Costa Rica 2013

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This can’t be the end?

Well I am back in the U.S. of A as of Saturday night! I have so many mixed emotions right now and so much on my mind. I thought I would write one final post to wrap up my experience, but I wanted it to settle in my mind before writing.

Where do I begin? These past three months felt like they were just a dream. Coming back has to be one of the most unreal feelings I have ever had. I was finally comfortable in Costa Rica, and to be honest it felt like home. My “host” family felt like a real family to me. I actually love them a lot. Don’t get me wrong, I love being home in the U.S. as well. I missed so many things about being here. I missed my family and friends so much. I missed being able to eat when and what I want. I missed being able to drive myself wherever I wanted to go. I missed my bed! But since being here I can now only think of the things that I miss from Costa Rica, like the fresh fruit (PAPAYA!), the warm sun everyday, the friendly and easygoing people, and the wonderful conversations i would have with my host mom. I miss the reggae music and dancing. I miss the sound of Spanish especially. What a beautiful language. I hope I can maintain all that I have learned over the past few months. My Spanish has gotten a lot better. 

Costa Rica taught me so much about myself and about the world in general. I will be forever grateful for that. I feel that now, I am much more appreciative for my family and friends, and for the small things in life. I have learned to SLOW down, and enjoy every moment. I have learned to be patient. Tranquilo ( to be peaceful, tranquil, relaxed). Here in the U.S. we have such a different lifestyle. We are always in a rush, and we always want things done NOW. We could learn a thing or two from our Latin American neighbors. They seem to lead a much less stressful lifestyle. I did so many things studying abroad that I never believed I would ever do. It was like I was a different person altogether. I met so many great people there. It was such a diverse group, and everyone brought something different to the table. It is so sad to me that I may never see some of them ever again. However, on the bright side, I know that I will stay in touch with many, and hopeful have reunions. The time we spent together, although very short, was so meaningful. We shared an experience that our friends back home can’t relate to. I wish them all well in their future endeavors and I can not wait until the next time I am able to see them again.  

Costa Rica was gorgeous as a country. The music, the people, the scenery! Oh the scenery. Everything was great. 

Here is a picture that my roommate Edith took:

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I will definitely miss those sunsets. So beautiful. So tranquil.

My Tica Family, with the exception of my other brother and sister: 

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I hope to see them again one day!

Since being back a few things have been, well, wierd to me. For example, the traffic seems so much slower compared to in San Jose. People ACTUALLY follow road signs again. Carpet feels extra soft. I haven’t walked on a carpeted floor in so long. I feel strange every time I throw my toilet paper in the toilet. I finally go the hang of throwing it in the trash can. When I drove for the first time yesterday it felt like it was my actual first time EVER. I was a bit nervous. All of the Christmas decorations don’t feel right. I had no idea this week was Christmas. It didn’t feel like December over in Costa Rica. Last night, while I was out getting sushi (one of my many cravings I had back in CR) I accidentally said “Gracias” to the waitress. Woops! I can tell this will take some time to get used to. What do they call it?Reverse culture shock, that’s right. 

In order to give a full reflection on my study abroad experience I feel as if I have to give the entire story. There were so many positives and they definitely outweighed the negatives, but there still were things that I was not completely happy with. Unfortunately one of these bad experiences included me getting robbed at gunpoint. I had heard so many stories about it happening to other students, I was just praying that it wouldn’t happen to me. The night that it did, I was so angry. Angry at myself for being so complacent. Angry at the man who did it. Angry that the authorities did absolutely nothing about it. But in the end I thought it about it, and there wasn’t anything I could do after the fact. It was done. Yes, it sucked, but it was done. I couldn’t be angry because it is something that happens all over the world and in every country. There are people like that out there. I did not want it to ruin my experience and so I let it go. 
Another thing that I guess I was not entirely happy with was the vast amount of Americanization in Costa Rica. One of my preconceptions I had before going there was that it would be more like other Latin American countries in the sense of culture. There were so many American restaurants and fast food chains. Even the language was influenced by the U.S. They don’t roll their R’s! That was a huge surprise for me. The kids listened to a lot of American music and rock. It was almost as if the country was little America. After visiting Nicaragua and Panama on two of my free weekends, it was even more apparent how different Costa Rica was. After this initial shock, I began to realize that in order to enjoy the rest of my experience I had to accept Costa Rica for what it was. It DID have culture. I just had to take a closer look and learn to appreciate it.

