Oct 12, 2012

Happy Aloha Friday!

Did that last post sound like it was written by a 12 year old to you? Because that's totally the vibe I'm getting. Which is bad. But I promise I'm not 12. In fact, tomorrow's my 19th birthday! It seems like each birthday celebration I have is a window into where I am in my life. I remember posting after my 16th, when my French family bought me sushi and gave me 16 little gifts and I felt an overwhelming sense of place in a new home. And then again after my 18th, when I took myself out to the fanciest dinner of my life when I was dealing with a new sense of independence. Tomorrow is going to be just as much as an indicator. The plan is to go to UH's homecoming football game in the afternoon and then go dance the night away with all my fantastic new friends, and I couldn't be more excited. (I already got a cake baked for me!)

But, before I can party it up on Saturday I'm going to spend the morning ....

at work!

Yep, I finally managed to score some part-time employment. It's looking like I'll only be able to take on one shift or so a week, but it's better than nothing. And guess where I work: A crepe restaurant! How fitting, right? 

That's most of the major developments in my life, though. Birthday and boulot. Other than that it's been pretty normal college stuff. I've really been enjoying my classes. On the music side of things, it's really cool to get to spend so much time both learning how it works (theory) and making it. And on the language front, I'm regaining my French (thankfully) and learning a lot of cool things in Linguistics about the foundations of language. I've pretty much cemented my morning routine, which involves Starbucks and regularly getting to my first class 15 minutes early.

And once classes are out and homework is done I get to enjoy the social part of school (which is just as big as the academic part). I don't go to the beach as much as you think I do, which is a bit of a shame really, but I try to at least go down on weekends. Often on Saturday nights a group of us will head down to Waikiki and sit by the water and relax. Other than that, it's a lot of hanging out in dorm rooms, laughing, and generally having a good time. 

As you might have noticed, I tend to post less about my day-to-day now then when I was in France or Costa Rica. I guess I feel like since it's in the USA it's pretty standard stuff. But when I think about it, Hawaii is completely different from anywhere on the Mainland. The continental US is very European, because it was started from the east just expanded westward. But Hawaii's influence comes from the other side. Instead of employers looking for bilingual Spanish-English, they're looking for proficiency in Korean and Japanese. Campus dining has bento boxes and sushi and and loco moco (which is very typical Hawaii, rice topped with a hamburger patty topped with egg topped with gravy). Flip-Flops are called slippers. 

Certain "stereotypes" are very true. There is an Aloha Spirit. People here are friendly and smiling, and I tend to have lots of little passing conversations anytime I go anywhere. There are a lot of traditional tattoos. It's sunny. There are lots of tourists.

I'm officially in love with Hawaii. I love the people, the weather, everything. (Well, I'm not really a fan of the vog, the volcanic ash fog that blows in when the conditions are right.) Come visit me?


Sep 10, 2012

Distant Relatives & Relative Distance

Well, if I'm going to be keeping up with this blog I should probably update it. I've been here in Hawaii for almost a month now, but (big surprise) it really doesn't feel like it at all. Time flies when you're having fun, I guess. But what exactly have I been having fun doing? Let's find out, shall we...

I guess to really get a feel of what's been going on we should start a little before my arrival on the island. Like I very briefly mentioned at the end of my last post, I didn't just fly BWI-LAX-HNL. Instead, my parents and I decided to seize the opportunity to fit in a cross-country road trip, all the way from one coast to the other. And not just any road trip either. Oh no, this time once we passed Amarillo, TX we'd be getting our kicks on Route 66. Although it was a rather long way to go (taking 10 days instead of the usual 3 or so for this kind of trip), it was really exciting to see the west at a slower pace, stopping at all the obligatory tourist stops and curio shops. In between guide books, online sources, local tips, and family suggestions I don't think there was a good restaurant, historic landmark, or cultural reference that we missed. (Not only did we see Amarillo, Gallup, Flagstaff, Winona, Kingman, Barstow, and San Bernadino, I also stood on a corner in Winslow, Arizona just for good measure).

The trip was awesome, to say the least, and gave me plenty of quality, last minute bonding time with my parents before another long stretch without seeing them. After finally making it to California we spent a day in L.A., and then bright and early on the 12 my dad and I flew out across the Pacific to Honolulu. (My mom didn't come this time, a combination of the fact that work needed to get done and that she got to come out with me for my campus visit).

The flight was smooth, and when I landed it was just like I remembered it being from my few days here a year earlier: sunny, 80 degrees, and very different from Maryland. But it didn't feel as exotic as it had the first time, because guess where it's also sunny and 80 degrees? Costa Rica! (Duh...) Move in wasn't until Tuesday, so my dad and I made our way to where we were staying, and then spent the until then preparing for what was about to go down.

One major thing  I had to get ready to do was my audition for the music school at UHM! If you didn't know, I'm really into music. More so, I'm really into singing and chorus. I had wanted to take some classes in theory and singing and the like, but when I went to register online I learned that you had to be a music major to take them. After further digging, I learned that you had to be a music major you had to be accepted separately by the music department, and that the application deadline had come and gone. After a lot of e-mailing, I got a last-minute, on-the-spot audition at their New Student Orientation. The audition went well, and by the time I left I was in the process of changing my major from Anthropology to Vocal Performance, enrolled in 6 music related classes, and suddenly headed down a very different path than I had been when I started the trek out here.
Move in was that Tuesday, and I finally got my stuff onto campus and into my new dorm room home. My dad went home the next day, and I was (once again) on my own to start a new chapter in my exciting life story. Lucky for me, I was registered for the Warrior Welcome Week orientation AND my dorm was having all sorts of fun "Get to know each other" shenanigans. I got to meet tons of new people from all over the country, doing all sorts of different things, on all different levels. Classes didn't start for another week, and so we had a lot of time to hang out and start to become friends.

Then, on the 20th, classes finally started. My schedule is pretty full, but it's fun for me. I'm taking Music Theory, Aural Training, Piano, Chamber Singers, Concert Choir, Applied Studies (just a fancy name for private voice lessons), Advanced French Conversation, and General Linguistics. It's been interesting being back in school after taking a year off, but I'm doing just fine. I've been learning a lot! It's great having a chance to speak French regularly, and hopefully next semester I'll be able to get Spanish in there. Linguistics is really interesting, too. It's about the technicalities of language, and since I'm verging on being tri-lingual it has real significance for me.

Of course, my life isn't all spent in class. I've met some great people here, and we've hung out a lot. I love being in a dorm. In all my exchanges I lived with a family, and I got used to having that sort of "fall back" relationship. Even if you were having trouble making friends at school, you didn't feel alone because you had your family. I was a little nervous before coming here and not having that, but I didn't realize that a dorm also gave you that. It's like a big house full of people you see all the time, just like a host family. We've gone down to the beach a lot, which is still a totally novel thing for me. I mean, just heading down on a Wednesday after class without planning? How cool is that! We all have unlimited bus passes, so we can get around really easily.

I also met a cousin of mine that I never knew before, which is really cool. Some of my new friends and I went out to dinner with him, and then one Saturday he took us out for an afternoon on his boat (a trip that involved a visit to the Marine base, stopping at a sand bar in the middle of Kaneohe Bay, and my first time tubing).

