Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Unforgettable Families

I decided to write a blog about my host families because to me they are one of the biggest influences on our experience here in Costa Rica.
My first family consisted of my mom, Cecilia and my sister Jacqueline, 23. They lived in my house, but then I had a brother Julio who lived with his American wife Sarah and their two year old son Gabriel down the street. This is very similar to my real family back home; I live with my mom and my brother doesn’t live at home anymore and my dad lives in another state. In my Tico family, the father passed away about seven years ago (I don’t know how). Julio is the only one in the family with a car so he helps with errands and such. There was another brother and sister, but I never met them because they live in another town further away. Jackie is in college studying to be a lawyer. We discussed her education and she surprisingly shared with me that she used to go out a lot more, but now she would rather spend times studying her books than being out. Cecilia doesn’t work and stays home every day. She often babysits Gabriel because Julio and Sarah own a travel business out of their home and they need quiet time to work. I am unsure how they receive any income, but in accordance with Costa Rican family dynamics, I feel that Cecilia’s children, especially Julio, help her out a lot with expenses.
The house was gated at the end of the driveway which was unusual for me, but it was like that on almost every single house; it is just part of the Costa Rican culture. To be honest I was expecting dirt floors and tin roofs before I arrived, but this house was completely normal to me. It was middle class in my opinion. They had a desktop computer, a mini laptop, wireless internet, a television in the family room and my mom’s room, and all kitchen appliances. Things weren’t as “new” as you would see back here in the states, but it was just perfect for them. The decorations were old fashion and on the religious side, but oddly I never heard them talk about religion at all. My mom had her own bathroom inside of her bedroom and then there was my bedroom, Jackie’s bedroom and one other bathroom. Jackie used her mom’s bathroom most of the time, which was similar to my childhood; I only ever used my mom’s bathroom.

Jackie is in school from 7 to 7 during the weekdays so I would get home before her and my mom would be cooking dinner already. My mom and I sat down together in their dining room every evening and ate together. She would always wait a little bit for me to start eating and then she would begin. Sometime during dinner Jackie would come in. She grabbed her food and immediately sat down at the computer to get on Facebook… imagine that! So, I don’t know if dinner time is different when students are around, but it didn’t seem like it was very important for them to eat at the table together. Once again this is similar to my own family. When my parents were still together we ate dinner as a family every night, but by the time high school came around it was just whatever happened, happened. It wasn’t necessary anymore to eat with my mom or brother if he was home, we just ate on our own time because everyone was always so busy.
One night during my stay in Heredia Julio drove us all to one of my mama tica’s sister’s house. She comes from a very large family, ten sisters and 3 brothers. When we arrived I was greeted warmly and I soon realized that they spoke decent English. However, they did not speak it for me, the forced me to speak Spanish so that I could practice it. The whole night they made me feel like I was truly part of their family. One of my tia tica’s, or aunts, actually gave me beautiful bracelet and told me that I would never be forgotten and to never forget them. Then one of my uncles sat me down on the couch and he pulled out a Costa Rican dictionary and asked me to read for him. I didn’t quite understand, but soon I realized that he was going to help me with my Spanish and make sure I understood what I was reading. We stopped after every sentence and he explained things for me, in Spanish of course. I had a great time with my extended tico family that night and I would definitely say it was the best night for me in Heredia. To feel part of a family that you met just a few days before is the most amazing feeling ever.

When we moved to Monteverde we were assigned new families. I was so nervous about the assignment because I couldn’t even imagine a family being as good as my Heredia family, but I was wrong. My new family consisted of Marcos my dad, Sandra my mom, Allen my 8 year old brother and Emily Sophia my 5 year old sister. Marcos works at the hotel that was across the street from Stella’s bakery. The family does not own a car so he has to walk to and from work 7 days a week. The walk is easily 2 miles… His wage is less than 2 dollars an hour and he does anything and everything for the hotel; maintenance, water, housekeeper, etc. Sandra does not work because she likes to be home for the kids and she doesn’t have any desire to work, which Marcos is okay with. Marcos built their house with one other man. The walls were cement and the roof was made of tin sheets. He also built all of the furniture in the house. It was a very modest house, but it was very “homey” at the same time. There was a lot of love in this family and anyone could pick up on it immediately.

