Post #6: The End of an Era

Saludos! I have been back home for around two weeks now, soaking up the Texas sun, relishing in the 105 degree heat, and visiting my family members. Although I am overjoyed to be reunited with my family, I definitely miss my host family, my students at Sifais, public bus rides, and the fresh fruit served every meal. 

Reflecting on my six weeks in Costa Rica, I am more than satisfied with my experiences. Through the visits created by Praxis Center, I gained more understanding of the history of Costa Rica and its resilience against Spanish colonization, as well as U.S. imperialism and exploitation of natural resources. Such excursions included visits to Monumento Nacional Guayabo in Cartago, a finca (farm) of the Bribri (an indigenous group) in Cahuita, Balvanera Vargas Park in Puerto Limón (one of the places Christopher Columbus landed). For me, one of the most meaningful aspects of these excursions was at the end of the finca tour when we all gathered together in community for dinner and listened to the head of the finca explain the significance of respecting and caring for nature. Hearing her passion for nature has made me reflect on how I can become more environmentally conscious and utilize more sustainable practices, especially in my future career field of architecture. Furthermore, I was able to really understand the majesty of nature during my trip to Volcán Poas with my host family. Feeling the mist blow onto my face as the clouds below moved to unveil the rich blue lagoon below was absolutely beautiful. These trips have provided me with indescribable and unforgettable experiences that I will cherish forever.  

However, the most enlightening and enriching part of my time in Costa Rica was definitely the time I spent with my students at Sifais. I cannot fully describe the pure love, enthusiasm and vivacious spirits of the kids in Montessori. I enjoyed every second guiding the little toddlers through their activities and watching their minds develop as they learned how to solve the puzzles all by themselves. In addition to Montessori, I LOVED teaching my Spanish and English classes. (Again) Words cannot express how happy I was when two of my students finally mastered the alphabet. As mentioned in a previous blog post, in my Adult Conversational English class, I learned just as much from the students as they learned from me. Each class day we had conversations covering a variety of topics, ranging from cultural displacement and how we culturally define ourselves to Disney movies and princesses. Through our discussions, I learned so much about Costa Rica, including traditional dishes, places to tour, typical architecture, socioeconomic issues, and some of the flaws in its public educational system. Nonetheless, there were times I found it quite difficult to teach. When I focused on the dried-out whiteboard markers, lack of paper and technology, short attention span of the children, or the unequal educational obstacles my older students had to overcome, I felt defeated and incapable of teaching. Yet, when I moved my concentration from certain obstacles to the beautiful smiles, bright minds, creative souls, and warm hearts I encountered, I was able to creatively think of more engaging lesson plans for the children and could only focus on their growth and how to assist in continuing it.   

Moreover, my experience caused me to look at my Latinidad and Latin America through a different lens. As mentioned in a previous blog post, one thing that continually surprised me throughout my time in Costa Rica was how different Panamá and Costa Rica are despite being neighbors. Differences in tone, food, and foreign influence really stuck out to me. This observation was quite significant to me, because I feel as though oftentimes we, as a United Statesian society and myself included, forget that cultural boundaries do not match the national boundaries imposed on the Americas by colonizers. For instance, upon visiting the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum in San José, I discovered why Chiriqui (in Panamá) and eastern Limon (in Costa Rica) are far more culturally alike than they are to their respective countries: they share the same indigenous. The Bribri and Ngäbe peoples have territory in both east Costa Rica and west Panamá; thus, certain cultural practices have been confined in one region but have “bled” into two countries. In the same way, although Costa Rica is in the middle of both Panamá and Nicaragua, Costa Rica shares more similarities with Nicaragua due to Costa Rica being colonized differently than Panamá.   

This experience has truly taught me to live in the present, soaking up my current surroundings no matter my location and showing gratitude to nature. Additionally, I have been provided with a new outlook on how architecture can better reflect culture while addressing socioeconomic issues. Gracias (otra vez) to CSLC, SLA, and Praxis Center for such an unforgettable experience! Pura vida, mae!

