Language Barrier in Costa Rica……Mas Despacio por favor!

Before coming to Costa Rica I barely knew more than Hola and Adios, so when I stepped off of the plane in San Jose my pocket dictionary and I became instant best friends. I wanted nothing more than to get back on the plane to good ol’ English speaking Alabama, but that didn’t happen. During my time there I realized that the language barrier was going to be something that would frustrate me, test my Spanish ablilites, and mostly it made me a better learner. The families, professors, and Ticos make sure that you are able to effectively communicate with them and each other. You learn to search your dictionary at lightning speed and use more hand motions that you ever thought possible. The Costa Rica study abroad program is all about immersion, and immersion it is. I was so scared that I would not be able to communicate with my family, professors, or the people, but after 2-3 days you start to see the language barrier begin to fade. Immersion in the language is something that greatly impacted my ablility to learn Spanish as well as I did in Costa Rica. So. if you are planning to apply to go on Costa Rica Study Abroad 2012 don’t let the language barrier between you and a whole country of people scare you away! You’ll learn faster than you ever believed possible. Just remember these little phrases “mas despacio por favor” and “repita”—which are “More slowly please” and “repeat”. These two phrases will become your best friends, along with you Spanish-English dictionary that is! Pura Vida!

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Chelsea Pogue, Costa Rica 2011

Pets and Strays of Costa Rica

I never gave much thought to animal control here in the States, however, after Costa Rica, I’m very much thankful and more appreciative towards our animal control. Although plenty of families did have pets, most dogs and cats were found roaming in the streets. Without animal control, including spay and neutering your pets, a beautiful place like Costa Rica, quickly becomes dog and cat infested. 

My family in Costa Rica never claimed to have any pets, but a “stray” dog named Maya stayed close to our home. A mama cat and her two kittens also stayed close to my familia tica’s home, but none of them were given names, however, all the animals were given dinner scraps about every night. About half the strays I stumbled upon seemed to be well feed by someone, yet I never saw an owner nearby. 

One student from our group came upon a dead dog in a water drainage pipe, so needless to say Costa Rica could benefit from Animal Control Services and maybe a few of us could learn to appreciate the things we find guaranteed here in the States. 

Kelli Axley

Costa Rica in a Mercado

            There are a lot of things that Costa Rica is known for one of the many things is coffee. However to me one of the more unique things is the amazingly fresh food. Now where do you go to get all this great stuff? It’s simple the Mercados. The mercados can be considered in its entirety a place where you can find all the culture of Costa Rica. It really is like its own little country all inside this one mercados. Now how do you describe this place well to be precise it’s a bunch of stands stocked up in one building or sometimes on the streets under tents. Above all else it has the distinctive smell of the fruits, veggies, meats, and the people. Every market has fresh fruits, vegetables and in some cases poultry, beef, fish and even the occasional pig head. 

In all honesty going through the meat section of the Mercado is a whole other experience itself. Though the butchers are more than friendly towards their customers the place smells of well freshly cut meat it wasn’t very appetizing. If you were really lucky and got the workers at the butchers we did they will let you come behind the counter and take a photo with the more then lovely hanging pig heads.

            These Mercados carry wide ranges of fruits and vegetables both unique to their country and seen in many others but above all else they are FRESH!!! Now while visiting these markets I had a chance to try some of their native and slightly more exotic looking fruits. One of which is the mamochino’s these fruits look like reddish sea urchins, now you don’t actually eat the outside you sort of dig your fingernail into them pull off the outer shell and eat the fruit part covering the seed, it’s like a white gooey shell around the seed. There were also many other fruits that we tried such as the fruit that was a mix between a pear and an apple called a manzana de agua. They have a unique flavor and are very juicy. There are many more exotic fruits as well like Guanabanas which I had a chance to try in the form of ice cream if you like sweet to the point of tartness this is the fruit for you.

           

Another thing you notice about the mercados is that there are multiple stands set up for sodas (restaurants) where you can eat while you shop. Most of them share common menu’s containing the traditional foods of Costa Rica, mostly casado, and tortilla con queso, and the occasional soup. Among the other sodas is more fresh produce and the occasional shop where they carry all kinds of things from traditional clothes to electronics and souvenirs.

