Advice to Students Traveling to Costa Rica

I have been thinking of some things that I wish people had told me before I arrived, so I thought I would share with anyone else who may check here before studying abroad in Costa Rica!

1. Packing: Do NOT listen when they tell you to underpack because many of the same things are available to purchase in CR.
Everything here is WAY WAY WAY more expensive. I mean like $5-8 per bottle of shampoo/conditioner (yes even their brands) expensive. Once I left the airport, I never had to haul all of my luggage around anywhere, so as long as you can carry it in the airport you should be fine.

Here are some things to make sure you bring PLENTY of:
–Sunblock 30 SPF or higher. This stuff is like $20 per small/normal size bottle here, and even if you’re like me and NEVER burn in the States, it is inevitable if you don’t wear sunscreen here.
–Mascara/eyeliner. $22/bottle of Covergirl here. I found one knockoff brand in La Fortuna thankfully that was only $4, but obviously doesn’t work very well. The only brands I have seen are covergirl and loreal parís. Eyeliner is $10-15 per pencil too. Ouch.
–2 pairs of tennis shoes. The sidewalks here eat your shoes, especially sandals, so you will need two pairs of tennis shoes if you plan to be here longer than a month or two. Dont even think about buying some here unless you want to drop $150.
–Shampoo/Conditioner. $5-8 per bottle.
–CLOTHES. My goodness I way underpacked in regards to clothes. I was so proud of myself before I came for not overpacking and then regretted it for sure! Remember that you are LIVING here. Bring comfy clothes, workout clothes, a couple dresses/going out clothes, and normal outfits. Laundry is done 1-2 times per week so for example if all of your workout clothes are dirty then you are out of luck or have to buy more to get by.
–Book (or download ebooks): Honestly I do not read that much back home but you find that you spend a good amount of time in transit here, not just on the plane rides. It will help take your mind off of the busses.

2. There are a lot of American fast food restaurants here. Everywhere…its so strange to see. Wendys, McDonalds, Burger King, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, Carls Jr, Popeyes…the list goes on and on. I would not recommend Burger King though because I know a few people who got food poisoning from BK… yuck.

3. Ticos (the locals).
In my experience the Ticos other than those who are in your host family are not particularly friendly. In fact the older they locals are, the friendlier they seem. Cab drivers will usually try to make conversation, but students your age just ignore you. If you really want to try and make local friends then do not be in groups of foreigners and you need to be able to initiate conversation.
I have met students here from Mexico, the US, etc. who speak Spanish well enough, but have yet to be able to actually make Tico friends. The students at my school are very self-focused and just seem to care about their arts (fashion, photo, architecture, etc). So MY advice would be to not spend all of your energy trying to make local friends to hang out with. Sure try and talk to them sometimes and interact when you can, but they also like to cancel last minute so don’t take it too personally if you aren’t making any local bffs. Instead enjoy time with you host family, new friends, and roommates. Find other people from the same program and start talking!
Also, they walk EXTREMELY slow for the most part. Like impossibly slow. So sometimes you just need to pass them and not worry about being rude, or you will be 15 minutes late to wherever you are going and will most likely have to stop multiple times on the sidewalk in order to not run in to them.

4. San Jose is kind of ugly, and if you go outside of San Jose to travel chances are lots of people will try to speak to you in English unless you look like a local. I was shocked as to how much English people tried to speak to me when I traveled on the weekends. If you respond in Spanish though they will often times switch back, at least to some Spanglish.

So to those reading, do not just think that Costa Rica is horrible and people are not friendly. While there is some truth to that, it is not necessarily true for all people here. I have met many friendly locals and I have the BEST host family ever! I personally just would have been happier and felt more prepared if someone had told be some cold hard truths before I arrived.

:)

My FAVORITE Weekend So Far!

This last weekend was AMAZING. I am so glad my roommates made me go!

I went to Monteverde (in the mountains) with 2 of my roommates and honestly had the best time of my life. We went on a canopy tour that was SO much fun, with the longest single cable in Latin America, as well as 2 Superman style LONG cables, a little rappel, and a tarzan swing.