Hawaii is 6 hours behind MD and a full 12 behind France, which means once again I have to deal with time differences when talking to people. I don't feel far away, though. I guess that part of traveling has stopped being shocking. I'm starting to realize that I won't have seasons like I'm used to, which might be odd. But I'm not too worried, I love this Pacific sun!

I'm so excited for... well, for everything! I've got a few chorus concerts coming up, I've got someone who's going to teach me to play jazz piano, I have a voucher for surf lessons, and I'm making some fabulous friends.

I'll try to post again fairly soon, but until then try not to be toooooo jealous (hehe).

If there's anything that you're interested in hearing, or suggestions about things to post that I leave out, feel free to leave a comment!


Jul 31, 2012

So what happens now?

This all started as a way to show my family what was going to happen now that their 15 year old daughter/granddaughter/niece/cousin had decided to up and leave, and I never thought this would amount to too much. "Sophia's AFS Adventure" was supposed to fade into darkness pretty quickly. Yet here I am, 2 countries and 3 totally different experiences later, still blogging. I was (once again) planning on dropping off the face of the blogging world after my exchange ended, but due to some persuasive family members I'm keeping up with it (at least for a while).

So what will I have to write about? I mean, I've already done AFS. Twice. And I was a nanny. In Paris. I've conquered French high school, wielded a machete, learned how to change a diaper in less than a minute, tasted wine older than myself, danced in the street at midnight, gotten photos with police officers, run under the Eiffel Tower, ridden a Vespa, learned how to make tortillas, gotten odd nicknames, told jokes in languages I don't speak, written music, performed with 200 person choir, slept on a train, explored a city in a downpour, asked a stranger to marry me, taken sides in a soccer (sorry, football) rivalry, lived with 5 dogs, and organized an entire library of music. What could possibly come next?

Well, I'll be starting my first year of college, an event that will surely prove to be just as blog-worthy as any of my past adventures. But why do you care? I mean what's the intrigue in some random girl from Maryland's freshman year?

First of all, because I'm going to school in Hawai'i, which is just as different a culture to mainland USA as that of France or Costa Rica. If you're into this for the whole intercultural understanding thing, I'll be sure to post about what makes Hawai'i cool (besides the beach and the weather.) (Although I'm sure I'll be writing about that too, just to make you a tad jealous).

If you're more reading this to check out AFS and find out why being an exchange student rocks, then this will kind of be like a sneak peek into what life could be like as a returnee. It'll be a first hand look into the impact that an exchange can have on the lifestyle of the student. Or something like that.

And if you're just reading this because you love me, well then you'll get more Sophie updates!

So, yeah, pretty much it's a win win situation for everyone.

As for me, I'm currently in Texas visiting family and finally meeting my 9 month old niece for the first time. In a few days my parents and I are going to head out west and take Route 66 all the way to Los Angeles. Then it's off to Hawai'i to start my fourth (!!!) global adventure. Stick along for the ride?


Jul 11, 2012

And just like that it's all over

Foreign exchanges are incredible things. Anyone who's been on one will tell you how it changed their life, how it made them see the world differently, how it made them see themselves differently. And if you're anything like me, you'll be a little skeptical of all of the hype they're creating. After all, it's just living in a different geographical location. Your friend who just got back from a semester in Paris is probably just trying to get attention when they lament how different everything is and try to kiss everyone on the cheek, right?

But trust me, this time the hype is totally justified. It's something that's impossible to capture in words or photos, but is extremely real. Living somewhere else, no matter how "similar" or "on par" it may be to where your from, will be completely different from anything you've ever experienced. Period. Because cultures are different. That's what makes this world such a cool place. Every place has it's own identity, it's own things (no matter how small and insignificant they may seem) that make it unique and different from anywhere else. Maybe it's the way they teach kids to tie their shoes, maybe it's the way the country is structured, but whatever it is will have an impact on the way life works. Yet despite the cultural differences, we're all just people. We all want to be happy, to be successful (by whatever standards you measure success), to be loved.  And so while there may be huge cultural differences, there will be an inherent sense of familiarity. Which is generally awesome.

Leaving San Ramón was very different than leaving Millery. This time there was no big group at a hotel, no long bus ride to the airport. Since we had already had our final orientation in Limón, we just had to show up at the airport on time the day of departure and sort ourselves out to get home. At 3:20 AM, Ivania, my host parents, and I  loaded into the pick up truck and headed off to the airport. The radio kept the ride from being awkwardly silent, since none of really could think of what to say. When we got to Juan Santamariá International Airport, we figured someone from AFS would show up to give us tickets and help me get where I needed to go. (The San José office hadn't really been too detailed when telling us what to expect). We waited and waited and waited. Groups of people passed, lots of people complimented me on my Liga Deportiva Alajuelense jersey I was wearing (Side note: La Liga is better than Saprissa. Always. Continuing.), but no one from AFS showed. Finally, as time was starting to feel tight, a few other AFSers (not volunteers though) showed up, and we figured we should just try to get checked in on our own. I said my goodbyes to my host family, but very much to my surprise I didn't end up crying (which was very odd considering the good 2 hours I had spent crying after a goodbye I had just 2 days before). I didn't dwell too much on that, though, and instead attempted to maneuver exit taxes, bag check in, and security with my 2 other Americans.

We made it through unscathed, and made it to our gate without too much wait time before boarding. The flight to Miami was smooth, as was all the border patrol shenanigans (which, somehow, I did entirely in Spanish). One of the other Americans managed to get the three of us in exit row seats for the flight to New York, and a few short hours later we were making our way out to see our parents for the first time in 5 months. (Well, 2 of us were. One still had a flight to wait for). It was great to see my mom and dad, and around 2 AM we finally arrived back in Towson.

It wasn't until I got on Facebook and got a message from Ivania asking if I was home safe that it really hit me that I had left Costa Rica and wasn't going back for a long time. That's when all the tears that hadn't come that morning finally arrived.

And while I'm still sad that my time is done, I'm happy to be here now. It's an adventure in itself, really. I'm with some of my oldest friends, doing things I do every summer, yet somehow it's different. Once again I feel like I see the world through a fresh pair of eyes. I see things that I never really noticed before, like how many people around me are speaking Spanish, or how stressed people get over being 5 minutes late. I notice how values are different in the USA and in Latin America, how families are more spread out, how much liberty people have at 18. None of it is necessarily better or worse, it's just very different.

I find myself feeling very culturally confused quite frequently. I don't feel like I'm a typical suburban white girl anymore. Part of me is almost Tica, part is almost European, and part is almost...well, I don't know what it is. I  want to correct people when they say they're American (after all, there is a whole other continent of Americans south of us), I crave rice and beans (typical exchange student stuff), I feel awkward that I don't have to say goodbye to each person individually when I leave somewhere. The day after I got home, I went to the Mercado Latino and bought tons of food I'm used to eating. Then I bought some paté and a baguette.

