Costa Rica has served to be a new gateway for our group to expand our horizons linguistically and culturally. It has been one week since our arrival and I can honestly say my Spanish communication skills have increased and my understanding of the accepted culture within the household is now almost perfect. My time with my host father this past Sunday has been one of the better days of my life. My host father took me to a farmers market with what had to be over 300 vendors selling fruits and vegetables that looked almost surreal. I spent two hours with my host father going from stand to stand trying an assortment of exotic tropical fruit. I never had an interest in fruit and vegetables, but this farmers market opened my eyes to a whole new world of food. I now have a taste for guyaba and mamay which are two local fruit that are not sold in the USA, to my knowledge. Overall I am excited to see what other surprises and adventures are in store for me here in beautiful Costa Rica.
How crazy it is to think that we have only been in Costa Rica for a week! We have had some incredible days filled with classes, exploring nearby cities and doing a service project! Tonight, after a full day of Spanish and Culture of Costa Rica classes, we turned our classroom into a dance floor for a special activity: Latin dance class! While I can’t say that as a group we are natural Latin dancers, we had so much fun learning how to Merengue, Salsa, Reggaeton and Cumbia! Our teacher’s energy was contagious and immediately made the experience ten times more exciting. It didn’t take long before the whole group was counting along in Spanish with our teacher to the beat: uno dos y tres, y cinco, seis y siete. Despite many left feet and confusion, laughter overpowered all uncertainty and hesitation. I really enjoyed learning a variety of dances especially since music and dance is an important part of Costa Rican culture. Having travelled to different countries in the past, I realize the importance of trying your best to learn as much as you can about the culture and avoid being too much of a tourist because absorbing a new culture and better understanding it, leads to having a more fulfilling experience. Not only do I look forward to learning more about Costa Rican culture, but also trying out my new dance moves with the Gap Pack in the future!
Surrounded by words I don’t understand I feel like an alien. Seemingly fictitious words spoken on the television, confusing syllables on the radio, mumbling on the streets. Coming home every night to my host mother, playing our daily game of charades at the dinner table. The language barrier is harder than I thought, but unavoidable. I need to learn how to live with it rather than against it. My ears stay open everywhere we go trying to absorb some new phrases I can use. Slowly becoming more aware of the vocabulary enclosing me. Hola, gracias, adios. Now starting to understand the basics I struggle still after that. Ordering food, buying gifts, directions home is still something I am barely capable of. I feel trapped with the jargon of a three year old. Embracing all the English I can grasp, yet trying to understand the world around me. Who knew I would ever love the words hello, and goodbye so much. Every English sound I hear echoes for hours until the next. Lost in a world becoming more familiar I have learned many things. Reading facial expressions, studying body language, and becoming a world champion at charades this struggle does have its benefits. I will continue to learn until I start to recognize some of the Spanish being spoken, or printed on the buildings. One step at a time I will learn how to order food, or how to direct a taxi home. And eventually I will retire charades and start to have conversations at dinner instead. Nobody said it would be easy, but what is life without a challenge every now and then! One more month to consume all the Spanish I can until I go back into familiarity. How could I have ever really understood what home feels like until I have been in such an unfamiliar place? How could I appreciate a simple conversation without knowing what it is like to be unable to have one? We grow the most during the hardest times and come out even better, or should I say “salimos mejor”
After school today the Gap Pack was fortunate enough to have dance lessons. We learned the salsa, merengue, and reggaeton dances. We all learned pretty quickly that none of us were Shakira, but the class was a blast. Before each dance the professor would demonstrate the dance moves for the boys and the girls separately, since each had different roles for each routine. Then we would pair up, the music would play, and we would try our best. Many feet were stepped on and we were all sweaty after a great 1.5 hour dance class. The teacher had an enthusiastic energy and really wanted us to get the steps right, even if that meant doing the routine more than once. We all left the school wanting to go show off our new dance moves all night long. I cannot wait to have more fantastic experiences while learning about Costa Rican culture.
While in Costa Rica I have deeply enjoyed taking history classes and learning about the transition of the society of this country. One class has stuck out in particular to me and that was the day our professor asked us what we thought the best thing was that happened in the twentieth century? As students answered with events such as medical advancements and the civil rights movement I was intrigued, but the most surprising and uplifting answer was that of our professor. In his opinion, the most influential and important day of the twentieth century was our journey to the moon although, his reasoning is of one that I would have never guessed. As we traveled into space it was the first time that we looked back, back onto Earth. Our professor believed this was the most powerful day of the twentieth century because on that day we realized our true size as a planet and saw the world without borders. I had never seen our mission to the moon as inspiring as before I heard this perspective that our professor shared with us. I found this remarkable and was caught off guard at the thought that he had put into this idea. In 1969 we saw the world with no borders and as a unit as a whole, yet today there are still numerous battles over land and rights to the world. That sight was forty-five years ago so why can’t we learn from that day and transition to a society in which truly sees the world as a single functioning unit together?
