Saturday, May 16, 2009

Farewell to Costa Rica

As part of their final essay exam, I asked my students to reflect on their time in Costa Rica: what they’ve learned about themselves, how they are different from the person who arrived nearly 4 months ago, and how they will live differently once they return to the States. The following quotations are excerpts from Essay Question 2 and have been edited for grammar and to protect privacy. They are in no particular order, and the work of each student is represented. Please understand that they are taken out of a larger, multi-page essay. Great thanks to one of the best classes I have ever taught. You guys are awesome!!
“I have . . . learned to be more patient. Costa Ricans’ lifestyles are laid back and relaxed. Life moves at a molasses pace. For example, when eating at a restaurant you can’t expect to get your food in a timely manner, and in the case of the bakery beside Mesoamerica, you can’t expect it to be open at the same time every day. The “pura vida” lifestyle has taught me to be patient and to just relax. There is always tomorrow to complete something and to always remember tomorrow is a new day. “

“As a person I have come to appreciate what I have been given in my life. After living with a family that just makes ends meet and feeling embarrassed for buying half the things that I bought while here, I hope to live a life where things mean less. What I truly want to take away from this experience is the simplicity of life and the meaningful relationships that the Ticos have. Overall, this experience has truly made me realize a lot about myself and hopefully I will not resort back to my old habits when I get back into my normal routine.”

“Before I came to Costa Rica my identity and how I perceived myself was completely wrapped up in the activities I was a part of . . . My time here has taught me to live my life for myself.”

“There were times on this adventure where everyone around me on a small microbus was complaining about something as insignificant as the restaurant that we were stopping at. I have figured out that much of being on this trip is actually putting yourself on the trip and letting the journey take its course . . . I have discovered, and at least acknowledged, that much of what happens is out of our control, yet we learn to live with it and most of the time, something good, or at least interesting, comes out of a once ugly situation.”

“I have become a lot more independent, through choice and by force. I have also learned that it is okay to feel lonely. We do a lot on our own here and we are forced to figure things out for ourselves. One thing I wished I had done while being in Costa Rica was to travel by myself for a weekend. With everyone wanting to travel and do similar things each weekend, it was somewhat inevitable that I had at least one travel buddy. I enjoy traveling with people more, but I think it could have been a fabulous experience being entirely on my own for three to four days in a different, new place. Traveling is when parts of your true person come out; whether they are immediate or not, you will encounter change. “

“In Costa Rica I have gained a new appreciation for the virtue of flexibility. One of our journal quotes reminded travelers that you cannot control your journeys and travels. I have always been a plan-orientated person, it is comforting for me to know what is in store for me at each corner. . . . My most memorable experiences in Costa Rica are not those that required immense planning and preparation; my favorite moments include my spur of the moment decision to participate in sunset yoga or hiking up Chirripo in an astonishing one day. “

“I know a great deal more Spanish and am comfortable speaking it to anyone. I find boys who wear shawls, the latest trend in Costa Rica, attractive. I bought a shirt out of organic material. I don’t wear my pearls every day. I enjoy relaxing nights at home. I am conscious of how I am affecting the environment. While all of these things are things that I have never been like before, it’s only the beginning of how deeply this study abroad experience has impacted my life.”

“The week before leaving Elon and heading off to Costa Rica was perhaps one of the most exciting weeks of my life. I had pictured for myself the romantic idea of a vacation school in which the time at the beaches would completely outweigh any time spent in the classroom. I pictured myself being naturally prepared, missing orientations without a care and hardly listening when I did manage to make it. My first few weeks here clearly reflected these thoughts, and I lived the exact lifestyle that I had pictured. However without these ignorant weeks, and the eventual epiphany of the better way to view Costa Rica, I would not have taken home with me the most important lessons.
• Lesson 1: I can get homesick
. . .This trip has given me a better appreciation for family values and what my parents have done to make me the person I am today.
• Lesson 2: By learning a new language I’ve grown stronger
. . . I’m leaving Costa Rica with not only an understanding of Spanish, but a better appreciation for my own language. . . .
• Lesson 3: I can get by on very little money.
. . . After failing time and time again to make budget . . . I decided to spend the rest of my free weekends in San Jose. In this period I spent less money than I would have on any given weekend, while learning a completely new Costa Rica. . . .”

