30 September 2006

Dancing, Graduation, and Nicaragua


Well, dear readers, this will be my last post for the next two weeks, at the very least. On Monday morning, bright and early, we leave for Nicaragua for about 12 days. We’ll be gone until the next Friday.

What will we do there? Well, we’ll start off in Managua with some orientation as well as some “conferencias” (chats) with some locals concerning Nicaragua. Then we’ll spend 6 nights with host families. After that, we’ll reconvene in Granada for some debrief and more conferencias, then we’ll ride a bus back to San José. Rumor has it that, depending on customs, the bus ride will be 8-10 hours long!

So, I’m pretty excited to be going. A lot of the students on the program are worried about the food or about the living conditions and things similar to that, but I’m just excited for something new, something different, something educational, and something enriching. I’m not too worried about the food and conditions (although when I told some girls they might have to take ‘bucket showers’ if they don’t have running out, their eyes about doubled in size!).

Yesterday marked our last day of language school. We ended with a graduation ceremony, graduation certificates, and some amazing cake! I can hardly believe we're done with language school - that means that I've been here for over a month, which is incomprehensible to me, but also really exciting.

This morning I went with 5 other girls to dance class! It turns out that I'll be going to a wedding with my host family in October, and there will be dancing. I was worried at first, because I dance like an awkward white girl! But, this morning I went to a 2-hour dance class with some of the girls and we had an amazing time! I'm not an expert, but I definitely feel more comfortable and more excited to be dancing! Watch out, I'll be a dancing fool by the time I get home!

So, life here has been good since I last posted. A lot of my extra activities have been focused on finding some of the basic things I need before I leave for Nicaragua, ranging in anything from medicine to a longer skirt to a Spanish Bible with 4 translations (the 4 translations was my decision…)

I hope you’re all doing well. I’ll post again when I get back from Nicaragua – if you’re lucky, you’ll get pictures!

25 September 2006

I've Been Renamed!

There’s an old spiritual song… “I’ve been redeemed.” Except the song in my head is more to the tune of “I’ve Been Renamed.”

How? Three times this weekend, my host family called me “Michelle” instead of Nicole. At first I thought it was just a slip of the tongue – after all, they’ve had countless students in their home. But then, I finally asked, “Who’s Michelle?” To which my family replied “We don’t even know anyone named Michelle!” Even funnier, both my host mom and dad did it separately without realizing the other had done it.

So, now my family calls me Michelle just for the fun of it. But it’s still Nicole a lot of the time. And sometimes, it’s Nicole Maria!

If anything, it’s a great sign to me that I’m starting to fit in with the family and things are going well. That makes me smile.

I hope you have things that can make you smile.

22 September 2006

Comfort Zone?

Everyone has a comfort zone. Everyone has a line that makes them uncomfortable if they cross it. This week I found my line.

This program is fond of interviews. Of people you don't know. Out on the streets. Last weekend we had to do 3 while in Limón. This Monday, we had to do 3 in San José. For my conversation class today, I had to do a minimum of two. For next week, I have to do 2 with Nicaraguan immigrants.

I don't like interviews. I don't like approaching people I don't know and asking questions they may or may not want to answer.

That's my vent. You'll probably hear more from me on Monday, when I've done all the required interviews and maybe feeling a bit more optimistic. At the moment, I'm not feeling it!

(but I do feel the need to tell you that I had fresh pineapple for breakfast this morning, which totally made my day, because it was DELICIOUS)

18 September 2006


Hello Again Friends

A weekend has passed, which means we had our first group trip away from San José. This weekend we traveled to the province of Limón, located on the Caribbean coast. Limón province is the poorest province in Costa Rica and has been a neglected province for almost all of its history, for reasons that are long in explanation!

The purpose of our trip was mainly culture exposure as well as hearing the opinions of people from Limón itself about their opinions of the country, the government, and how they’re treated. It was an eye-opener, including Independence Day craziness, interesting interviews, and a lively English-speaking Baptist church.

On our way to Limón, we stopped at three interesting places: a coffee plantation, a banana plantation, and a pineapple field. So, I thought I’d throw in a picture of each of those for your entertainment. Unfortunately, I didn't get blogger to upload the pictures, so I'm using Flickr instead. Go here

So, there’s your cultural education for the day. I had a decent time in Limón, including a visit to the Caribbean sea, which was amazing!

Hope you are all doing well. More later on life in general. Two weeks from today I head to Nicaragua!

14 September 2006

Two Hydrogens, One Oxygen

There’s an old saying for Morton salt, (maybe they still have it): “When it rains, it pours.” There’s even a pretty picture of a girl with a yellow umbrella on the container. I can picture it perfectly in my mind, because we bought a lot of Morton salt when I was younger.

Yesterday, I altered that saying to make it my own: “When it pours, it POURS.”