-Kitchen/ Dining room
Sandra does all of the house-keeping and she cooks all of the meals. Sometimes Marcos helps out, but Sandra loves to cook. They all eat dinner at the table together every night. And they hang out as a family the rest of the night before bedtime. The first night I was there they had me sit down at the table and Marcos said in Spanish something along the lines of how grateful he and his family were to have me as part of their family for the next two weeks and that he already considered me one of his daughters. It was so comforting to me to hear that and it helped me to relax a little bit. They have three bedrooms and one bathroom. I had my own bedroom, but shared the bathroom with everyone. Emily normally slept with my Sandra and Marcos and Allen slept in the other room or on a mattress on the floor of his parent’s bedroom. Their family dynamics were nothing unusual, I related very well with them. They were very similar to the families back in the states except for they focused on their close family rather than other distractions. They do everything together and they don’t have much technology to sidetrack them other than a television. They are able to make fun out of anything they have and they never seemed to be bored. If they were bored they created something to do. I was envious of how simplistic their lives were with so little distractions and so much time to focus on family time.

-My bedroom
One night after Sandra made me dinner she shared with me a very heart-wrenching story about Emily Sophia. She was born premature and had many, many complications; too many to share. A few things she told me: she wasn’t supposed to live past a few days, she was taken from Sandra immediately after birth and was kept in a different hospital for fifteen days and no one could visit her, she was epileptic, they had to watch her 24 hours a day once they took her home, she had heart surgery at 2 years old, and so much more. She told me that she is slow compared to other children in her classroom and that all she wants to do is dance. But Sandra said she is ok with whatever she wants to do as long as she is alive and happy. I asked her if everything was ok now and she said Emily and her family couldn’t be happier. Another tough part of the story that Sandra shared was that she feels that Allen resents her for spending so much time taking care of Emily Sophia and her extended family resents her for moving away to Monteverde (she moved because Emily needed the freshest air because of severe respiratory problems). But to compensate for the extended family’s resentment, she keeps her dynamic family as close as possible.

I was really sad to leave my families in Heredia and Monteverde. They made my experience so much more than I could have ever expected. I will remember them forever and I hope that they will never forget me.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Coud Forest School

The Cloud Forest School or Escuela Creativa

-The school owns 106 acres of land
We were given the privilege to visit The Cloud Forest School this morning which is a private school located in the center of the rainforest in the mountains of Monteverde. As we pulled up we were surrounded by the most beautiful green trees and grass I had ever seen. We were greeted by a lady by the name of Cierra (not sure about the name) and she is in charge of communicating with groups like our class who are interested in the school and volunteer projects. She took us on a short walk from the front office to the high school. It wasn’t any normal walk though, we got to walk through the lush forest and be a part of nature for about ten minutes. Not many students are able to say that to walk from building to building they are allowed to go through the forest. We passed something called the meadow which she said was the heart of the school. Students are always there playing games or just hanging out with each other. It is there gathering place where everyone is comfortable and feeling happy. That is very similar to schools in the states. There is always one spot that most students like to gather in their free time that allows them to let loose and relax. I think that it is so important to have that safe haven for fun time at every school and this school’s “meadow” was absolutely beautiful surrounded by trees. As we walked through the forest she told us a little more about the school:
·         180 students, 90% Tico (locals) and 10% international (exchange or abroad). They work with another school to exchange students and let them take over each other’s lives for a year. They also let students study abroad there or allow teacher’s English speaking students attend the school. It is great that they do not limit other students from coming to their school. It allows for a lot of diversity and a growing experience by working with students from very different backgrounds.
·         30 teachers and they speak English for all of their instruction and rarely use Spanish in class because it is an English immersion school. About half of the teachers are from United States and half are from Costa Rica. They plan to soon be a bilingual school and are quickly approaching it. As we passed all of the classrooms I only heard he teachers speaking English and I was able to see that the students were responding and speaking very well in English.
·         $3600 per year for each student because it is a private school. They do offer becas (financial aid) and many people sponsor students and pay for their schooling. They WANT students to come to their school and they do everything in their power to help them pay for it. Back in the states many schools help students pay for their education if they need it, but they don’t seem happy to do it from my own experiences. It is a hassle to receive help to pay for school, but at this school they are eager to help children with the cost of schooling.
·         Students go to school from August to June, from 8-3 Monday through Thursday with a half day on Friday. This is also very similar to schools back home. Considering all of the days that students get off for various reasons, it probably would equate to about the same schedule. 
·         Students graduate elementary school in sixth grade, middle school in ninth grade and high school in eleventh grade. To graduate from high school students need to take a test that takes about ten days. The entire test is in Spanish (except for the English portion) because it is a standard test that all high school graduates in Costa Rica take. Cierra said that some students do struggle because they are used to learning everything in English. If students don’t pass the test the first time, which most do, they can retake it until they pass. Cierra stated that all of the students since she had worked there had passed the test.
·         All of the classrooms were decorated so creatively with the student’s work on display. It really showed how important the student’s success meant to the teachers of the school and how proud they were to share the success of the classroom.
·         The school revolves around environmental education and encourages the students and their families to live more sustainable lives. The land keeper Eduardo was so knowledgeable about the outdoors and he passed on all that he knew to the school and its students. He keeps them involved by maintaining a greenhouse with the students, a compost area, and has them plant all around the school’s campus. It is so important for students to understand the significance of “going/being green” and this school and done a wonderful job at informing their students.
This school was absolutely amazing. The outcome of the visit was totally unexpected for me. After visiting, I have it in my head that I will do my senior year internship at The Cloud Forest School. They have an unbelievable program going on and I would love to be a part of it. Who knows if I would be allowed to do my internship in Monteverde, Costa Rica, but I think it would be an amazing experience. It would force me to keep up with my Spanish, become more educated on the environment and of course teach bilingual students.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Santa Elena Public School