“My life has completely shifted since coming to Costa Rica. I have been purposefully trying to live in the moment which is opposed to how I was before I came here. Before I came here I was very results-oriented and always interested in going somewhere rather than staying where I was and enjoying it. I am trying to work on improving this and am in the process of shifting my life and forgetting about the results, trusting in that they will come. “

“ My newfound appreciation for nature, while maybe not my most important change, is by far the change that has surprised me the most. Before coming here, I did not care about nature and preserving it. To me a forest was just unused area waiting to be put to an economical use. Now, while admittedly still far from a tree-hugger, I do at least have some appreciation of nature. I have begun to learn that business and sustainability, when done correctly, cannot only co-exist but also work in harmony. “

“A lesson I have learned about life in Costa Rica is to never take any of my friends for granted. Being away from all my friends for a long period of time showed me that I really value their friendship and that I should express that I love for often.”

“My attitude towards Spanish has done a complete one hundred eighty degree turn. I love Spanish. I love speaking the language and I absolutely love hearing Spanish being spoken by native speakers. One of my favorite memories of the semester is going to see “La Tierra” with [a friend] at Mall San Pedro. We had assumed that the movie would be in English with Spanish subtitles, however, when we bought our tickets the employee told us the movie was in Spanish. [We] decided to watch the movie anyways to practice our listening and comprehension skills. “La Tierra” was magical. I loved learning about the Earth by listening to the narrator speak in Spanish. I was so proud of myself for how much I have improved in my ability to understand the Spanish language. A whole new world has been unlocked for me to explore. I am sad to go back to the United States where my opportunities to speak and listen to Spanish will be extremely limited. I now desire to put myself in situations where I will be forced to use my Spanish knowledge.”

“I felt so welcome in my Tica house, yet, could not help but to sometimes feel like a guest which was sometimes quite draining. The experience of living with a host family provided me with the benefits of immersing myself in the new culture, language practice, and the ability to meet a wonderful family, but another change I see in myself from my home stay is how much I now recognize the need for family in my life.”

Friday, May 15, 2009

Repairing a Life, by Glen Cornell

Willy hopelessly awoke to the incarnation of his alarm clock and the crying of a baby in the room next to him. As he rolled over in bed to get up he noticed that his girlfriend Espera had already woken from bed, probably in search for something to eat in the kitchen. Painfully he heaved each of his pant legs up to his torso and dragged into the kitchen, ignoring the constant cry of his child. There was no sign of Espera other than a cold plate with remnants of gallo pinto, (left over from god knows when,) next to a cup of coffee that had meant to be consumed an hour ago. Coins were missing from the table, a sign that his girlfriend hadn’t felt the need to take the morning hike to work. As he sat down to eat her leftovers he nearly slipped on a puddle of oil gathering under the constant drip of a wrench on the counter. More smoke stained tools lay askew throughout the residence. Only a few more bites left for breakfast; the baby had exhausted itself from the crying, given up hope, and fallen back to sleep. Although he cared much for the infant, he couldn’t help but resent it for the position it had left them. After being kicked out from house to house he and Espera had no choice but to find their own place, a beat-up section of a home in a back alley of Sabanilla.

As he stepped outside to take a look at his small neighborhood, he couldn’t help but notice his two projects, taunting him at the end of the driveway. Every day he had put all his efforts to bring them back to life, to redeem some sense of hope. Willy felt that if somehow he could bring back those Volkswagen beauties it could revive some form of hope in his own life. Before beginning the endless daily toils, Willy walked back inside to gather his tools. A few screwdrivers were missing, washers of all sizes, and some things he hadn’t seen in so long he couldn’t hope to remember their names or use. Over a year ago a fire that had taken half of his possessions and workshop all in one night’s blaze. No one knew how it had started but all Willy cared was that it left him here, in that back alley of a community toiling away at the hopeless remains of what had once been a fine automobile.

He stood there staring at the two cars for a moment, trying to remember where he had left off. The sky blue bug with the leather interior and classic dash was his main priority. He and Fernando had always talked about the things they’d be able to do, the trips they would go on and the places they could see in that car. Now it was up to Willy and his hands. He pulled his hair back into a knot to prevent it from being caught in the gears, revealing a long deep scar across the side of his face. Bending to one knee he opened the hood and began to work.