As I’m in my third week here in Costa Rica, let me impart this knowledge to you: Costa Rica has two seasons: winter and summer. In the summer, there’s moderate weather with little rain. That’s during our spring time. Then there’s the ‘winter.’ That’s what’s going on right now. In the winter, temperatures are in the low to mid 70s, and the forecast is quite predictable: Sunny in the morning, rain likely in the afternoon. A ten-day forecast could look like that for every single day.

So, here people know how to deal with the rain. Some days it doesn’t rain. Sometimes it only rains in certain areas or barrios of San José. For example, one day it rained at home while I was gone and I managed to avoid rain completely. Then there are days like yesterday. The rain started when we arrived from language school into San José. From this bus stop, I have to walk about 9 blocks to my next bus stop to get home. These are 9 city blocks, not blocks like in Sioux Center.

So, as we walked the wind picked up, it rained tremendously and my umbrella even inverted. We’ve learned quickly that you need a sturdy umbrella to survive in Costa Rica. I already had to invest in a better one than the umbrella I’d brought. So, two blocks down, a group of us stopped under a building’s overhang to wait for the rain to let up. We didn’t wait for it to pass, because we knew it wouldn’t actually stop. But, about ten minutes later, it let up enough to be deemed slow enough to walk in.

Let me tell you, there were rivers in the streets. It’s not like the streets were flooded, but in Costa Rica, the distance from the street to the sidewalk can sometimes be large, and sometimes there can be a bit of a gap…which means rivers. By the time I got home, my socks and shoes were so soaked that they were squishing around and I felt the water in them. My pants were wet from the bottom to somewhere above my knee. The sleeves on my shirt were soaked. The rest of me was dry only due to the help of an umbrella.

The lesson that I’ve learned? Umbrellas actually are useful! At home, I don’t use an umbrella. If it rains, I’ll run through it. Here, if it rains, you can’t just run through it. There’s too far to go. And the other lesson? No matter how sunny, how beautiful, or how warm you are in the morning, always remember two things: your umbrella and a sweater or rain jacket of some kind. You won’t regret it.

12 September 2006

So Check Me Out!


Being sick is no fun. Being away from home, speaking a different language, AND being sick is less fun. Don´t worry, Mom, Dad, everyone else, I´m doing okay :) But, I procured myself a nasty cold that I´m famous for acquiring. Through this, I discovered how pharmacies in Costa Rica work: you visit a "doctor" where you tell them your problem, they "prescribe" you medication, you take it to a different counter in the same building, they give it to you, you pay at a different place. Basically, besides just basic vitamins, you can´t get any medicine without telling someone what exactly your problem is. So try, to tell someone in broken spanish that you´ve had a sore throat for the last day and that you´re stuffy and this is how your colds always start...

But things are getting better. Whatever it was they gave me, I think it´s working. I´ve been trying to rest as much as I can, provided all of the work that we currently have going on. Tonight will be interesting, to say the least.

I dare say that I´m pretty much accustomed to life here. There are little quirks, no doubt, but so far so good. We have a weekend trip for class this weekend, so that will be a good experience.

My biggest "project" right now is trying to figure out what language class I could be in. Out of 10 groups, I was placed in group number 8 (10 being highest). I soon found out it was going too slow and my teacher suggested I move (which is no problem), so today I moved to group 9, where I discovered they were moving slower than we were in group 8, and there´s no room in group 10 for me. So, I´m not exactly sure what I´m going to do about that. We have about two and a half weeks of language school left and I don´t want to feel like that time was wasted with stuff I already know. So, tomorrow I´ll be talking to teachers again and trying to get a feel for what I should do...

So, let me repeat: (especially for Mom, Dad, and all other concerned ones): I´m okay. I´m dealing with being sick. You don´t need to call the National Guard to come get me ;) That´s our running joke here in Costa Rica, because some people worry a lot.

Okay. As always, I hope you´re doing well. If you go to Dordt and want my snailmail address, it´s on DENIS. If not, you can always ask my parents - they know it, I don´t know it off hand because it goes to LASP and I pick it up. Mail will take up to 2 weeks to get here, so I also readily welcome e-mails.

Dios los Bendiga

08 September 2006

another day, another post!

Hello Again dear friends ~

It’s been merely two days and I’m writing to you again. Can you handle it??

Things are still going well here. We talk about how when we’re learning, we should be “paddling to keep our heads above water.” Our director keeps remind us that this means that we shouldn’t be drowning, nor should we be floating on our backs drinking a piña colada.

Well, then, following that analogy, I’m treading water quite rapidly. But it’s a good water tread, I think. I’m not quite sure how to describe it. If I were at Dordt, my class load and homework would be considered “light.” For yesterday, I had to read about 30 pages of articles, write a 2 ½ page summary in Spanish, and do 2 exercises in Spanish. But here in Costa Rica, I end up with about 3 hours or less of working time each day.

The rushed schedule in terms of homework is worth it, though. Getting to know my Costa Rican family has already been a wonderful experience, and I’ve only been with them just over a week. The experience of culture, learning, and living is definitely one that I won’t ever forget.