I was also elated to have picked up an old pastime 🙂  I started to train in Tae Kwon Do again! It had been about 5 years since I put that uniform on:

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I can tell that I am not the same person I was 3 months ago. I feel different. It is hard to put my finger on what has changed, but I just know my perspective is different and I have learned so much. I never thought I would be the one to take off and leave my family and friends for 3 months to study abroad. I was so scared coming into this. I honestly wanted to back out just a week before I left. All I can say is that I am glad I didn’t. Costa Rica has been one of the most life changing experiences I have ever had and I will never forget it. I will be back for you one day Costa! But until then, I will just have to remember, Pura Vida!

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Only one week left!

The past two weeks I have been busy with finals and traveling and so I did not have time to post. So, let me catch you all up with my whereabouts.

Last weekend I went to a place called Monteverde, Costa Rica. It was a place way up in the mountains with cloud forests and lots of trees!

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Unfortunately I was sick for the entire weekend with food poisoning but it was still a blast! I went ziplinging at Latin America’s longest zipline. I even did a tarzan swing which was awesome! It was basically a swing that had me tied with a bungee and I jumped off the bridge into the trees and swung for a bit. One of the scariest things I have ever done. We went to a butterfly and frog sanctuary afterwards. Costa Rica has the most beautiful wildlife.

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On Sunday we went to climb a ficus tree. It was one of the coolest things I have ever seen. It’s a strangler tree that grows around a tree and kills it leaving it hallow on the inside.

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This past weekend we went to Puerto Viejo, a beach on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica. I was expecting it to look like Belize with the crystal blue waters and white sand but it did not really resemble typical Caribbean beaches at all. Still beautiful though. We all enjoyed our last weekend together and relaxed on the beach. We rented bikes and biked down to Punta Uva. It was beautiful. We stayed in a really cool hostel that had a room filled with hammocks for rent instead of beds. Not your traditional hostel.

I am back in San Jose today. Not looking forward to finishing up my finals and packing. I am thinking about doing a day trip to the beach on Thurday to get in some last minute sun! It is unbelievable how fast this trip has been going by. It feels as if i’ve been gone for only a week. Nothing can compare to the amazing experience I have had here. It is sad that I will be leaving this wonderful life behind soon. The worst part is that no one  back home will truly understand my experience through just stories. When I get back and people ask, “How was your trip?” I will not know what to say. How can I possibly explain to you in one sentence the most amazing three months of my life? It just can’t be done. I have 6 days left in this gorgeous country and I just want to soak it all in and leave with no regrets. I do have to admit I am missing home for the holidays. I miss my friends and family. I miss warm showers with actual water pressure. I miss organized street traffic. I miss american food. I miss sushi, oh how I miss sushi! I miss feeling safe walking the streets at night. Even though I am excited to go back home, I know I will miss this place just as much. One thing that is for sure though, I must come back here one day. I can not fathom leaving this place and never seeing it again. Same with the people I met here. We are already planning our next reunion. Haven’t even left yet and I already miss them!

Nicaragua this past weekend!

I went to Nicaragua this past weekend with a group of friends. It was quite an experience to say the least. I saw some spectacular things, met some amazing people, and had a near death experience with some friends. We spent almost 30 hours traveling to and from Nicaragua. But let me tell you, it was worth it! We arrived in Granada Friday night and took 3 taxis to our hostel. They ripped us off and charged us $5 each for a ride that was only supposed to cost $5 total. We had no choice. We checked into our hostel and met some crazy Europeans who had been partying all day. The hostel kicked them out for disturbing the other guests. We tried hard not to let that be us. We went out to get some dinner at a Mexican restaurant in the town. It was delicious! We saw so many things going on that night out in town. Fire dancers, vendors, music, just everything. We were all exhausted from our trip so we headed back to the hostel and hung out and chatted until bed. We barely got any sleep when we were all awakened at 5 AM to go volcano boarding in the town called Leon. We headed to Leon, which was about 3 hours away and we met our tour guide. We took a truck to the volcano which was another 45 mins away. By the time we got to the volcano we noticed some rain clouds up ahead and our tour guide told us that we should hurry and try really hard to hike up the volcano fast in order to miss the rain. We began our journey up the volcano that would take us over an hour to hike. Half way up the Volcano we heard some thunder. Uh oh. Next we felt sprinkles. We kept hiking. We arrived at the top but still had a ways to go hiking the rim of the volcano to get to the other side. All of a sudden we felt the wind start to pick up. Some of the strongest wind I have ever felt. Then some hail decided to join us. The storm was approaching faster every second. Mind you, there was lightening and we were all holding metal boards! Not such a great idea. The wind was blowing us so hard that we could hardly walk. If we blew off onto one side of the rim, it was a scorching hot crater,and to the other side was the drop off the volcano. The path that we were walking on couldn’t have been wider than a couple feet. The tour guide decided that we needed stop and try and wait out the storm. We all knelt down and guarded our bodies with our boards. We were drenched and freezing cold. I was positive that we were going to die. I started to cry and everyone was worried but tried to stay positive.Luckily after about 25 mins the rain let up and we began walking again. We finally reached the other side of the volcano. At this point I just wanted to get down to safe ground. My friend Geena and I volunteered to go first. I clocked about 37 KPH for my time. Not bad! It was so much fun. The angle of the volcano was 41 degrees at one point. It was very steep! After all of us made it down and enjoyed the sunset behind us we boarded the truck again and were rewarded with beers and mojitos. We sure as hell deserved them!