I changed so much more than I expected to in Costa Rica. Having already been on an exchange, I didn't think that I'd learn all that much the second time. But I did. Costa Rica taught me things about life, about exchange programs, about myself.  I learned that it's OK to to change families, to be bad at Spanish,  to fake a smile, to use the cards you've been dealt, to talk to people, to change, to become attached, to take a chance, to fall in love, to love yourself, to have pride, to be different, to listen to bad music, to not want to leave, to be excited to go back, to be typical, to not know, to learn, to get lost, to look crazy, to grow, to get fat, to mess up, to break some rules, to laugh at a joke you don't understand, to be laughed at, to laugh at yourself, to show off a bit, to stand out, to blend in, to cry, to smile for real, and to live, really live.

And now, here I am. Sitting on the hammock in my back yard under the magnolia tree, the summer sun just starting to lower, the smell of burgers coming from my neighbors patio, the sound of talk radio almost audible from the kitchen window. And I'm lost. I'm lost without a clue which direction to go in. I know that in 2 weeks I'm headed out west to get a flight to Hawai'i, where I'll be until winter break, but that's about as much as I have. Everything I thought I had figured out, what I wanted to do, what I wanted to be, I'm suddenly not sure about. But for the first time in my life I don't feel like that matters. I'm not stressed or anxious, I'm calm. For lack of a better word, I'm pura vida.

Going to Costa Rica was an amazing decision. If you're thinking of doing it, DO IT. Because there's something about that place that I just can't put into words. It was a great learning experience, a great growing experience, and a great living experience. And maybe I'll end up back there. Maybe I'll end up in France. Maybe I'll end up somewhere entirely different. I really don't know.

But I have a lifetime to figure it out.

Hasta Luego, 

Jun 25, 2012

The Home Stretch

It's finally here, my last week in Costa Rica. I can't believe it. Half a year has passed in what feels like a matter of weeks. Well, what in retrospect feels like a matter of weeks. Funny how memory works like that. I'm very much not ready to leave Costa Rica. It's such an incredible country, filled with so many incredible people. But I'll get to that in a minute. First, let me give you an update on what I've been getting up to lately.

I've been keeping myself busy these past few weeks. I went to the skating rink one day with a neighbor, and at the end they started a game of roller soccer. It was very exciting, but I ended up playing in socks because I'm not very gifted with roller blades. Another Sunday, my family and I took a drive to check out some of the other towns in the area. We stopped for a while in Sarchi, where I got to see the worlds largest hand-painted ox cart. I gave a presentation about my part of the USA to my local AFS chapter and learned that it's easy to burn yourself trying to make crêpes in a cast iron skillet. I joined a gym and started going for an hour and a half or so every morning before work, which has given me more energy and generally made me feel less guilty eating so much of the awesome food here. I had my last week at SiNEM, but I haven't let myself cry about that yet because I have a going away lunch this coming Wednesday. I went on a date with a cute Tico boy on Sunday, and we agreed that if we're both old and single we'll get married.

My 2 weeks of vacation started last week. The weekend was spent in a hotel in Limón with all of the AFSers for our final orientation. There was a beach bonfire, a birthday cake (which the birthday girls face got smashed into in true Costa Rican tradition), a failed attempt to watch the sunrise over the Caribbean (up at 4:30 only to have the clouds mask the sun), and at the end a hard goodbye to many awesome people that I hope I'll get to see again one day.

The hardest goodbyes, though, came almost a week later. Anna, Allie, Kayla, and I spent from Monday to Thursday together partying it up in the surf town of Jaco at a very chill little hostel. It was incredibly divertido, as it always is with them. We went out dancing, went to the beach, and one day rented bikes and rode up the highway to check out another beach, Playa Herradura. It was a lovely week, but the goodbye killed me. These girls have been my best friends here since our time at Finca la Flor, and it'll be a while before we'll see each other again.

I wish I had another 5 months here. Costa Rica is unlike anywhere else I've ever been, and it has taught me things about the world that I didn't even know I needed to learn. I've always considered myself to be a knowledgeable person. I've never been sheltered, I've always been decently culturally aware, and I've never been convinced that one way of living is the "right way". When I came to Costa Rica I was very wary of all comments about how it wasn't "up to the standards of the USA", yet I still expected to have to "deal with things". But what I found was something I didn't expect, couldn't have expected.

The paint on the houses here is faded from months of bright sun, the metal roofs slightly rusty from months of heavy rain, but the homes are spotless inside, swept/mopped/cleaned every day. The clothes people wear often aren't brand new, but they're clean, put together, and fashionable. Appearances matter, but in the sense that you just have to appear nice, not that you have to appear rich. It's a culture of taking pride in what you have, not in how much you have.

My time in this country has taught me a lot about pride. It's ok to be happy with yourself, to be aware of your own personal worth. Lots of people live more modest lives financially than where I'm from in the US, but they take what they have and own it. They smile, walk with heads high, laugh. I really don't know how to put it. Not having things doesn't make you poor.

And as anyone who's ever been here will tell you, it's an absolutely beautiful country. The colors seem more vibrant, the sun more sunny, the waters more perfect. Even in the rainy season it's incredible.

I can't seem to stop raving about this place. The first question people ask me here is always "How do you like Costa Rica?" and my response is always "I don't want to leave."

So yeah, I'll post again once I get home but for now I'm gonna make the most of these last few days.


May 25, 2012

Speaking of languages

One of the things I love about Costa Rica is how open the Ticos are to me, this girl from the US who decided to plop herself down in the middle of their lives and doesn't want to leave. Everyone's been super friendly, and they all seem truly interested in getting to know me. Along with the usual questions (where are you from, how long have you been here, do you like Costa Rica), I get asked a lot if I like Spanish.

It's a simple question with a less simple answer, an answer that I have a hard time translating with my limited language skills. But I think that the response is relevant enough to this blog to post here, because it has everything to do with understanding cultures and what not.

In short, my answer is "Umm, I guess so. I mean it's just a language..." Let me explain why:

When you don't understand a language, you hear it differently than if you were to be fluent in it. You can't listen for content, so you listen to the sounds. You hear speed, pitch, intonation, kind of like when you listen to a piece of instrumental music. And, like with music, you can find it pretty/ugly/lively/what have you. When we were first picking languages in 7th grade, I chose French over Spanish because I thought it sounded nicer and generally liked it better.

But now that I speak both Spanish and French (and English), I really don't like any one better than the other. Because now, instead of hearing a bunch of sounds, I hear words. I can't notice all the musical-ish parts, because all my brain power goes in to comprehension. Think about it. Excluding things like poetry and those moments where you go "Hehe, that's a weird word...kumquat...hehe", when was the last time you stopped to think about how the English language sounds, whether it's pretty or dull or anything.

Now, they're all the equal, and the important part is what people are using the language to say.

In the event that you actually wanted an update on my life, here's the low down. Everything's going swimmingly. I like my family, I like my job, I like that the rain has made the landscape greener. Tomorrow I'm probably going bungee jumping, which is utterly terrifying. I watched the Champions league final in a German club with German AFSers, which made it all the worse when Munich lost. I've been attempting to teach the parrot at home to whistle Harry Potter.



