We arrived in San Jose, Costa Rica last night and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t still nervous. The first night with my host family was a bit awkward, but I know things will get better once I’ve fully settled. My family is small, consisting of my mom and her two adult children, but they’re very nice despite not speaking any English. They make sure to speak slowly enough for me to understand and do their best at not laughing when I mess something up. We had our introduction to the Center where we’ll be studying today and it’s absolutely beautiful! I can’t wait to get started and fall into a comfortable routine in my new home.
The first week being in Costa Rica has been amazing. My time so far has been unbelievably rewarding. My host family is now like my second family, they have opened their house and it has become my home. I had this feeling when I had my first actual conversation with my host mother one Sunday afternoon. I awoke with a day of unscheduled activities; the only thing on the schedule was “spend day with host family”. This made me very nervous seeing that I barely speak their language and all of our previous conversations had been about what I wanted to eat that day.
What was I supposed to talk about for an entire day?! I fell asleep the night before already nervous about waking up, the next thing I knew I was sitting at the breakfast table. My new mom and I were eating some rice and beans, a signature dish of Costa Rica. I ate slow trying to “milk the clock”. Although after realizing it was only 10:30, I realized that it was not going to work that way. I took a deep breath and tried to have a conversation.
To my surprise I actually remembered some of my Spanish from freshman year of high school. It started rushing back to my head, “I play… ummmm… how do you say… Baseball?!” Then I ran to my room and handed her an actual baseball. That was it, my stories just had to have props and I was golden! After making this realization I ran back to my room and pulled out pictures of my family and friends. I told story after story from back home. She told me her own stories of living in Costa Rica. I actually understood the main parts of them; the details were a little bit out there still.
I love my family life though, the time was flying by and I wasn’t even worried about it anymore, I was successfully having a conversation with my host mother in mostly her language with some props and acting added in. It made the day a very memorable one to say the least; I felt that my Spanish skills would just continue to increase the longer I am in the country. I’m very excited for the time to come when I can speak an entire conversation in Spanish.
Today I had the first conversation with my host family. It was a very short one but it was definitely a start nonetheless. I asked for water and pronounced every single word incorrectly but it was the most Spanish I have spoken in my whole life. They appreciated the attempt and I felt embarrassed at first but I didn’t know what else was to come. I didn’t know how many awkward silences would come from me taking out my pocket sized Webster’s English-Spanish dictionary. I think I am off to a good start and my Spanish will get better while being here.
Today we went to La Paz waterfall gardens. I had to wake up early in order to arrive at the Center on time. We drove off together out of San José and into the country. Climbing in elevation, the air became cleaner and the temperature dropped a little bit. We pulled over along the side of the road in order to look at a wild sloth in a tree! Next, we stopped at a coffee shop part way up the mountain. The drinks were delicious and the view was already incredible. Finally, we arrived at La Paz waterfall gardens. We all walked through the gardens together, moving from one different house to the other. In the first, I was able to hold a Toucan! It was so friendly and beautiful. I couldn’t believe I was seeing this iconic bird so close up and personal. Next, we moved along seeing other animals natural to Costa Rica like monkeys and white squirrels and smaller birds. Following this, we all spent a lot of time in the butterfly room. Some of them had eaten fermented fruit and therefore become drunk!! We all tried to catch these ones and ended up with some incredible pictures. After this, it started to rain a bit, but we were still able to enjoy looking at the big cats and snakes. Lastly, we all walked down to the waterfalls. At this point, it was pouring rain. However, the waterfalls were stunning and totally worth soaking my shoes. The natural beauty of this place was so pristine I felt like I was in a movie! La Paz waterfall gardens was the perfect first outing for our time in Costa Rica because it showed me how truly rich the country is in its natural resources. I enjoyed every part about our day spent in the mountains.
Today was so amazing. In the morning, we all woke up early for our first full day in Monteverde. We were able to hike through an actual cloud forest in the one of the national parks of Costa Rica. It is so unique because there are so few places in the world that still exists like this in such pristine condition. We heard all sorts of different types of birds and spotted a rare squirrel, too. Eventually, we made it to the continental divide. The view from the top was breathtaking. I loved being able to step back and forth between the Pacific and the Atlantic side of the country. Then, we walked back down and crossed a red suspension bridge connecting two sides of a river. The bridge was so high up! I could look down and see the thick canopy of trees so far below me. The perspective was so unique I don’t think I’ll ever forget it. It also felt so nice to be out in the forest hiking with my group. A lot of it felt similar to NOLS, just in a different atmosphere. The hike gave me a different understanding of how extraordinary Costa Rica is and made me realize how truly once in a lifetime an experience like this is.
Now that we’ve been here for a couple of weeks, I finally feel comfortable with my host family and the daily routine. Last weekend we went to Monteverde and took a tour around a cloud forest. The forest was incredibly beautiful and so unlike anything we have in the U.S. After touring the forest, a small group of us went zip lining and it was so much fun! It was nice to get away for the weekend and see more of Costa Rica. The city is nice, but it’s nothing compared to the countryside. I’m eager to see what else Costa Rica has to offer.