As if our luck hadn’t been bad enough, on our way back, 2 of the truck tires blew out. Great. We spent another 30 minutes changing the tires in the dark. After we made it back to the hostel we got dressed and went out for drinks to celebrate our less than average day. The next morning we checked out and headed to the beach of San Juan del Sur. About 2.5 hours away. We got to relax and enjoy the beach. It was great.

Nicaragua has been my favorite country so far in Central America (well besides Belize of course! haha) and I hope to visit someday again. The streets, the people, everything was fantastic. Not as Americanized as Costa Rica. The culture was rich. I practiced my Spanish with some locals when I was there. I remember when I first arrived in Costa Rica and asked if I spoke Spanish I would say ” Un poquito (a little bit) ” and now I say “yes, I do speak Spanish.” My Spanish has improved significantly and I can hold conversations now.

This past weekend was incredible and after nearly dying I am so much more appreciative of life and of this entire experience in general. Life is short, and we have to enjoy it and not take it for granted. We have to live each day like it will our last one on this earth (as cliche as that sounds).

4 more weeks and my time abroad will come to an end. Unbelievable. I have to make it count. Let us see what Costa Rica has in store for me this week!

Oh and Happy Thanksgiving to you all back home 🙂

~Pura Vida

What do you mean one month? I just got here yesterday!

I can’t believe I have almost been here one month as of this week. It’s crazy how time flies. I have done so much this month and met so many people. This past weekend was our last excursion. We went to Tamarindo beach and it was amazing. The beach was located on the pacific side just like Manuel Antonio. This coming weekend we are going to Bocas Del Toro, Panama! Only Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala left and I will have visited all of the countries in Central America.

Since I have been here I have been noting some of the differences between the Costa Rican culture and the one that I am used to back home. One thing that is very well known here is something called “Tico Time.” When foreigners first arrive in Costa Rica they are quickly advised to adjust to the local “Tico Time.” First of all a “Tico” is another name for a Costa Rican local. “Tico Time” is used to refer the slow paced lifestyle of Costa Ricans. They are late for many things. I learned that this is not considered rude here, or even intentional, but it is just the way of life here. Slow Down. Enjoy life. In the U.S. we are  always in a rush we often miss the beautiful things life has to offer.

Personal space is something that is also quite different here. People have no problem lightly touching someone during a conversation or an interaction. In the U.S. personal space is something that we value and we prefer to not have people invading it, especially not strangers. It is not unusual here, however, for people to stand very close to each other during conversations. I believe this has to do with the fact that this culture is so personal, warm, and loving. It has made me realize how cold our American culture can be.

I am so excited to be here. This country is so beautiful. I walk out of the house every morning for class and the view takes my breath away! The city is surrounded by lush green mountains and the houses are so cute and colorful. Mornings here are the best. It makes waking up at 6:30 every morning a little bit easier. The real question is, am I going to want to leave here when its time to go back home?

Feels like home…

A friend told me before coming here that it takes 11 days for someone to feel “at home” in a new place. Today I had that warm fuzzy  feeling that I was home while I was sitting in my room. I decided to count out how many days iv’e been here, when I came to the realization that today is day 11! Not sure if that was coincidence or not.

I feel like it was just yesterday that I was on a plane anxious, to be heading to a new place. Now, I am anxious to see what is in store for the next 10 weeks! So little time, and so much to do!