Week 5 in Costa Rica

This week the Gap Students took an amazing trip to Manuel Antonio, a beach on the Pacific side! This was our first venture to the beach and I personally had a great time. It was wonderful to relax on the beach and soak up the sun and beautiful scenery around us. The sunsets, blue waters, and great food made for a great time. This excursion allowed for the students to take a break from our academics and enjoy the ‘postcard’ side of Costa Rica. We appreciated and worshiped our marvelous Thanksgiving dinner on the beach. Even though we were not with our family, we all realized we still had family right in front of us. Throughout this whole Gap experience, all 16 of us have become so close, maybe a little too close, and love being with each other for the most part. I am so happy to have spent my Thanksgiving with my “Gap family.” All of the students are so grateful for our whole experience so far and all the work put into the trip. It has been an incredible journey, unlike any other. I can’t believe the Gap experience ends in one week! I guess time flies when you’re having fun…

Our latest group excursion was a trip to the Pacific coast of Costa Rica to a beach called Manuel Antonio. There is a nature reserve with a small beach that we spent the day at on Friday. This beach was nothing like the coasts in the United States. It had beautiful, clear, and warm water; but was most different for one main reason…the animals. While back in the states, most of us are used to ‘shooing’ seagulls away from our food and camp, the Costa Rican beach posed a whole new threat: monkeys.  Leaving food unattended was a bad idea, and hanging it in the trees proved to be even worse. It took us a whole hour to get over their adorable faces to realize that they would take our entire bags if given the chance! I have to say I would choose easily scared seagulls over the clever monkeys that have obviously been around humans too much. We saw them posing for pictures with other tourists just to steal their bags as they turned around to smile for the camera. It was definitely an unforgettable and humorous experience that can’t happen many other places than Costa Rica.

This weekend we went to Manuel Antonio, and it was nothing short of paradise. We arrived on Thanksgiving and I went for a swim on the beautiful beach before dinner. We had an amazing turkey dinner (with a Costa Rican twist) on the beach. Though I was far away from my family in Pennsylvania, I celebrated the holiday with my new family. We all went around and said what we were thankful for, and I said I was thankful for all of the new friends I have made on this trip who are always here for me. I am often asked if I have any regrets about not going to college the traditional way, but I have none. I could not be happier with the experiences I have had and the people I have met. This Thanksgiving I am thankful for the Gap Semester.

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Week 4 in Costa Rica

Time has flown! Thanksgiving is coming up which means we’re nearing the end of the program. WHAT. I feel like we had our first hike on NOLS just yesterday, but the more that I think about all that we’ve done, all of the places that we’ve been, what we’ve accomplished together, I realize that so much has happened in the past 3 months. This program is more than unique. It’s been successful in expanding my understanding of the world we live in (with all it’s complexities) and it’s allowed me to further develop my values as a global citizen. If Elon is anything like Gap has been, then I can’t wait to get on campus. Pura Vida!

 

Today I was lucky enough to attend the wedding of one of the sisters in my host family. The house has been very chaotic the past few weeks with all of the different parts of the wedding coming together. Many relatives have come to Costa Rica for the wedding, including a family from Utah, who stayed in the house with us for a few nights. I tried my hardest to help with as many things as I could for the wedding, and as it came closer things really came together. My host mom made some of her delicious guanabana jam for the wedding favors and constructed flower vase center pieces out of glass jars, beads, and twine. The day of the wedding, I arrived home around 4:30 and rushed to get ready. Sofia, the bride, was very calm and collected but all the other women in the house were panicking about their hair, makeup, and outfits. We were finally ready to leave, about 15 minutes before the ceremony was supposed to start! The wedding was very simple and it was held at an upscale bar. Unlike a traditional wedding in the United States, the person performing the ceremony was a lawyer as opposed to a religious figure. Sofia and her soon to be husband, Diego, sat at a table in the front of the room and the vows were read. After, Diego, who is a very talented musician, performed a song that he had written for Sofia. The wedding was so fitting for the adorable couple. I was honored to be invited and to share that experience with them.

