Friday, June 29, 2012

A Different Kind of Learning

On Tuesday, we went into San Jose. We went as students, and not tourists. We didn't sit in on a lecture at an embassy or a think tank, or admire San Jose's unique culture from afar. Instead, we were able to meet with HIV/AIDS patients at a shelter. We were lead through the homey building into an area of tables and chairs, where several of the patients shared their stories with us. They told us their stories; many of them have known of their HIV positive status for over twenty years, have lost lovers along the way, and have endured serious discrimination from their families as well as the Costa Rican community. The people at this shelter, despite their hardships, opened up to us right away. They told us how they had been outcasted by their families, fired from their jobs when their employers found out their HIV status, and often times discriminated against for being homosexual. They shared with us their day to day struggles, facing the deaths of their friends and living with the disease themselves. It was more of a discussion than a lecture; we learned about their lifestyle and they learned about ours.

It was then that I realized, visits like this one are what studying abroad is all about. Yes, it's about seeing the countryside and getting to know the wildlife. Yes, it's about learning from the country's best teachers, and of course it's about getting to immerse ones self in a culture different from there own. That is what we did at the shelter. The majority of us had had very little exposure to the struggle of HIV/AIDS patients prior to this visit, and by the end of the discussion we had gotten to know a slice of culture that largely goes unseen in Costa Rica. At multiple times during the lecture I felt myself getting goosebumps, and being truly inspired by what these people had to say. They were all adamant about pursuing their goals, even in the face of animosity. As people who would some day also like to change the world, the Global Scholars had a lot to learn from the people living at the shelter; twenty years of hardships and they hadn't lost sight of their own personal power to change things, nor had they given up the fight. They were truly inspirational and helped put things back into perspective. For the people living at the shelter, giving up without a fight isn't an option- and it shouldn't be for any of us either. We can change things, and that's what we're aiming to do as students.

-Kelly Mertz

Final Excursion to San Jose

     Can’t believe it’s the end! These three weeks in Costa Rica flew by. Yesterday, whole gang went into San Jose to visit the National Theatre and the Gold Museum. It was a great visit—bus broke down on the way into town, but quickly got on another one that arrived… just a day in the life haha. We walked down Central Avenue, which is the main commercial street with no car access. So many shops, many American ones actually—of course, good ol’ Mcdonalds makes several appearances! There were also so many shoe stores, if you ever need new shoes, San Jose is the place to go! 
     We stopped by Crispy Churro for some yummy sweet treats before headed to the National Theatre—we all enjoyed our afternoon snacks. The National Theatre is the main tourist attraction in the city, and it met expectations. We ended up not getting a tour guide (despite every other group having one… they must trust us global scholars to figure things out! Haha), so it was awesome wandering around the theatre ourselves—Savanna even got some stage time. We had to wait out the usual afternoon downpour (it’ll be different going home and not having to carry around a rain jacket every day) and then some of us headed to the Gold Museum and others of us headed to a café. I was a part of the café group—Daphne, Cora, Carolina and Katie and I had a great time chatting at the café over yummy cappuccinos and some key lime pie. 
     We headed home after that with an excruciatingly long bus ride—San Jose rush hour! By the time we got home we were all exhausted, happy to be back in Ciudad Colon. We had reach deep and get that second wind to finish our final paper for the class. It was a great last excursion here in Costa Rica. Pura Vida!!


Thursday, June 28, 2012

Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen? Nonsense!

A few days ago, the seven of us living on the Pechuga compound (Savanna, Audrey, Bryana, Daphne, Daniel, Shun, and I) went to the supermarket with a mission. We needed to get food to prepare dinner Thursday night for our families. We got the ingredients for lasagna, a big, leafy salad, a tropical fruit salad, and chocolate brownies.

Thursday after class, we went to Che Pizza, an Argentinian pizza restaurant in town, to watch Germany and Italy duke it out in the semifinals of the EuroCup. After our stomachs were full and Italy was victorious (!!!!), we went back to the compound to begin preparing dinner. We used whatever utensils we could find to help us prepare three beautiful lasagnas, four giant bowls of salad, a fruit salad containing pineapple, cantaloupe, watermelon, and bananas, and two pans of brownies.

We had so much fun getting our hands dirty and testing our skills at using a Latin American kitchen all in an effort to give back to our wonderful host families who we have come to know and love. Hopefully dinner will go without a hitch.

Wish us luck!
Brock Grecco

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Monteverde 2

 Hey! In addition to our last blog post, I will talk about our last awesome weekend in Monteverde. As the last blog mentioned, we went to Monteverde not only to have fun, but also to study. Since we did so many activities that I cannot possibly write about everything here, I picked one activity we did for fun and one lecture that we got.

☆Night and Day Hiking☆

On Saturday, we explored a natural rainforest in the dark of night. Each of us were handed a flash light. We were divided as two groups and hiked for two solid hours. It was a little bit tiring, but we saw many cool animals that we cannot usually see in the day time. The huge tarantula on the right was one of them.

On Sunday morning, we explored another forest again, though we did not need flash lights this time. Although all the birds were sleeping during last night's hike, we could see many different kinds of birds today in the daylight. There were ton of bugs, too...

                        ↑                    ↑
 (Wasp nest through the telescope)                          (Caterpillars!!!)