Although he had the appearance of a gruff premature 22 year-old, his hands worked with the softest elegance. An onlooker would have no idea of the constant complicated procedures Willy underwent, but could still admire from his demeanor. For hours he hopelessly worked each and every day, but today he felt that there may have been some progress. As the sun came high into the sky he sat in the seat of the car and began to sip an Imperial, rewarding himself for a brief moment. Through the heat he thought he envisioned Espera far up the drive, returning from work with the child Gabrial in her hands. As the image drew closer he dreamt of the life they wanted to live together; a 2 story home on 10 acres near the coast in Guanacaste. Still in his daydream he took the keys from his pocket and almost in a trance slipped them into the ignition with a twist. A sputter shot and the car shook for a brief moment.

There was still hope.

Based on a true story

Posted By: Wini Mapel

On our last day.....

Tomorrow morning, we are all going to board the microbus for the last time and head to the Juan Santamaria International airport. The day, which we never thought would come, has finally arrived and leaving the place we now call home will bring unpredictable emotions. We will all be happy to get back to our cell phones and cars, but there will be so much to say goodbye to here in Costa Rica.
The hardest goodbye, will be to our new loving families here in Sabanilla. My tica family has been the most wonderful part of my experience here, and they have enabled me to feel comfrontable and a part of the community. I know that my host family, including my giant golden retriever Bruno, will always welcome me if I am ever in San Jose again in my life, and I will be sure to keep in touch.
It will be strange to not be able to ride a public bus to school or look in any direction and see breathtaking mountains. I am assuming that I will have to start cooking rice and beans when I am at home to help ease the culture change and find ways to implement Spanish into my daily conversation. There is so much that I know I will have to return to one day, so therefore I know that tomorrow I will not be saying goodbye to Costa Rica forever.

Cerro de la Muerte - Hikes and Hummingbirds, posted by Glen Cornell

Two and a half weeks ago the group set off on an Environmental Science field-trip for the weekend to the mountains of Cerro de la Muerte. Our destination was a small hotel on the side of the mountain that served as a research center for hummingbirds. Although hummingbirds are less likely to fly to such an altitude, the hotel was equipped with enough feeders and flora to bring in a large number. Upon approaching the station we knew our weekend was going to be interesting. From an outside appearance the hotel gave off a similar aura to that of the Bates Hotel, and with this remote location it was easy for imaginations to run wild (which some of the guys took advantage of, creating a fictional story with the help of "Nacho", our teaching assistant").

After everyone was situated in their rooms, the group did some observing for the lab project. While most of the guys and I set up the tents for tomorrow's experiments, the rest of the group observed the behaviors of the hummingbirds and recorded their feeding habits. After each group had taken their shifts observing, we had all become experts at identifying the different appearances and behaviors of the 4 types of hummingbirds.

Fiery Throated - Small yet aggressive, these punks would chase any other hummingbirds away from their feeders. They could be identified by a "fiery" red pattern of feathers on on their breast.

Green Velvet-eared - Long curved beaks and velvet ears; easily intimidated by the fiery throated

Magnificent - The largest of them all

Volcano - The rarest and smallest, only a few were spotted and only one was caught the entire trip

The next day we set up nets to catch hummingbirds and observe them up close. After hummingbirds were caught we got the chance to hold them and take a sample of pollen on their beak, in order to see if the feeders were affecting their feeding habits on pollinating flowers.
*No hummingbirds were harmed in this process*

After we were able to take the samples, we took a closer look through the microscopes. We counted pollen found and recorded the results for when we returned to the classroom.

Before we were completely done we took a trip to a dwarf forest. We hiked a short distance to the peak of a mountain, in the highest altitude many of us had ever been. On the top of the mountain there was an extreme lack of animal life, and all bushes and trees were no more than waist height; making the name dwarf forest very fitting. The views through the clouds were amazing, and after some exploring of the peak we got together to talk about the differences here from all other forests. Before climbing down the group took advantage of the situation and sat in silence while centering thought.

All in all the weekend included great opportunities to learn, as well as new experiences for everyone.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Mt. Chirripo: Pushing the Limits

On our third day arriving to Costa Rica, a small group of Elon students made reservations in order to complete a common mission: we were determined to hike up Mt. Chirripo before our departure. For those who might not know what Mt. Chirripo is, it is the highest peak in all of the country, and the second highest peak in all of Central America. It measures 12,512 feet in elevation and has an elevation change of more than 8,000 feet throughout the hike. All in all, this is not an easy feat to accomplish, and the approximately 38 kilometer hike was a test of our abilities to work as a team in order to accomplish a common goal.

