Culture Shock

By: Gabe Thornton

Shock, as we learned on our backpacking trip through the Wind River Range, is when the body begins to shut down as a result of hypothermia, major burns, loss of blood etc. It makes sense then that shock is the word used to describe initial immersion into a foreign culture. You want to hide in your room and take a nap for the rest of the day. But avoiding this urge and deciding to take on the adverse conditions I faced was for the better, and I knew it.

My host mother is a 75 year old grandmother named Anabelly Guzman. She described herself as patient, which is a blessing in my case considering the depth of our initial conversations went no farther than a multitude of yes, no, and bien. She recognized my underdeveloped abilities in Spanish and took it as motivation to teach me whenever possible. Just in one week before starting any classes I have already doubled my communication abilities. Today was my first actual Spanish class, and with that in mind I cannot wait for the future and the possibilities it holds in regards to communication with my host family. I no longer feel the desire to hide in my room to avoid the awkward and difficult dialogues but instead feel empowered to test the new knowledge I gather each day. Initially I was stressed and overwhelmed with the thought of learning a new language but no longer do I despair at this thought. Like after the initial shock of jumping into cold water, my body is already acclimating. The water is beginning to feel not so bad after all.


Clash of Cultures

By Andrew Novinski

We stepped off the plane and I immediately knew that this was going to be one heck of an experience. I have never been outside of the US, so everything was a bit overwhelming and we had to get our passports checked and go through security. We finally finish all of that and step outside onto the streets and there are just lines of people asking you if you need a taxi ride. Finding our ICADS drivers was not too difficult and we loaded up the vans. The next part was a weird experience because one by one each person was dropped off to their host family’s house and with the language barrier it was hard to tell who was next. It was like a game. I finally got to my house and my host mother was very welcoming and her son was there and I, someone who has taken 4 years of Spanish, could not coherently say, “Hello. How are you. It is nice to meet you.” I am glad to be having such an experience and I am not frustrated with the language barrier. I actually laugh at myself when I am trying to say something and stop mid-sentence for like 30 seconds to only say the wrong word or conjugation. The host mom has helped me a lot and has been teaching me along the way. When I started to get settled in, I started remembering more Spanish than I thought I knew.

When we got to our school ICADS, the day after we arrived, we had our orientation and I was expecting a written placement exam, but instead it was a combined oral exam/interview where I had to talk about myself as best I could in Spanish. Based on how well I spoke would be where I was placed. I was happy that I could speak using correct Spanish words the whole time, but with poor grammar on the most part.

I was half sick heading into Costa Rica and I was proud of myself when I had to go to this pharmacy and speak with the lady and describe how I need medicine that will help my stuffy nose, sore throat, and my cough, I also had to describe how I needed something I could use before bedtime. It was hard because where I am they do not have nyquil, dayquil, or mucinex. So now I am taking these foreign medicines that are actually working and I am so thankful they are the right ones.

The hardest thing for me is when I am at the dinner table and the whole family there and they are having a conversation at their normal pace and I don’t understand any of it. I am getting better at making small conversation. I was able to talk about the last World Cup in Spanish and how well Costa Rica actually did. I am looking forward to my first Spanish class this Monday because It will refresh my memory even more. Right now there are just a pile of Spanish verbs and phrases in my head that aren’t very organized.

I am excited for this wonderful, but challenging opportunity to grow in wisdom of a culture that is overlooked and has so much to offer.


By Annie Gordon

As Gap students were are blessed with the opportunity to enact transformation within the communities we live and serve. However, with that opportunity comes of the price of being asked to (sometimes blindly) approach each day with no expectations and unyielding flexibility. As a result, we have undeniably separated ourselves from the realm of familiarity. Almost three months ago we were uprooted from our comfortable summer lives and placed in the Wind River Range with fifty-pound packs and seventeen strangers. Our campsite changed almost everyday for a month. From there we began a cross-country road trip. I called a new place home every six or seven days. I became accustomed to living in and using things I could not call my own. A feeling of belonging was something many of us strove for but never found.

Furthermore, daily exposure to unsettling sights, sounds, and statistics that I was previously unaware existed in my own country became physically and emotionally exhausting. Returning “home” for break I had to come to terms with the changes that occurred in my absence. Right as I settled back into that comfortable environment, I had to make a second round of good-byes and promises to keep in touch. This first week in Costa Rica amplified the overwhelming feeling of unfamiliarity. It was not until I arrived in Costa Rica that I had realized that taken for granted the continuity of food, language, and – for the most part – cultural norms during our travels in the United States.

Yesterday the group travelled to Volcan Poas and La Paz Waterfall Gardens. Having visited both sites before, I was notably underwhelmed prior to the drive up into the mountains. Much to my surprise everything up in the mountains seemed to have been completely untouched. The roads were still in the process of being re-paved, no flashy new signs or billboards had been put up, and the cows looked as though they have been waiting to be milked since my last visit three years ago. That sense of familiarity was found at Volcan Poas and again at La Paz. At both sites, I was able to retrace my exact steps, recreate pictures, and reacquaint myself with old sights, smells, tastes, and sounds. These places seemingly unaffected by change and the passing of time offered an indescribable sense of serenity and security. Over the past three months I have found change to be overwhelmingly inescapable. Familiarity used to make me restless but I realize now that it can be incredibly beautiful after spending so long without it. Furthermore, I never expected to identify more closely with tourist traps in Costa Rica than with places and people in my own country.

