Monday, June 27, 2011

Final days in pura vida...

The last couple days of our trip I had a pit in my stomach because I knew leaving this beautiful, happy place was going to be hard. Good thing we occupied ourselves with lots of fun activities to keep our minds off it! The canopy tour was incredible, and I finally got to check it off my bucket list. While taking that gondola up the mountain 300 ft. was a bit nerve racking, looking to the left and seeing Volcan Arenal poking out of the clouds was absolutely breathtaking. I couldn’t believe I was seeing the part of the volcano that everyone looking at it from the ground up could not see. The beautiful landscape helped calm my nerves, and after climbing that first set of rickety stairs to the zip line I was ready to go! Being able to see all of Costa Rica in any direction I looked was unreal, I almost forgot that I was zooming down a zip line 150 ft above the tree tops (I have acrophobia). I am so glad I finally got to have this experience (along with many, many others during this trip).
I had the opportunity to plant an avocado tree in one of the fields at the coffee plantation we visited (CafĂ© Monteverde). So I’ve officially left my mark in Costa Rica, with a plastic knife with my name on it stuck in the dirt with my baby tree.
CPI celebrated its 20th birthday on the last night we were in Monteverde. We all brought our families to the party, and let me just say it was the most fun I have ever had in my life, I’ve always wanted to go to a real fiesta :) I brought my mama Joice, and my 2 hermanas Naty and Denise. I loved learning meringue from Denise, and the band was awesome. CPI really knows how to throw a 20th birthday/anniversary celebration! The video they showed about the history of CPI was great. It was so interesting to see how a small company with only one student has grown to have 3 different locations with groups of students and universities circling in and out every week. CPI is an amazing company and I would highly recommend it to anyone passing through Costa Rica looking to study. I’ve met the best people through CPI including my Spanish teachers, tour guides and chaperones, and especially my 2 families who I just fell in love with. I just can’t wait to go back and visit!
So Dr. Powell’s final question for all of us was a broad one but also one that took me no time to respond to. What did you learn? For one thing, that I want to come back to Costa Rica and live there forever, but also how to branch out and try new things, have new adventures, to stay open minded, to be flexible, to be prepared, to be compassionate, gracious, and giving, how to not be the “ugly American,” and so so much more. As far as what I have learned about myself, I know my level of capability and what I am able to do. I allowed an unfamiliar family to pick me up in a taxi, bring me to their home, and stay with them in their household for a week. I did that all over again with a completely different family in a different city for another 2 weeks. This was a pretty big thing for me as far as stepping out of my comfort zone, but I allowed myself to trust them and feel safe with them, and get to know them. Staying with these 2 families turned out to be my favorite part of the trip. I know I am capable of learning Spanish, and given one more year in a Spanish speaking country (and maybe living with a host family) I promise I’ll be fluent :).
Visiting the schools was another one of my favorite parts of the trips. When it comes time for me to teach, I do not think I would be the same teacher if I did not have this experience. I have been put in the position of an English language learner, and have learned to be patient and understanding. I have learned new teaching strategies for not only ELL’s but for the whole classroom. Dr. Powell taught us the different purposes of learning, and whether it is fun, a struggle, or both. After visiting the Centro Educacion de Creativa (The Cloud Forest School), I have decided that I want to come back and work there.
This was the trip of a lifetime, and after being back for 2 weeks I still think about it every day. I try to apply concepts the Tico’s use in to my own life, such as conservation and simple living. I am trying not to take things for granted, and to appreciate everything in my life. I have been staying in contact with my family in Monteverde as well as other staff at CPI through facebook. I can’t wait to go back, who wants to come with me? :)

Friday, June 3, 2011

Manuel Antonio and La Fortuna Weekend trips!