This week we were able to visit the public elementary school in Santa Elena. The first time we went, we arrived at the school and all of the children were being dropped off by their parents or siblings in cars, motorcycles, or just by walking. The kids were running around in the entrance to the school with not a worry in the world. The principal was the only one who was there to supervise the children. This is so different in comparison to my own elementary school and those that I have visited. Normally students arrive at school and go straight to their classroom and start some morning work or activity. Also, there are more faculty members monitoring the children as they arrive. It seems like back home if there was only one person, it would be a huge liability issue.

When we arrived in the 6th grade class and all of the students immediately sat down and got quiet. We all introduced ourselves and they all said in unison a little greeting for us, the teachers. Then we separated into small groups of students and I took three girls and began the leaf lesson. This group didn’t know as much English as the students in Heredia, but I was able to work through it. Using gestures and context clues really helped me and the students out. I explained the lesson in Spanish as best as I could and then translated the key words in English for them. Then I asked them to only use English words when categorizing the leaves by characteristics. It was definitely a struggle on both ends. The sixth graders sometimes looked at me like I was stupid which was discouraging at times, but I had to tell myself that I was capable of teaching the lesson. It gave me insight on how ESL students would feel in an English classroom. It is such a struggle to understand a new language, let alone a lesson being taught in another language. It is going to be my job to make those students feel comfortable enough to learn the language and the content.

The next time we went to the school we were able to observe the 1st and 2nd grade English classes. She was teaching all of the grades about creating a family tree. In first grade titled the lesson The Dynamic Family. In the US that means your parents and siblings, but she listed the family members to include parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts and cousins. She wrote the word in English and drew the corresponding picture next to it. After each one she would have the students repeat her. After drawing the whole chart she had them repeat her and then try it on their own. They were incapable of saying most of the words without her help. I felt that they way she taught the words was not very effective. She was not giving any significance to the word other than a picture, but I think the students would have benefitted if they knew the Spanish word that corresponded to the English word. It is hard to comprehend something when there is no meaning, context, or importance behind a word. Of course anyone can repeat a word after someone has said it, but the point of teaching new words in another language is for a student to know the meaning behind it and to say it on their own. I took away a lot from watching this teacher teach this lesson plan. It left a lasting impression on me the way the students were incapable of saying the words because they were clueless about the meaning. In my classroom I plan to give significance to everything I teach, especially new words, whether in English or in Spanish.