            The Mercados of Costa Rica are an incredible experience to go through. There are so many people and foods that you won’t find in the U.S. that you should try because that is a part of the experience itself. The mercado is a place of pure culture and if given the chance to go to Costa Rica one should definitely go.

Tyler Hodges

Football…World Style

       

           If you saw the names of Messi, Torres, Ronaldo, or Rooney on signs throughout the U.S., would you think anything about it? Everywhere else in the world these are more than names of athletes, these four men are gods. Played in over 200 countries and watched by over 3.5 billion fans, football, or soccer, is not just the most popular sport in the world; it’s the most popular sport on the planet. What is it that about this sport that draws in such a big fan base around the world?

 

Unlike most sports, professional football players have been scouted out since they were children, train in that specific team’s academy, and work their way up to play for the first team. The mega stars, all the way down to the bench warmers on every team, have been groomed for this ever since they were young children. So when you actually watch a game, this is not just a game that they are playing, this is game is their life. Throughout the world it does not matter who your family is, but which team you support.   

One thing that makes it so appealing about this sport is that it is not just a sport for professionals; it’s a sport for anyone. Not a day went by during my three week stay in Costa Rica that I did not see little kids, teens or adults playing a pick-up game. People would constantly be walking down the street wearing their specific clubs jerseys.

 Also this sport is a way to bring people together. I thought during my first week living with my host family that my papa tico did not like me simply because he did not talk to me much. One night he was watching a game and told him how much I liked the sport and that I was a big Barcelona supporter. After that night, he could not wait for me to come home where we could watch games together. We had gone from complete strangers to having a common interest in football.

            These players not only play professionally for their clubs, but they also have the opportunity to represent their home countries in matches. Every four years the football loving world sets aside club rivalries and link arms in support of their countries team. The World Cup not only showcases the greatest players the world has to offer, it also gives you a good look at new players brimming with potential. If you have never been interested in a football game before, try a World Cup game. Before you realize it you’ll be jumping up and down on a couch rooting for your favorite country.

            And ladies, if all of this isn’t enough to sway you to watch a game, this sport has some of the most handsome men in the world and they take off their jerseys… on a regular basis.

     Caitlin Shelton

Café Britt

         Calling all coffee lovers! If you have ever wanted to become a coffee expert, the Britt Coffee Tour at Café Britt is definitely worth your while. The tour is led by two tour guides who are bilingual in English and Spanish, so the tour is given in both languages which is great for students who are learning one of these languages. The tour is very informative and entertaining.

        We begin by learning the history of coffee about how it was discovered in the Middle East and was used as a stimulating drink in religious ceremonies. It eventually made its way to Costa Rica where it was very easily grown because coffee thrives in a moist and cool environment like that of the mountains of Costa Rica. Because of this, Costa Rica has become a major coffee exporter, and since 1985, Café Britt has been committed to producing gourmet for all of the world to enjoy.
        We learned how Café Britt buys coffee from over one thousand different independent farmers in different types of climates which allows them to package many different blends of coffee such as Poas Volcanic Earth Coffee, Tres Rios Valdivia Coffee, and Tarrazu Montecielo Coffee. Café Britt is also very eco-friendly. They grow their coffee without any chemical pesticides, and they use natural
ways of keeping the coffee plants shaded and protected by growing other large trees in the midst of the coffee bushes.

          After being led through the coffee plantation and seeing where Café Britt gourmet coffee is grown, we were allowed to see inside the actual plant where the coffee is roasted. We were shown different lighter and darker roast blends that were made by roasting the coffee for different amounts of time. Then we were shown how the coffee is packaged in a specially designed coffee bag that allows for the best coffee flavor to be preserved while not allowing air inside.

          We were then taken into a theater where the tour guides asked for volunteers who would like to learn to be expert coffee taste testers. Our very own Jeff Bolger learned how to drink and savor the coffee in order to determine the quality of coffee. Afterward, we were able to end the tour by enjoying a Café Britt style buffet lunch, that of course, included sampling the many different blends of coffee, and for dessert, we were able to sample the different chocolates in the gift shop and buy souvenirs to help us remember our day at Café Britt, where coffee is their passion.