Post #5: Cultural Dimensions, Almuerzo, and… Tico Time?

Saludos (otra vez)! I am entering my final week here in Costa Rica, and I’m feeling an array of emotions! Although I am definitely excited to finally see my family and sister, I will definitely miss my Costa Rican family, the fresh fruit and bread with every meal, and the breathtaking nature. With all of these new and interesting adventures, I am most grateful for the new friendships I have made, as well as being able to learn about and experience various aspects of Costa Rican culture! Although my adjustment period was not too rough because of my Panamanian background, there were definitely cultural differences that surprised me quite a bit! 

Upon arriving, I was greeted with my entire host family casually hanging out in the living room of the house. After some introductions and small talk, we all ate lunch together. Around dinner time, my two older host siblings had returned from running errands and sat right back at the dinner to break bread. Through this simple encounter and many others, I noticed that, generally, Costa Ricans are more collectivists rather than individualists. For every meal I have had at my house, I am always accompanied by my host family. This was further confirmed to me this past week during my Conversational English Adult class when one of my students told me that it is their “responsibility to watch after and take care of each other’s children.” This is very different from the very individualistic society in the United States. On several occasions, my host family has told me that they find U.S. society to be quite isolating and stressful, as the difference of collectivism and individualism behavior is heightened by the high uncertainty avoidance and long-term orientation in the U.S. as opposed to the low uncertainty avoidance and short-term orientation in Costa Rica. For me, I think this difference in uncertainty avoidance is best exemplified through the level of importance placed on punctuality in both countries. In Costa Rica, Tico time (the idea that Costa Ricans are always late so their excuse for being tardy is that they’re Ticos) is almost always used in every circumstance, and it exudes a very “go with the flow” mentality, whereas in the U.S. punctuality is taken very seriously. To them, punctuality is not as important so long as the work gets done and everyone is well. Moreover, when talking to my host family and adult students, they primarily seem to be concerned about the present, allowing the future to come when it needs to be. 

Following my realization of such differences in cultural dimension, I have tried to become more of a collectivist. As an introvert, it has been a bit of a struggle being around my Tica family during most of my free time, only because I need time to recharge my social battery. However, I understand that my host family has gone completely out of their way to try and make me feel comfortable, so I can return the grand favor by simply sacrificing some personal time to learn more about them and Costa Rican culture. Regarding cultural dimension, prior to arriving I wish I had known more information about the language, as in how direct or indirect people generally are. In Costa Rica, people tend to speak very politely, are very cordial with strangers on the street, and DO NOT speak very directly. Growing up with a Panamanian mother, I am used to speaking very directly in Spanish–instead of “por favor, podrias pasar…” I usually say “dámelo,” which is considered to be a very aggressive phrase in Costa Rica. Therefore, knowing ahead of time the level of language directness in Costa Rica would have been very helpful, as there have definitely been times that I accidentally offended my host family, my students, or people in general by saying something too directly. Since this discovery of how directly or indirectly, I have been conscious of my diction and tone to ensure that I don’t come off as aggressive to the people I am communicating with. Furthermore, it has prompted me to think about how I (and Panamanians in general) come off to others when speaking, and upon considering this, I have come to the conclusion that perhaps there are some phrases I can say with a softer tone so as to not come off as sharp. 

With that, there has been a plethora of cultural customs I have learned since being here and definitely new behaviors and ways of thinking I will apply when returning to the United States. Reflecting upon my six weeks here, I am content with all I have seen and experienced since being here. Most of all, I am beyond thankful for my host family and the amazing students I have gotten to know on a deep and personal level. I am grateful to God for providing me with such an opportunity to improve my Spanish, meet such amazing and inspiring people, and embrace a new culture. I cannot wait to see what the rest of my days look like here and if Costa Rica part 2 is in my near future! 

Post #4 DIVE: Jeepers! Beware of the Creepers!

