos and Punta Leona). Fortunately, my family has planned another beach trip (to Manuel Antonio) after Christmas!

Perhaps the most thrilling experience I've had in Costa Rican wildlife is zip-lining. My host-mom's class English class from the University took a "field trip" to a park called Turru Bares, and I tagged along with Seline. We zipped down a series of seven cables and walked across a wobbly hanging bridge. Let's just say that on my first cable, I wasn't the most graceful of the group. OK, I ended up going backwards all the way (my host mom was screaming), but I think I redeemed myself on the other cables.
Before I came to Costa Rica, I thought that all of the national parks and wildlife preserves were just tourist destinations, but I'm very glad to stand corrected. Ticans love to enjoy the rich flora and fauna of their country (and they love to show it off, too!-- making me a very happy camper.)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Steps of Learning a New Language

Before I left for Costa Rica, I had a list of expectations concerning how I would progress in learning the language. The first month I expected to be completely lost. The second month I expected to be able to understand everything, and the third month I expected to be fluent. But what does fluent even mean?

Here's what I've observed in my Spanish-learning experience:
1) First day: Wow! I speak pretty darn well...but can't understand a thing that these people are saying.
2) First two weeks: I was wrong, I'm actually pretty bad at Spanish... I can't understand or speak well. Good thing I'm not afraid to draw pictures and act out what I'm trying to say.
3) After one month: Oh! It turns out that the news anchors are actually saying words here... they're not just moving their toungues really fast and making Spanish noises.
4) After two months: I can understand the majority of what people say, I just don't speak very well.
5) 3 months: I've got this Costa Rican accent down!
6) 5 months: I can understand everything that people say and generally can respond well. I'm way faster conjugating verbs that I was before, I have a better feel of Spanish sentence structure, and the size of my vocabulary has grown significantly.

I definitely don't speak perfectly, but I've improved a lot!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Catholicism and Culture

Coming from a public school and a country that believes in the separation of church and state, Costa Rica's take on religion has been a whole new perspective for me.
Although I attend a public high school here in Costa Rica, we have a religion class every week.
The majority of my classmates are occupied every Friday night with their Catechism classes. I asked a classmate why he couldn't skip the class for one day, and he told me that he needs to attend every session in order to get married in the church.
There's even a government position regarding religion in Costa Rica: The Minister of Religion.
Last week was the First Communion of my little sister, Melissa. The preparations for this were very important to the family: the whole family went shopping to pick out the white dress, the neighbors helped do her hair, and we woke up extra early to make the special food for the family party afterwards.
Even in daily conversation, we allude to God. For example, when somebody asks how you're doing, you respond, "Very well, thanks to God." Additionaly, when you pass somebody you know on the street, you say "Adios" (meaning "goodbye" and also "to God.")
It seems that the culture and religion of Costa Rica are so meshed together, that I can hardly separate them.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Meat: Who Needs It!

It's true, who needs meat anyway? My first week here I noticed how little we eat meat (about four times a week, usually fish, chicken, or ground beef.) After being here for more than four months, I stopped noticing the lack of "carne."
Honestly, I don't think it would be that hard to be a vegetarian because there's an abundance of protein options that I've grown to enjoy: beans, eggs, lentils, beans, garbanzos, beans, beans... you get the idea.
When I return to Wisconsin, I hope I can keep the healthy change!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Monkey Business