Communicating with my family has been going fairly well. I´d wager a guess that I can probably communicate with them about 60% of the time. Intense conversations and Spanish TV are the hardest to understand, but they´re pretty good about explaining things if I get a "I have no idea what´s going on" look on my face!

Yesterday we had our first guest speaker in class and he presented in Spanish and a staff member translated. My notes were written in mostly Spanish, but some English. I’m probably the only one who can understand what I meant by everything I wrote, but at least I probably know what it meant!

My days are long, usually starting between 5:30 and 7:00 every morning and ending around 9:30 each night. It’s been an education in getting everything done. But it’s been good. A few things are unpredictable, like arriving anywhere between 5 and 30 minutes early for class depending on the buses, but having a traveling partner is a great blessing!

As always, I hope that you’re all doing well, staying safe and blessed.

Hasta pronto…

06 September 2006


Hello Dear Readers:

It’s been a busy few days since I posted last. It seems like when the days are packed like they have been, then it seems like so much more time has passed. As of today, I’ve officially been in the country for a week. It feels like so much longer, except that we’re still in the very beginning of our classes!

Yesterday we began our “Core Seminar” of classes. It’s going to be full of history, discussion, opinion formation, and so much more. It seems to me that in a month of Core Seminar classes, I’ll be forced to think much more critically than I’m used to doing in a semester or even a year. This is probably good for me!

This week also marks the beginning of our Spanish language studies. I was placed in a group 8 class (group 1 being the basic class and 10 the most advanced), which I feel to be appropriate so far. We’re jumping right into dealing with issues that I know that I struggle with, so that’s definitely a good sign. We have grammar classes and conversation classes every afternoon, which is definitely a good thing – it keeps things mixed up and going. I’m in these classes with 4 other people, so it’s a nice size for the class.

As we’ve been going through this week, the most common feel is that we feel like kindergartners. We sit eating our lunch together, asking questions like “What did your mom pack you for lunch today?” and saying things like, “That looks good, I wish I had that in my lunch!” When I came home on Monday after traveling “by myself” (with one other student) for the first time, everyone in the family had to ask “Did you get lost?”

You may laugh, and I do laugh at that as well, but I was scared to death last week when I saw the buses I had to take. To get to my Core Seminar class, it’s about 1 hour and 15 mins. to get there (in the morning). If I need to go to Spanish class from my house, it’s about an hour. When we go from Core Seminar to Spanish class, we take taxis because it saves time!

So, it’s been an adventure in transportation, to say the least. But, I feel like I’m making the transition from small town to huge city fairly well. I’ve navigated my way through Central San Jose and even bought a few things in stores (after figuring out my size shoe in Costa Rican sizing instead of US sizing!).

So, it’s been a great few days. I pray that you are all doing well with classes, work, or the like. You are always welcome to send me e-mails and I’ll try to respond to you individually. When I’m on the internet, it’s plenty fast, and I’m hoping to check at least 1-2 times a week.

Que Dios le bendiga

02 September 2006

¡por fin!

Well, let me just begin this blog with a triumphant: “I’m Here!!”

It’s been a busy few days and there’s no way that I could begin to describe to all of you what’s been going on. We’ve had orientation, activities, new foods, new families, lots of travel, and so much more. So, I’m going to list for you what I call my “victories” of my first 4 days here:

1. I made it through customs fine, with all of my luggage
2. I almost know all the names of the 47 other participants
3. Nothing has been stolen yet (trust me, that’s huge)
4. I love my host family
5. I think I can make it on my own on the buses next week
6. I’ve slept really well in my new bed!
7. My hair looks really good, even without a brush (I know, superficial, but it means a lot to me, somehow)
8. I’ve been healthy so far
9. The food has been really wonderful
10. I’m excited to see the next 3 months develop!

So, that’s a few things that have been going on, in a nutshell. I’ve also discovered more of what my classes are going to be like, which is a nice feeling.

For the month September, we’ll be having Spanish classes in the afternoon. I don’t know what class I’m in yet (I’ll know Monday), but those will be M-F every afternoon. Some mornings we’ll have a “Core Seminar” that focuses on History and Issues in Latin America. It sounds a lot like a Gen300 class to me, but more focused on Latin America.

In October, I’ll first travel to Nicaragua for 10 days and then we’ll have the Core Seminar full time in order to work on papers and presentations. At the end of October, we’ll have our Fall Break for 4 days.

In November, we move into our concentrations. I chose “Advanced Language and Literature,” which means that I’ll be spending more time with the Spanish language and we’ll also be talking about cultural issues “through the lenses of literature” (as it was explained to me yesterday!).

On December 3rd, we’ll leave for Guatemala, where we’ll spend 10 days there. Then we’ll travel straight to Miami for some debrief/re-entry type information/class stuff. Then, on the 17th (Sunday), I’ll come home!

So, there’s my life the next few months in a nutshell. I’m sure you’ll hear more details as time goes on. Everything is going well, I hope you’re all doing well, also 