Carley Andrews 

Manuel Antonio

Costa Rica is one of the most beautiful places you can visit. They have it all, including valleys, volcanoes, mountains, plantations and best of all plenty of beaches. The cool thing about Central America is that every country is bordered by both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. 

Our group traveled to the Pacific coast specifically to the town of Quepos and the beach Manuel Antonio for our second weekend excursion. The drive from our homestays in San Joaquin and Llorente took us from out of the central valley of the country through beautiful scenery. 

We left very early Saturday morning at 6:00 to begin our trip. During the drive, we stopped at an area called Rio Tacoles to see crocodiles! Unfortunately for us, the area had received a lot of rain recently causing the river to rise. When this happens, the crocodiles are less likely to be visible in the river banks closest to the bridge we had to walk on. However, we did get to see about half a dozen crocodiles lounging or swimming around. The largest one we saw certainly looked like a monster, one that our guide guessed to be around 15 feet long! 

When we arrived in Quepos, we checked into our hotel so that everyone could change into beach clothes. After eating a delicious lunch, we all headed out to the beach closest to our hotel. Wow. Gorgeous! In this area, the palm tress grow on the beach and even seem to be tilting horizontally toward the water. Because the coastal area is volcanic, the sand was a mixture of white and black sand causing it to look marbled in some areas. 

Our adventure for Manuel Antonio was a nature walk Sunday morning. We started out near the beach we went to Saturday in order to walk down further to a more secluded and even prettier beach. To do this, we crossed a small stream letting out into the ocean and entered the Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio. 

We saw plenty of animals including bats, sloths, iguanas and even a cayman which looks like a miniature crocodile. The real show began when we arrived at the final beach for our walk where we saw raccoons and monkeys. The raccoon had no problem with sneaking up behind a group of people and stealing the food that was right behind them. The monkeys jumped around from tree to tree and would walk right past you with no fear. One even hung down from a tree to pull on the ponytail of a girl in our group! They were white faced capuchins so they were relatively small and thus quick. On our walk back to the hotel, we saw a howler monkey hanging upside down in a tree eating leaves. Our guide started mimicking their howl in order to get the monkey to howl back at him with no success. 

Manuel Antonio is an absolutely gorgeous beach and was a lot of fun. We got to swim in the Pacific, catch hermit crabs, see wild and exotic animals and all in all have a great time. 

-Amanda McGough

Religion in Costa Rica

The Religion of Costa Rica

 In the center of a typical Costa Rican town or city you will find three things that are very important to the Costa Rican culture: a church, a school, and a soccer field. Religion, education, and soccer are very important to the ticos, the Costa Rican people. Whether it is Catholicism or Christianity, the majority of ticos are very religious. It is hard to find a non-religious family in Costa Rica. Seventy percent of the population of Costa Rica claims to be Catholic and 14% claims to be Evangelical Protestant. The churches of Costa Rica are absolutely beautiful and are very numerous. The churches and the religious passion of the people are two of the many things that make Costa Rica such a beautiful and inviting place. 

by: Bethany Bowlin

Wildlife and Nature Hike at Manuel Antonio

During the weekend of July 16th, we took a trip to the beautiful Manuel Antonio.  Even the public beaches at Manuel Antonio are by far some of the most beautiful that I have ever seen.  On our second day there, we entered the national park and took a more adventurous route to the beach.  We passed through a rainforest and saw a lot of wildlife and tropical plants. From Caymen, iguanas, and different varieties of birds, to raccoons and monkeys…Manuel Antonio is full of wildlife.

Our tour guide Daniel Arias took all of the willing and able-bodied students to hike a mountain inside the national park.  Although there is still much wildlife to be seen, this hike is more about the beautiful views.  There are 4 or 5 lookout points as you scale the mountain, and each offers a different perspective of the ocean and the surrounding mountains and islands.  The view of the ocean is breathtaking and we had the opportunity to take our time at each lookout point and take pictures.

 Everyone knows that in order to determine a tree’s age, you can count the growth rings on the inside girth of the tree.  Many of the trees on the mountain we hiked at Manuel Antonio are ancient, and we learned about a certain type of a palm-like tree whose age can be determined by the rings which are on the outside of the bark.  I had never seen that before.  The hike was not so extreme that you must be in great shape to make it up and around the mountain.  There are natural stairs in many spots, and even though it is steep in some points, it is definitely worth the effort. If you are ever in Costa Rica, don’t miss the national park at Manuel Antonio!

