A Sunday in San Jose

During my first “free” weekend, I decided to relax on Saturday and then head to San Jose with other Sol students on Sunday.

Our whole group successfully managed to get onto the bus. However, I made a poor decision on where to stand.

Let’s flash back to the first time I rode the bus for the Heredia city tour

During this momentous first bus ride, our Sol directors told us to not stand in front of sensors found near the doorways of the bus. The sensors count the amount of people who get on and off the bus. I presume the total number of people is balanced against the cash fare collected for the day.

Flash forward to Sunday, September 29, I stood near the door and crossed past the sensors because there were not many open seats. The bus driver (thinking that I do not understand ANY Spanish) begins to pantomime that I cannot cross back across the sensors to go sit in an empty seat. He does this a few times, which starts to annoy me slightly, because I do understand Spanish (to a certain extent) and realized my mistake. Everyone on the bus is staring at me and another Sol student (who made the same mistake). Yes, I realize I am a dumb gringa. Forgive me! For the duration of the 30-minute bus ride, I had to stand. Lesson learned!

When we arrived to San Jose, we made our way to the San Jose sign for a quick photo opportunity.

Bienvenido a San Jose

After snapping photos, our group walked to the Jade museum where we spent the next couple of hours looking at sculptures and learning about how Shaman used Jade for healing properties. I felt the Jade museum had the perfect amount of information available to read.

The reading and waking through the museum made everyone hungry. Since our group was large, part of the group went to a sit down restaurant for lunch while myself, Sheri (my roommate), and another Sol student went in search of what I like to refer to as “market food.” As we walked down the street, all three of us smelled bread wafting in the air from a Columbia Panaderia. Impulsively, our group of three went to check out the food and ended up with a suburb lunch of carbs. I chose a bread item stuffed with refried beans and cheese, a fruit juice consisting of pineapple, maracuya (passion fruit), and banana, and a delicious layered pastry similar to baklava (layered bread with custard in the middle and topped with powder sugar.) For a $7 lunch, I was thrilled with the outcome.

Our foodie group decided to explore after lunch since we had some time to kill. We headed to a nearby park where we found a cute bridge and some neat mosaics in a tunnel.

After our brief exploration, we headed back to meet up with the rest of the group. By this time it was late afternoon, so collectively we decided to check out the Pre-Colombian Gold Museum. This museum had a temporary exhibit about the development of Costa Rican currency and artifacts with information relating to the Pre-Colombian period.

By the time we exited our second museum of the day, everyone was tired and ready to head back.

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo

Completing my first class!

Today, I wrapped up my first class in Costa Rica! I managed to finish the class with a B, which I am thrilled to receive because I can safely say that I struggled to understand my professor the majority of the three-week class. During my short time here, I have learned that there are some people you will meet and will never be able to understand.

The day before my exam, I also had an “ah-ha” moment when I learned via SpanishDict that the indicative Spanish mood (who knew Spanish had three moods?) contained six different verb tenses. Suddenly, I realized why I had missed the mark on some exercises for my class.

For basically teaching/re-teaching myself the day before an exam worth 25% of my grade, I think a B is amazing!

There are a few different things I have noticed that I have improved on while being in Costa Rica for three weeks:

  1. Speaking is much easier for me! Am I fluent? Heck no! I awkwardly stare at the ceiling sometimes while I think of what verb I need to conjugate and what tense said verb must be in to make sense. However, when I think back to my placement oral exam, I have improved tremendously! I successfully carried on a conversation with another student in my class for 5 minutes about climate change for the oral component of my final exam. I call that a win!
  2. Vocabulary, vocabulary, vocabulary. I did not realize how much an individual learns vocabulary-wise during the time they are alive. There are times when I want to say something to someone, but I do not know the word(s) needed to convey what I want to say. As a result, I rephrase my response with words I do know. As long as I can get my point across, I am good to go!
  3. Lastly, writing. In my class, we did very little writing like essays or worksheets. Most of the time we did verbal exercises. However, though I did not believe at the time the verbal exercises were helpful and thought writing would be more beneficial, I firmly believe the verbal exercises have helped make my writing in Spanish much easier. This in the whole grand scheme of things makes sense because all humans learn to speak before they learn how to write.

