Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Semana #1

This marks my first week in Costa Rica - and believe me, it has been an adventure. I’ll try to give you the major highlights of my week all in one.

Many of the people have blue-green or sometimes blue eyes, which is a sign of European influence. When the Spanish Conquistadors arrived in Costa Rica, the natives were rebels and refused to accept them as their masters. Instead of staying and working for the Europeans, the natives left Costa Rica moving north or south. Thus, the indigenous population decreased dramatically by more than 95% when the Europeans arrived. Many Europeans found themselves plowing and working their own lands, and soon discovered that growing coffee and bananas was a great business. The government started giving away land to people who were willing to grow coffee, so more Europeans immigrated to Costa Rica. Since there were very few native people, less mixing of the two cultures occurred, therefore a vast majority of Costa Ricans are predominantly of European descent: Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and French. There is also a large number of Costa Ricans of German, Jewish, Polish, and Greek descent.

Now that I’ve finished my history lesson, I’ll get back to the fun stuff =)

The fashion is clearly influenced from the U.S., which I find a little disappointing. I wanted to see native accents or influence around, but I guess I would have to go to less urbanized areas. Very few Tico’s (Costa Ricans) wear shorts; everyone wears skinny jeans, gray/silver wash, and boots (not cowboyish) – despite the heat. American Eagle is extremely popular and I definitely will be purchasing a pair of distressed leather boats before I head back to the states. The people don’t stare, which is a nice change from the folks back home. The most attention I’ve gotten is people saying they like my hair. When walking the other day, a lady said she had some just like mine and proceeded to pull some weave out of her purse. Hilarious. I like not being a spectacle. Blending in will help me get the most out of this experience.

I have also met a group of about 15 kids from Minnesota. They had been here for 3 days, and knew no Spanish. They were going to be here for three weeks, and seemed overwhelmed by the heat... which holds nothing to the heat in Kansas. When asking how long I would be here and with whom, they were quite taken back when I said 3 months and that I came with no one.

“Wow. Adventurous," one girl responded.

I now wonder if I’m being adventurous, brave, or just plain stupid. I don’t know anyone that just goes to another country without any contacts, previous know how, or any real knowledge of the area. However, I think Zig Ziglar describes it best when he said, ‎"Courage is not the absence of fear; it's the mastery of it." I think over the next 3 months I’ll know which one is the right answer.

The mall here is very much like the ones in Kansas. They have lots of stores all claiming huge discounts, but there are a few good steals. We walk out of the mall to grab a taxi and witnessed WWI Costa Rican style. I don’t know what the exchange was about, but from what I gathered one guy claimed that the other stole his customers (us). Before I could even get my car door open, the guy ran to the other guy yelling at the top of his lungs and pushed him out into the street. I was the only person captivated by this exchange while others just walked past like nothing was happening. Then the guy slapped the other guy’s cellphone out of his hand and it flew into the bushes. I was trying to get my camera on video mode so I could record this, but Jamie told me to get in the car. Lame. Once in a different car, our drivers honked at the two fighting men and waved as to say “Gotcha!" He then took us on the scenic route to the Artisan market while nearly hitting a group of 30 people. One lady literally reached in and touched him he was so close.

The artisan market was a hoarders dream. Everything from jewelry, crafts, and candles, to hammocks, purses, and dresses were crammed into a tent extending ½ a block long. There were at least 20 vendors claiming to give you a better deal with higher quality goods than the person standing next to them. Being a shrewd business man like my father, I got a pretty good deal on some street art. I like being able to haggle with people, although, I probably could have gotten an even better deal if I understood the currency. The market was a true cultural mecca with languages from around the world flooding the block: Italian, Chinese, and Swahili dialects made this simple art market a world of its own.

Overall, this week has been a tad challenging for me. I’m learning to pace myself and go with the flow. I think we tend to put so much emphasis on the change we hope to bring to a situation versus letting ourselves change, evolve, and grow. Challenge yourself to slow down and live in the moment.

Take care of yourself at home and I am praying for everyone affected by the tornadoes.


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

So far - so good!

So, I made it! Costa Rica is stunning. Parks and little colonies rest amongst mountains and gorgeous landscape. The homes have an obvious Spanish feel and are painted in different shades of terracotta, the constant rain washes out the color so everything looks aged and antiqued - it is especially gorgeous. You then notice flowers in the most vibrant colors; hues of red, orange, purple and pink burst from the mountains. I love it.

During in my flight to Costa Rica from North Carolina, I am sitting next to a complete jerk. All he talked about was how drunk he was on the previous flight and that the flight attendants love it when he calls them sweetheart. I proceeded to give him a look that let him know how ignorant I thought he was - he proceeded to order 3 Bloody Marys.