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to go on an AFS trip to Tortuguero, Limón.
I got to enjoy a close-up view of Costa Rica's rich wildlife with fellow AFSers.
There is definitely a climate difference between Tortuguero and my town, Cerbatana. When our guide took us on a hike through the dense rainforest, my clothes were completely soaked from the humidity. On the hike, we saw a few tucans resting in the lush upper canopy-- too far away to take a good picture, but the memory is still awesome. Our guide also showed us a tree infested with termites and he told us to eat them. At first, I wasn't going to, but then I thought, 'How often does one have the opportunity to eat termites?' It turned out that I was the second person to try them in our group. They actually have a salad-ee flavor. Once the termite-eating trend started catching on, our guide had to say, 'Leave some for the other tourists.'
The hotel in which we stayed was on the channel and nestled in the rainforest (only accessible with a 90 minute boatride through the channels.) Because of its great location, I was able to see lots of wildlife walking from my cabin to the pool. I saw lots of colorful birds and intersting trees. Oh, and by the way, I saw MONKEYS! On my way back to the cabin after eating lunch, I heard some noises up the trees and they were monkeys! Fortunately, I was one of the few people who saw them , so I kind of had a private tour. To add to the already excellent situation, my tourguide happened to be standing right next to me and showed me the tree where the monkeys live! I took some great pictures of the monkeys, including a pregnant one and babies. It was so interesting to watch the monkeys use their tails as a fifth arm.
Apart from the tucans and the monkeys, I also saw giant spiders, a baby crocodile, a viper, a chameleon, an iguana, AND a yellow-billed cuckoo.
Without a doubt, a nature filled weekend.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Triple Language Fun

Yesterday in school my classmates and I had an hour free because a class was cancelled... a usual occurance in Costa Rica. We were hanging out in the library and decided to play the hand game, Down By the Banks. I sang in English while Seline sang in Swiss-german and my classmates sang in Spanish. It was so much fun!
We took it a step further by shouting out full sentences in different languages at the same time. I think that the librarians thought we'd gone mad, but we were having so much fun picking up phrases in different languages. Afterall, how many people do you know that can sin Down By the Banks in three languages?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

It´s Not Just a Game

Soccer is not just a game in Costa Rica, it´s a huge part of life. Even during my first few days here, I noticed that soccer is pretty darn important...there is always a soccer game happening in the park. Every Sunday there are games between local city teams, and most noticeably, the television soccer announcers can be heard a mile away shouting,¨GOOOOAAAALLLLL, COSTA RICAAAAAA!¨
A few weeks ago, soccer really started to pick up because of the games leading to the World Cup in South Africa. During classes, all of my classmates would be huddled around a radio listening to the game while my teacher tried teaching (if he wasn´t distracted listening to the game himself). The president, Oscar Arias, even cancelled school one afternoon so that everybody could watch the game. I went to my friend Andrea´s house to watch the game with some other school friends. Everyone was screaming, glasses were breaking, the tension could not have been greater.... but Costa Rica lost. All of the guys were saying how they would never do anything else in their lives because Costa Rica lost its chance to go to the World Cup.
The following day was the big game against the United States. When people asked me who I wanted to win, I would say "Costa Rica," but in my heart, I really wanted the United States to win. It looked like Costa Rica was going to win, but in the last 20seconds USA was beautiful. Of course, I was sure to look disappointed so my family wouldn´t get mad at me. The following day at school, my classmates said that they wouldn´t talk to me... they were joking... sort of.
At first, I thought the people here were crazy for being so obsessed with a sport, but then I remembered that I´m from Wisconsin where football is even BIGGER than soccer here.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Aisle seat, please.

On the way back from San Jose, Seline (another exchange student in my town) and I had to take a bus ride back to Puriscal. Let's just say that this route isn't for those with a weak stomach.
I was relaxing in my aisle seat, listening to my iPod, when Seline screams, "Ahh! Que asco!" I noticed that some white, liquidy chunks had been added to her jeans and sweatshirt. No, it wasn't some new trend that had swept across Milan and Paris, it was vomit from the woman in front of her.
Because the window was open, the results of the woman's motion sickness plastered Seline (and all of her belongings.)

Lesson learned: if one must take a bus ride, it is imperative to resist the urge to sit in the window seat that offers a gentle breeze because that breeze could be carrying a vomitrocious surprise.

Monday, September 28, 2009

All Corners of the World in One Hostel

This past weekend there was a reunion with all of the AFS exchange students in San Jose, and it was one of the best weekends I've had so far. I loved talking to students from other countries (especially Germany) about their Costa Rican experience. I found that the majority of students are experiencing the same feelings as I. Interestingly, we were all speaking Spanish to eachother, whereas at the first meeting the common language was English.
During the reunion, we stayed in hostels. I had never been in a hostel before, but it was really cool! It wasn't at all like the damp cement walls I pictured; it had billiards, a lounge, and a nice kitchen. I will definitely be using more hostels in the future.