As we walked through customs and into the baggage claim the reality of no hablo Español began to sink in. Everyone discussed last minute reminders of how to say, “I like the juice” and, “May I use the bathroom.” These phrases might as well have been in Martian. Walking past the taxi drivers forming walls on the left and right of the exit, I muttered no gracias to every question they asked, hoping that it was regarding a cab ride. As we stood in the garage the reality that I was a few minutes away from entering a potentially non-english speaking family hit me. I panicked. Unfortunately, this happened right as the other group began to load into their van. I cried. Driving to our new homes for the next six weeks I found myself surrounded by Spanish advertisements everywhere. To not be able to understand even the Coke advertisements did not help the anxiety I battling off. As we pulled into the first street they called the name of the student living closest to me, meaning that it was also my time to get off the bus. I grabbed my bags and walked with our driver and the Elon staff towards the house. Inside I was greeted by my family, whose daughter, thankfully, was English speaking. Regardless, the reality of the language barrier I would inevitable be facing was intimidating to say the least. I did not know how to communicate with the other members of the family and individuals that I was bound to meet. The realness of my situation, while becoming less intimidating as I settled into my host family, was still present and is still. Yet, as cliché as it sounds I have learned several ways of communicating without speaking. The first way to communicate when you do not have the words to do so is to express gratitude through actions, whether that be washing dishes or cleaning the counter. The second is soccer, I cannot think of a faster way to form a friendship than one-on-one soccer games in a garage. Lastly, the third way is through laughing. Whether at yourself or at what everyone else is laughing at, even if it’s you.
Today we went to Guayabo National Monument in Turrialba, Cartago! It was one of the most impressive things I have ever seen in my life. This was the site of a population of people approximately 2,000 years ago. Despite that, they managed to have underground aqueducts that would go through a series of rock-made filters, foundations for their homes that required 12 ton stones which would have had to have been brought up a mountain, a 16 kilometer road made of stone that led to different villages, and evidence of fish in their diets, something quite far from where they were, showing that there was trade. It was truly incredible to see such advanced technologies in an ancient community we don’t even know the name of due to lack of written language or discovery by Europeans. It was amazing. Here was a civilization that was prospering so greatly in the Costa Rican rain forests yet since they were so isolated and discovered even after Columbus’s time, even after they were already gone, we know almost nothing about them. Most of their history is unexplainable and confusing. Going back to the 12-ton rocks example, it makes no sense that they would be able to have brought rocks that large into an area so far and highly elevated from where they were originally found. I thought it was an amazing experience to see what Costa Ricans call their own “Machu Picchu” and experience a little bit of Central American indigenous history first hand, something I had never done before.
While reading the email about my host family for Costa Rica, one thing that caught my eye was that they love exercise. Now, having lived with them for more than a week, I can confirm that “love” is the correct word for describing their interest in exercising. My host mom is a big enthusiast when it comes to exercising. She exercises every day at least once when she walks three kilometers to and from her job. Besides that she does exercise classes on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights. On Wednesday the 22nd (my second day in Costa Rica) I joined my host mom for her Zumba class. It was really fun but also a lot of work. After that class she invited me to run a 5K on Sunday at seven o’clock in the morning. I wanted to have a good relationship with my host mom from the start so I said yes because I knew we could bond over it later. I was wondering why she thought I could do all of this exercise after such long days. I later realized that I had told her I played soccer and that my team sometimes had up to three games a week. I think that stuck with her because I have now joined her for two Zumba classes, one 5K race, and one aerobics class and I know there are more classes to come. I can always tell her that I can’t join her to exercise because I have too much homework or because I am tired from our long days, but it’s good for me; plus it’s good to work off the gallo pinto, tortillas, and all the other carbs I have eaten during the day. After I return from these six weeks in Costa Rica, my family won’t even recognize me because my host mom is going to get me ripped!
Today we went to La Paz Waterfall Gardens. As soon as we got there, I was amazed by the beauty and uniqueness of the place. We had so many incredible opportunities all day of holding a lot of the animals. We got to hold butterflies, frogs, toucans, and feed hummingbirds. However there was one experience that I will never forget. We were about to go into the reptile room when our tour guide said, “Everyone stay here, I’ll be right back.” A couple of minutes later he came back with a snake and said, “okay, who wants to hold it?” I was terrified. I had never had the opportunity to hold a snake before and I wasn’t so sure I wanted to. So, I took a step back and offered to take pictures for people. I watched as people held the snake on the arm or around their neck and started to feel better about the situation because the snake wasn’t doing anything harmful to them. The tour guide then decided that it was my turn to hold it. I gathered the courage and agreed, how bad could it be? As soon as he put the snake around my neck, it started to slither across my face and over my mouth. I grabbed on to the closest person’s hand and squeezed as hard as I could. The snake then slithered up my neck and decided to rest on my head for a while. Just my luck, the snake decided to become adventurous while I was holding it. After I got over being scared, I realized how cool it was that I had this opportunity and started to actually enjoy holding the snake. Overall, I’m very glad I stepped out of my comfort zone and overcame my fear. I’m not sure if I will ever do it again, but it was an experience that I will never forget.