Friday, November 27, 2009

My Last Friday in Costa Rica...

Hello again! I must admit that I really enjoy writing these updates. By the time I finish writing each entry, I feel like I’ve just finished having a conversation with you…

Yesterday, I got back from my November home: Heredia, Barva, San José de la Montaña, Paso Llano, which is up in the mountains, and absolutely gorgeous (and cold). I lived on a family compound in which the grandparents, and each of their five adult children and their families each have a house within about 15 second walking distance of each other. I lived with my host mom, Shirleny, my host dad, Rafa, and 4 sisters, Cindy, Daniela, Saray, and Bárbara. I really enjoy the culture of having all of your family close. Everyone constantly visits each other in order to borrow sugar, talk some gossip, or coo over the youngest baby. Since most of my extended family live at least 1 ½ away from my hometown, I enjoyed getting to experience a really close-knit family.

Before arriving in Paso Llano, my professor asked me in what capacity I wanted to work during this community experience. Everything I mentioned he said that I wasn’t really able to do. I finally mentioned that I didn’t really want to work with kids; they’re just not my calling in life. So he found me a job…in an elementary school.

The school was quite different from my elementary education experience, and I learned a bit about the educational system here in Costa Rica, and formed a few opinions, but I won’t bore you with those here. I mostly ended up working with my host mom in the kitchen. She was the cook for the school of about 50 kids, although no more than 25 or 30 were there at a time. On the second or third day, Shirleny told me that I was the best cook of the students that she has hosted. Granted, the only thing she’d seen me do was chop some fruits and vegetables, but I’ll take the compliments where I can get them. I was able to learn how to cook a few tasty Costa Rican dishes, which was exciting. I also helped out with the kinder class, and one day taught the 1st grade. The teacher told me to work on math for about 2 hours, so I prayed, and was able to hold their attention for that long. After lunch, she said, “Ok, now it’s time for you to teach them Spanish!” That was interesting, since they speak Spanish about 132 times better than I do.

At one point, I went to a 4x4 track cut into the side of a mountain with some family members, and it was SO redneck. I felt quite at home. There was a kind of bar set up, about half of the people were wearing cowboy boots, and the DJ (who was the best DJ I’ve ever heard) played country mix that began with “Achy Breaky Heart.”

To give you a little slice of the last 3 weeks, here’s a little story: On the last night, we had a going-away/birthday fiesta for me and my host dad. I was leaning up against the counter in the kitchen chatting with my cousin and my grandpa. I said I would like to come back to visit someday, and my grandpa said that the door is always open. It was a sweet moment which was interrupted by my cousin Pablo pointing to the door and saying, “Actually, it’s closed.” My family was quite entertaining.

I learned a lot about the differences between my reality and theirs, but I think I learned more about myself, as I tried to work through difficulties and frustrations. God taught me several things, and I’ll share one thing that is extremely cliché. But let’s face it, clichés become clichés because they’re accurate, right? I take my education for granted. I went to a (generally) good public school system, and now I’m able to live on a university campus and study. However, this is not the case for many people both inside and outside of the United States. At the school where I worked, one teacher was in charge of 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grades, and she lamented to me about how she’s not able to give them the attention that they really need. My 22 year old host sister got up at 4:30 every morning in order to go into San José to the university and to work. Each night she returned about 8:30, just in time for everyone to go to bed. And I complain when I have to roll out of bed at 7:53 for my 8 o’clock class. And because many people do not achieve a university-level education, they are often unable to get better jobs.

I have a couple of days left here in Costa Rica, and on Sunday I am off for Cuba! I’m pumped about that. I am very thankful for the opportunity to learn about another reality that is so far removed from my own. Pray that it is a fantastic learning experience, and pray for safety, as my mom is a teensy bit worried :-) We fly back to San José on Monday, the 7th, to Miami on the 8th, stay there for some debriefing, and then I fly home on Thursday the 10th. Please pray for safe travels for everyone. I love yall and so appreciate your thoughts and prayers. See you in the States!