This past weekend from November 16th to the 18th was different than the past few weekends.  The group visited EARTH University on Friday where we saw a banana plantation and a medicinal plant garden. I really enjoyed learning about the processes of both these but my favorite part of the weekend was on Saturday when a small group of us went white water rafting on the Reventazón River.  Our morning started off very early, 6:15 am, when the rafting company picked us up.  After a long drive we were told the bad news, that the Pacuare River was closed due to too much rain and that we are going on the Reventazón.  I was really bummed but still really excited to go rafting.  After a very traditional and flavorful breakfast at their headquarters we headed back into the bus and drove about 30 minutes to the river.  Once we arrived at the river we got all geared up with helmets, PFD’s and paddles.  My excitement level increased substantially and couldn’t wait to get started!  Finally pushing off with two other people, a total of 7 and a guide in the boat, felt surreal.  The cold slap of water in my face after the first rapid called “Banana Peel” brought me back to reality of how awesome the next few hours are going to be.  Rapid after rapid I’m surprised no one in our boat fell out the whole time. Unfortunately all good things must come to an end and we arrived at our take out point, which was not as you would expect it to be.  The take out point was a large ledge we had to climb over then watch the guides pull the large raft behind us! Once all the gear was loaded back onto the bus we drove back to headquarters where we had a hot and delicious lunch.  Before we headed back home a few of us went to their gift shop and picked up a few things to remember the trip.  I got a shirt, map of the river and a sticker for my rafting helmet back at home.  Looking at the pictures taken by the company made me realize how much fun we had and how badly I want to come back and do the Pacuare River!

Costa Rica: week 3

From the Coordinator of Gap Programs: Week 3 marks a number of milestones for our students in Costa Rica. It marks the end of the first half of the Culture & Society course so students will be taking final exams. At the end of the week, it marks the halfway point of our time in Costa Rica. It’s also the week that we go to the Arenal volcano to spend time relaxing in thermal springs after 3 weeks of studying hard and working to improve our Spanish skills.

Over the course of the week we heard a speaker on religious diversity in Costa Rica and went to the National Gold Museum. However one trip stood out to me as we went to Costa Rica’s Legislative Assembly, where the equivalent of U.S. congressmen would gather to discuss laws and current national events. Our guide, who was also the professor for the students in the course that just ended is one of the 57 congressmen in the country and showed us around the buildings. We met the Director of Environmental Management as well as the Vice President of the Legislative Assembly. We even peeked into a press conference when the security guard opened the door to it so we could see it as we passed by. It was a very interesting morning and one that very few people get the chance to experience.

After the final, we spent the weekend relaxing and enjoying a job well done and half completed. The pictures below are from a nearby waterfall and the resort where we spent our weekend relaxing and sliding into both cold pools and thermal spring pools. After recharging the batteries, students are ready for the second half of their studies and what is to come in the next three weeks!

Costa Rica: week 2

For our second Spanish Language class, our professors decided to add a little ‘spice’ to the curriculum. Instead of sitting in our classes; all 15 of the students and our professors got together to cook a Costa Rican lunch.  Too many cooks in the kitchen would be an understatement for that afternoon, but it was fun nonetheless. We made chicken fajitas as well as salad, beans, rice, fresh juice, and dessert. We spent the morning splitting up tasks, learning the Spanish words for the foods we were preparing, and being shushed by our professors when we spoke to each other in English. They had explained to us that it was to be a Spanish speaking morning and the quiet in between tasks was actually sort of nice. The best part came when we had all finished our dishes and got to enjoy our meal. The spread was awesome and everyone enjoyed our lunch even more knowing that we had each played a part in creating it. Definitely a good way to spend our class time!

It’s hard to believe that our second week in San Jose, Costa Rica has come to an end.  While it seems as if we just arrived yesterday, I also feel at home in a sense, as the streets I walk have become familiar routes, the bed I sleep in is provided by a caring, willing host mother, and the fourteen other students I spend each day with have become a family to me.  The past two weeks have brought about major changes in culture and routine, yet it has been more simple and exciting to adjust than I predicted.  Our second week in Costa Rica was filled with interesting classes each morning, followed by trips in the afternoon.  We strayed from our normal daily routines this past weekend when we went on a three day excursion to the Monte Verde Cloud Forest and enjoyed free time and relentless beauty at a breathtaking hotel.  Some of us rode horses as others chose to go zip lining and soar above the dense Costa Rican forests.  We walked around and explored the places around the hotel, and the Costa Rican coffee was absolutely amazing, along with the freshly squeezed juice that you find everywhere you go.  The weekend that we spent in Monte Verde was rejuvenating and super awesome.  Now we are all looking forward to our next excursion!  So far, we couldn’t be happier with our first two weeks here, and can only imagine what the rest of our time here in Costa Rica will entail!

Today was another amazing and eventful day in Costa Rica for the Elon Gap Semester students. This weekend we are on an excursion to Monteverde. We started the day off by going on a guided tour of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. I learned so much in this two hour tour from the various plant species to different types of bird species. We had the chance to see the national bird of Costa Rica, the Quetzal, which can be quite rare during the rainy season. After the cloud forest, a portion of the students went horseback riding. This was my highlight of the weekend so far. We had an awesome Tico guide who took us on an adventure through the Monteverde forests. We ended the horseback riding overlooking a beautiful view of the sun setting in the distance behind a range of mountains. Today was another tremendous experience, I am looking forward to having more brilliant days like this one in Costa Rica.

