Monday, June 27, 2011

Day 9: My Last Week in Costa Rica 06/27/11

¡Hola todos!

So what I figured I would do is at least do the blog for today and work on catching up as I go JUST so that you always have something to read! So if something isn't super clear it will be soon! :)

...After a fun filled weekend today I had to wake up for another week of placements. I have to admit that I didn't use a lot of Spanish during the weekend so I definitely had trouble getting back into the groove a little bit. It was very interesting going to class today because the first two activities for the day were very different. First, Graciela sat the children in a circle and she put shaving cream in each of their hands and told them to rub them together until it was gone. She told me that this was un círculo de paz (A circle of peace). The point she was trying to make to the children that no matter what a person's skin color was they all are the same underneath it. (Hence the shaving cream disappearing and their hands being visible again.) After this she made her way over to the children's kitchen area and showed the children how to make toast and jam without using too much or accidently hurting themselves. She also stressed the importance of cleaning after cooking. After these lifestyle lectures Alex and I shared some more coloring pages for the younger children to draw on while we played Bingo with the older children. That was a very easy way for me to learn some more Spanish as well. The kids loved this game so much that we played it until it was time to learn the song for the day. I honestly can't say that I understood everything that they were singing but basically what I heard was about a child who wanted to play a garden very badly but her mother wouldn't let her so instead she used her imagination to pretend like she was playing in it. 

After this we continued with our daily routine starting with the patio and then the children eating lunch. One thing I have noticed in Costa Rica is that they really don't say please and thank you a lot. So I made up this game where in order for me to lift up the children to play on the monkey bars they had to say please. Once that rule was established I also then made them count in English to whatever number I determined necessary for each child-since some children know more than others. This worked fairly well! Except for the part when all of them started screaming por favor at once! :)

It is so fun for me to watch the children interact with each other. They have all the same behavior patterns as I have seen in the United States and they like to play the same kind of games. I did successfully give two children (Franco y Angelica) a time out today and-this may sound weird- but I feel as though I accomplished something here. The children have always kind of hesitated when listening to directions I give them. I have conversed with volunteers at the other placements and they say that it really seems as though the children have so much more freedom and are less respectful to their teachers. I don't know if it is because they are more chill here or because they don't have enough help or what! For example the other day when we went to the high school for the arts festival there were at least 30 people walking around the grounds doing whatever they wanted. However for the younger children the problem is that they just don't listen and continue to talk over the teacher or continue to hit someone or steal someone's book. I know this happens with all children but even when Graciela would raise her voice and scold them they would continue doing whatever they want and ignore her and Graciela would give up. The problem is, is that these children are sooo sweet and when I see something like this happen I know its because of lack of attention and also the lack of supplies and variety in their lives. Every day that I have gone to placement Graciela does about the same thing and I can imagine how boring it must be for children to read the same four books, play with the same plastic animals, with the same soccer ball, with the same blank pieces of paper every day...even up to a couple years. I know in some of the other placements, mostly at the formal schools, a majority of the time spent with the children is playing games or being outside. Sometimes in these schools they only spend 40 minutes actually learning criteria! It is insane the way everything works down here! This is where I can really see that my time here planning learning and craft activities every day matters.

I really feel like I am bonding with Graciela and Flor la cocinera. Flor was born in Santa Clara, Costa Rica and has switched between living there and in San José all of her life. She also has worked at the Santa Clara daycare since she was it has been 32 years! She is the sweetest woman ever and I am so lucky to have her at my placement. She is really patient with me and takes time to make sure that I understand the culture of Costa Rica.   Plus she is pretty much the only person the children say please and thank you to so that makes her pretty legit. ;) I also am completely in love with the children. They just really brighten my day.  There is this one young-en named Samantha and she is the most adorable thing I have ever seen. She always has a smile on her face and she has the cutest hair bob that always bounces as she runs along everywhere. She always comes over and sits on my lap and tells me about herself and asks me questions. And then there is Steven who has been the only child who actually understands that I don't speak Spanish fluently. The children think that I can understand everything they say when they go off on a tangent and I keep telling them that I don't understand every word they say etc. etc. but they just keep going. Five year old Steven on the other hand speaks slowly when I don't understand something and will explain what something is instead of giving up on me like some of the other kids do when they can't get a point across.