That’s all for now! I’m off to have a relaxing first free weekend!

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo

The Exhaustion of Learning a New Language

Since arriving to Costa Rica three weeks ago, I can safely say that each night I am in bed AND asleep by 9:00 pm.

If you know me personally, I am an early sleeper by nature and an early riser, so going to bed this early would make sense.

However, since arriving to Costa Rica, I have a different form of exhaustion: mental exhaustion. Unless you have learned a second language through the immersive experience of studying abroad, I am not sure if you would be able to understand the exhaustion I am describing because I myself am new to this type of “tired” even though I have studied abroad two other times.

From the moment I eat breakfast at 7:15 am, my brain has to concentrate REALLY hard. I intently listen to my host mother talk while I eat my breakfast and respond when necessary. Three weeks into being in Costa Rica, I still have to mentally translate what is being said to me in English and then translate my response from English to Spanish in my head. The amount of concentration and thought this requires is absolutely crazy!

After breakfast, I then head to school to attend my class. For the next three hours, I am speaking in Spanish, trying to understand my Spanish professor, and participate in the activities. To be honest, most of the time I say “estoy confundida” or “I am confused” because I have a tough time understanding his accent.

By the time class concludes at 11:00 am, my brain is fried. Some days more so than others. Depending on the day, I either have a cultural activity in the afternoon, a second class at 2:00 pm, intercambio in the evening, or head home for the day. On the days where I have a cultural activity, my concentration continues throughout the afternoon as I intently listen to instructions/information.

When dinner time roles around at 7:00 pm, I eat with my host family and get around for bed soon afterwards. As the clock strikes 8:30 pm, my eyelids are ready to go to bed.

Being in Costa Rica and improving my Spanish skills truly has been an eye-opener for me. It sheds light on what international students at my university go through when they first arrive to the states. It sheds light on what immigrants and refugees go through as they learn to acclimate to a new culture and language without preparation. It sheds light on what my younger brother and younger sister both went through when they studied abroad in Sweden and Peru respectively.

I truly have a newfound perspective on those who learn new language whether through choice or as a means of survival. You are unbelievably brave in my eyes.

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The next time you happen to hear an accent or someone struggling to convey what they are wanting/needing/saying, I hope you decide to help that person out. We all have to start somewhere when learning a new language or culture. Maybe you will end up with a new friend or walk away with something you never knew before. Just know that the accented ones are tired and trying their best even if they have a gringa accent when speaking Spanish.

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo

Culture Class: Weaving!

Last Wednesday, group B boarded the public bus to go to San Jose for the afternoon to spend some time at a fair trade artisan shop to learn how to weave pot holders.

This happened to by my first time in San Jose, so I was excited to see what the city had to offer. From Heredia by public bus, the ride is anywhere from 20-30 minutes. There is a train that also takes you into the city that is not only cheaper, but quicker. Compared to Heredia, San Jose is more modern and obviously larger population-wise since its the city’s capital. With more people, there is more trash, interesting smells, and more visible homelessness/poverty.

After a 20-minute walk, our group arrived at Chietón Morén Museo y Mercadito de Artesanías. Based on an informational card I grabbed before leaving, this particular shop “is an initiative of 200 craftsmen and craftswomen of Costa Rican indigenous territories. Here they show and sell their crafts and they tell you how they produce them.”

For the size of the shop which is decently sized, there is a lot of handicrafts to choose from if a tourist is in search of a particular and authentic souvenir. I thought the prices seemed fair and not at all overpriced. If you ever find yourself in San Jose, I would definitely check them out. Their website can be found here.

Group B headed to the back of the shop where some tables were set up. For the next couple of hours, we peacefully wove our potholders using a cross method. Our instructor discussed how the plant leaves that serve as the material are harvested and died. To be honest, I cannot provide a lot of insight as my brain was fried from class earlier in the day. I will say, I found this craft to be extremely therapeutic and fun. Besides the very center of the potholder, I wove everything else. Each person was given the center portion to start off.

My finished potholder!

After weaving, everyone was served a traditional meal of pork, cheesy potatoes, and leaves to put in a corn tortillas. Delicious!