It was a beautiful day, and I love zip lining so I had a blast! The tarzan swing was kind of scary at first, but it was used as out pre-bungee jump prep. Good thing we did that first!!

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If you are ever in Monteverde, Costa Rica I HIGHLY recommend the 100% Adventura Canopy Tour. It is definitely the most fun and is even cheaper than the one at Extremo. Plus the superman style is included in the price, and there are 2 instead of 1.

Then came bungee jumping. Oh. My. Goodness. I was in shock that I actually went through with it for a couple days afterwards, but that bungee jump was SO amazing!! It was crazy and terrifying for about 30 seconds total (pre jump and the first few seconds of the free fall), but so much fun! I am so happy that I went through with it! Here the only option is Extremo, which has the highest bungee jump in all of Latin America. And I went on it. Best $60 spent in my entire study abroad experience. What is really cool too is that you get to have a GoPro attached to your wrist, so I was able to purchase a sweet video of myself jumping and the GORGEOUS view for a very reasonable $15.

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Me bungee jumping, photo taken by my roommate.

The rest of the weekend I got to hang out with some other students from my school here who happened to be at our hostel too, look through the souveneir shops, and take pictures of the lovely little (VERY little) town.

Ready to dive into week three of March!!
Hasta luego!

And another week passes by… My advice to those learning a new language.

Wow, 2 weeks of March down already!

I am currently in my 3rd Spanish language/gramar class, but am struggling with my conversational Spanish now. My brain is so packed full of information now that I fel like I am hitting a Wall. It is disappointing and discouraging since I have been living here for three months, but since I am not as submerged in Spanish as I expected I am not progressing as quickly. Also, its important to remember that learning another language is no easy feat. So it should be expected to go through a period where you feel stuck or are just not speaking as much. At least that is what I tell myself to get by right now! The language clases here are very intensive and we cover a semester’s worth of material in 4 weeks, so I am just focusing on enjoying my time and not studying 24/7 since I will have time to continue to study what I am currently learning once I return home

My advice to students learning a new language, especially in another country:
1. Give yourself time. Immersion helps A TON, but if you’re like me and am not being as immersed as you expected, then don’t expect the exact same results. If you are speaking a lot of your native language still it will be harder to switch to Spanish-mode (or any other language that you learn.)
2. TRY to immerse yourself! When I first arrived, there was ONLY Spanish for the first couple of days and I was worried that it would just be so exhausting to keep up. I almost wonder though if it has been more exhausting for me to keep switching back and fourth between English and Spanish. Once I have been using my Spanish more it comes easier and I start thinking in that language, so try to get to the point where you can start using the other language for everything!
3.Practice your accent. Thankfully a native accent comes pretty naturally with my Spanish unless I am really tired and start pronouncing words as if they were in English, but I know most people are not so lucky. It pains me to hear other students speaking with more advanced gramar than I know, but with such an American accent that sometimes I dont even know what theyre saying. If youve come this far to speak ‘Spanish, make the effort to REALLY speak it, and not just say Spanish words in English.
4. Enjoy and be proud of yourself! You are a very capable person and are learning something that gets harder to learn once you are older!

Pura Vida!

Month # 3! Starting out March with a great trip.

Ah finally into March!! It is so nice to put February behind me, and move closer to better trips and a shorter amount of time until I get to see my friends and family back home again!

March started out on a weekend this year. One that happened to be my BIRTHDAY! Yep, I spent my 20th birthday partying in Costa Rica… what a dream right? ;)

Two of my roommates, a friend, and I traveled up north to Tamarindo for the birthday weekend! My roommate, coincidentally also named Nicole, had her birthday two days after mine so this was OUR birthday weekend. I am not much of a partier, but it was fun. We met some cool people at the hostel we stayed in and went out with them.