Here I was thinking that I was setting out to impact the lives of children but I never realized how much they could inspire me. They have so much potential but they don't have the resources for it whereas I have so much and more and yet I don't always push myself as hard as I could. These children have really brought out the best in me. Today I started running around in circles with the children yelling "Soy un avión, Soy un avión!" (I am an airplane!, I am an airplane!) with my arms up in the air like wings and I just started thinking to myself how easy it was to just let let go and give all I have to offer to the world every day 100%. Pretending to be an airplane may not be the equivalent of what I need to do every day ;) but being that silly airplane with all of the children was what helped at that moment; it was a time to just enjoy each other's company, embrace imagination, and strive to be the kind of person you want to be. It's hard to explain. It's funny how the mind works.

Other than Spanish class there really wasn't that much that occurred today other than me trying to regain all of my energy back. :p We had pescado for dinner. I was very happy! :) At night the volunteers group off in different places and we just talk about our placements or our lives back home. These people have also taught me many different things. But that is for another day :p

¡Pura Vida!


Sunday, June 26, 2011

El Descanso (the break)

¡Hola todos!

HOLY COW! Let me start off by saying I had absolutely NO idea how exhausting this trip would be. I know that I am crazzzzy behind on everything and I am still working on the just takes more energy than I sometimes possess! :p I really appreciate your patience though! I will leave you with this beautiful picture of la iglesia en la plaza of La Fortuna while I scramble to piece this past week together for you! ¡Muchas gracias!

¡Pura Vida!


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Day 3: Santa Clara Daycare (06/21/11)

¡Hola todos!

Pues, as you know after reading my previous blog entries today was my first day volunteering! My morning began at 6:30 when I woke up, got ready, and ate (the strawberries we had were wonderful...apparently strawberries are a special treat here.) Some of the volunteers are able to walk to their placements but I was driven to mine with 10 others who we dropped off at their destinations on the way. The daycare that I volunteer at is the farthest placement they have; it is actually in a different province than San Carlos. It is really interesting to go out to the more rural areas because there is SUCH a drastic difference in the expected. On one side of the window you could see beautiful, well kept homes while on the other side of the car almost immediately you could have picked up the homes from the slums and put them there. 

The placement that Alex (co-volunteer) and I have at the daycare is a lot different than the other placements which primarily consist of schools of formal education. They have fields to play soccer, profesoras to teach English, etc. However as prepared as I thought I was my first day volunteering was very overwhelming to say the least. Santa Clara is a very small daycare that consists of a dining hall for the children to eat lunch, a small kitchen, an office, a classroom, and a very tiny patio to play outside. This is for approximately 15-30 children and there is only one cocinera (cook) and one Niña. I was very surprised to find out that in Costa Rica younger children call their teachers Niñas. Also, the usted form (the formal version of or you) is much more commonly used here even when an adult addresses a child. Anyhow no one knew English and Alex does not know any Spanish at all so that was challenging at times ,but by the end of the day I was really enjoying myself. After we introduced ourselves to Graciela, the teacher, the first thing I did was walk up to one child who was playing by himself with some plastic animals.  I tried talking to him by asking him his name and how old he was but he was really shy and didn't answer. So instead I asked him if he wanted to be my teacher and tell me how to say some of the names of the animals in Spanish. Within the next five minutes there were about seven kids huddled around me shoving animals in my face telling me with their animated voices what everything was. For the most part I have never spoken to children in Spanish before and it is extremely different. Just like any kid they talk SUPER fast, like to mumble, and have higher voices that make it harder to hear the annunciation. Thus in the beginning there was a lot of that head nodding you do when someone tries to tell you a story in a different language and you have NO idea what they are saying. You know what I am talking about, that awkward smile that no matter how hard you try to mask your confusion it is still extremely visible on your face. 