May 18, 2012

A Day Just Like Any Other

6:00 AM. The alarm on my phone goes off. I blindly reach under my pillow to shut it off, but can't seem to find it. I reach around some more. The beeps continue. I force myself to open my eyes. I become aware that the reason I can't find my phone is that I (and my pillow) have somehow become oriented with my head at the foot of my bed. I flop back to my usual position, find my phone, and silence it. I struggle to sit up, then to pull myself out from the blanket cacoon I've made myself.

I stand up. As always I'm surprised at how it's not actually cold once I'm out from the blankets, a feeling I've somehow held on to since leaving Maryland in the dead of Winter. I head out of my room to the kitchen/dining room region of the house. My host mom's off doing something, but there's a plate of home made bread and tamal asado on the table and a pot of coffee. I pour myself a mug, adding powdered creamer and sugar, then sit down to eat. My host mom comes in, says good morning, and then goes in to give my host sister her first wake up warning.

I grab my clothes for the day then head into the bathroom to shower. I head right back out because I realise I forgot to flip the power switch so that I can have hot water. Finally get to my shower. Get dressed, count out 180 colones for the bus, make sure I have my phone in my bag and head for the door.

7:20 AM. The bus to San Ramon approaches the stop, but doesn't show signs of slowing down. The bus driver smiles at me and holds up two fingers to let me know that there's another, less full, bus a little bit behind him. I don't mind waiting another 5 minutes or so if it means that I have a chance at a seat and not just a spot in an already overcroweded aisle. The second green and white school-turned-public bus comes by, and sure enough there's some space open in the back. I stear clear of the seat right in front of the ever open back door, still scared of falling out as the bus bumps around corners. A few stops later a guy about my age in the pink school uniform shirts of one of the near by colegios takes the seat next to mine, but neither of us says anything. The bus stops in the main bus stop in San Ramón and we all get off. I make my way to the park to sit and kill some time.

8:00 AM. I head over to SiNEM, a walk that takes all of 2 minutes. The door's locked, so I'm once again the first person there. I wait out side. People walking by look twice at me, the gringa just chilling out outside a shut door. Finally Jackie, the secretary, shows up and unlocks the door. She runs to the alarm to disarm it before it starts to make noise. I drop my bag off under the counter in the office area and then start to collect all the folding chairs and music stands from the orchestra rehearsal last night.

Jackie says that there isn't much for me to do until José, the guard, gets here and I help him put plaques on music stands, so until then I can play piano or go online or whatever. I grab my sheet music and head up to the piano in the back corner of the balcony, the one with the least amount of sticky keys. I end up playing for a while.

12:00 PM. Lunch time. I grab my bag and head to the park to eat my lunch and listen to some music. One  of the stray dogs running around lies down near me and eyes my food with longing. I keep my distance, unsure of how safe he is.

1:30 PM. José finally shows up. After saying hello he starts wailing about how it's un día menos for me in Costa Rica. I laugh it off, and say that I'm not leaving until Julio, but in the back of my head I know that it's less than 7 weeks away. I start taking music stands out of boxes and marking them with white out where José needs to drill holes for the plaques.

3:00 PM. Yinni, the do-everything woman of SiNEM, calls from upstairs that it's time for coffee. Everyone sits together at the little table in the closest thing to a staff lounge that the school has. They ask me to tell my talking donkey joke to Alvaro, the piano teacher, and the only one that hasn't heard it yet. The guitar teacher talks about the upcoming Champions League final game. They tell me to eat more.

4:30 PM. I head back to the bus stop. There's already a long line even though the bus doesn't come for another 15 minutes. I check with someone to make sure that this is the line for Piadades Sur. It is. The bus comes, and the driver asks everyone what stop they get off at. He looks at me and says "Barranca?". "Si." I find a seat on the right side of the bus. If I sit on the left I don't see the sign for a rabbit farm that lets me know I'm close to my stop. The bus leaves the station.

A few stops down my sister Ivania gets on. Luckily, the seat next to me is still empty. We talk a bit. When we near our stop, she makes me decide when to pull the chord just to see if I know where we get off. I do. We pay then head home.

7:30 PM. Ivania and I are in the parent's room watching TV while she works on some homework. This is the only TV with cable. My host mom calls us out for dinner. She already has plates of rice, beans, some form of meat, and platanos on the table. She pours us glasses of fresh fruit refresco, and we all start to eat. My host dad teases me about eating quickly, and I bury my face in my hands and pretend to sob. Ivania has to go study, so we all disperse. I grab my copy of Comer Rezar Amar I've been working my way through and try to get through another segment.

9:30 PM. I can't keep my eyes open anymore, so I say Buenas Noches and fall into bed.


May 13, 2012

Photos! (Phinally...)

Sorry for the title, sometimes I try too hard to be phunny...


Alright, let's start here. These are my main partners in crime here. We started out as room mates at Finca la Flor, but we've had tons of adventures together since then. All of my stories wouldn't be nearly what they are with out them, and it'll be a really tough goodbye when the time comes. From left to right we have Allie from New Zealand, Kayla from Australia, me, and Anna from New Zealand as well.  
Now we're backtracking a bit since we have a lot of land to cover. This is Finca la Flor, where the language camp was. On the left is the Salon de Yoga, where my class was held, and on the right is the cabin we lived in. 
This was a pretty typical sight from our cabin in the early morning at the finca

The waterfall at Finca la Flor

This was my Spanish class for two weeks

All of us AFSers on our last night before heading to our Families

Welcome mocktail in Tortuguero with AFS

Two thumbs up for the Carribean! 

Looking out from the town of Tortuguero

5 AM is a little early for my tastes, but there's no denying the canals of Tortuguero were awesome

Some of the group in Tortuguero. Check out the size of the tree behind us! 
My first host brother, Nathan

Tamarindo Beach

This is the town of La Fortuna with the Volcan Arenal behind it

This is SiNEM, where I spent all day every day. You can sort of see what I was saying with the balconies instead of rooms
Making empanadas with AFS San Ramon!

These are the parrots at my new house
Looking out the back from my new house. Isn't it beautiful?

Dear Playa Conchal, some cheesy romance novel wants its cover back 
MONKEY!!!!!!!! It's worth mentioning that my camera doesn't have some sort of crazy zoom, the monkey was just this close

Boat dock in Nicaragua 
Study abroad with AFS and you too could have friends like these! 
So, one night in Nicaragua this kid came up asking for money, and after we told him we didn't have any he kind of just attached himself to our group. Then the next night we were out walking and we found him again, and he decided to chill with us some more. He says he's 12, likes Real Madrid better than Barcelona, and that I have a pretty face.  
Token AFS picture
And last, but certainly not least, my new host family! This is my sister Ivania 

And here are my host parents!

That's all pholks! (Sorry, couldn't help myself)


May 7, 2012

This is what it's all about

I don't want to say it out loud out of fear that I'm wrong (after all, I'm only 18 and still very young and naive), but I think I've figured out what life is about, what the point of it all is. I think that in the end, the goal (or meaning or whatever you want to call it) is to be as ridiculously, incredibly, head over heels happy as you possibly can be in the very moment that is right now.