Friday, September 25, 2009

"I don't understand English."

My Costa Rican experience has been unbelievable thus far, but there is one thing that really bothers me-- people keep speaking English to me! Of course, it doesn't help that my blonde hair, blue eyes, height, and pale skin make me stand out in a Costa Rican crowd, but I just wish store keepers and people on the street would try speaking Spanish to me.
Sometimes my classmates say phrases to me in English, and I say jokingly in Spanish, "Sorry, I don't understand English."
In reality, a few words in English a day can't really delay my Spanish-learning process, but I just want to be seen as a part of the culture, not an outsider.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Pura Vida y Comida

I think that the famous Tican saying "pura vida" (the pure life) also translates to the Tican diet. The foods I've eaten thus far in my adventure have been very simple and pure. There are hardly any processed foods! The foods of which I eat a lot are rice, beans, fresh fruit, cooked vegetables, green salad, and lots of cabbage. I'm really enjoying the transformation in my diet and plan to bring this pure, healthy eating back to my life in America. Yes, a mini rice cooker is on my Christmas list.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

July 4th on September 15th

Independence Day!
In preparation for Independence Day, my host siblings had to make lanterns for the parade. I helped them (aka I did all of the work) in making one lantern shaped as the symbolic ox-cart of Costa Rica and the other shaped as a tradtional Costa Rican home. The lanterns were so stellar that my host sister won the contest at her elemantary school!
During the day, I watched the parade in the town center with my classmates. We hooted and hollered when my little host sister marched by playing her xylophone. There was also a traditional dancing performance from students in my highschool. I couldn't get enough pictures of those beautiful dresses!
What I found to be really interesting is that after the festivities, some mothers brought snacks for the children who participated in the parade. Unlike typical American snacks of Twinkies and fruit snacks, the mothers brought little plates of rice with chicken!
Although I've been doing my best not to compare Tican culture with American culture, I couldn't help but make a comparison between the very different celebrations: I missed the neighborhood BBQs, but enjoyed chicken and rice in the park. I missed the fireworks, but watched a parade of homemade lanterns. I missed celebrating it with my family, but I celebrated it with a different family of mine.

Sunday, September 13, 2009


It's taken nearly two months for me to get used to the roads here. Most of the roads are gravel, and few are level.

Some of the car trips we take are like riding a rollercoaster... yes, extremely steep and sharp turns. We also have to dodge the dogs in the street and lots of pedestrians. My host family has been very nice and they let me sit in the front of the blue Toyota with them... they noticed that in the back I always hit my head and have to curl up in a ball to fit.

Finally, my stomach is getting used to the hilly roads, and I'm getting used to much smaller cars.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Lush Landscape and Wonderful Wildlife

Seeing the lush landscape on the way to school every morning has become almost routine. Costa Rica is full exotic vegetation, birds and other wildlife.

The other day, my family went to their property in the country and we picked limes, bananas, and sweet potatoes. When they said that we were going to cut bananas, I assumed that we would be cutting the bananas from the trees. Much to my surprise, cutting bananas means cutting down the entire tree. We also had fun digging up potatoes and cooking them for dinner.

One of the things that I love about Costa Rica is the fruit trees... they're everywhere. When my family goes on a walk and we see a fruit tree (guava, mango, orange... you name it), we throw sticks up at the tree so we can catch the falling fruit and eat it during our walk. Once I saw tucans in some fruit trees.

Normally I wake up to the sound of a rooster crowing, but one morning I was awakened to an earthquake! It was small and only lasted a few seconds, but I was excited.

And did I mention the crocodiles? We were driving over a little bridge when I looked down and saw... yes... crocodiles in their natural habitat. I've also seen my share of gigantic toads and snakes. It's not all tucans and banana trees!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

San Jose Revisited

Yesterday, Seline and I had to go to San Jose to get fingerprinted for our Visas. A lot of the other AFS Costa Rican students were there too, and it was really cool to exchange experiences with them. The funny thing was that this time the common language was Spanish...unlike the first San Jose Orientation which was all in English.