Continuando! While we were playing with the animal toys by grouping each kind into families, Graciela started singing the clean up song but of course in Spanish. Pretty much immediately everyone started to limpiar and then automatically sat in a circle in front of Graciela who had pulled out one those teacher boards that stand up on its own. It turns out that this daycare is extremely organized since it is paid for by the government and they want to teach the children specific values. In the beginning of the day it is closer to an American daycare since the classroom has stations in each corner and on each wall; they include categories such as drawing, play-do, reading, cooking, games, etc. However once the children were in that circle, Graciela began to place stickers on a giant tree picture that was on the board. Before she continued she asked Alex and me to present ourselves to the class. I told them that my name was Emily and that I was from Texas in the United States etc etc and then I look at Alex who just seemed completely lost the poor girl. I helped her introduce herself and then Graciela introduced all 23 students in the class. The only two names that really stuck to me the whole day was Steven and David...because they were the same in English. There were SO many names I had never heard before. 

Then began the lesson plan for the day. It was about the valores (values) of being in a Costa Rican family. And let me stress Costa Rican because a value that was highly important was respecting both your parents AND YOUR CULTURE AND CUSTOMS. Listening to Graciela explain the importance of their culture was just really eye opening to me. I have seen Mexican students from my school perform their latin dances before and discuss the wonderful foods their abuela (grandmother) teaches them to make but it never really hit me that it isn't just a hobby they like to do or what there parents let them do for fun... valuing and protecting their culture is ESSENTIAL for living for them just like breathing and eating. So for the Costa Ricans without it essentially the characteristics that make them Costa Ricans would be gone. I always valued world cultures because I found them so intriguing and so beautiful but now its like I am under cover and I get to experience it from a whole different surface.  I realize that there are a plethora of cultures that treat their way of life with the same appreciation and respect. I really  wish I had the same thing!

Graciela discussed the other main values such as tolerancia, el amor y ayuda (help-as in chores for your parents). After her lecture she led the children in a song about family while using their dedos (fingers). All i know is that the first finger was papa, the second mama, the third older sibling, and then fourth younger sibling, and finally the fifth was the child their self. I understood the end though (todo es en la familia- basically that they all made up the family) The beautiful and adorable music that was being projected abruptly stopped as Graciela continued with the day and said that they were going to go to el patio. I could tell from all of the screaming and chaos that commenced after that  that this would definitely be the hardest part of my day.

My first observation was that there was definitely not enough space for the children to run around. Plus the ground was concrete and there was absolutely no grass which resulted in injuries and strict rules with playing. The patio has a very small slide that is directly connected to a small set of monkey bars which was pretty dangerous in itself...since it seemed as though half the class wanted to play there. They also had one of those plastic play houses without a roof and two soccer balls. So there really was not much to work with. Graciela played games that were pretty similar to each other while I joined the children so that I could get a feel for how play time worked. One game consisted of the children being in a line which was la tierra (the land) and another line for el mar (the sea). It was very similar to Simon says where you try to trick the children into accidently performing the wrong action such as a child stepping towards the sea when they were told to step in the land. The other game she showed me was el gigante (the giant) and el enano (the dwarf). This was basically the same thing except you didn't step forward but instead you either tried to be super tall and stand up or be super short and bend your knees. I tried to spice it up a bit by following the same theme-since they were obviously completely enthralled by the concept-by playing Simón dice (Simon says). As hard as Graciela and I tried this game was not as successful. Lesson 1: Simple is always better, especially with children who don't speak the same language as you. 