Once the plane landed I had a quick thought of "Oh snap, I guess I can't change my mind now." It was interesting. I never had a true panic attack about this trip which put me at ease. I think it's the right thing to do during this time in my life. I went through customs and found it hilarious. The lady asked me how many days I will be in the country and I responded “Noventa dias. Estudiando espaƱol en la Universidad de Veritas”. (90 days. I am studying Spanish at the University of Veritas). Pretty impressed with myself for that. She then asked me another question and I gave her a look that truly solidified the word confused. She then rolled her eyes and WENT OFF to the person carrying my luggage. There are no words to express how funny it is when you know someone is talking trash about you, but you can't get mad because you have no idea what they are saying! I just smiled and said “Gracias!” - I aced that test for sure.

Once that I was over, I head outside expecting to see a sign with my name on it like many other exchange students who were waiting, but there wasn’t one. Apparently, the University entered my arrival date differently, swapping the numbers of the month and day. Mistakes happen, and I just rolled with the punches because I had no other option. I’m glad I knew enough Spanish to ask for help. A taxi driver was nice enough to let me use his cellphone to call the school who was supposed to arrange my pick up. No one answered. Luckily, I had my host family’s number stored because I tried calling them the other day after the earthquake hit. He called them, and we arranged for a taxi to take me there.

This is where the fun begins. These people drive just as crazy as I do! Turn signals, blind spots, speed limits? Get real. Never in my life have I gone in reverse on a highway going 65 miles per hour – until now. My jaw was unhinged, when I looked at him, he just gave me thumbs up. All I do could was laugh and say a quick prayer. To experience this, I want you to put your car in reverse and lay on the gas while driving on K-7. It will change your life. I had read that the people of Costa Rica were aggressive drivers, but they truly have won the cake in comparison to DC and NYC drivers. Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death in Costa Rica.

My host family is fantastic. Letty and Juan have been doing this for nearly 20 years and have hosted students of many backgrounds. She is a dentist, while he is an engineer. They know more English then they let on, only because they truly want us to learn the language. I appreciate that. We have breakfast and dinner together every day. Breakfast consist of fresh fruit, homemade bread, omelets, and fruit juice. All of this is fresh and made daily. Letty literally peels and cores a pineapple every day and makes fresh juice. It is by far the best thing I've ever had, and you can't beat waking up to the smell of freshly baked bread.

These first 24 hours have been amazing. I know this is typical of the 4 stages in culture shock; excitement, withdrawal, adjustment, and enthusiasm, but I'm just gonna take it as it comes and goes. I'm going to the school tomorrow to meet with the travel agency and learn about a couple weekend excursions; maybe my next post will be from Panama! I miss you all already and appreciate your love and prayer from afar!


Saturday, May 14, 2011

3 months? I thought you were leaving for 2 weeks?!

Passport - check

Plane ticket - check

Host family info - check

Automatic bill payments - Hmm?

Utilities payments - Uhhhh...

Place to live once back in the states - Umm...well?

The week leading up to this trip has been one of my busiest: finals, work, family time, financial planning, - all needed to be done prior to this trip. I was doing pretty good with this juggling act until 2am a couple weeks ago when I realized I hadn't prepared a for my re- emersion, as I had my emersion. While focusing on making sure I had the plans for Costa Rica set, I forgot about maintaining things here in the U.S. during my absence to ensuring a pleasant return. How fun would have been to come back and see all of my belongings in the dumpster because I was evicted? Pure genius

Coupled with my lapse in maintaining "home security", I had been avoiding packing since the day I signed up for this trip. One day, however when having lunch with my mentor, we began to discuss the real reason behind this avoidance.


It's not fun to pack when it becomes a game of "I wonder if this fits?" I want to lead a healthy life in every aspect. I believe God has an amazing plan for my life, but I can't accomplish any of those things without being spiritually, physically, and mentally healthy. I think we all do this to ourselves. We avoid things that force us to look at our flaws. It is through this experience I hope to face the uncomfortable things in my life. Being a person with a disability has caused me to live a shelters life full of supports and safety nets. It will be interesting to see how I catch my fall versus waiting on someone to catch me.

Mother Nature must be mimicking my emotional state because she sent an earthquake down to warn the people that I was heading in their direction....seriously. A town 16 miles away from where I'll be living just got hit with a 6.0 earthquake. Only in the life of Shawn, right? I was unable to get through to my family via phone, so hopefully they'll respond to my email before I on the plane. Please keep the people of Costa Rica in your prayers.

Sunday morning will be here before I know it (only a few more hours)! I have no doubt that this trip is just the first chapter of my international journeys. Let’s just hope Mother Nature and I both get our acts together in time.

Hang on people, this blog and this experience is the first of many adventures to come.


Ps…here’s my address for those who have been asking.

Universidad Veritas

1 km al oeste de la Casa Presidencial

Apartado 1380-1000 San Jose, Costa Rica