I've been thinking a lot about everything lately. The big things, the little things, everything. I changed families about a week and a half ago, an event that came up very quickly and took all of three days to happen. My host family hit some unexpected problems, and it was decided that the best option for me was to change to a new home. My new family is very different, but I think it'll work out very well. I now have a new set of host parents and an older host sister who is much closer to my age than Nathan was. I live farther out into the country than I used to, but it's beautiful. There's a huge farm, lots of family right near by, a dog that can carry my shoes, and a parrot that can bark like a dog. They've hosted before, so they know what it's like for an exchange student. More than anything, they're nice, welcoming, and after only a few days the Matamoros household is starting to feel like home.

It's a lot of change though. I lived in the house frente a la iglesia de San Juan for more or less 3 months, Although my time had its highs and lows, it still made an impression on me. And with a new address I now have to change up my routine and take the bus. Which is still a little scary, not gonna lie.

My midstay orientation in Nicaragua was the past couple of days. It was really good, as it always is with the AFS kids. We were in Grenada, which is actually really pretty. We walked got to see the city, go to a lagoon, go to a big market where I haggeld my way to a $9 hammock, and go out dancing twice (once in a club that had a pool that of course my friends had to push me in). Despite all the Tico trash talk of Nicaragua, I found it quite nice. It was super hot, and you could see how much poorer it was than Costa Rica, but it was still beautiful.

But in between bus rides and orientations and time spent laying in bed in a new house I've had a lot of time to think, like I said, about absolutely everything. And I think I just may have figured it out.

I thought about the past, about everything I've done, everywhere I'e gone, everyone I've met. I have so many good memories and so many things I'm glad happened exactly the way they did, and just like everyone else I have tons of regrets and what ifs. But dwelling on low points wont make them better, just as living in the best moments of the past wont make them happen again.

And as I thought about all that, my mind drifted to the future. Now normally that's just fine and dandy, dreams are cool, but I started to notice that there are so many things that have happened to me that I never dreamed of in the past, and I realized that my future is just as utterly unimaginable.

 And then it hit me. In all the thoughts of moments gone by and moments yet to come, the moment that is happening right now is slipping away, I'm in Costa Rica, a country that was never part of my plan, with all these people I never could have predicted meeting, doing things that I never even considered doing. But it doesn't matter that it was never something I could have thought to think about. All that matters is that it's happening.

This moment, this one right now, is only here for an instant. But in the instant that it's here, it's all that matters. And once it's gone, it's not a big deal, because there's another one, another right now. And this instant should be perfect, it should be exactly what it should be, because it's the most important thing. Forget about the past, forget about the future, and just be happy. Because right now,  right now, nothing else matters.

I've done so much. I've spent a year in France, a semester in Costa Rica, a season as a nanny, and a summer taking trains across Europe. I've met so many people, made so many  friends, seen so many things. I can't even begin to cover it all, to tell all the stories. I've had experiences that I thought never happened to "people like me" and learned that "people like me" is just in my head.

And I'm so happy that it happened, all of it. But more than that, I'm happy to be in this moment. I'm happy to be sitting in the internet cafe across the street from SiNEM in San Ramon, where it's raining and the person next to me is speaking Spanish a little too loudly into a cell phone. And I know that it'll be impossible to always appreciate now, to not have my heart in the past and my head in the future, but I'm sure as anything going to try.

It's a crazy life. But it's a life worth living. And if every "right now" is full of happiness, there'll be no need to be stuck in any other time for more than just a quick visit. There'll be no regrets, nothing to be ashamed of.

This second, the one that is currently happening, is what life is all about.


Apr 24, 2012

What a Wonderful World

I'm sorry about how ... oddly written ... my last post was. The thing is, I wrote half of it one day and half another and then tried to make it sound like it was all from the same train of thought.

Things have really started to come together here for me. I'm starting to feel really comfortable at home, and even though I still don't have much to say the silences don't feel quite as threatening as before. My family is really young (my only host brother is 4), so the dynamic is very different than what I had in France, but I'm finding that (once again) different isn't neccesarily a bad thing. I just have to appreciate it for what it is, not make judegments based on what it's not.

 Work is also better. I've realized (with the help from some very wise people who put up with my stressed venting) that I really am helping the school. I've been doing alot of secretary-type things (all of this week I've been filing contracts), and I get the feeling that they're the sort of things that keep getting put off even though they're actually necessary to keep everything running smoothly. And I love every one at the school. With out realzing it, they've kind of become like a second family to me. Drinking a cup of coffee together at 3 (like everyone in Costa Rica does every day) has made it feel a lot less like "Oh, these are people older than me that I work with" and more "These are the crazy people that spend all day here, like me". (They're all completely loco. Everyone in Costa Rica is. I love it.)

And what have I been upto lately? Let's see... This weekend I went to La Fortuna, home of Volcan Arenal, with some of the AFSers from San Ramón to spend the day at Termales Los Laureles, AKA volcaninc hot springs! There were all sorts of pools filled with water ranging from normal pool temperature to 44°C. We spent the day going from hot to cold to hot to warm to cold to freezing and back to scalding again. It was a blast, but I found out that all that will melt away sunscreen in an instant (which is bad, because I burn in like 2 seconds). When we got back we went to one of the host sister's 24th birthday party, which was a blast. Next weekend I'm off to spend the weekend in Guanacaste with Anna, Allie, Kayla, and people from Kayla's AFS chapter in Grecia, so that should be fun.

I've been in the sort of mood lately where everything seems beautiful. I'll be walking to work and notice how pretty the blue sky looks against the colored houses, or how the light during a rain storm makes all the tropical-ish plants extra dramatic looking. I really like Costa Rica. It's so different from Towson and Lyon and Millery and Paris. Everything is smaller and seems a bit faded, but it's so full of life, full of nice people, full of danceable music and last minute plans. It's really lovely. And for all the moments when I feel totally out of my element, homesick, lost, what have you, it some how has a way of bringing up my spirits in spite of my best efforts to wallow in self pity. I guess there's just something about the sun, the ticos, the pura vida.

All in all, life's pretty nice right now! Once I go through my pictures I'll try to put some up =)


PS, Since I posted my college essay I probably should tell you about my decision! Say aloha (or hola or bonjour or hello) to the newest member of the University of Hawai'i Class of 2016 =)

Apr 8, 2012

Pura Vida, Mae

[Insert obligatory comment about time flying here]

I mean, one would think that it would be the sort of thing that stops being surprising after a while. My year in France flew by, then senior year followed in it's footsteps, so I should be used to life passing quickly. Yet here I am, wondering how the heck it's been over two months already. Time has a way of keeping you on your toes like that.

Once again I'm finding myself in this strange warp where each day seems to last a week and each week seems to last a day. I don't do much in my project. That's a lie, I do a decent amount. Sometimes. I don't know. I really don't know what I thought I was be getting myself into when signing up for a Community Service semster, but I guess I was expecting to be solving problems or something, rather than just being extra manpower. Now that I think about it, though, just being extra man power is probably what my project needs the most...