The English teacher moved classrooms from first to second grade, rather than all of the students moving classrooms. I appreciated that technique because getting students to move locations is such a hassle in the US; the children lose focus, the play with other students and it is hard to bring them back to the reality of the classroom setting. When the teacher moves instead, the children are already in a focus mind set and ready to learn. She started her lesson on The Dynamic Family by drawing a huge tree and splitting it in half. Then she made the mistake of putting two parents on each side instead of one on each so the rest of the tree was incorrect. The students didn’t know any better and because it was a subject they were not familiar with, they most likely would not correct the teacher if they thought something didn’t seem right. It was a struggle for me to watch the teacher teach incorrect content. For me, it reiterated the importance of a teacher needing to know their content before they teach it. Without reviewing the material the teacher won’t be able to teach comfortably causing the students to feel uncomfortable with the new material too. Something similar happened in my “casa tico”. The eight year old son Allen told me that he had an English test and needed to study and I told him I would help. He brought out his English notebook and eventually we got to shapes. He had to color shapes according to a color key, the problem was that there were pentagons and the teacher had labeled them as hexagons and there were ovals that the teacher labeled circles. That same English teacher had taught her students more incorrect information. I didn’t correct him because it would just have confused him. After I helped him study him mom said something along the lines of how I had the qualities of a teacher and she has high hopes for me in my future. It was so amazing to hear that and to have someone else pick on my teaching skills.

We had a class discussion today about the English classes and I developed a new outlook on the English teacher. Before I was disappointed and I felt aggravated that the students were learning incorrect information. But after discussing our experience someone else brought up the point that the English teacher must have felt so much pressure with thirteen English speaking people staring at her as she taught our language. That is a very intimidating situation and I give her a lot of credit for what she was able to teach to those students.

La Carpio

Today was the hardest day for me in Costa Rica... We all went to La Carpio which is a "neighborhood" that is located outside of Heredia. We were given a number of warnings the day before because the town is known to be kind of dangerous. We didn’t want to stand out more than we already would. We were told to wear long pants, no jewelry, not to carry purses, and only carry a camera if it could fit in a pocket. Also, to only wear sneakers because the ground is filled with trash and sewage water. It was intimidating hearing all of the warnings and it made me hesitant to go.

On our way into La Carpio I think we passed over ten dump trucks because it is located in between a landfill and the city, so the only traffic they receive is dump trucks back and forth all day long. We arrived in the town and I didn’t get much of a chance to look around before we were rushed into the building that was our destination. I was able to smell the awful smell of trash and gasoline before going in. And got a glance of what seemed to be houses made of tin sheets and heaps of trash on every corner. We went upstairs and walked into the Montessori School of La Carpio. It was a very large room with bare walls, shelves scarce with toys and games, harshly used furniture and what seemed to be over 100 degrees.

Then we turned the corner and saw all of the children with their smiling faces. They brightened up the room and the mood immediately for me. They were just starting their day at the Montessori School so the leader asked everyone to take their seats at circle time. There were two other women that were helping out with the children. We all sat down in the circle and they greeted us in English. I could tell that some children were kind of giddy and antsy that we were there and other children didn’t even notice a difference. They sang a lot of songs that we all know, like The Itsy Bitsy Spider. They did it Spanish first and asked us to help them do it English. I couldn’t believe that those children were already learning English, especially in a town that I had only heard and seen negative stuff about. The students were actually participating in both languages and seemed eager to continue. It was so great to see how happy these children were in such an unfortunate situation. After circle time they asked us to pair up with one of the students to assist them with their morning work. I got together with a girl named Rebecca who was 4 years old. She was absolutely beautiful and never stopped smiling. We went to the tables and the teacher handed out a worksheet of garden animals. The assignment for the students was to fill in the dotted lines and then color the pictures. Rebecca had a little bit of a hard time, but when I encouraged her to continue she completed her worksheet. It was a good feeling to know that my encouragement helped her to finish. After she was finished she took my hand and brought me over to a table and we did a few puzzles. She didn’t want much help from me which came as a shock. But then I thought harder about it and realized that they probably don’t get much assistance other than from the one teacher who has to share her help with the rest of the children. So it was a different experience for them to have someone offering to help. Later Debbie gave us Popsicle sticks to build with and Rebecca and a few other children were ecstatic when they saw me un-wrap them. To me they were just simple sticks that were not anything special. But to them it was something new that they had probably never seen before. When I compared that to the US it really hit me how much those children didn’t have. They didn’t put the sticks down for over 40 minutes. I don’t think a child back in the US would stay occupied more than 4 minutes. I felt happy that we were able to provide them with some new materials, but at the same time it was hard for me to see how little they have.