Unfortunately, we lost our reservation that we had made many months ago and were faced with the decision of completing the climb in one day or not at all because the hike usually takes a minimum of two days; therefore, early on Friday morning we began our mission. As we went about the treacherous climb we were careful to maintain a steady pace so that we would be able to climb and descend the peak before it was too dark at night. Eric was the designated "split timer" and at the end of every kilometer would inform the group of the time to make sure we were on schedule. We had an efficient system going, and everyone contributed to the group's ability to succeed. Some of the responsibilities that were shared were pacing the group, splitting time carrying the heavy backpacks, and, of course, providing motivation. While all of the steep climb up to the peak was a test of endurance and our leg's ability to carry us through rocky terrain, it was all worth the effort when we finally reached the peak. For about 30 minutes, our group of four was the absolute tallest thing in all of Costa Rica which was completely surreal. We also had the opportunity to leave our mark with the other Mt. Chirripo climbers by signing a book that remains at the peak; we also took a group picture so that we could have proof of our great accomplishment. After relishing in our success of reaching the top we figured we had better begin our descent and assumed that the hard part was over. We could not have been more wrong.

I think we were all a little surprised by how difficult the return back down the mountain was. The saying "What goes up, must come down" was consistently exchanged between the members of our group as we mutually struggled and relied on each other in order to reach the base of the mountain for the second time that day. We all had our own personal moments of struggle during the descent: having weird hallucinations, joint troubles, and loss of motivation as nighttime began to creep in. Luckily, we had two flashlights to guide us through the dark, jungle-like trails and were beyond relieved to see a sign that told us we only had one more kilometer's hike left ahead of us. However, we were hit with another hurdle when we realized that we had hiked a portion of this final kilometer down the wrong trail which set us back during a time where we were all at a loss of energy. With a great deal of teamwork in these final 20 minutes we were able to maneuver our tired bodies through the finish of the hike and hail a cab to drive us back to our hostel. At the end of the day, the idea of walking any more seemed akin to a death wish, so we proceeded to sit down to a dinner full of classic Costa Rican comfort foods and pass out in our beds. As trying as the hike up to Mt. Chirripo in a single day was, it was truly an experience that none of us regret. The teamwork we all experienced that day was a true mark of the comrodery we have developed with one another throughout the course of our studies in Costa Rica, and an experience we will never forget.

Ellen Boyle and Eric Hale

Monday, May 11, 2009

Wooded Wonders by Heidi Lewis

"Wooded Wonders"

The golden treetops sprayed light
all over the forest.
I was wearing my pink and purple bathing suit,
the one that I bring everywhere,
mismatched and stained but always my favorite.
My warm body was softly sunned
to the earth's surface as I relaxed
in my own wooded world,
a world that should never change.

My fingers harped the river's green weeds,
careful to not disturb its stagnant
but beautiful blue body.
These feelings of
peacefulness and sublimity embody
every possible part of me,
and I never want to leave it.

As a duet of mating dragonflies painted
blue and purple work upon my knee,
I listen to the rhythmic sounds of the
mysterious enchanted forest,
and the many animals it nourishes.

I didn't know what time it was
and I never cared.
My ankles cracked the river's liquid glass.
It was time to go back to the life
where we are forced to do the things we do.

(May 3rd, 2009; on Rio Celeste)

Friday, May 8, 2009

La Fería in Guadaloupe

La Fería in Guadaloupe is an experience in itself, nothing can prepare you for what you will see when you step out of the taxi. A picture does not do it justice. It is a farmers market that is held in a huge parking lot on Saturday mornings. The vendors sell everything: watermelons, flowers, fresh squeezed juices, natural honey in Corona bottles, homemade jams, exotic Costa Rican fruits and vegetables. There you will find a hustle and bustle of Ticos buying their produce for the week and pulling it around in their carts. While we were there we tried many different fruits and vegetables and sometimes we had no idea what we were about to put in our mouths! It was definitely a cultural experience and made us feel like we were Ticos.

~Jessie Richardson & Martha Browning