-Katie Maples

Tiko-isms

Christa Scheler

Costa Rica 2011

“Tico-isms”

After spending three weeks in Costa Rica, I picked up on a lot of the habits and unique things the Ticos do.  These “Tico-isms” are things that I noticed about my family, people out and about, and that other students noticed about their individual families, as well.  From the way they eat to the way they raise their kids, the people of Costa Rica have something special that binds them together in a way that is unlike any other.

            First, the physical interaction between the Ticos is a distinctive Tico-ism.     When greeting someone, they kiss on one cheek.  It’s also common for men to grasp a woman’s elbow and assist them.  Another example is the relationship parents have with their children.  Some students noticed that the parents were not very disciplinary with their children.  They got away with a lot, and sometimes were very loud and noisy.  Also, the women are usually more passive, and the men do most of the disciplining.  Family is very important.  It is the core of the lives of the Ticos.  Children live with their parents until they get married, generally.  The extended family members are constantly in contact.  Personally, my Mama Tica was a grandmother and her grandkids came over all the time.  Another detail I noticed is that Ticos are generally loud.  The TV is usually at a loud volume.  Normal conversations that every household has are at an elevated volume and can be heard throughout the house.  It seems that the kids mature differently than American kids do, as well.  This is probably a response to the way they are raised in general.  A lot of the students felt that their sisters and brothers matured later because they can depend on their parents longer, and this was evident in the way they interacted with their parents and others.

The diet is another unique part of the Tico culture.  Fruit is a major part of the diet of Costa Rica, and many families will make a smoothie out of any leftover fruit.  They always have rice cooking.  They drink coffee 24/7, and they’re big on ice cream.  It’s common to have no meat and all high carbohydrate “side” items, such as fries, in a meal.

            There are many random things that I picked up about the Ticos’ everyday lives.  Most families only have one car, if any, because walking or taking the cheap public transportation is easier and cheaper.  The Ticos that do drive do so fearlessly.  At home, most families don’t have internet access.  The homes themselves are gated for security, and a lot of the neighborhoods consist of homes that are right next to each other.  Also, in general the Ticos are extremely nice. You will see a lot of them greet passersby in the street with a quick “adios.”  They are generally very gracious to Americans.  All in all, besides throwing the toilet paper in the trash, it was very easy to adapt to the Tico culture, and I recommend everyone to experience it.

If you are a person who enjoys nightlife, Costa Rica has much to offer you! Do you enjoy watching sports? If so, they have sports bars where you can watch futbol (soccer) games with fellow fans over a nice, cold cerveza. Futbol is a huge part of Costa Rican culture. It is a good way to become involved in the community and further your immersion experience. If you prefer a more calm atmosphere then they also provide small, quaint bars. This is a good way to practice the conversational Spanish you have learned so far! Trading stories with local ticos and ticas is extremely beneficial when learning a new culture. If you are feeling homesick you can visit Bar Chavo which plays classic rock music videos and provides a sense of comfort. Bar Chavo is a great place to unwind after a long day and it is just a short walk from CPI! There are also casinos located nearby for those of you who like to gamble or simply enjoy the atmosphere. They offer a ladies night with free drinks. This is also a great way to meet new people and have new experiences. You will participate in a dance class at CPI. It includes Cumbia, Merengue, Salsa and more. It is very fun. If you want to show off your new dance moves then the discoteca is the place for you! Many locals and students from all over the world gather at the local discoteca to dance the night away. The latin music will make you want to move like never before. You will probably need to work off some of the food that you will consume so much of while in Costa Rica. What better way than to dance it off with your friends? San Joaquin offers a fun, safe discoteca with live performers called Club 212. It is just a very short, inexpensive cab ride away! If you are lucky, you can find a local house party. The house parties usually consist of karaoke and latin dance. This is also an excellent way to experience the true, rich culture of Costa Rica. In each of these places you will find people truly living in the moment with family and friends. The Costa Rican people are extremely welcoming of Americans and are very willing to teach you anything you would like to know. These people definitely know how to have a good time and it is contagious! It is truly an amazing experience. In Costa Rica the nightlife is so very alive!