I found that people there are very generous with their drinks, especially when it is your birthday. And one guy named Puma from Finland, who sounded like Andre the Giant, was thrilled that it was my birthday. He even sang me Happy Birthday in another language and it was so confusing that I didnt even realize it was a song. Haha good times celebrating with fellow travelers :) We spent the eve of my birthday dancing and the night of my birthday on the beach, watching the sunset.

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In Tamarindo, I also tried to surf, got a gnarly sunburn, and ate some delicious food!

What a great way to start out my 3rd month in Costa Rica!

My February in Costa Rica

One word describes my February in Costa Rica: Brutal.

February was NOT something I was hoping to go through, but thankfully I got through it.
Times can get tough when your roommates are all on edge and people are fighting all the time.

As far as my adventures during this month… they were okay. I went to Bocas Del Toro, Panama and was very disappointed. BUT I am sure if I went back I would enjoy it more. My experience with the hostel was horrible and my bed had bedbugs. The guys in Panama are much more vocal than in Costa Rica and in general people seem to be very upfront there, whereas in Costa Rica people are more passive. On top of that things were just pretty darn unorgainzed with my tour group, and crossing the Panama/ Costa Rica border was kind of scary. 1560639_10201846068376260_105361356_n
Sketchy bridge that we had to walk across to get into and out of Panama.

One (mostly) nice thing about my weekend in Bocas was the trip to Starfish beach. We hung out in hammocks and others played volleyball on the beach for a while while I waited 2 hours for my lunch. At least the coconut rice was AMAZING.

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Not too much else happened while I was here. I missed my sisters 18th birthday back at home, and of course I missed Valetines Day/ my 3 year anniversary.

My Spanish continued to improve this month though, which was good!
2 Spanish clases down, 2 to go!

Saying goodbye to beautiful people, a beautiful country and an amazing experience.

As I pack all my things to get ready to head home tomorrow, I can’t help but reflect on everything that has happened in these three months. Last night, my office crew took me out for a nice good bye dinner and it was a wonderful way to end my journey.

Out to dinner before I leave the office to return home! The 2 people to my right in the picture are 2 of my office crew and the other is a junior coach at the Tennis Centre. These are some of the most amazing, loving, welcoming people I have ever met!

Before I left for my crazy adventure, I had so many emotions flowing that it didn’t even seem real until I was on the plane headed to my new home. Traveling alone was something I had never done, and to be traveling thousands of miles away without anyone was really terrifying. I ended up finding out so much about myself and gained a whole new perspective of life and will be forever thankful for my experience and everything I have learned.

I have had the most amazing time here and am not at all ready to go home. I loved everyone I worked with and will cherish every laugh, every boring job assignment and every walk up the hill to work forever. I gained relationships that I thought I would never make after being alone for the first month without a roommate and I hadn’t met any friends yet. But after that first month, I had made relationships that I know will last a lifetime. I gained knowledge and experience working at the tennis center that I can carry with me and I can’t thank my office crew enough. My time here has been nothing short of amazing, I can’t even put into words what this experience has done for me. While at times I felt like I wasn’t learning and growing as much as some students who go to countries with cultures a lot different than ours in America, I realized I grew and learned a lot just in different ways. The next time I reflect and write, I’ll be in the US dreaming of my time and waiting for the day that I get to come back to this beautiful country!

 

My Journey West

This past week was my mid-semester break, I was able to travel to the Western Region and I got to experience a whole different kind of life style than the one I have been living for the last few short months. I was able to go stay with a friends sister in a town called Sekondi and got to see how my friend Dorcas and her family live their lives. The village I stayed at was right along the coast, so the biggest source of income for most people is fishing. My friend’s father happens to be a night fisher and he told me that the fish were plenty! I also got to see some of the fishermen repair their boats and nets which took hours and hours.