After that it was mostly just running around with the soccer ball and maintaining the chaos. I really just needed to get used to my surroundings on the first day. The daycare then feeds the children after recess and Alex and I do dishes. Next the children wait for their parents to pick them up and we continue to play with them. The language barrier really difficult but I know I am up for the challenge!

We had our first field trip today as well! We drove an hour away to a high school to see an arts festival. The buildings may not have been constructed completely well, but the set up of the school was really neat. They were built on hills so they were far away from each other but were connected by a covered pathway. This meant that there was plenty of room for vegetation to take control of the area. It seems as though they go to school in the jungle! The festival was held in the gymnasium and we could definitely tell when all 20 of us were walking up that it was well underway and that it was a full house. As soon as we walked in we saw bleachers and bleachers of teenagers cheering and dancing while the dance group in the center of the stage was preparing to begin their presentation. A bunch of foreigners walking in definitely stole the attention from the stage though. :p

I really enjoyed watching all of the groups perform. There was a wide range of ages from around 5 to 18 performing. We were also lucky enough to be in the presence of a well know Costa Rican singer who was a finalist on Latin American Idol! Despite the fact that I did not talk to any of the high schoolers nor really understood what was being said in the microphone I really enjoyed the whole experience. I was still reminded of what it was like to be in high school again. Everyone grouped off into their clicks but if they saw someone walking by they knew they would run up and hug each other or do the man-hug-shake-thing guys do that I don't really understand. There was also a significant amount of people not paying attention. The only thing that surprised me was their plaid uniforms and the fact that students came and went as they chose. Many students were wandering the pathways (instead of halls since there weren't any) or grouped on benches. They definitely had less restrictions but I believe that is because there weren't many teachers from what I could tell. After about an hour I needed a break from all of the noise and the crowd so another volunteer named Katie and I hung out outside and watched some boys lasso. About twenty minutes later the rest of the volunteers come out and get all mad at us because apparently they were forced to the stage and had to introduce themselves to the entire audience. I was definitely secretly glad that I miss that. I get stage fright ;)

Once we got back from there we ate, had some ice cream, and then it was good night. I definitely heard the cats fighting that time though! I can't wait for what tomorrow will bring!

¡Pura Vida! 


Monday, June 20, 2011

Day 2: My First Full Day

¡Hola otra vez!

Ah! I don't even know where to start!! My first night sleeping here was pretty pleasant. Apparently there was a cat fight on our roof...I didn't wake up though! I had to get up at 6:30 this morning for breakfast which really wasn't that difficult since the sun already had risen. It gets completely dark here by 6:30 though and THAT has been hard adjusting to since it makes me want to go to bed at 9. Breakfast today consisted of rice and beans (apparently that is what we have every day for every meal...which proves to be true so far) with pineapple, toast and jam, and these really delicious scrambled eggs. 

Next was our walking tour of downtown San Carlos which pretty much consists of four blocks going east to west and four blocks going north to south. (This picture I have of me is right before we get near downtown!) I wasn't exactly sure what to expect since I have never been anywhere out of the country that wasn't a tourist city. Hence it was kind of shocking but at the same time it fit according to what I already knew about the city. One thing I am sure about is that I stick out like a sore thumb along with the rest of the volunteers. We make up about 99.9999999% of the foreign population in this city so we get a lot of attention and stares which I know I'll get used to but I admit is kind of weird in the beginning.  It seems like all of the natives hang out in the streets or in el mercado (marketplace) or la plaza (the square). Children run up and down the streets with cars zooming by while their mothers are huddled in a tiny circle getting their daily dose of small town gossip (I suppose). I love all of the bright colors here! The plants may not be maintained or the rusty gates may seem extremely dirty but it doesn't take away from the beautiful simplicity of the architecture of the houses and buildings. 