-This was the wall of games and activities for the children

-Me and Rebecca, my buddy for the day

Even though they have scarce materials, I was very happy to see that the teacher at the Montessori school didn’t lower her expectations because they have a rough lifestyle. When I become a teacher I need to remember that just because children might have a rough home life, I should have the same expectations of them. If I don’t treat them equally among the other students then they will feel different and then they will retract and stop trying. It is my job to make them feel comfortable and encourage them to learn.

After a while the children started warming up to us and I could feel a sense that they were so happy to have us there. It was an amazing feeling to know that just us playing with them for a couple hours was something they may remember for the rest of their lives. Even if they don’t remember this day, I know that I will absolutely never forget this experience, ever. I personally had never seen or been in a situation anything remotely close to what I experienced today. I think that my interaction with those children is going to make me a much better teacher. I was able to teach with limited materials and teach to students who know nothing more than their rough lifestyle. Before this experience I was always one to worry about the little things; how clean things are, if they are in the right spot, how organized everything has to be, etc. You could say I am a perfectionist…But seeing how happy these children were with what little they had made me realize that it is ok if things aren’t perfect or clean. I know that in the future I am going to be able to think back to this experience and remember not to sweat the small stuff because it is the bigger picture that matters; the children and their experience in my classroom. They aren’t going to notice the little things; they are going to be happy with whatever I provide. They aren’t going to remember how clean my classroom is; they’ll remember how I taught them and if I made a lasting impression.

Gayle, the founder of the school took time out of her day to explain her methods and the history of La Carpio. It was the hardest thing I have ever had to listen to. The suffering of the women that were from Nicaragua now living in La Carpio was so terrible. On the other hand it was great to hear that Gayle had helped them out so much by giving the women jobs and a place for the women’s organization to sell their products. Gayle’s outlook on life was amazing and I strive to be so humble. She moved her family from US down here and has lived here for over 20 years in a town outside of La Carpio because she didn’t like how materialistic people back in the states were. People always complain or give teachers a hard time because of how little money they make, but to see what Gayle has accomplished and how happy she is made me comfortable in knowing that I don’t need money to feel happy, rather the experience I provide for others as an educator.


Monday, May 23, 2011

Forgot to mention

I didn't have internet all weekend, the hotels internet didn't work for me, so I had to post them as soon as I got to school at CPI! :)

Gracias, Adios!

Busiest week of my life

Wow, what a week I have had, I can’t even believe it. To be honest I don’t know where to start so here it goes… I absolutely love CPI and my Spanish teacher, Judith Salazar. Having four hours of Spanish everyday seemed so crazy to me, but it went by so fast. She is one of the best teachers I have ever had. We all agreed that we never actually felt like we were learning, we just had such a wonderful time and by the end of it we know the basics of Spanish. She taught me more in one week than I had learned in three years back in high school. It was so great to watch her teaching skills as inspiration for when I become a teacher. She does not let us speak in English for the most part, but that nice enforcement and positive encouragement made me feel like I could do anything and learn as much as there is to learn. She asked about our families, our experiences here, what things are important to us, etc. Getting to know your students on a personal level is so important in teaching. I will make it a goal to know all of my students very well. She was very curious and that made me eager to tell her, but it was a struggle because I had to respond in Spanish. This is exactly what we were told that was going to happen. We are going to experience how it feels to be the one who can’t talk the language of the place they are in. Sometimes it made me feel really stupid and it made me discouraged, but I forced myself to try as hard as I could. I will have students who will try hard to learn, but I think those that stay quiet and pretend they are learning are going to be the majority, rather than the minority. It is so tough to feel out of place and just because you don’t know the language it makes you feel so much less intelligent. I want to do everything in my power for those students who are not English speakers to feel just like I felt in my class. I felt silly at times when I didn’t know what to say, but I was comfortable with my teacher and that made all the difference. I knew she would help me when I needed it and I knew she had faith in me, more than I had for myself. Setting high standards are so important because when you don’t expect much out of a student you are not going to get much out of them, but when you set goals that they can achieve with a little bit of a challenge they will be amazing students and learners.