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I think while I was in Sekondi, I experienced the most overwhelming sense of being the minority. Literally from half a mile away people were yelling “Obruni! Obruni!” (White person or foreigner) which normally never bothers me, but this time it was extremely overwhelming how many children and adults were calling me. When I got the village of my friend Dorcas about 15 children surrounded me, dancing for me and saying all kinds of things in the Fante language and enjoying that I could not understand. I was also getting my hair braided and about 20 people came to watch that and several women introduced me to their brothers who were by no means shy. The last dinner I had there I was again surrounded by another large group of children and old women who were not yelling at me, just yelling as if it was my hearing instead of a language barrier. In my time in Ghana, this has by far been one of my most uncomfortable moments. I just kept trying to remind myself that I am something as new and unfamiliar to them as they are to me.

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The point of my journey was to reach a small village called Nzulezo on the Amasuri Lagoon, yes ON the lagoon. The entire is village is built up on stilts using rubber trees. The stilts are replaced about every five years and there is about 24 small houses, a school from 1st to 6th grade, a community center, and two small worship rooms that can hold about 6 people each. Once you get to the town before the stilt village, there is about a 40 minute walk and then about a 45 minute canoe ride. The landscape was tropical and beautiful. I was able to spend the night in Nzulezo and it was a great experience, but I think once was enough for me. The lagoon water is used for everything- bathing, drinking, going to the bathroom, brushing your teeth, cooking- EVERYTHING. The bugs were big! I even had a surprise visit from a mouse! However, I had to keep reminding myself that even though this was new and uncomfortable for me, the people here live normal everyday lives this way. It brought me a great sense of appreciation for the small things that I lack where I stay in Accra (like not having power or water for small amounts of time) I think the hardest part for me would be to not have access to certain things like food or fresh water or a toilet, or to have an emergency and not be able to get help. Unfortunately that is true of most rural areas around the world.

The First Goodbye

Week 4 arrived much quicker than I anticipated. But it came nonetheless, and I had a great week at work. I have the routine down pat now and was given more responsibility with the children, including leading creative paint time with the 8-12 year old boys which is more of a struggle to keep a paint war from breaking out. It was amazing to set the colors down in front of them and give them free reign. They kept waiting for me to tell them what to paint and it finally sank in that they could draw whatever they wanted. At first they would start copying what their friends were painting but eventually they all morphed into their own original work. All painted beautiful works and mixed colors like pro’s though at times they got a little carried away and a whole bottle of green would be mixed with blue. I wish this was an activity they got to do more often because they got to express themselves and all were so proud of their works.

My last day was a tough one because we were at my favorite market setting and it was hard to accept I wouldn’t be returning next week to see all the fun those kids would have. From playing a tag game to playing house with the little ones, the day went by all to fast. I did have a good little challenge before I left however when I noticed in the morning that there was a girl standing off to the side by herself. She wasn’t interacting with anyone and showed no interested when the professors tried to engage her. I went over and started out slow with the usual, “Hola amiga, como estas” and was met with a very mute response. After a few minutes I had her talking however in a very shy reserved voice. Turns out she was having a bad day, she came with her two sisters but she didn’t like the girls they were playing with and therefore refused to join. I told her that was fine but there were still so many other things for her to do and got her playing in a different game. She came back in the afternoon and was still a little standoffish with everyone else but would listen to me. I got a few smiles out of her and she lit up when it came to craft time. There is something about crafts that really speaks to children because I feel it gives them the power to control and create as usually most things are dictated to children such as when and what they eat, when they play, when they sleep, etc. She ran up to me at the end of the day to show me her work of art with this big smile on her face, one that I was luckily able to capture.

The weekend brought a 5:30 am wake up call as my roommate and I headed up to Cotapaxi, a large active volcano that has done massive damage in the past. It was only an hour south or so and it magically appeared when the clouds suddenly parted. The volcano loomed large and almost cartoonish in front of us. From there we drove a ways more then started our ascent on foot up to glacier which was about 1/4th of the way to the top. It took about two hours and was very windy but luckily I had purchased some alpaca gloves for $3 right before so I stayed nice and warm. We hiked back down to the van and from there rode bikes 10 kilometers down the gravel road that was washed out in several places leaving huge ruts. This made for pretty tricky conditions riding down and it was less than 1 minute before a tourist from Iceland ate it… hard. After that I elected to stay in the back and distance myself from the main group a little. It was such a peaceful scene and I really just wanted some quiet to enjoy the view and go at my own pace. On the way down I sat on some large rocks, met some wild horse and witnessed some interesting flowers. Great choice to take my time. Upon returning home it was a night of UNO with the family and then I said my goodbyes the next afternoon. I also remembered I really dislike repacking and had a challenge fitting the same amount of clothes into my two small bags. I will miss this family a lot as we had a lot of laughs but I also will be here for two more months and will be able to visit before my time is up. Nervous to be headed to my new family and job but I know its a feeling to embrace, something exciting about the unknown.