Let me back up. I should probably explain more about what my project is, since it's where I spend the majority of my time. I work in the music school in San Ramón, refered to by everybody as Sinem (because it's the local branch of the Sistema Nacional de Educación Musical). Sinem is in this big building that my host family tells me used to me a pretty popular night club, and it's not like any music school I've been in. It doesn't have rooms with closed doors so that each student gets a quiet atmosphere and feels individualized, but rather has just one big hall with a few different balconies. It's open from 8 AM to 9 PM, and the number of people there at once varies depending on what teachers are there at a time. Generally, there are a few students around in the morning, it's empty around lunch time, then around 2 the flow starts to pick up. By 5 PM it's crowded and noisy, with everyone playing all sorts of instruments and talking amongst themselves. Some nights the orchestra practices, but even during their rehearsals you can hear lessons going on in other corners of the school.

I mostly work at the computer in a little office upstairs. As it turns out, I'm halfway competent at making sheet music in Finale, and since there's a ton of music that needs sheet music made it's become my job. I also come in when the orchestra rehearses to pass out, collect, and generally be in charge of the concert folders. Sometimes there's other little things I do, like making sure all the folders have all the music they need, helping music lessons be playing the piano accompaniment, putting away chairs and music stands, digitalizing the entire music library, and making copies for people. Since the school only has 2 computers, I often have to give up my spot so that more important things can get done (like directorial stuff). At those times I often find myself just playing piano or sitting and talking with the other people that work here.

I often don't feel like I'm doing much, because I'm not doing anything huge. I'm not building houses or saving turtles or teaching underprivileged children the joys of the English language. But I'm doing things that need to be done in the school. The sheet music has to come from somewhere and someone has to be at rehearsal to make sure folders are where they should be. Now that I'm here, they have that somebody, and people who have more pressing things to deal with can deal with them. (That being said, it's still boring at times. But so is anything you do 8 hours a day, 5 days a week).

And I am happy with my project. I love that I get to live and breath music, because that's what I like doing. All of the people in the school are slightly crazy, but they're all fantastic. They're accomodating, and willing to repeat themselves 29 bajillion times so I can finally get what they're trying to tell me. They help me with my spanish technique, with my piano technique, with my general living technique. It's all good. Pura vida.

"Pura vida" is like the official phrase of Costa Rica. In my Costa Rican culture cram sessions I had before leaving the US sitting in the café at Barnes & Noble flipping through travel guides, I read alot about "Pura Vida". But I'm a bit wary of travel guides(they always seem to be for the "shallow" traveler, the person that just wants to see a place, not become part of it), so, I thought that it was probably just some touristy thing that wasn't really relevant to what I was going to do. But was I ever wrong. Litterally translated, it means pure life. But it means so much more than that in reality. It's a greeting, a way to say thank you, an expression of how you're feeling, a way to say everything's OK, and probably other things that I haven't picked up on. And everyone says it. ALL THE TIME. They also say "mae" all the time, which pretty much means dude. And by all the time, I mean all the time. If you're planning on coming to Costa Rica, expect to hear it a lot.

Most of my time is spent at my project, but I've gotten to do some really fun things in my time off too. One weekend, I took an AFS sponsored trip to Tortuguero, on the Carribean coast. It was really fun, despite having some really early morning starts (5:30 AM canal tour, anyone?). I got to see tons of animals I've never seen/never seen outside of a zoo, like crocodiles, monkeys, iguanas, and "Jesus Christ" lizards (they can walk on water). We went to the town, cleaned the beach, and took walks in the forest. We were staying at this really nice resort/lodge with a turtle shaped swimming pool and welcome mocktails upon arrival, and it was really fun to just kick back there with my AFS amigos when we weren't out and about.

I also went to the Imperial Music Festival with alot of the same people. It was a blast, and we got to see bands like Maroon 5, Skrillex, LMFAO, Cage the Elephant, Gogol Bordello, Major Lazer, and tons of others. This trip was definitely not AFS sponsored, but it was a great way to have some AFSer bonding, and was a well needed break from the pressures of our normal Exchange Student life.

This week was Semana Santa, which is basically the Costa Rican spring break. I went to Playa Tamarindo with my host family, which is on the Pacific Coast (opposite side from Tortuguero). Sun, sand, and temperatures in the 90s, que rico! We were only there for 2 days, but that was plenty of time to get my fill of lounging and basking in the heat. It was funny though, because everyone around us was speaking English! Apparently, it's one of the more touristy areas, and a hot spot for Americans. (Naturally, this meant that I refused to speak English at all. Whenever we went into a shop, and the people tried to help me in English, I adamently insisted on speaking Spanish with them.)

I've been having fun when I'm just chilling in San Ramon, too. I've made Chiverre Empañadas with the local AFSers, gone to the movies, taken up knitting (again), written a new song, and more! I've been hanging out with AFSers a lot, both local San Ramonites and my friends from orientation.

There's something to point out to anyone considering the CS program: Since I'm not in school with people my age everyday, I haven't been able to make friends like I did in France. That's not to say that I don't like the people I work with, it's just that I'm not constantly with people my age. I've made a few Tico friends, but mostly I've been enjoying the company of the other exchangers. Which isn't a bad thing, just something worth noting.

I'm not sure what else to say about everything. If there's anything you want to hear about, let me know!

Feb 22, 2012

Reality Sets In

Tomorrow marks my one-week-iversary with my host family! In some ways, it's a lot like it was my first week in France, in others not at all.

The first major difference is that while I've only been with my family for a week, I've been in Costa Rica for about three. Like I mentioned in my last post, we had a pretty intense orientation process. I was only like half way through the last time I posted, so let's start there.

The morning after I posted, Monday the 13th, I had my first Costa Rican earthquake! (My second earthquake in my life). It was pretty early in the morning, and we were still sound asleep. With everything shaking a bit, Anna, Allie, and I all sort of groggily sat up, confirmed with eachother that there was infact an earthquake happening, then went back to sleep.(Kayla slept through the whole thing.) Turns out it was a halway decent quake, weighing in at 5.8 on the richter scale.

The next day, Valentines Day, I played what I'm pretty sure was my first game of soccer since my year in France. It was AFS versus the town of La Flor, and it was pretty intense. The field was up on a hill, and the goals had no nets. Meaning, when they scored on our goal the ball just went right on through and down the hill. Despite our valiant attempts, the town of La Flor beat us. I blame it on the fact that they had things like cleats and shin gaurds.

Valentines Day was also the day we officially completed our course book, meaning in theory I now know how to speak Spanish to an extent. In theory.

Then it was Wednesday, our last full day at Finca la Flor. Each class had taken a turn in the kitchen, and it we were finally up. Our task: tamales! They were easy enough to make, some corn dough stuff, with sauce and some veggies, wrapped up in banana leaves. Then, after lunch, I got a tattoo on my neck!! ...OK, not a real tattoo... It was done with some sort of amazonian fruit juice that goes on clear and then dyes your skin black from 2 weeks or so. I got a bird, but one guy got tribal designs on his face! That afternoon were our final presentations, little acts that each class put together to kind of show off their new skills. Ours was a skit about what happens when foreigners come to Costa Rica. Other groups did skits, raps, fashion shows, and song interpretations. In the evening they called us together in the main house to have a toast, and then we all hung out and danced and took tons of pictures. A lot of the AFSers went up to the pub one last time, but I was exhausted and nervous, so I decided to hang back and go to sleep.

