Sunday, May 5, 2013

Lessons Learned in Costa Rica

As I  prepare to leave Costa Rica on Thursday, leaving the comfort of SFS (“The Compound” as we affectionately call it) at 3:30 in the morning, I have been reflecting back over my experience here. First of all, thank you for reading about my time here. I blog for me; it helps me process things and I like to share my thoughts with anyone who might be interested. But, it is even better to blog knowing that people you love and that are several thousand miles away are reading. So, thanks! Second, this will be my last post from Costa Rica. Tomorrow and Tuesday, we have Directed Research presentations and lots of wrap-up activities. Wednesday will probably be crazy with final preparations and such. Then, Thursday I arrive in North Carolina at 4:17 pm.

In light of this big change, I wanted to write about what I learned during these really meaningful three months. Warning: there are probably so many things I am leaving out but this is my best attempt at summing up the semester.

I don’t have to plan everything, sometimes the best things are serendipitous. Some examples include finding a hotel in Manuel Antonio which turned out to be perfect, our whole time in La Fortuna, and an unplanned but amazing Lord of the Rings marathon.



I need alone time to reflect on the day, to think and just be with own thoughts; journaling daily has really helped me with this.

Costa Rica is wonderful but I also need to get know the United States better. I have been to more national parks in Costa Rica than the US and I have lived there for 21 years; also, there are many places that I want to go and things I want to see. Traveling with friends/family is definitely a priority. At the top of the list are: New Orleans, Seattle, and the Northeast (Boston, Maine, and all of my SFS friends in the vicinity).IMG_4703

Me at Volcán Mombacho, my favorite volcano we visited

Mangoes are pretty good, ripe and unripe….. until their sap gives you a rash (akin to poison ivy).

I can eat beans; they are still not my favorite and I don’t eat them without hot sauce and/or Lizano sauce, but I can eat them and sometimes enjoy it.


A typical breakfast of gallo pinto (with natilla, similar to sour cream), fried plantains, and tortillas with cheese


The sunset on Ometeppe Island

Yoga brings me a sense of peace and generally adds to my quality of life. One of our leaders led a yoga class that helped keep me sane and in shape. She was also such a peaceful presence and I am glad that I was able to spend that time with her.


At Finca Magdalena, a good view of Volcán Concepción

Walking and running are my pura vida times; everyone needs their own pura vida time. (Pura vida is the Costa Rican equivalent to the Southern saying of “stopping to smell the roses,” basically taking your time and enjoying life.)


At the trapiche in El Sur, making tapa de miel (a sweetener made from sugar cane)

Living in a different country with a unique culture is one of the biggest learning experiences you can have; the culture/language barrier has made me feel:

-like an utter fool: that time when I asked for soup to wash my clothes in at the local convenience store and got a very strange look (sopa= soup, jabon= soap)

-frustrated: when I couldn’t express my thoughts in Spanish

-uncomfortable: at my homestay, eating the most rich food and in such abundance that I thought I would have to fast for a few days, or when sketchy Costa Rica men tried to strike up conversations at El Sports Bar

-at home: relating to my host family about the everyday things dear to our hearts like family and food

-gratified: speaking to locals like taxi drivers and tour guides and learning firsthand about the culture (I surprisingly even got a few compliments on my Spanish)

-stretched: on those days when I really wanted a hot shower, my own bed with crisp, clean sheets, the smell of whole wheat bread wafting through the air, and to be surrounded by the familiar faces of the people I love

Everyone that can, should study abroad for all of the above-mentioned reasons. It gives you a new outlook on life and makes you more culturally aware. Although it is cliché, you really do learn a lot about yourself through such an experience.


I really do like all four seasons like you find in North Carolina. Costa Rica has two distinct seasons, the rainy and the dry season. I have been here only for the dry season and the very first hints of the rainy season. There have been a lot of hot, dry days, especially for February, March, and April. I think I will be very ready for fall when it comes to NC.


I am independent; I always have been. I was that kid that wanted to do things for themselves. I wanted to make my own sandwich for lunch or go to summer camp by myself, assured that I would make friends and be ok. College has made me even more independent but being in another country, especially traveling on your own in a foreign country where you aren’t fluent in the language, will make you feel even more independent (especially when nothing seriously bad like muggings, injuries, assaults, etc. happens).


My friend Kelly and me on Ometeppe Island

Explore as much as possible, try as many new things as possible, spend as much time learning from others as possible, read as much as is politely possible, and go on facebook as little as possible.

Tapirs and red-eyed leaf frogs are unfortunately not very easy to spot in Costa Rica, especially in the dry season. These were the two animals that I REALLY wanted to see while here because they are both endemic to Costa Rica but they eluded me.

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