I can’t even begin to list everything we did each weekend! When we left Heredia at the end of the first week, we traveled to Manuel Antonio, the beach! I was sad to say goodbye to Kathia, Gustavo, Karol, and Beatriz, but by this time we were all so ready for the weekend. We were also so happy to see Javier! We had missed him (and his English). After driving for a while down some more beautiful Costa Rican roads, we reached the Tarcoles River, home to many giant crocodiles. We should have known that Javier’s surprise of the day (sorpresa de la dia) was a guided boat tour down the river to see the crocs up close and personal. I can’t wait to show everyone the video I got of our guide hopping out of the boat, luring a crocodile towards the boat by slapping a chicken on the water, then proceeding to feed the chicken to the croc by dangling it from his teeth. This Tico man was intense to say the least. We especially loved his necklace made of a dozen giant crocodile teeth. The tour took us all the way to where the river opened up to the Pacific Ocean, which was so cool to see. After the tour we of course had a delicious lunch while overlooking the Pacific Ocean, deciding that this couldn’t actually be real life. We then made our way to Manuel Antonio and enjoyed the day at the beach. This first weekend we went on many beautiful hikes. The best part was how we were able to see so many animals in their natural habitat, in the wild. Of course, Javier could spot a camouflage lizard from a mile away, so you can imagine how much we actually saw. My favorite for the day was walking up to a group of trees on the beach, and seeing a dozen spider monkeys climbing down to take a piece of fruit from a random guy holding it up to the branches. I spent about 30 minutes just watching these brave little monkeys.
This weekend was just what we needed after a tough first week of getting used to our surroundings and 4 hours of Spanish class a day. Although we loved CPI Heredia and all that we did in the first week, we also love our weekend fun :)
This past weekend, I literally melted in the Hot Springs (Piscinas Calientes). I was just getting over being sick (I had to make a trip to La Clinica that week) and was so ready to relax. I think this weekend trip was my favorite; el Volcan Arenal was absolutely breathtaking. The view from our hotel window was unreal (giant volcano in your face). I really felt like I was at a site where a movie was being filmed the whole time. The Hot Springs are definitely something everyone needs to make a point to visit sometime in life. There were 5 pools, each different temperatures. The point is to spend 10 minutes in each one, working your way up to the hottest, and then spending 2 minutes in the cold pool. In the hottest pool there was a waterfall with a natural sauna behind it. It was a treatment that according to Javier was supposed to take 10 years off your skin. Javier said it so of course I believed it. We enjoyed some bebidas and had dinner after (of course, delicious casados). A casado is a meal that consists of rice, beans, a meat or fish, and a salad or veggies. It is called a casado because it is a “marriage” of food/delicious. We ate them for almost every meal every weekend! And never got sick of them. Good thing I bought dos libros de cocina to bring home with me :) The next day Javier took us on another hike through the national park at the base of el Volcan Arenal. This weekend was like a dream, and I was depressed to leave. But instead of being sad I just can't wait to come back :)

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Elementary School visits :)

I thought I was going to cry the first time I walked in to Calle Viquez Primary School from all the cuteness surrounding me. In the states whenever I enter an elementary school I joke that my heart is going to burst from excitement of becoming a teacher (hah), so you can imagine how I felt walking in to a school filled with adorable smiling Tico children. The first day we walked around the school, and had the wonderful opportunity to observe and interact with the kids. I loved how the hallways and sidewalks were all outside, while the only buildings were classrooms, the office, and the cafeteria. There is no physical education class in these schools, because there are so many mini breaks to go outside and get some exercise (mucho futbol). The first day in the school really got me excited for what was to come of the other schools we were to visit. This first visit was great because it was the first time I had ever stepped foot in an international school, and it was reassuring to know that not only do I still want to teach English abroad, but I am more excited than ever to follow through with it.
The second visit to this escuela primaria was just a few days later, and this time we had lessons prepared to teach. We had two lessons (a science lesson involving leaves, and an English lesson in which the students were to respond to letters sent from students in America.. IN ENGISH!). This was honestly my first time really teaching to a class FULL of Spanish speakers. It was intimidating, but I found that when my Spanish kicked in it was easy to help the students understand. The students were eager to learn and understand the lessons, eager to know some English words, and so happy that we were there spending time with them. My heart broke seeing their faces when we had to tell them we wouldn’t be coming back. I found that these students were much more well behaved than students in the United States, although classroom management was seriously lacking. The students knew their routine and what was to be expected of them. They respected us and knew their boundaries, but their excitement got the best of them (which was more cute than distracting or disruptive). This is the 3rd grade class I am talking about, while we also spent some time doing the science lesson with the 6th graders. The 3rd graders loved writing their letters, and I loved reading them! I loved reading about their giant families and pets and favorite foods. I realized that the way they don’t use articles and other aspects to a sentence is exactly the same as what I do when I speak Spanish. This was a humbling realization, and a mental note to not think poorly of someone who is trying to learn a language and makes mistakes once in a while.
We visited 3 schools while in Monteverde. We visted Santa Elena Primary School (Escuela Primaria de Santa Elena) twice in the first week, and Centro Educacion de Creativa (The Cloud Forest School) this week.  I loved the mentality and goals of each school. CEC is almost all bilingual, with all classes taught in English except Spanish class and social studies. Half of the teachers are American. CEC owns 106 acres, and utilize much of it with trails for students to hike through, the longest one lasting up to 6 hours. I was surprised that the faculty is trusting enough to allow students to go off on these trails on their own, because in the United States you might see tall fences surrounding the campus out of fear a student might escape. Like the other public schools we visited, this campus is almost all outdoors as well, but on a more extreme level. There are countless gardens, all in which the student’s are responsible for caring for. This school expects their students to act responsibly. The thing I noticed that stood out to me most is how trusting the staff is of their students. This trust allows the students to explore and allows for more opportunities and easier opportunities to learn. Every activity the students partake in is educational, whether the meaning is hidden or more literal. The students are constantly learning whether it is a science lesson or any other life skills such as responsibility or leadership. Their environmental studies program is amazing. Some buildings run entirely off solar power and there is an area designated for reforestation that the students enjoy working with. Basically, I can’t wait to apply for a job there after graduation. I have learned so much from our time spent in the elementary schools, and without this experience I don’t think I would have the same mentality as a teacher to bring to my future classroom.