P.S. Happy late Thanksgiving! In order to celebrate, some friends and I had lunch at KFC yesterday. Fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and biscuits are pretty American, right?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

October Update

Because it's been about 3 weeks since I've posted, and I love lists, I'm going to make a list for this post.
What I've Learned in Costa Rica in October
  • Cooking American food in foreign countries is somewhat trying, but totally worth it. A few weekends ago, I made meatloaf and brownies for my host family. I figured you can't get any more American than that, right? The whole process took pretty much the entire day, but it was worth it when one of my sisters grabbed the bowl of brownie batter, and tried to hide. Yep, I've got them hooked.
  • Studying abroad does not indicate a lack of homework. The last 3 weeks were crazy, with various presentations and papers. Thankfully, they are all done now, and I can start on the next round of homework!
  • I love watching The Office. There is something about watching the new season's episodes illegally (because it won't stream out of the states) with 20 other Americans, eating pizza, and cringing on behalf of Michael.
  • I have the coolest university ever. I say this because I was able to spend a weekend at QERC this month. For those of you that are unfamiliar with QERC, Southern Nazarene University has a research center in the Costa Rica. It is in the cloud forest, and the area is absolutely gorgeous. We were able to hike, and just enjoy the wonderful scenery, and the great people who take care of things there (thanks, David, Sarah, and Meredith!).
  • God lends strength. Never before have I had to wake up every morning, and say to God, "Hey, please lend me some of your strength, because I can't make it through the day without You." I have to ask every day, but God always provides that boost when I need it.
  • The destination is worth the bus ride there. I have been fortunate enough to also travel to La Fortuna and to Quepos/Manuel Antonio National Park on 2 separate weekends. In most cases, the bus rides are somewhat cramped and uncomfortable, but they're cheap, and the destination is totally worth it. At La Fortuna, we enjoyed some hot springs (natural pools heated by the Arenal Volcano) and a fantastically beautiful waterfall. In Quepos, we had a room complete with a hammock and a fantastic view of the ocean. After lying on a beach that is 20 feet from the jungle, I don't think I will ever be able to enjoy Galveston, Texas, quite as much as I have in the past.
  • God has surrounded me with amazing people. I have been blessed to get to know and travel with a great group of girls. They make me laugh, make me think, and don't make fun of me too much when I burn the cookies, because I didn't realize that 300 degrees meant 300 degrees Celsius, not Fahrenheit. Oops.
  • I have no control over what happens to me in the next 6 weeks. Last week, all of the LASP students finished our Core Seminar classes. This week, we split up into our 3 separate concentrations: Business, Language, and Latin American Studies. The latter is my concentration, in which we have speakers for the rest of this week, then we all pack up, and live with a different family in a different part of Costa Rica for 3 ½ weeks.  To be honest, I don't know where I'm living, who my family is, or entirely what I'll be doing. The most I know is that I will be a lunch lady at a school. (Commence the hairnet jokes now.) In all seriousness, though, November will be difficult, because I will be entirely on my own for almost a month, and I have no idea what the situation will be like. I am praying that I will be open for what God wants to teach me and I don't get too caught up in looking ahead to the upcoming weeks. Which brings me to my next point…
  • I AM GOING TO CUBA. That's right, people. The United States government approved our permit, and my concentration is headed to Cuba at the end of November. We weren't sure if our permit would be approved in time, so when we found out on Monday, there were quite a few hoots and hollers. (Our prof first told us that he had bad news, and that we couldn't go. His smile betrayed him, however.) I am so excited to have to opportunity to learn of a completely different reality from my own. And, let's face it, some of the excitement probably comes from the fact that Cuba is a "forbidden land." For United States citizens, anyway.
  • I love you. Ok, so I already knew that. But I appreciate all the thoughts and prayers that you have been sending my way. Thanks a bunch!

Saturday, October 3, 2009


Sweaty is one word that describes Nicaragua for me. Others are poor, tumultuous, impressive, and exceedingly beautiful. At least 70% of the population lives on less than US$2 per day, and many live only slightly above that mark. Poverty, political and social repression, and violence are continued themes in Nicaraguan history, and many problems still linger today. However, Nicaraguans are exceedingly perseverant, and continue to work to improve the living conditions of their country.