After talking to some other students who are having trouble adjusting, I realize that I got placed with a really great family and I'm very thankful for a rather smooth adjustment.

After the meeting, we all walked to the San Jose mall and had fun socializing with other people from our home our own language. I'm very pleased to say that I had trouble speaking English at first because I kept wanting to respond in Spanish!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Simple Life

The past week has been great. I'm really starting to feel like I live here and that I'm a part of the culture, not an outside observer. I've come to appreciate the simplicity of things here and hope to bring that appreciation back to the U.S. when I return. For example, Thursday night was one of the best nights yet. I played cards with my hermanitas (little sisters) and my host dad went up the road to the pulperia (general store) and brought back a pint of ice cream and a bottle of coke. It was a really fun time, and surprisingly simple!

Weekends are my favorite part of being here. On Saturdays, we drive down to the property that my family owns and enjoy the peaceful setting (and the neighbor lady's homemade corn tortillas). I love how on Sundays, we go up the road to grandma's and eat stew and lounge around, followed by a family walk.

This past week, I've felt really content and not dying to return to the U.S. I think I'm finally becoming a part of the culture, and it's really a great feeling.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Bit About School

The day I started school was the scariest experience of my life. On Monday when I enrolled, all of the boys were whistling and everybody was staring and muttering "gringa" which means, "American." Needless to say, I did not want to go to school on Tuesday... however, it couldn't have gone better. I had a drawing class (with a cockroach crawling around the room), English (which is a piece of cake), and Physics. The math and physics classes are easy because they don´t involve much talking (plus it´s material that I covered a few years before).

All of the school walls have graffiti and the desks are crummy (picture Sister Act II). I miss the structure that I'm used to... and the homework too. My classmates are really nice and I haven´t had any trouble finding people to talk to.

I've already experienced leaving school in the middle of the day because the teacher didn't show up... so our class hung out in the park. Tomorrow, all of my morning classes are cancelled and I don't start until two o'clock.

Seline (my exchange student friend from Switzerland) and I eat lunch at a little restaurant everyday. It's run by three older ladies. It´s really nice to have a real meal in the middle of the day. There´s always fresh fruit juice (mango, tangerine, starfruit... you name it). After school, on my way to the bus stop, I sometimes buy a sliced up mango in a bag.

Gym class is so different! It´s held in a tiny cement gymnasium behind the school... and the girls and boys have separate classes! It´s funny that the girls were learning how to shoot baskets, but we had to learn "the girl way" --I didn't even break a sweat in that class!

Í can tell that my Spanish is getting better--speaking is still harder than listening. In psychology, I was able to write down all of the notes that the teacher was saying! The only homework I've had so far is for religion (Bible facts).

The really funny thing here is that although class starts at a specific time (according to the schedule), we don´t start until a good ten minutes after. There is no desk arrangement, whenever we start a class, everybody moves the desks in a clump as close together as possible-- it was really bizarre at first, but now I'm used to it.

I swear that this country is addicted to junk food! The school is surrounded by junk food stores and there are a bunch inside the school, too! At every break, the students all go to buy junk food!

Another funny observation: We brush our teeth 3 times day here. I have to bring my toothbrush and paste to school so that I can brush my teeth in the restaurant after I eat lunch...there´s a sink in the back for the customers to brush their teeth.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Everyday Stuff.

Everything is really different here. When you wake up in the morning you have to take a shower... night showers are unheard of. My host family told me that in order to save water; I need to take really fast showers by getting wet first, then turning off the water and putting all my shampoo and soap, and then rinsing off. Mom and Dad would be proud... this culture has forced me into good hygiene and tidy habits.

Yesterday, I went “into town” with the family to buy school supplies and a school uniform (which is a really unattractive tan polo shirt and tailor-made navy pants). I also withdrew 50,000 colones from my checking account… I’m not sure how much that is in dollars, so I’ll have to wait to record the numbers in my booklet until I get home.

When I get home, I’m going to teach my family all of the recipes I’ve learned here (I cook 2-3 times a day when I'm not in school). We hardly ever have meat here… only about once or twice a week. My favorite food is the breakfast corn pancakes… just blended up corn and water cooked in a pan. I also really like the fried plantains. Mom won't believe it, but I’ve eaten green beans and raw tomato on multiple occasions without wincing!