Some interesting things I learned about the town are for one that if you go to that one Pizza Hut they have...that it is considered fine dining that only the richer folks go to and it is waaaaay more expensive here in San Carlos let me to tell you.  Everything you hear about the weather in Costa Rica is true; it gets really humid and rains every day. However this compliments each other very well. I got caught in my first rain storm while walking around town looking for this one specific ice cream shop (which I still have yet to find) but Sandra (from California) and I got lost...without an umbrella I might add... But I loved it in anyway. I mean it was freezing but and it was so refreshing after the humidity. I love the way the weather works together like that. I also was super confused why basically ALL of the restaurants here advertise soda. Then we all found out that it wasn't Coke that they were referring to, they were actually advertising the small-family owned restaurants that the Ticos call sodas. This definitely made more sense pha. And the weird clicking sound that reminds me of a vulture is actually a gecko.

There really isn't that much to say about orientation. Cross-Cultural Solutions is super organized about everything and they have pretty much addressed every issue that could arise. I met the staff who works here such as those who drive us to our placements, the cooks, the program coordinators, etc. It was also alot of paperwork. I did spend time with the director and my co-worker volunteer, Alex from Canada, discussing how we will be volunteering at Santa Clara (the daycare center) and so on. Apparently the teacher is new to the daycare and since she doesn't know English at all I will pretty much get to start from scratch teaching the children English. Where to start!?! ;) Luckily I bought some flashcards with me to help with the visual learners so I think I have the first day covered. We will just have to wait and see how it goes tomorrow!

After all of this was lunch at 1 which I was definitely ready for. Yes I had rice and beans again. ;)  Along with homemade salsa WHICH WAS SO WONDERFUL. This says a lot since I hate salsa :P We also had mangos, salad, and chicken. After lunch I went back to the city to get some colones. Basically for the conversion $1= 500 colones. Everything is only a little cheaper here...probably because with all of the hills and mountains it takes like 4 times longer than what it really should take to get to the town. Plus we are very far away from any kind of highway. Then my fellow volunteers and I walked around and found the correo (post office) which was actually located right next to the old jail that is now abandoned. Even the jail was painted a bright, sky blue. After this was when I got significantly lost with Sandra trying to find this wonderful ice cream place that sold homemade ice cream. We compromised with our sweet toothes by going to the bakery that is directly next to our home. So I ate my first pastry today! I felt really bad because the women who was working there was trying to explain to me what each of the pastries were and I just for the life of me could not understand her. Plus she didn't know any English. I need to expand my vocabulary on baking flavors...or I could have just brought Erica ;)  I told the woman in Spanish that I was sorry and that I wish I could, but I couldn't understand her. She left and came back with the mousse/cream that she was trying to explain to me and let me try it. That was pretty awesome of her :) AND it was excellent. I wish I could describe the flavor but it is impossible; it was like nothing I had ever tasted before. The closest thing I can think of is a cinnamon flavored marshmallow. And this came in pastry bread and had powdered sugar on top. ¡Que rico!

Next I had my first Spanish class. I was aware that every Spanish speaking country had their own version of the language but I sure have never been introduced to so many different translations before. For example, instead of saying "De nada" for you're welcome they say "Con mucho gusto" which is kind of weird to me since "Mucho gusto" for me had always meant "nice to meet you"... I guess the lady at Immigration in the airport wasn't pleased to meet me ;) I still love Spanish so I guess the class went well ;)

Then I was super lame and took a nap. I know. I couldn't help it :) Then I had dinner at 6:30: green beans mixed with eggs, onions, spices, and pulled pork, this really interesting fruit that has no English was kind of like an apple orange, and then yes rice and beans. Next a bunch of us headed to an ice cream shop (different than the one I was looking for previously) called Pops. I had an ice cream flavor called  hecho de leche condensada. It almost tasted like condensed milk with strawberries but instead of the strawberries it had a kind of nut. Once again I am having a problem describing this. Hopefully I will improve!

And here we are now! I am sure if I forget anything (which I probably did I am fairly tired) I will include it in tomorrow's blog. I am really anxious for my first day of volunteering tomorrow! Ahhhhh! This is what I have been waiting for for what seems like forever! Wish me luck ;)

¡Pura Vida!