On September 21, the entire LASP group traveled for about 12 hours, including stops, to Managua, the capital of Nicaragua. And let me tell you, Managua is hot. Ice water showers are the only ones available, but I was extremely thankful for those brief, blissful moments. In Managua, we had several speakers and were able to visit several parts of the city. One of the highlights for me, was a talk with Dora María Tellez, the leader of a small Sandinista party that has been outlawed by the current government. As a woman in her early 20’s, she was a leader in the guerrilla movement against the repressive and violent Somoza dynasty. Since winning the struggle against the dictatorship, she has worked within the government in health, as a representative in congress, and now as a leader of a leftist party. Señora Tellez is now in her 60’s (I think), and could snap me in half with either her pinky or her words. One thing that really struck me about her talk was that she began medical school to be a doctor, but after seeing other problems decided that fighting for the rights of Nicaraguans was more important. Therefore, she changed directions completely, and left to fight for freedom. What struck me about this is that she recognizes that medicine is important, healing people is important, and the healthcare system is important, but decided that what was important to her was to change the poverty and daily life of the Nicaraguans. It’s not that one is more important than another, but she could not devote her life to both medicine and politics. This spoke volumes to me, as I try to decide what to do with my life. There are so many areas in which I wish to help, but I cannot devote my life to every single cause I encounter, both in the States and the rest of the world. I simply can’t do it all. But she reminded me that focusing on one passion does not invalidate another. A simple lesson, but one that I’ve had a difficult time learning.

Two Thursdays ago, we left to meet our Nicaraguan host families. My host family (and Destry’s, by coincidence) lives outside of Masaya, an important city for artesian crafts. I was connected with my family through a microfinance institution called Alternativa. They have received loans for their farm. They had cows, goats, pigs, chickens, pheasants, dogs, cats, roosters (who crowed beginning at 3 am), and a horse. They also have many fruit trees near their home, and a few acres of fields in which to grow corn, pinolin, corn, beans, and other products. I spent hours picking through the beans, and even worked in the fields for a few hours. We were supposed to work for the morning, but they decided that we weren’t accustomed to such difficult work, so we needed to rest. They were right. I am such a weakling. It was definitely an enlightening experience to realize that my 65 year old Nicaraguan mom and dad had worked this way their entire lives, without other options. If they didn’t labor, they didn’t eat.

I lived on the family compound with a bunch of people, many of whom I never quite figured out their names or how they were related. My parents, Amanda and Juan, do not have any formal schooling, but have 10 children, about half of whom are now teachers. The family was very affectionate, and I enjoyed my time with them. There were several entertaining moments. For example, I was constantly asking to help cook or clean or something, but was denied almost every time however. One day, however, they kept calling me over to take a picture of me doing things like stir the rice. However, once the picture was done, all helping would abruptly stop. I also played many card games. At one point, we decided to play poker, but it is definitely not any type of poker that I have ever played before. Destry and I eventually dissolved into laughter and started doing whatever we wanted because we could never figure out the rules. I dominated that game.

However, the week was difficult for reasons that I have nothing to do with the lack of running water or the oppressive heat. Communication was difficult, which was frustrating because I wanted to learn about all that they have experienced, and how they feel about it. However, I did understand some, and what they told me was very interesting, and heartbreaking at times. The family has been very poor, have had children die due to poverty-related issues, and one of my brothers fought for 26 months in the mountains. I am still trying to process all that I experienced, but I know that it was a beneficial experience.

On Wednesday, all the students met back up in Granada, which is definitely on my list of favorite cities. It is incredibly beautiful, and it was great to just relax and chill in the city. We were able wander around the city, chill at the hostel, and talk about the past week. Everyone also went on a boat tour of Lake Nicaragua, the 2nd largest lake in Latin America. There are many islands in the lake, the smallest of which cost only US$100,000. Anybody want to move to Nicaragua?
One fantastic thing about this semester is all of the fantastic people that I have been able to meet and get to know. Honestly, some of my favorite memories are the conversations we have during things like waiting in line to cross the border for an hour and the 12-hour bus rides. I am so blessed to know these kind, crazy, open-hearted people.