The next morning we got up extra early, because they told us the buses would be leaving at 7. However, when we managed to lug our suitcases up to the top of the hill we noticed we were the first ones ready. We had forgotten to account for Tico Time. We took our time after that, ate our breakfast, and then the buses showed up. We piled into one bus, except for the few people that were headed to the Paraiso area (where we were), who got in another to be dropped off early. Our bus driver was funny, and was blasting rap while hitting the breaks in rythm to make the bus bounce. The hip-hop bus took us all the way back to the AFS office in San Jose, where we recovered our luggage and then began the wait until it was time to head to our host families. Some people got picked up, some people got taken to the bus stop, and some people (like myself) got driven by an AFS volunteer to our host communities. The goodbyes were harder than I expected them to be. Since we had spent so much time together, we had really bonded as a group (some people had even formed couples!). Hugs, well wishes, and sad-yet-excited smiles for all became the standard exit procedure. As people left one by one, our numbers started to shrink. By the time I was called at 1:30 there were only 9 of us left.

I was picked up by a woman named Magaly and her two daughters, who were going to take me to San Ramón. We picked up her mom on the way, and then made a pit stop at a mall for food/coffee. I couldn't manage to eat much though, because I was nervous as all get out. We stopped by Magaly's house on the way, and I got to meet another AFSer, Ruth from Germany. (Yes, Mom & Dad, I asked her where in Germany she was from. Osnabruck. Go Figure.) (For those of you that don't get that, Vici, the German exchange student who stayed with my parents when I was in France the first time around, was also from Osnabruck). ANYWAYS, we finally headed up to my new house, and after the longest minute of my life my host parents, Yessenia and Freddy, came to greet me.

It was just like it was the first time I saw my host family in France. They looked just like they did in pictures, yet in a way I could never have anticipated. They were smiling and friendly, and the first thought through my head was "Thank god, they're nice." (Not that they wouldn't have been, but you know. I was worried). They let me drop my stuff off in my room, and then we headed down to the neighbors house, where they had all been hanging out drinking coffee and eating home made tortillas. There I met my little host brother Nathan and a whole lot of people who they said were as close as family. Nathan was sick though, and after the snack I went with him and my host dad to the doctor, then to the playground, then to the pharmacy. Then we drove across town to my host grandmothers house, where they hang out alot. That night, after unpacking a little, I hung out with Yessenia and her friends and played Uno before I finally crashed.

I had the weekend to start to get used to San Ramón, then on Monday I started my community service project. I work in the music school, which is in the center of town. So far I've just been doing management sorts of tasks, like archiving the music library and making new labels for filing cabinets, but they said that once I learn more Spanish I could help teach Piano or something like that.

Which brings me to my next point: yo no hablo español. Finca la Flor was kind of like a bubble, a bubble where they spoke slowly and often had what they were saying written as well as orally. Here, in Real World, Costa Rica, it's different. They speak quickly, they mumble, y yo no entiendo. At work they've started using google translate to tell me things, but it's hard. I'm getting better, yes, but it'd be hard to be worse than I am right now. But oh well, I'm still having fun. People are nice.

That's just a quick update, but I promise I'll post photos or something else fun soon!


Feb 12, 2012

iDislike iPod Blogging

I know I said I was going to hold out for a real computer before I posted, but I've been here for a week now and I'm not sure when I'll have that chance. This means that I'll suffer through typing on this tiny keyboard for you, whoever you may be. *Insert long dramatic sigh.* But getting down to business...

I guess I should start on Wednesday February 2, which is the day my parents dropped me off in NYC. The weather was unseasonably warm, at a balmy 60 degrees, and it was a lovely day for a stroll in the city. We met up with my brother for lunch near his lower east side apartment, then around 2:30 we headed to the Seaport Inn so that I could begin my orientation. Based on my previous AFS experiences, I was expecting to show up to a hectic scene, with a few volunteers frantically trying to check in the hordes of AFSers, tons of jittery and anxious teens holed up in a hotel ballroom, and an overwhelming sense of impending I-don't-know-what. But apparently the universe had other plans. In place of the large hotel in Queens, there was a small inn in Manhattan. Instead of a packed lobby full of weeping parents and overweight suitcases, there was a bored volunteer chilling in an armchair. And en lieu of a list of tons of people headed in various directions (and 30 headed to France), there was a single piece of paper containing only 3 names and 1 program: Costa Rica semester community service.

Although I had to be at the hotel by 3:00, our orientation activities didn't start until 5:00, so I said my goodbyes, headed up to my (this time single) room, and took a much needed nap since the night before had only provided about 3 hours of sleep. Two hours later, I pulled myself up and headed downstairs for Welcome and Introduction, where I met Thomas and Rob, the only two other Americans headed out for this particular program, who both happened to be from the MD/DC area. We were joined by a girl who had gone to Costa Rica for a year, and she told us a lot about the country in general (although neither she nor the leader could really elaborate on our individual projects. We left the hotel for dinner at a funny little restaurant called The Cowgirl Seahorse, and afterwards we walked around the area before turning in for the night.

The next morning we left the hotel at 8:30 and hailed a cab to take us to the AFS Office. That's right, we got to go see where the magic of intercultural exchange takes place! As much as I'd like to say that it was built of friendship rainbows and culturally aware unicorns, it looked an awful lot like cubicles with some blown up photos of happy exchangers on the walls. But the people were nice, and we got to check out the AFS archives that are housed there. We hung around a conference room getting oriented some more via videos, African parables, and little activities, then at 12:15 we piled into a waiting car and headed off to JFK International Airport. The volunteers got us checked in and to security, gave us some phone numbers in case of emergencies, then bid us farewell as we headed to our gate.

We boarded the plane around 4:00, and after 5 hours or so of uneventful flight time we touched down in San Jose. Going through customs and security was relatively painless, and I managed to get by without saying a word (which was good, because the only things I could say in Spanish were "El caballo corre" and "Donde están mis pantalones?"). After making it past the formalities, we found our AFS CRC people waiting for us out by the taxis. We met up with them, and they told us that we were waiting on a few more people before we could go to the hostel. Although it was only 8ish, it was already a dark Costa Rican night. The little strip of sidewalk reserved for meetings and taxi-gettings was packed, with people moving around each other in the orange glow of the lights like moths to a streetlamp.

Finally we were joined by Caroline from Germany and a Frederic from Quebec, and the 5 of us (along with our 2 AFS people) piled into one of the red taxis and set off for the most terrifying ride of my life. Treating rules of the road more like unimportant guidelines, our driver wove in and out of cars while taking sharp turns at insane speeds and breezing through red lights. After what felt like an insanely long time, we arrived at the hostel, Casa Yoses, and breathed a sigh of relief that we had made it in one piece. Although they gave us dinner on the plane, we were kind of hungry by that point. We went to the little restaurant at the hostel, where we were joined by Anna from New Zealand as we chowed down on some delicious beans and rice.