CPI- Heredia and Monteverde

CPI (Centro Panamericano de Idiomas) has been my little comfort zone through this whole trip! It’s a place where speaking English is acceptable for the most part, and where most people can understand me (which is like a breath of fresh air after spending all evening living people I can barely understand). I got so comfortable at CPI Heredia. I learned more Spanish from my teacher Lucy than I have in my whole 6 years of Spanish classes, not to mention we all grew so attached to her that we had to become Facebook friends, Skype friends, and e- mailing buddies. I have had 3 amazing teachers here at CPI. Carlos serenaded us everyday with his guitar in CPI Monteverd and has given me ideas for my Spanish music playlist on i tunes, and although we are just starting with Mayra I can already tell I will love her and learn a lot from her, (today I won Spanish Scrabble, which is a big deal to me). Leaving here I know the thing I will miss the most are the people I’ve met. Everyone at CPI is so generous and happy to help and make you feel comfortable. That is what I feel with CPI, comfort and security. I have grown so attached to my Spanish teachers, our amazing and knowledgeable guides Javier, Meggie, and Cierra, and even Roy the bus driver who safely delivered us to Monteverde after braving those scary mountain roads. I have learned so much in these 2 and a half weeks about myself, about myself as a teacher, and about learning. Much of that I can credit to CPI and all aspects of the company, not only for the Spanish classes but for the wonderful host families they have assigned me with! It is going to be very hard to leave all these wonderful people, not to mention the beautiful valley view from my classroom window.

La Carpio, Heredia

I have never in my life seen a place like La Carpio. Our guides warned us that if we thought we’d seen poverty before, we hadn’t. La Carpio is a shantytown 30 minutes out of San Jose where a little Montessori school is located, and where we spent the day the last Friday we were in Heredia. Walking in to the Montessori school I was so excited to see the babies and play with them! They were absolutely ADORABLE, and so smart. They reminded me of my babies at the daycare I worked at for a year and a half so I was so happy to be there singing “5 little monkeys” during circle time and playing “house” in the kitchen area during free time. I was paired with Wilder, a hammy little boy with Pooh Bear socks on. All of the children, although they did not have the resources and materials, were so creative with what they did have. The point of the Montessori school is for the children to learn on their own, to explore and almost teach themselves the functions of each object, game, etc. The expectations for these children were set high; all of them knew the routine for the day while they are only about 2-4 years old. While I believe all students should have equally high expectations, the teachers challenged the students, as they understand how important education is and how to take advantage of the gift that is the Montessori school.
After spending time with the kids in the school, we did a walk about of the city. As hard as we tried to not stand out, we screamed “American tourists,” as we walked around in our big group. Again, I have never experienced a place like La Carpio but I am so glad I did. It honestly made me appreciate all that I have in my life and made me question whether or not certain material objects I own are that necessary. These people are perfectly content in living with what they have- that is the bare minimum, and they live as though they have no idea what else is out there. It almost made me feel guilty for the things I have, and definitely for all the times I have ever complained! I will admit, I was really shaken up by the town as we walked around. Trash was everywhere, it smelled, it was dusty and dirty and the 1-room houses were all falling apart. It made me think that if there were to be an earthquake, the whole place would be completely destroyed. With all of this surrounding us, happy locals were also there, smiling and saying hello as we walked by.
We met Gail, the most incredible and brave woman I have probably ever met, and also the founder and owner of the Montessori school. Gail is from the United States. After traveling abroad for much of her live and then having reverse culture shock when she returned to the states, she moved back to Costa Rica and eventually started the school. She is truly an amazing woman. She told us of the history of La Carpio and I think it’s safe to say all of us were choked up. After telling us of the earthquake that ran many people out of Nicaragua and into Costa Rica to form La Carpio, and other stories of women with disabled children who have to work in the school to help take care of their kids, I left with a lump in my throat that stuck for the rest of the day. This visit has absolutely been one of if not the most powerful experiences of the whole 3 weeks being here so far, and possibly of my whole life.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Mi familia Tica