The next three weeks are going to be crazy busy. We have two weeks of Spanish and Core Seminar classes left, then one week of finishing up our final papers and presentations for Core Seminar. It is also basically the last month we are living in San José, so I’ll be spending time with the family as much as possible and hopefully doing a little traveling around Costa Rica. There is so much I haven’t seen!

I realize this has been a long entry, and I thank you if you made it all the way through. Though I am having an amazing time and am not ready to leave, I get so excited when I think about giving each and every one of you a hug when I get back. Love you!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Just a quick one...

Hello all.

Sorry it has taken me so long to post again, but my internet opportunities have been rather limited. Here are a few items of note:

Today (I am writing this on September 15) is the day of Costa Rica’s, and the rest of Central America’s, independence from Spain. Last night, I went to my sister’s school, and watched a sort of school program. It included some marching, several Costa Rican songs, traditional dancing, and faroles (not sure how to spell that one), which are basically elaborate lanterns that are generally hung from curved sticks. People in the gym lit all of them as they turned out the lights, and it was gorgeous. At the same time the symbolic torch arrived. As I understand it, the torch is passed from school to school the night before Independence Day. I’m not sure how safe it is to have small children waving around paper lanterns lit with candles and other children running around with a torch in a room that is made up of wood floors, but, after all, in the States, we let small children wave sparklers around on Independence Day. So I suppose I don’t really have much room to talk.

Newsflash! It is 11:09 pm, and I am still awake. I cannot describe the utter exhaustion that generally overcomes me by 9:30. I suppose it is the combination of mental exhaustion (due to the attempt to think in another language and culture) and physical exhaustion (due to the act of packing away enormous amounts of food at every meal). So, this is quite a feat to be up this late. Everyone also gets up very early. I’m usually the last one up at about 6:15 am.

Last weekend, all of the LASP students went to Limón, a port city on the Atlantic coast of Costa Rica. It is a very poor and beautiful province. Our main objective in going was to interview people in Limón about the poverty there, why it’s there, what they think the solution is. I was very nervous at first both to ask people why they are poor and to ask them in Spanish. However, after getting over the initial hump, it got easier, and was extremely interesting and heartbreaking. It is interesting to see how a person’s background shapes their understanding of a situation. There is still much to think about in this subject…

We were also able to visit an indigenous reservation and Cahuita Beach. It was absolutely beautiful, as the ocean bumped against sand, which bumped against the rainforest. We ate yummy empanadas and fresh fruit, and laughed more than I have since I have gotten here. There are a lot of good people in the program, and it has been great to get to know some of them. That evening, we also had a meal together and a few sweaty hours of dancing to a Latina/Caribbean band. None of us really knew how, but we had a fantastic time.

On Monday, we will be leaving for 12 days in Nicaragua. If I remember correctly, 63% of the population in Nicaragua live at or below poverty level, so it will be a rather drastic change from the stability of Costa Rica. We will be able to spend a few days in the Managua and Granada, but the highlight will be a week-long homestay with a Nicaraguan family. I pray that God will open my eyes and heart to what he wants me to learn there. Thanks so much for your support!
Attached are pictures from the parade, and from Destry´s birthday. Happy birthday, girl!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Week 1

Never before have I understood the term “Spanglish.” Until this point, I thought that it was the purposeful interjection of Spanish words in English sentences, used to demonstrate one’s academic prowess.


In reality, Spanglish is what comes out of your mouth when your brain doesn’t know how to retrieve the desired word in the correct language. I don’t think that I’ve said “yes,” since arriving here; only “sí,” even when speaking to fellow LASP students. It will only get worse from here…and I’m so excited about that.