Once everyone finished eating and weaving, the afternoon ended in free time. I went with a group that rode the train back to Heredia.

To finish off my evening, I went to intercambio. Intercambio is a weekly optional get-together of Tico students and exchange students at my university. Thus far, the program has been running for two weeks and I have gone both times. Basically, we play games and speak in Spanish/English to help one another out on our language skills. It just so happens that after intercambio finished, there was a dance class. I went to said dance class for an hour and had fun, but spent most of the evening not knowing what I was doing. That’s what happens when you switch from the “girl” part to the “boy” part. You have no idea what your feet or hands should be doing!

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo

Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica: Day 2

Did you read all about my first day at Manuel Antonio National Park? If not, click here to read that post before continuing this one.

Day 2 of my short trip began with a bright and early 8:00 am check out. Once all students were accounted for and on the bus, we took a short bus ride to Manuel Antonio National Park.

With Angie leading the way, our whole group walked through the national park to head to the beach. The weather happened to be pretty dreary during the walk, but I was excited to relax on the beach and observe wildlife nonetheless!

An idyllic Manuel Antonio beach

Before sitting down on the beach, our group saw a whole bunch of tourists and their guides sprint up a path.

Side note: Tourists typically hire experienced guides to take them through the national parks. The guides not only provide historical context of the area, but also are experts in finding wildlife and providing information about the creatures. For example, I though I would be able to see a sloth with my naked eye, this is not the case. Sloths perch themselves at the very top of trees, so a telescope (yes telescope) must be used. Additionally, Costa Rica prides itself on ecotourism, so some of the National Parks are only accessible by using a guide to preserve the biodiversity.

Okay…back to my story!

Our group started to follow everyone running because we wanted to know what the buzz was about. Much to my surprise, a boa constrictor had killed a raccoon and could be seen holding its meal. Absolutely crazy! Once taking photos, a guide told everyone to back up and give the snake space. Even with a fence in between us and 5-10 feet of space, the snake could sense everyone which causes stress. Who knew!

A boa and a raccoon…wouldn’t be my first choice of food!

For the rest of the day at Manuel Antonio, I read my book and chatted with the other Sol students. Much to my delight, some Capuchin monkeys decided to pay our claimed area a visit. They began terrorizing other tourists by stealing their food or stuff. I literally saw a monkey grab a woman’s phone and try to rip it out of her hand. Much to my dismay, I also saw tourists trying to feed the monkeys when there were signs everywhere to not feed the wildlife. For the love of all things, if you go anywhere I implore you to NOT feed the wildlife.

Around 12:00 pm, the group of students I was with wrapped up our time at the National Park to have some lunch and prepare for the bus ride home.

A fabulous short trip. I cannot wait until my next Costa Rican national park visit!

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo

Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica: Day 1

Last Saturday, myself and the other Sol students boarded a charter bus to Manuel Antonio National Park for an overnight trip. Manuel Antonio is a one of Costa Rica’s smaller national park’s known for its pristine beaches and wildlife. I truly had zero expectations for this trip as I had not done any research prior to going.

During the 4-hour drive, we made two stops. Our first stop was a souvenir shop in the middle of nowhere. After everyone did some shopping, our group boarded the bus again to head to a bridge where crocodiles can sometimes be spotted. Angie, one of the chaperones/Sol coordinators, told everyone that we may not be able to walk and stop to observe the crocodiles on the bridge if the police were patrolling. The bridge that crosses over the river where the crocodiles live is a high-traffic area, so the police typically are pushing everyone along and stopping tourists from stopping to stare at the crocodiles on the bridge. Luckily for us, there were no police!

When we arrived, everyone walked single file on the narrow sidewalk on the bridge. As luck would have it, there were lots of crocodiles basking in the sun along with baby crocodiles scurrying in the brush. My photos do not fully capture the immense size of the crocodiles. There was a ginormous crocodile hiding partly below the bridge. I am 5′ 2″ and I am sure this crocodile happened to be 3x my height.

After making our way back to the bus, our drive continued for a while longer until we stopped once again for a photo opportunity.

Just a gringo girl with her Chacos and big sun hat!