Last night was my fourth night with mi familia tica and I have grown so attached to them. Me, Kathia, Karol, and Beatriz had somewhat of a “girls night” last night and watched the Lady Gaga concert on T.V. (I was ecstatic). It’s always exciting when we can understand each other so we were happy to talk about how strange she was (ella es mas extrano si? AY!). Karol (10 years old) helps me with my homework every night. I partly think it’s because she wants me to finish quickly so we can play UNO or a Disney princess computer game together.  I brought them UNO thinking I would have to struggle to teach them how to play, but of course Karol knew the game from school and beat me every time. I also didn’t think to connect that uno means one in Spanish (oops).
            Our evenings are usually very similar each night. I get home from CPI (Centro Panamericana de Idiomas), try to greet mi familia in Spanish, do my Spanish homework with Karol, eat dinner, try to communicate, watch T.V. with the familia, and then go to bed! The activity of choice seems to be watching T.V. Karol and I play games for a little while after dinner, so of course every thing we do varies. Observing family dynamics and comparing them to those of the other girls (and Ryan) in the group has been interesting. Since I have kids in my family, we eat dinner together every night. The setting is relaxed, and there is always a schedule that is being strictly followed to accommodate all family members. Just like in the U.S., each family has a different dynamic and schedule.
            I love how my familia tica reminds me of my own, 2 daughters, a father, a mother, and a perrito (Nina). This has been very comforting. They do everything together during down time, they take mini vacations, etc. The other night I observed Gustavo giving the girls a “responsibility talk” about taking care of a puppy because Nina had had a little accident on the living room floor. They play Barbies, My Little Pony, LOVE Hello Kitty (shout out to my Alpha Gams), and joke around in the same manner my family does. We are supposed to be observing how different everything is here in every aspect, but all I can see are similarities. It is comforting and now, after spending four nights with my Costa Rican family, I don’t want to leave them. I am going to take advantage of spending time with them these next two nights, and am bringing back a giant pizza for dinner on Friday! I hope I have been able to be as polite to them as they have been generous and warm to me. 

First day/weekend overview!

After two flights and an anxiety attack later, we made it to San Jose! As I walked in to the airport we were greeted with a giant sign that read “Welcome to Costa Rica, the happiest country in the world.” I couldn’t help but smile and it stayed on my face all day. We first went to the bank to exchange our money for Colones. We met Roy, our driver, at the aeropuerto and made it to the bank in about 2 seconds. As we drove in to San Joaquin, Heredia, I couldn’t help but notice how impoverished everything looked, yet everyone I observed on the streets seemed so genuinely happy. This continued throughout the first day, everyone I spoke to was more than happy to try and communicate with me, especially at the Feria de Agricultor (one of our stops after lunch where we could shop around a giant market for any kind of fruit of vegetable we wanted, and everything was SO fresh). La pura vida, si? I love everything about this place; everywhere we drive I can’t stop staring out the window. Sabado, we hiked through La Paz while learning about Costa Rica’s amazing biodiversity. If I had never been here before, I wouldn’t believe that Costa Rica has more biodiversity than any other country in the world, as it is the size of West Virginia. It is what makes the country so beautiful, and I learned from Javier (our wonderful and VERY knowledgeable guide) how seriously Ticos take the preservation of the agriculture. It is definitely something we could learn from them. So we hiked through La Paz to the waterfalls (los cateratas) and had a great day/almuerzo (of course all I think about is food here, but what else is new). The first weekend was a nice slow transition into the week, but not the most accurate portrayal of how our weekdays were to would be spent! While being in Spanish class for cuatro horas a lunes, I found myself wishing we were back on the tour bus with Javier and Roy, listening to Aventura, and driving through the hills to a new exciting place. Communication was never an issue. I found yesterday, when I met mi familia tica, that Dr. Powell wasn’t kidding when she said that we were going to feel uncomfortable at times. Don’t get me wrong, mi familia tica was VERY welcoming and warm to me, but the language barrier is stronger than I anticipated. I am finally in the shoes of an ELL (English language learner) and the feeling is very overwhelming, somewhat frustrating, and very difficult. This is a feeling many people do not get to experience and I am so lucky I will able to take what I am learning here and applying it to my classroom in the states. After this experience I will be able to understand how my ELL’s in the general classroom are feeling, and hopefully will be able to make the environment more comfortable and less frustrating and exhausting for them. Every single thing we have done here so far has related back to our teaching strategies. I am so glad and fortunate to be here doing this. Pura Vida J