Last weekend was the first with my Tican family. We went to a fería (a fruit and vegetable market), a kind of outdoor sports complex, a friend’s house (where I most definitely broke the lifestyle covenant by learning merengue), and the house of my papi’s parents. I am so blessed by the family. They are extremely patient with me, are a very loving family…and are constantly asking if I’m tired. In their defense, I have gone to bed by 10 pm almost every night, until last night. Last night was one of the best nights that I’ve had so far. After doing homework for a couple of hours, mi mami and papi and I talked for several hours. We didn’t stop talking until about 11:40, which is pretty late by Tican standards. We laughed a lot, and I even made a couple of jokes that garnered some belly laughs from mi papi. Sweet. I am so thankful for my family.

This is a week of beginnings. Every afternoon, Monday through Friday, all the LASP students attend Spanish classes at ICADS, a language school in Curridabat in San José. Our “classes” are made up of no more than 5 students of the same general level, and most of the “classrooms” are small rooms that open to a tropical courtyard. It’s a hard-knock life, I know. Sarah and I are in the same class, along with a couple of other great girls. On Tuesday and Thursday mornings, we also have seminars at the LASP offices. This week, we are also starting to understand the bus system, how not to get ripped off by taxis, etc.

Most interesting meal so far: approximately 5 scoops of ice cream, topped with 3 crushed cookies, half a can of Libby’s fruit cocktail, and red jello. ¡Que interesante!

I appreciate your thoughts and prayers, and know that I couldn’t get by without God’s help and your love. I thank God for the great people I am meeting here: Ticans, other LASP students, and the LASP staff. I pray that I am open to the changes that I need to make in myself and in my attitudes. Love yall!

Thursday, August 27, 2009


I am alive. Someone told me that I needed to post simply to know that I am alive and well. It´s been a crazy few days. After hanging out in DFW for 5 hours on Tuesday, Erin and I made it to San Jose, took an hour to get through immigration, then looked very much like gringas as we sat on the floor for 2 hours waiting for the rest of the group to arrive. We spent the night at a retreat center, then had orientation for about 4 hours on Wednesday. 4 hours. Their philosophy is experiential learning, and though I might not be singing the same tune later, I think I like it for now.

About 3 pm, we all gathered in a room, and met the host families we had randomly chosen from a pile of papers earlier in the day. It was a joyful time and they were excited to see us, as were we. Though, I admit that we all had nervous smiles. I arrived at my casa in Guadalupe El Alto, a sort of suburb of San Jose that sits a little bit higher in the mountains than central San Jose. And I´m not actually sure if it´s a suburb. It could just be a region of the city. When I am able to speak a bit better, I´ll try to find out. Or I might just ask tonight. My family is made up of my mami Yolanda, my papi Marco, and 3 sisters, Raquel, Franci, and Waleska, aged 15, 11, and 8. Raquel took me on a long walk to show me around, and was extremely helpful. Of course, I understood about every 10th word, so she´ll have to tell me again. And again and again and again. Yolanda loves to cook natural food, so I´m pretty excited about the possibilty of Tican cooking lessons. I am also excited about the possibility of not becoming the size of Atila the Hun while I am here. So we´ll see how that goes...

For those that don´t know, my first name is Veronica and my middle name is Rhea. After trying to explain the difference in my extremely deficient Spanish, I gave up. You may now refer to me as Veronica. (It´s actually more like VerOnica, but I can´t find the accent mark on this keyboard. Baby steps, right?)

Today my mami brought me downtown, where we students split up into groups of 3 and were given a list of things to accomplish. It was basically sink or swim, and I think my group is at least dog-paddling. We are supposed to figure out the bus system, which is slightly terrifying, but rather exciting. Today we have ridden in many buses, hailed a taxi, and talked to a women in la Plaza Cultura about the cultural activities that take place there. She turned out to be British and thought that the tican girl catching pigeons and kissing them was, ¨rather hideous.¨

I´m sure there were many more things I planned on talking about, but those will have to wait for another time. I love you and miss you all, and am SO appreciative of your prayers. I could not make it without your love and God helping me through all of this. I am enjoying Costa Rica much, and am so looking forward to what I will learn here. Love you!