In only a matter of days, I’ve become a masterful ant hunter and a survivor of the biggest spider I’ve ever seen. Two nights ago I was about to turn out the lights and go to bed, when I noticed a HUGE spider on my wall… yes, I took a picture to remember the experience forever. I called out to my host sister. She came running into my bedroom and squished it with a shoe. The guts went flying and landed on my foot. Yuck.

My Spanish is getting better everyday! Whenever I hear a new word I write it down and try to use it. I’ve also been watching the news, Costa Rican “Who wants to be a millionaire,” and lots of American kids’ movies dubbed in Spanish.

It's hard to believe it, but this is my new "normal".

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Goodbye Family, Hello Family

I know it's been a long time since I last blogged. There was a lot of waiting without knowing much more than I learned at orientation in May. I finally learned about my family in Puriscal in June, and I exchanged some e-mails (in Spanish) and some pictures with them. It made me excited all over again.
But, the few days before I left Wisconsin, I didn't want to go. I was scared and didn't want to be gone for five and a half months. During my whole day of travel (July 16), I regretted my decision to go to Costa Rica. Needless to say, a lot of tears were shed.

Once I landed in Costa Rica, I started enjoying myself more. I liked the AFS Orientation with students from all around the world. Sunday was "meet your family" day. I was really nervous. Once I met them, all of nerves went away. The first person I met was my little brother. After greeting everyone with a kiss (and lots of pictures), we drove an hour through the beautiful Costa Rican landscape to their home. Although I was frustrated at first with getting used to a new culture and dealing with the language barrier, I quickly got into the swing of things.
I really like school and my classmates are really nice. I like how everything is a little bit more relaxed here than in the United States. I also really enjoy the food. I absolutely love gallo pinto (a Costa Rican dish of rice and beans) and all of the fresh fruit here.

I feel like I'm still adjusting, and there are times when I feel homesick, but I'm glad that I decided to spend a semester abroad. I can already tell that this is an unbelievable learning experience that will carry though for the rest of my life.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Getting Oriented

I wasn't really looking forward to today's orientation session, but it turned out to be really helpful.

I learned a lot about what to bring, and how to prepare... especially how to leave behind my life in America so that I can really live in Costa Rica. My favorite part of the day was eating lunch with students from all over the world who are living here now. I especially enjoyed talking with Iliana from Costa Rica. Iliana told me about the schooling and the food in Costa Rica. She told me about her big family. I realized that going up to people and starting a conversation is not so difficult, and this is what I'll need to do when I get to Costa Rica.

Iliana and a guy from Honduras were nice enough to speak to each other in Spanish so that I could practice my listening skills. I found that I could understand pretty well what they were saying.

There was a girl named Winnie, who just got back from Chile. She had such a great time, and talked about her host family and friendships, and what a fun time she had in school. Listening to her made me feel really excited about all of the experiences I have to look forward to.

I was beginning to have some doubts about missing out on some things during my last year of high school, but after today I realize that in Costa Rica, I'll make some great friendships and have experiences that I know I'll remember many years from now.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Adventure Begins

Finally... The adventure begins. After months of thinking, dreaming... and applying(!), it's actually happening. I got word this week that my application was accepted for a six-month program in Costa Rica starting in July. I hope that soon I'll find out about my host family so that I can begin communicating with them.

It just sunk in that it's really going to happen. In a few months, I'll wake up and I'll be in Costa Rica. Mostly I'm really excited, but also a little bit scared. There's a lot I don't know yet. Whatever happens, I know it will be great. I'm really excited about becoming fluent in Spanish. I'm excited about new, exotic foods. I'm excited about seeing the beautiful country of Costa Rica.

My family got an old VHS tape about Costa Rica from our local library, and we watched it together. It was funny because it was about 20 years old, but it still gave a sense for the incredible natural beauty of the country. Two oceans, rain forests, volcanoes, amazing wildlife... and all within such a small area.

Sure, there's a lot I don't know yet, but how can I not be excited?