To immerse ourselves in the culture even more, we got to take a Latin cooking class at CPI. It was cool to be able to cook they way they do here with all of the fresh ingredients and to make a beautiful meal that everyone enjoyed.
We were supposed to go to teach in the school on Tuesday, but there was a miscommunication so we taught on Wednesday instead. We planned two lessons; one was a science one that had the students categorize different types of leaves according to size, texture, shape, etc. The other one was a letter writing activity that was for the students to send notes to a pen pal back in the states. On Wednesday we got there and were told that we wouldn’t be able to teach our lesson, instead we were going to observe kindergarten and special ed. I went to first grade and played with a few girls. We did some puzzles, I read books to them in Spanish and I read them an English book that I translated into Spanish. I could tell that they really appreciated me spending time with them and interacting with them. I felt very foolish at times because they would talk to me in Spanish, but I would not know how to respond or even know what they were saying. I did my best, but after a while I was exhausted. It really gave me an insight on how Spanish speaking students will feel when they enter into my classroom not knowing much English. It will be a struggle for them, but like I have said before I am really going to strive to make them feel very comfortable in my class. Obviously they aren’t going to learn right away, but they need to feel ok with making mistakes and not knowing everything. We all need to feel that way in our life and I am honestly appreciative that I got that experience today.

Thursday we got to actually teach our lessons. First I went to a sixth grade class and taught the lessons about leaves in a small group of five students. I absolutely loved it! Somehow all of the Spanish I had ever learned came rushing back and my students understood most of everything I had to say to them. The exceeded my expectations and they did really well with the lesson. I challenged them a little by saying some things only in English which forced them to recall what they had learned in English class and eventually everyone got it and finished up the lesson. They were some of the nicest children I had ever worked with. They knew exactly how to behave, they didn’t fuss about anything and they were very willing and eager to learn. All I could think about was how they are so much different than the students in the US. I personally feel that they students are very whiny and they don’t want to learn as much as they do here. I also noticed that it is such a process to transition in classes back home. For example, if they need to rearrange desks to complete a project or assignment the students make it a game and they get very loud and rambunctious. But here it was entirely different; the students picked up their desks with very little talking and they sat down ready to learn. I think that the problem is that a lot of teachers back home don’t get the same amount of respect as here just because they take education very seriously in CR. I plan to establish my classroom rules in the beginning so that my students understand how my class works. You can’t be lenient in the beginning and then try to be strict, it works the other way.
Then we went to third grade and taught our letter writing lesson. It went pretty well, but I think it was much harder to teach in comparison to the leaf lesson. We had to teach give them a lot of extra help because they were creating sentences, but creating a sentence takes a lot. Most of the students just copied the templates we created and filled in the blank. They were very proud of their letters, but it was a struggle for me. I liked that we were able to just know the vocabulary of the science lesson and just use those words, but having to do a lesson plan in English about English is very tough. But that is the whole point of this trip, understanding how it feels to not speak the common language. It gets so overwhelming, but I have to push through it so that I know what it is like.
Today is Friday and we are planning on going to La Carpio which is a city of severe poverty. I am very nervous because I have never really seen much poverty or spent any significant amount of time in a city with a lot of poverty. We are supposed to make beds for people in the area that are in need of them, but there has been some murmurs that that might not be happening. We are also planning on spending time in the Montessori school which will be an amazing experience. I’ll write soon about the trip and more about my week!

Way too much to talk about...