(Quetzal!!!! through the telescope)
Our guide was so excited when he found this bird. We were so lucky that we could see this beautiful bird :)

☆Lecture at Vargas Leiton Family Farm☆

On Saturday evening, we visited Vargas Leiton Family Farm, where the guy in the picture has been trying to do organic farming and raise a few animals.
He confidently insisted that organic farming is possible. Remarkably, he was
using the waste from animal to make fuel to power the different plants on his farm.
He also takes part in the education of the Monteverde community. He invites the students like us regardless of age and teaches them about organic farming through his pure experience.
As we explored his huge farm, we were able to planted trees, saw his animals and had a wonderful time!

                           ↑                   ↑
            (Baby coffee plants)                                (Katie planting a tree)

↑                                                                 ↑
(Pigs♡)                 (Goats!)

↑                                                                ↑
  (Grace with baby chicken        (Chicken!! We harvested eggs.)
   she is so excited☆)

     Group pic on the huge tree♡

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Monteverde: What a weekend!

      Hello all! We just returned today from a lovely three day trip up to Monteverde. To give you a quick introduction to Monteverde, it is an area up in the northwest of the country, about a 3 hour drive from Ciudad Colón. High up in the clouds, it was definitely an uphill ride from where we are living. It is now one of the most famous parts of Costa Rica, known for its beautiful “cloud forest,” which is an absolutely amazing rainforest and wildlife refuge. 

     While it once was known for dairy farming because of the industrious Quakers that immigrated to the area in the 1950s, it is now an ecotourist’s paradise. Unfortunately for us, we were not just there to zipline and bird watching like most tourists, but instead we heard fascinating lectures on the history, biology, agriculture, and development of the region. In many ways, this trip reminded me of the Galapagos because this city too is facing a growing number of tourists with only a limited number of resources. One lecture touched upon the problems that the lack of zoning laws and a gray water treatment plant has had for Monteverde. Although 50 or even 30 years ago, Monteverde was sparsely populated, these issues are now pressing with the growing population and number of tourists.
     This is not to say that we weren’t able to have fun as well. We had the pleasure of going on a night hike to see sloths, tarantulas, frogs, and snakes; eating lots and lots of delicious food; planting trees on a sustainable farm; and doing some pretty intense nature walking. It was great to get away to a very different part of the country and be a big group all together again. It’s so crazy to think that we have less than a week left, but I know that there is still a lot of great stuff ahead, so stay posted!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Life at the Compound

Life at the Compound By: Savanna Rovira This place is full of life. It's a mini hub, a familial city. My foot kicks open the heavy red fence. It's a seemingly oxymoronical thing; its menacing outside is met with a warm, welcoming inside. Sort of like the family dog. Or one of those spiky fruits with the delectable and delightful flesh. The second I step inside, the sounds and smells and laughter and stories and personalities and above all, flavors, of the Pechuga Compound bombard me. Why Pechuga, right? Pechuga is the nickname given to the men of the family. Chicken breast. You laugh but their chests stick out and you sort of think of chickens too. Proud and noble chickens though, the kind you would want to be your host family, if you were a chicken. Our compound is comprised of a few brothers and sisters and their families. The matriarch is abuela. Each house (I think there are a total of five) has its own little family, and each is part of the bigger union that resides within this fence. Children and dogs, and the occasional chicken or monkey, scurry around the premises. The little ones fly in and out of the houses, interacting with the mamas of each, and playing with their cousins as if they were siblings. My own host mother runs next door to grab a cup of sugar (unfortunately I think I'm depleting their supply, although she won't say so. The only way I can convince myself I like coffee is by adding four spoonfuls of sugar...) and stays for a while to chat. The doors and kitchens are never locked, never closed, never unwelcoming. Behind each, at each dinner table, sits someone willing, hoping, waiting for conversation. And then there's us. Thrown into the mix at seasonal intervals. But it doesn't really matter at all that we aren't Costa Ricans, that we aren't "pechugas," that sometimes we confuse the words "perro" and "pero," and that we aren't all that accustomed to rice and beans. For a few weeks, it doesn't matter whose blood you have, or to which country you owe your allegiance, or which language your tongue babbles in. We're thrown into the life and spirit of this place, treated as one of their own. We all become Pechugas. Their smiles become ours. And ours theirs. It reminds me of my own big italian family at home on Sunday dinners. Forty people, Nonna, pasta on pasta. If someone was to sit in and be an observer of our life for a few weeks, or do a home stay with us, they would probably be writing down things similar to those I write down now. That people come and go and it's a never-ending cycle of new faces and smiles. And the dinner table stretches to meet any size, any amount of new or old friends. And the fence is always open. In all, we're loving it here so far. Pura Vida (which apparently means anything and everything, from hello, goodbye, life is good, etc.).

Coffee Plantation Visit Take 2

Yesterday, we had the opportunity to visit a coffee plantation and meet with one of the coffee plantation owners. It was so interesting to see the farm and how only the grandfather picks the coffee beans all by himself on a land less than one hector. I usually don't drink coffee back in the States, especially black, but here it's not bitter. Costa Rica has the right topography and weather for coffee to grow. Too bad it wasn't the high season; I would have like to see the coffee picking process. I felt so happy eating the delicious mango. One of the things I love about tropical region.
       After leaving the plantation, we went to a factory to see how the coffee is roasted and put into coffee bags. It was so weird how seeing so many coffee beans that seemed so insignificant; but in the background, there's a story to every product. It was so hot in there and all of us had to wear the head caps. We looked pretty ridiculous. What a great experience.

-Daniel Kim