Full of Excitement, Curiosity, and a Small Amount of Fear

By Krisandra Provencher

We arrived in San Jose, Costa Rica late Tuesday afternoon hungry and full of excitement, curiosity and a small amount of fear. A misty rain augmented our plane hair and layered us in an instant sheet of humid sweat as we walked to the parking lot and were ushered into two 12-passenger vans. We entered the crazy and slightly terrifying Costa Rican traffic, on what felt like two wheels, and were off. While poppy Spanish music played in the background we passed large buildings with front walls made entirely of glass, multiple car dealerships, small, dilapidated houses, and many fruit stands.

The van suddenly made a sharp turn and an abrupt halt. We were at the first host house, it was Marin’s. We all awkwardly watched as she got out of the van and met her Costa Rican family. As soon as she was in the house the van took off to next and then the next. There were no introductions or verifications, we were truly being dropped off alone and in the thick of it. As more and more people got out and went into their homes a sense of panic grew in the pit of my stomach. What was I going to do? My Spanish was poor at best and my host family spoke little to no English. I was terrified.

The bus stopped and the driver called my name. I was up. I climbed out of the van and grabbed my suitcase with sweaty palms. As I turned to face the house a small woman with a kind face opened the door causing an immediate sense of relief to rush through my body. My host mom instantly pulled me into a hug and kissed both my cheeks as she chattered off excited exclamations in Spanish. I waved good-bye to the remaining students and walked into what would be my home for the next six weeks.

My host mom, Irma, is 62 and a retired elementary school teacher. During the school week she tutors children from local schools in math, writing, reading and science. She adores all of her students almost as much as they adore her. When I arrived one of what would later be five students grabbed my suitcase and lugged it down the hall and into my bedroom. Once all my stuff was in my new room he grabbed my hand and brought me out to the table. Irma approached me with a plate full of rice, chicken and beans, and a cup of hot coffee. She insisted I sit and eat while she helped the young boy with his math.

I responded with an eager “gracias” and devoured the plate in front of me as I watched her work with the boy. She appeared to be an excellent teacher, she was patient, kind and had a wonderful sense of humor. He adored her and tried hard to understand his work for the sake of pleasing her. Later, when the other boys arrived and Irma scolded them for giggling at my broken bits of unsure Spanish, I knew my six weeks in Costa Rica were going to be a crazy and wonderful adventure. One I was surely going to be incredibly grateful for.

An Obvious Gringo

By: Henry Bost

Wow, Costa Rica has been crazy so far! There is no way that I could have imagined this before experiencing it. First off, my host family speaks hardly any English, so that has been extremely challenging. My host mother speaks none, and my host father speaks a little bit. He has been my main point of contact in the family, helping me to get settled and oriented here. Yesterday he even took me to the local soccer team’s game. It was so cool experiencing that and seeing how intense and excited everyone got. Afterwards both my host dad and mom took me to the local farmers market where I helped carry a bag of exotic fruits and vegetables that I had never heard of. They tried to explain what each thing was but there was no way to keep up. It was great seeing the market though, as it was extremely different from anything we have back home. They have been cooking me delicious meals every night, and we have learned to communicate well enough to get by, like taking a shower, time for dinner, or what time are you leaving tomorrow. Today was our first day of Spanish classes so I hope that helps me communicate with them on a more in depth level. For now, we get along very well and they seem to enjoy my company. I am still getting my bearings here, but I have picked up a few colloquialisms and local customs which have helped me feel like I fit in more. Hopefully this will continue to be the case, because as of right now I am still an obvious Gringo who makes many mistakes.

New Roads

By Nathan Hunnicutt

The path is carved by the man that has come before me.

It is to be set for glory,

But is contained by a neon green wall.

The ceiling is carved out of the arbor of old and new,

Only sunlight light can pierce through its entangled web,-

But always fades away with the clouds.

I follow,

Deep into the depths,

Voices echo off the walls,

But I cannot understand what they mean to say.

The dirt beneath my feet breaths the same air,

But it is too different.

This, a new world like no other,

Continues to fight the never ending battle with time.

“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,”

The journey has just begun.


By Jill Salvucci

When requesting my host family the first thing I won’t that I wanted was for them to speak English. I did not think that was a lot to ask. Up to that point I was not confident in my Spanish speaking abilities. Even though I have studied Spanish for around six years, I felt as though I had no experience with the language what­soever. I felt as though the most I could comprehend was “Hola” and “Adios!”. So with that thought in mind, my family being able to speak English was very important to me.