So much has happened since I have arrived in Costa Rica. On the first day we were there, Friday, we landed and met our tour guides Meggie and Sierra who are both from the US and our driver Roy who is from Costa Rica. Then we went to our first stop which was the bank to exchange our American dollars to Colones, the Costa Rican money. Then we went to lunch at Super Snacks and it was the most amazing meal ever. I ordered a “mango en agua” and a chicken chalupa. In CR they have these fruit drinks that are basically a fruit, water and a little bit of ice that is blended and served. I can already tell how fresh everything is going to be here. After lunch we went to the Feria which is a market that has fresh fruits and vegetables. I got to taste so many free samples and of things that I had never even heard of before. The vendors were so friendly and welcoming to us silly looking, clueless Americans and you can just feel a sense of happiness from everyone. We were all practicing and attempting to speak with our rusty Spanish words and it was a blast. I didn’t think that I was going to be able to say anything, but in the moment it somehow sounds fine and I was very capable of communicating with most of the people.

As we were walking around town a man stopped us and asked if we could give him some of our time to listen to him… of course we listened. He spoke English very well and he went on to tell us that Costa Rica is obviously an amazing place, but there are problems that are unspoken and he wanted us to be aware of them. He said there are two major problems: money going to the wrong places and drugs. He said that the money that they pay for taxes should be going to improving schools and medical centers, but instead it’s going elsewhere. He also said that very young children about the age of middle schoolers are starting to do drugs and hang out in the streets. It was kind of a shock that he shared that with us, but just hearing him talk and telling us the problems of Costa Rica while having a proud smile on his face made my day. He was very intelligent and it was so neat that he got to talk to us. I like that people are not naive about problems in their country, even if the authorities ignore them. It is different from the US in the sense that everyone complains and takes it upon themselves if they don’t like something. For example, creating a group that has some kind of belief behind it and trying to make a difference. Here it seems that people stay quieter about things and just go on living their life as happy as can be and I think that is something that we can all soak in and take back home with us. Live happily in the present because who knows what is to come next.
Then we all experienced an earthquake! We didn’t realize at first that it was an earthquake because we were on the bus and then we could not believe it once we were told that it was an earthquake. On our first day in CR we go to feel a 6.0 earthquake and we made it through. It was scary, but the people on the streets seemed so calm. Like I said before, we should take some pointers and enforce them in the US.
The town is definitely different from back home, the homes are connected with one another, there are gates at the front of most houses, and there are bars on the windows. It seems like high security, but I think that it is just a part of their community and they probably think nothing of it. These little things about a culture are what make it so special. To be honest I was judgmental at first about how it looked because it is intimidating, but after a while it became used to it.
Saturday we met another tour guide Javier and he took us to La Paz which was kind of like a park and it had different places that had wild animals that we could watch. It had toucans, parrots, a butterfly house, monkeys, pumas, snakes, and frogs and a lot more. Javier walked around with us and he knows everything and more about every single plant and animal that is here in CR. Then we got to see the waterfalls which were so amazing, I had never seen anything like that before.

Today, Sunday, Javier took us back up the mountain near La Paz and we were headed to the volcano named Poas. We took a hike and saw the crater of the volcano and it was so neat to be able to see straight down the middle of a volcano. On our way out we got the privilege of actually seeing the volcano erupt. It was not a big one but who really gets to say that they saw a volcano erupt? Not many people…I feel pretty lucky. We met our host families tonight! I got picked up early because my family had a family get together and I got to be a part of it. Julio, my hermano tico, or my brother, picked me up with his American wife Sarah and they took me the party which was a celebration of life for a few death anniversaries. My mama tica greeted me with the biggest hug and kiss and I could already tell that she was going to be great. The party consisted of eating and a lot of talking and spending time with the family. They did perform a rosary which was very interesting to watch and I am not very religious but I really appreciated the ceremony that they did. The family dynamics that I watched tonight were so similar to my own family. Everyone interacts so happily with each other, they help each other out, and the talk so very loud. Everyone was very welcoming to me, which I was very nervous about. There were about 50 people there and I think I got a hug, kiss or handshake from everyone of them. I was so nervous about everything, but they made me feel like I was right at home with my own family. I am still really nervous about everything for a lot of reasons, but I feel very at ease tonight and I can’t wait to see what has is to come after such an eventful weekend! My first day of classes at CPI start tomorrow so hopefully that goes well.