Esta es mi casa nueva...

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Day 1: Arriving in Costa Rica!

¡Hola todos!

I AM HERE IN SAN CARLOS, COSTA RICA! It is absolutely beautiful. I am in awe of everything around me; the beautiful, bright colored homes, the amazing trees and flowers, the wildlife, the extremely nice people... everything is so fascinating!

I started my journey flying from Dallas to Miami and then Miami to San José. My flight from Dallas was interesting because I had a nice elderly man from Puerto Rico sit next to me. He was going home to celebrate his 60th anniversary with his wife after visiting his grandchildren in the States. What a beautiful event to celebrate! Then my flight from Miami was awesome because the professional Costa Rican soccer (fútbol) team was on our plane! Of course I didn’t realize it until I was off the plane and there were cameras everywhere… ;)

The drive from the airport to my home base was…intense to say the least. The scenery was absolutely breathtaking, but I have never ever gone up so many twisty and bendy roads before in my life…combined. There were 11 people in one small van so it was kind of like a remake of “The Little Engine that Could” as we traveled through the hills. After two hours of driving, I then reached San Carlos. San Carlos is a small town with a beautiful square and a massive cathedral in the center. I get time to explore the town tomorrow after orientation. I can’t wait to try everything at the bakeries as well! I do find it quite surprising that there is a Pizza Hut on one of the corners of the square. I don’t ever plan on trying that. :)

My home base is sooo cool! It was the director’s grandmother’s house so it is a real authentic Costa Rican house. It has beautiful murals on the walls, a spacious courtyard in the back for meals, and a garden decorated with painted stones and bright flowers. I can’t wait to take pictures in the daylight!

As of right now there are 33 volunteers living in this home…yes. This is actually pretty fun because everyone is from SO many different places and there is a good mixture of how long everyone is staying here. There are multiple two week-ers, mostly 4 week-ers and even one person who is staying for ten weeks! Everyone is really nice so I can’t wait to get to know everyone.

My first home cooked meal was absolutely excellent! We had salad with fresh tomatoes and spices, rice, beans, mangos, pineapples, roasted chicken and potatoes. I tried these chocolate covered coffee beans…it was simply wonderful oh my goodness.

Tomorrow I will have orientation, the city tour, and my Spanish classes. I can’t wait to get started at my placement though and start teaching English on Tuesday! I gotta say I love listening to all of the Spanish speakers around me. They speak so fast though!

As I am sitting here on some bright orange steps, behind this massive Victorian-looking gate, in the dark with another volunteer named Sinead (pronounced as Shhh-nead which she informed me is Irish for Jennifer), watching cars and native Costa Ricans pass by, all the while practicing my Spanish with the guard…..I just can’t believe I am actually here.

¡Pura Vida!—what the Costa Rican people say to each other to end a conversation. Literally it means pure life, but they use it to wish happiness for the other person.


Saturday, June 18, 2011


Hello Everyone!

First of all thank you for taking the time to check out my blog! I am SUPER EXCITED to leave for Costa Rica tomorrow at 4:30 in the morning! I CAN'T WAIT! :)  

So basically during my volunteer trip with Cross-Cultural Solutions I will be working at a government run daycare teaching children about taking care of themselves, nutrition, along with some English! The Costa Rican teacher that works at this daycare does not know any English so it should be pretty interesting ;) I'll be there for about four hours every day during the week. During my free time I will get to prepare the lessons for the next day and participate in learning cultural activities and exploring San Carlos. I am so excited to learn about the Ticos (what the Costa Ricans call themselves) and their way of live. I am sure I will have  many new experiences that I will never forget! 

Every night for the next two weeks I will blog about my new adventures so that I can share them with you! Feel free to ask any questions you might have along the way! I will be speaking with you again very shortly.

¡Pura Vida!