When arriving to Costa Rica, I was surprised to learn my host mom did not speak any English at all. In that moment I became very nervous. I did not know how it was going to work. I thought we were just not going to be able to communicate and that this experience was just going to be a struggle. However, this was not the case. I underestimated myself. At dinner I was able to tell her about my family and what I like and don’t like. The conversation was very basic but it was better than sitting in silence.

Do not get me wrong though I am nowhere near being fluent and there are times when I have no idea what my host mother or sister are saying and I just say “Si! Si!” (and most of the time Si is not the correct answer to what they are saying). In a way I am happy I did not get what I originally wanted. I will be challenged to use and learn spanish everyday. It will help more be more immersed in the culture not only at school but in my home as well.

The last couple days I have spent mostly in my room; however, I am making an effort from now on to not spend so much time in my room but instead spend it talking with my host family. It feels a little odd to be stepping out of my comfort zone but I know in the end it will really be worth while.

Buses in Costa Rica

By Jack Kapes

Let me just start of by saying that there are a ton of public transit busses throughout the San Jose area that will take you anywhere around the city. The busses are tall and require a big step to get onto. Some of the busses stop at marked stops but most times they just pick up and drop off at random points along the roads. Be careful when getting off the bus because on the sides of the streets are deep ditches known as gringo traps that would not be good to step into. The bus drivers drive crazily and when you pay make sure to hold your hand out and wait for your change. They manually sort coins while they drive and are hard on the horn. Most of the time it’s quite pleasant to ride because all the windows are open and the doors are kept open too but when it rains they become overcrowded and unpleasant. Every morning I walk to the side of the road and wait for the bus to San Ramon. Once on the bus I have to be very aware because the stops aren’t listed or even announced. Once close to my stop, I reach for the wire and give it a good pull to make sure the buzzer goes off. Again, there are no stops so all I know is that I get off the bus at the blue gate when going up school and I know when going home I pull for the stop at the church. The busses are a cheap way to get aound, they’re only about $.60 and are always running routes. The take a bit to understand but once you do it’s a breeze.

My Adventure Awaits

By Marin Williams

I could not imagine a more perfect place

To take on part three outside of the States

I greet Catalina with a big hug and a kiss

As I step into my new home, I’m overwhelmed with bliss

Another language, another culture, another experience entirely

Finding commonalities and differences within our societies

“Pura Vida” “?Como amanecistes?” the Ticos ask

I know that the next six weeks will go by fast

Take it day by day, do not rush, life is not a race

There is so much to learn, so much to do! My adventure awaits

Spanish Word of the Day

By Laurie Heggedal

Tuesday, October 20 = “Hola!”

(But several times I said “Aloha” on accident instead).

Wednesday, October 21 = “Sí.”

(… To just about everything that my Spanish host mother said).

Thursday, October 22 = “No hablo español.”

(Even though most Costa Rican locals could tell that I couldn’t speak Spanish without me needing to say anything).

Friday, October 23 = “Me gusta…”

(Because there are many things that I love here, especially my Spanish host mother’s cooking).

Saturday, October 24 = “Qué?”

(Now that I am understanding more Spanish, I ask more questions if I don’t understand what someone is saying, instead of responding with a confused “Sí!”).

Sunday, October 25 = “Mi amor.”

(The Spanish term of endearment that my host mother is now calling me because we have a great relationship, despite the language barrier between us).

If Only I Had Taken Spanish In High School

By Eliza Upton

It has been five days since we first got to Costa Rica, and for the last five days I have been trying to make sense of the language formally known as Espanol. Other than learning to sing the alphabet in sixth grade and counting to ten during those elementary school soccer pre-game stretch circles, my Spanish education has been non-existent. But here we are on day five, the day before my first Spanish class, and I’ve become a master at saying si (yes) and gracias (thank you) to everything. Because in my opinion you can never go wrong with saying yes or thank you to something you don’t understand. Even if you say gracias in response to someone saying gracias to you, because here in Costa Rica they’ll give you a little chuckle and understand that you’re that American who doesn’t quite get it. However, in all seriousness I’ve found my little language barrier to be a challenge, one that I was expecting and ready to take on, but a challenge nonetheless.

For the first time in my life I have felt restrictions in being able to express myself. Even with a host mother who speaks a little English, I’ve had to put extra energy into each conversation I have as I try to pronounce Spanish words and phrases correctly and make sure my English is simple and understandable. But even sometimes that extra energy is not enough and I’m still left confused and frustrated by my lack of bi-lingual abilities. I often even feel silenced by my own laziness at trying to explain the extent of my thoughts. Time at home now feels like I’m watching a Costa Rican movie with English subtitles that appear sporadically. My American banter has been left in the States along with my comfort zone.

However uncomfortable this new situation may be, it has ultimately given me a fresh perspective and appreciation for communication. Not only has my patience strengthened, but I am learning how to listen in a more meaningful way. The importance of body language and facial expressions have become much more apparent, and I am finding myself to be more vivid with my own actions. My voice is no longer the only tool I readily access when trying to communicate. And when I do have a successful conversation with my host family, it fuels a stronger connection. Each day it is the little wins that bring me the most reassurance in my biggest adventure yet, even when it is just saying gracias at the proper time.