Once all the photos had been taken, the bus ride continued. Eventually, we arrived at the hotel where we were welcomed with fresh fruit juice. Talk about service! Everyone checked into their rooms and immediately put on their swimsuits to head to the beach.

During the 10-minute walk to the beach, I saw monkeys in the forest! They were living their best lives playing with one another. Absolutely amazing! My pictures of these monkeys unfortunately are not great, but head over to my Manuel Antonio National Park Day 2 posts to see pictures of the same breed of monkey, Capuchin, in my blog post.

For the rest of the afternoon, I blissfully read a book on my Kindle listening to the waves of the ocean. Later on, I took a dip in the sea.

Paradise, am I right?

Once the tide started to come in, myself and the other students packed up our items and headed to the pool to hang out for the rest of the evening.

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo

Costa Rica Cooking Class

What I love about my study abroad program is that each week there are organized afternoon cultural activities. For example, the city tour happened to be one of these programs. In my opinion, the cultural activities provide a unique, hands-on experience to learn more about the country and host culture.

Hands-down, one of my favorite parts of traveling is sampling traditional foods that are significant to the country. To say I was excited to learn how to cook traditional Costa Rican dishes AND get to eat them is an understatement.

After my Tuesday class wrapped up, myself and the rest of Group B walked to a Sol student’s host house to learn how to cook.

Once we arrived, everyone suited up in chef hats and aprons. Then, Rosemary (host mom and expert cook) poured everyone a traditional fruit juice called fresco de cas. The drink contains water, cas (fruit), sugar, and ice. After having a refreshing drink, we began the cooking.

First up: chimichurry. Those who live in the United States would know this as pico de gallo, which typically comes with a main dish at a Mexican restaurant. I assumed the chimichurry would taste the same as pico de gallo, however, it tasted different! The Costa Rican version has tomatoes, onion, sweet chili, cilantro, and lime. I am not sure what caused the difference in taste. Perhaps the fresh produce had something to with it.

Next, our group mixed up Gallo Pinto. This is a common version of rice and beans that is served for breakfast here in Costa Rica. The dish contains black bean, rice, cilantro, celery, garlic, sweet chili, onion, sazon completo (mixed spices purchased at the store), and salsa Lizano (Costa Rican salsa).

To wrap up the main meal, everyone made their own corn tortilla. The corn tortillas require water, queso (specifically queso fresco), masa (specific type of flour), and sazonador (cannot find the English translation). Once everyone had their tortillas flattened, Rosemary cooked them on the skillet.

Gallo pinto, chimichurry, and a corn tortilla

After a VERY filling main dish, everyone learned how to make granizados. This is a typical dessert that you can find being sold in a market or on the beach. The dessert contains crushed/shaved ice, flavored syrup, sweetened and condensed milk, and milk powder. I cannot say that I thoroughly enjoyed this dessert. I am more of a chocolate girl!

A terrible picture, but you can see the syrup/ice mixture on the bottom, the sweetened and condensed milk as the next layer, and the powdered milk on top.

For our last meal of the day, everyone made fried platanos, which we then topped with beans. Necessary ingredients for the fried plantains include ripe bananas cooked with the peel, cinnamon, vanilla, and flour. For the beans, ground black beans and queso fresco for topping.

Lastly, we all learned, how to prepare coffee the traditional Costa Rican way. Basically, the grounds are placed in a sock and boiling hot water is poured over the grounds.

Thank goodness I do not eat this way every day. I would have to be rolled all the way back home come December.

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo

Costa Rica Independence Day

After a day of hiking on Saturday, Sunday was a day filled with celebration for Costa Rica’s Independence Day!

Once Sheri (my roommate) and I wrapped up our breakfast, we walked into town to check out Heredia’s Parade. Along the way, the two of us managed to get lost. If you know me personally, this shouldn’t be a surprise! Eventually, we found our way to the town square to watch the parade. Primarily, students in the area schools participated in the parade. There were students playing in marching bands, performing dance and cheerleader routines, walking on stilts, and so much more!

I will say this happened to be the longest parade I have ever witnessed! Sheri and I arrived around 9:30 am and the parade was in full swing. A couple of hours later, the two us of met up with other Sol students. Around lunch time, our whole group went in search of ice cream. Even after ice cream, the parade was still going strong!