Good bye office, hellllo open roads!

As my time is coming to a close, I have left the office for a little bit to hit the roads and see more of the North Island. The few days of work this week was not been a bit short of stressful and filled with chaos as we have the biggest tournament of the year this coming weekend. After saying that, it is a relief to be out traveling!

I headed out a few days ago on 3/10 to catch a tour bus called the Kiwi Experience which offers an experience that fits what you want and they have it all planned out for you in a way. I hopped on kind of nervous of traveling on my own and staying in hostels for the first time but it has been a wonderful experience so far. The first day we drove a few hours into a town called Taupo, where skydiving, a top 10 trek (hike) and many other outdoor activities were offered around the wonderful Lake Taupo. The first day getting into Taupo there was one girl off the bus that was getting off to skydive, which had been on the back of my mind. I kept asking the bus driver questions about it the whole drive, and he told me if I decided to do it, to just get off the bus when the other girl did…so that’s what I did. I’ll just say that it was one of the most exhilarating things I have ever done!

My skydiving free fall over Lake Taupo!

Another picture from when I first jumped out of the plane! The plane was hot pink, which I found rather cool :)

The morning after I skydived, I headed out for an early morning to go do the Tongariro Crossing which was a 19.4 km hike, just short of a half marathon is how they liked to describe it to us.It is  New Zealand’s oldest national park , the Tongariro National Park is full of both cultural identity and amazing scenery. Landmarks of New Zealand, including the volcanic peaks of Ngauruhoe, Tongariro and Ruapehu make the Tongariro Alpine Crossing  a world-renowned trek. “The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is heralded as the best one-day trek available in New Zealand, while others say it ranks among the top ten single-day treks in the world”- stated from the national park website! It was the most amazing hike with beautiful views and for those that love Lord Of The Rings, we got to experience Mt Doom. The hike took a little over six hours to complete, and by the end I was exhausted and ready for a good nap!

The start of the Hike at 7am with a beautiful sunrise happening!

The beauty that unfolds as you hike the Tongariro Crossing!

 

After what they call the Devils Staircase, you land at a somewhat flat spot and have this image of Mt. Doom from Lord Of The Rings!

I’m now in Auckland, towards the top of the North Island, and have yet to explore too much of this city! I hope I have more adventures and learn more about the history and beauty of the island as my travels continue! Until next week,

Amanda

New home and good byes!

Well I moved in to my the place I’ll call home until I leave to travel. I love the house and where it’s located. It’s nice to have home cooked meals and sit around with a family. It makes me feel like I’m at home. I have a nice comfy bed with a gorgeous view, I can’t complain. Up from the house there is a long walk way with tons of stairs to the next city over, if you take the path all the way it’ll take you to the botanacle gardens and to where the Cable Car is. I have walked there a few times alreadt and love the views!

My roommate that I had at my apartment left to travel because her internship kind of turned out to be a flop. So we went and had our last few nights together, I plan on visiting her in Pennsylvania this coming Summer. It’s crazy that my time here is fastly approaching! I am definitely not ready to leave this beautiful place but all good things must come to an end. I leave to travel here in a few days and then we have a huge tournament and then it’ll be time for me to start packing my bags :(

Until next time,

Amanda

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The walk way to the other city that is close to my new home!

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Picture from the top of the Rose Garden!

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This was taken at the top of the Cable Car, during one of my walks from my new house!