They are everywhere and they’ve been here since we arrived in Costa Rica. I just didn’t notice them quite as much. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. They’re just there. It all culminated on Sunday the 4th, coming back from Monteverde. I had noticed a little more of them walking from the bus stop than when I left for the weekend but thought, wow, there’s a motivated family. When I got home, I saw that thhey invaded my house too to the extreme delight of the 4.5 and 7 year old whose family I live with while here in Costa Rica. Of course I’m not talking about anything bad, otherwise it would have been on the news and the readers of this blog would have heard about it a long time ago. I’m talking about Christmas decorations. It’s festive and fun but it feels a little early. Like much of Latin America, Costa Rica is also a predominantly Catholic country so Christmas is the season. The timing makes sense though since neither Halloween or Thanksgiving is celebrated in Costa Rica (even though that doesn’t stop Walmart from having costumes in the aisles as you walk through here in San Jose). Had I known it would have started so early I would have brought my copy of Elf and added Mariah Carey’s holiday album to my ipod. I wonder what black friday will be like here?

Costa Rica: week 1

After arriving in Miami for our lay-over, I started to get extremely nervous.  I was not sure what my host family was going to be like and if I would be able to get along with them. At first, the daughter of my host mom picked me up and we picked her two sons up from school. As soon as we arrived home, however, I knew I was going to get along with them. They were very inviting and happy to have me. I felt like they wanted me to be there which was exceptionally encouraging to stay. In addition, the food and housing was very good which made me feel even more welcomed. It was a great start to my six weeks here in Costa Rica and I am really glad with my situation. Mesoamerica, my house, and the neighborhood is great.  It will allow me to experience the culture in Costa Rica and also learn Spanish and do well my classes.

I stand there nervously, what’s my family going to be like? Will they like me? A million thoughts run through my head and then I hear, “Your family is here to see you”. I grab my bags which of course have never felt as heavy and I walk into the room and see my new host mother and sister for the next 6 weeks. They are holding flowers for me and they look just as nervous as I am. I introduce myself a complete American accent. Paula and Arecelia are their names and they excitedly escorted me to their car. Trying to remember all of the Spanish I have learned over the last 5 years, and I panic and my mind goes blank. Oh god how am I going to speak Spanish for the next 6 weeks I don’t remember any! I then hear the beautiful words from Arcelia saying, “Don’t worry today we will speak English to get you settled in” From that moment on I knew everything was going to be alright.

Costa Rica! Wow, we are finally here. We went to Café Britt yesterday – what a lovely place. The people in this country are so friendly and everyone seems so happy to be doing whatever it is that they are doing – what a refreshing environment. My family here is very  loving and we have already laughed a lot together and shared some stories. I anticipate a lot of growth here, both individually and as a group. I also anticipate a lot more rice and beans ¡Pura Vida!

The first week in Costa Rica was amazing down to every last minute.  I really enjoyed seeing what I remember from the last time I came to Costa Rica exactly two years ago before Halloween.  In the mornings we trade off between Spanish classes in small groups and Society and Culture class all together.  Taking a class in a foreign country really interested me because I was interested in seeing the different way they taught.  Classes are more interactive and less lecture like they were in high school.  In the afternoons our group meets up and we all go on a half-day trip to various places like zoos, different monuments, churches, etc.  My personal favorite day trip was to La Paz waterfall garden and their animal exhibits. I really enjoyed the variety and abundance of animals ranging from monkeys to a butterfly garden! The tour guide we had was extremely nice and knew such a variety of information about the various animals. After our tour we went to a lunch buffet at the resort and gorged on fresh food and delicious traditional foods. The fresh fruit drinks here are so flavorful and hard to find anywhere else. I really like them.  Lastly but definitely not least was the beautiful series of waterfalls dispersed throughout the forest.  They ranged from tiny falls to more than 100-foot drops! I’ve never seen so many waterfalls in one place at the same time; it was truly a great sight.  To make the day even better they had a gift shop with a huge selection of souvenirs like coffee, jewelry, and clothes.  I picked up some chocolate and a travels journal.  Hopefully I can fill it up with all the awesome adventures that are to come!

Apparently, the deer in Costa Rica are extremely small. One of the other students fist-bumped one of them. So, also apparently, they are fairly accustomed to the presence of humans, at least in the InBio Park’s dry forest. InBio is a research center in San José that is studying the effects of climate change on the flora and fauna of their home country. We toured one afternoon to learn about some of these effects in correlation with the material presented in our culture class, but our tour guide ended up just identifying plants and animals we saw (still fun; like I said, someone fist-bumped a deer). I am looking forward to getting more in depth with my studies, and especially of the ecology of Costa Rica. I am sure that all of my fellow classmates on campus in NC are just as excited to be pursuing their individual passions, and I am getting pretty excited to find out what they are. Class of 2016: I can’t wait to meet you all! You people sound awesome! $5 to the first person to fist-bump a deer in NC! Seriously.