After a nutritious lunch of ice cream, our group decided to go to the mall to hang out and avoid the rain. Myself and another student, Kendall, went in search of a bookstore and the grocery store to buy a few items. I ended up purchasing Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone in Spanish.

A full day of festivities!

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo

Hiking Tres Cruces

On my first free Saturday in Costa Rica, I headed to Tres Cruces with some of the other Sol students for a hike. I had absolutely no knowledge of where this hike began or what it entailed. I simply was along for the ride.

After meeting up together as a group, we called an Uber to take us to the beginning of what was supposed to be the hiking trail. However, upon reaching the “starting point,” we realized we were not in the correct location. As such, a student rolled down their window and asked a man walking alongside the road for directions. Our amazing Uber driver the took us to where the “start” of the trail began.

Starting out, we witnessed some incredible views.

Costa Rica hiking views

Once beginning the hike, though, our group soon realized we were most likely not in the correct location. Since we were having a great time, we just continued along the path winding our way through the woods. Eventually, our group managed to find what we think was the main path as we began to see other hikers.

Picture stop at a stream/mini waterfall

As a group, we continued our trek through the woods and through streams until we came to a “dead-end” of sorts on the trail. There, everyone ate some lunch. Since the sky started to look stormy, collectively we decided to head back.

A beautiful “dead-end” if you ask me

Funnily enough, our group exited NOT where we started. As far as we can tell, our starting point happened to be on the completely opposite side of where we ended the hike.

In order to get signal to call a return Uber, our group walked down the winding road. Along the way, we met a man selling homemade sweets. He convinced us to purchase some because “after a long hike, a sweet treat is perfect.” They were super delicious!

Once we arrived in Heredia, our group decided to grab a lunch/drink together. I cannot say I liked my pizza, but my Costa Rican “Mistica” porter tasted pretty amazing!

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo

Heredia, Costa Rica, City Tour!

Once again, I am back dating this post. One of these days, I will get my blog posts written in advanced.

After classes last Friday, the Sol program directors took half of we Sol students into Heredia for a city tour and fruit taste session.

Our first item on the agenda included riding the public bus to the city center. I cannot say that I fully absorbed what bus to take to get into the center of Heredia, but I successfully managed to get onto the bus with the rest of the Sol students.

Once in the city center, the Sol directors divided us into small groups of 3-4 students. We each drew a card with the name of a fruit on it that we needed to purchase. With money in our hands, our groups split off to head into the chaos of what is a market: stalls, color, booths, shouting of prices and products. My group successful purchased our fruit pretty quickly and spent our extra time wandering around. Since the upcoming Sunday happened to be Costa Rica’s Independence Day, the market had decorations in red, white, and blue.

Welcome to the crazy of what is a market!

After handing off our fruits to one of the two Sol directors, our huge group of gringos followed the other Sol director into the market to look at the band and costumed people who had marched into the market. Much to our delight, the band was playing music and the paper mache mask-wearing individuals were dancing. After snapping pictures, the masked dancers grabbed some of the Sol students to join in on the dancing in the middle of the market. A moment I will never forget.

Dancing in the middle of the market. So. Much. Joy!

Eventually, our group left the merriment to finish out the rest of the city tour. Angie, one of the Sol directors, told us about the history of the church, the tower, and other prominent spots in Heredia.

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“Group B” exploring Heredia!

After listening to the history of the city, our group made our way to a little building to sample the fruit we had purchased at the market:

  1. Carambola – starfruit
  2. Tamarind
  3. Manzana de agua
  4. Mango maduro
  5. Guayava
  6. Uchuva
  7. Mamon chino
  8. Jocote
  9. Granadilla
  10. Maracuya
  11. Anona
  12. Guanabana

Hands-down, my favorite fruits were mamon chino, guanabana, and maracuya! We rounded out the fruit tasting with corn tortillas with a potato topping and fried platanos with frijoles on top. Yum!

At the conclusion of the food tasting, the rest of the day was free. I went with a group of students and visited the local cemetery. For a cemetery, I have to say that the mountain backdrop made the whole thing pretty stunning!

Heredia Cemetery

Leave a positive impression,
Sydney xo