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.