The next morning, after failing to understand how a Costa Rican baño works and taking a pretty frigid shower, we (all 30 or so AFSers that had showed up) walked a few blocks to the AFS CRC national office to begin the next round of orientation. It was my first time really experiencing Costa Rica since it had been nighttime when we arrived, and I was certainly impressed. Having left behind a cold Maryland February, it was amazing to be walking around in this 75 degree sun, flowers hanging from some of the nearby, not a jacket in sight.

Although the AFS CRC office still looked mostly just like cubicles, it was closer to being built on rainbows and unicorns than it's NYC counterpart. With huge windows and open-air skylights, it felt almost like an extension of the outdoors. We got served lunch, which was delicious, then we began our activities. They had a few PowerPoints telling us more about Costa Rica, AFS CRC, and family structure, and after it was all presented it was time to head back to the hostel. The evening was mostly filled with TV, dinner, and another cold shower, but after I went to bed disaster struck!

Fo once in my life, I am actually going to skimp of the details of this little period in time, and I think you may thank me for it. The disaster in question was of a "Aaand up comes dinner" nature, and I spent the rest of the night curled up with a mug of tea on the sofa in the common room, half watching some soccer match and half making a break for the bathroom, with the guy from he front desk checking in on me every 15 minutes or so.

Anyways, when it got to be time to leave for orientation in the morning I wasn't feeling any better, and when our AFS volunteer Nadia saw me she said that she was taking me to the hospital. She called a cab, and as the everyone else gathered to walk to he office, I got taken to the ER.

Now I'm going to take a second to back up to my preconceived notions of Costa Rica at the time. I had been told a lot of things by a lot of different people about what to expect there, and they were all rather contradictory. I got told that the country was both a first world paradise and a third world drug smuggling rat trap. I was told that the water was clean and the fresh fruit healthy, and then I was warned not to eat anything that didn't come wrapped in 7 layers of plastic. The scariest warnings came from the travel doctor that gave me my vaccines, who basically said that I will contract malaria/dengue fever/rabies/AIDS and will need to bring my own IV for when they cart me off to the hospital to die. All in all, I had no clue what the heck to expect when I showed up at the Hospital La Católica.

As it turns out, the ER in Costa Rica is almost exactly like the ER in the USA. You go in, get lost trying to find the proper check in desk, go to the admissions counter, get a fun name tag bracelet, wait, wait some more, go through triage, wait, meet with a doctor, wait, get taken back to where the beds are, get an IV, get blood drawn for a blood test, wait, get told that you have a stomach virus, get prescribed meds, get taken out in a wheel chair, and go home. There was no voodoo medicine, no roaches crawling around, just sterile surfaces and those fun hospital beds that move with a remote. (Note: No, I never did believe that this would involve risky medical proceedings, but I know there were some people that were worried)

Once I had eaten some chicken soup I rejoined the others at HQ for some talk about expectations, change, and the personal projects we'll be coming up with. That night, they took us to the San Pedro mall to grab dinner. It was fun to be out with people in the real world, and it was utterly terrifying to face the fact that I couldn't understand or speak Spanish while trying to order a sandwich.

The next day was Sunday, the day we were supposed to leave San Jose and head to our next destination: language camp. Language camp was (still is) at Finca la Flor near Paraiso. The finca is an ecoagricultural farm where they go back to nature farming in the forest. After our bus ride there, AFS left us in the capable hands of Bridget and the rest of the people here. We split into cabins, mine being with Anna and Allie from New Zealand and Kayla from Australia, and then sat down for our first of many all organic, vegetarian, all home grown meals. After lunch they split us up by those who spoke at least a little Spanish and those who, like me, spoke none. The speakers had a speaking placement test, and the rest of us had free time until the written placement test. 96 questions, and I only had the slightest clue what about 20 of them said. It was funny because it felt like I should have known what they said, like that feeling you get when you don't study for a test and you think to yourself "Oh yeah, I remember that being mentioned once. Too bad I can't remember what it is..."

Apparently, though, I did a pretty good job guessing, because when they split us up into classes the next day I got put into the intermediate level. There were two other people that were in the same boat, and as soon as Professor Esteban started talking we were quick to point out that we were total beginners. They sorted that out and we were transferred to Professor Gustavo's class, where we started with learning the alphabet. Over the course of the day, we learned letters, colors, adjectives, and when to use ser vs estar. We took a walk in the forest, we ate fresh cooked bread, we did bilingual yoga, and that evening all of us headed up to the little bar since we're all legally allowed to here.

The next couple of days have started to run together, each one following the same basic schedule. 7:00-7:45 is breakfast, 8:00-10:00 is class, then there's a 20 minute break. Then it's back to class until noon, lunch break until 2:00, class until 4:00, coffee break, and then we're free with dinner at 6:00. Over the past couple of days we've learned everything from how to count to how to conjugate irregular pretérito imperfecto. I can now tell you what I'm wearing, what (and what color) that animal is, and if you talk at a decent speed to me I will understand what you mean (after I process for a second). All that from 7 days of classes. My French is immensely helpful, since it's provided me a base of concepts (gender of words, imperfect vs perfect past, making your adjectives agree with your subjects, etc).

In addition to classes, I've learned Pranayama breathing, the dance of universal peace, and how to salsa dance. I've buried a dead porcupine in the forest, been part of a women's circle, and gone from not being a coffee drinker to drinking a cup in the morning and a cup in the afternoon. I've used a machete, ordered a beer in Spanish, and hiked through a rain forest (multiple times).

Finca la Flor is lovely. It's all organic, and they cook us tons of food I've never had before. It has great views, three crazy dogs, and WiFi that shuts off at 8:00pm. My cabin is really cool, built out of l logs, with a big window that looks out over the forest out the back and a wall that seeps water when the wind blows during a rain storm. My spanish class is held in the yoga house, and every so often we'll stop class to look at birds outside the windows the line all the walls.

I know I've probably given you tons of details when it didn't matter, and breezed over things you want to hear about. Sorry. I'll repost soon with some full stories.

As for my mental and emotional state, I'm doing fine. The days here feel really long, and I'm usually dead asleep by 9. My Spanish is progressing rapidly, although I still can't really speak. I've made some fantastic new friends, and we've laughed ourselves silly multiple times. Everyone is really nice, and the whole community here is really supportive. I love the temperature here. I'm excited and nervous about leaving to go into the real world, and I still have no clue what to expect.

I hope that was enough to hold you over until I for real get a computer and my thoughts flow a little better.

Hasta luego,

Feb 3, 2012

I Made It!

This post is going to be a very short one, despite the multitude of things I have to say. It's very difficult to type a lot on An ipod, so i'll save the details for when I have ample time with a computer. I made it through orientation in NYC and landed in San Jose last night. I'm not sure what we're going to be doing today, but right now we're all just milling about Casa Yoses, the hostel we're bunking at. The weather is phenomenal, and it makes it hard to be nervous about anything.

I'll leave you with a photo to make you jealous and will really post as soon as i can!