Saludos (otra vez)! I am at the beginning of my fifth week here, and wow does time sure fly by! For the past week and a half I have mainly hung out with my host family and friends, and have relished in the wonderful Santo Domingo environment. Though I have truly enjoyed my time here, there have definitely been some experiences that have left me a bit overwhelmed, confused, and in a state of introspection. Most of these experiences have occurred during my journey to and from my worksite. 

About two weeks ago, while waiting 40 minutes for my second bus home, I noticed that an older man was trying to get on a bus to San Jose but he had left his phone on the bench. I called out to the man a few times, and as he quickly ran back to get his phone, the bus pulled away. The man thanked me for watching over his phone and explained that he was confused about the bus schedule and  routes. Soon after, he began to talk to me and he asked a couple of questions. Being from the South, I at first did not think anything of the interaction, as I thought he was just being friendly. The conversation soon shifted to personal inquiries about me, as he then started showing me shirtless pictures of him at the beach and pool then began to ask personal questions about me: “Where are you from? Where are you staying and for how long? Why are you here in Costa Rica?” Most notably, he told me that he remembered me sitting in the back of the bus from the day before (and no I did not remember him from the day before). At this moment, a small wave of stress swept over me, as I had not remembered him from the day before and I had no idea where these questions were leading to.

After a few minutes, the bus finally arrived and made sure to sit as far away as possible from that man. Following the encounter, I made sure to be very aware of my surroundings while walking back home, and although I felt overall creeped out since I was unsure of his intentions, I ended up brushing the situation to the side a bit. Reflecting upon the situation, I feel a bit more concerned now than before, because I think of the different possible outcomes that could have happened and how I maybe should have been more cautious than I initially was, such as maybe switching up my mode of transportation the next day or even in the moment. Despite having a positive interpretation of the interaction at the moment, I now have a negative evaluation of the situation since, to me, he definitely held some of the characteristics and behavior of a creeper. Although I was unable to have someone verify my interpretation, reflecting upon the situation with the separation of description and interpretation has enabled me to realize that I need to be more aware of who I am encountering and interacting with on the bus–even if they seem friendly!

Post #3 Generalizations: American… or U.S. American?

Throughout my internship thus far, I have had the privilege of visiting Costa Rican cultural and historical sites, seeing new animals and natural environments, and, most significantly, meeting new people–from Nicaragua, Venezuela, and even Germany! Each week on Mondays through Wednesdays, I hold a 2.5 hour advanced English conversation class for adults. The same three individuals have been attending, and I have had the opportunity to know them on a personal level and learn more about Costa Rican culture. Our conversations have ranged from Disney movies to daycares to job interview questions. Recently, however, much of our conversations have focused on Costa Rican culture and American culture. 

Typically, I am the one asking them questions to keep the conversation going; however, on Tuesday, the tables turned and they began the class by asking me questions about any preconceived ideas I had about Costa Rica prior to arriving. After giving them my responses–in which I believed that Costa Rica would revolve around its ecotourism industry and the people would be very chill–I asked them about their thoughts on Americans. Most of their hetero-stereotypes have been based on interactions they’ve had with Americans in SIFAIS (the social work organization I am interning at) and on social media or television. The hetero-stereotypes were generally negative, with my students believing that Americans were very entitled and selfless, unwilling to serve the La Carpio community despite volunteering at a social work organization. Furthermore, they believed this to be true because of how U.S. Americans refer to themselves as “Americans” and not “North/U.S. Americans,” as if the United States is the only legitimate nation in the Americas (emphasis on the “s” in Americas). Additionally, my students thought of U.S. Americans as wasteful, a bit greedy, and thought that they are all mainly white and racist (they were very shocked to see me–an African American/Panamanian as the English teacher). 

From what I heard prior to going to La Carpio my first couple of times, La Carpio is the most impoverished and dangerous barrio in all of Costa Rica… it also just so happens to be where a majority of Nicaraguan refugees reside (xenophobia against Nicaraguans?). With La Carpio having such a bad reputation amongst everyday Costa Ricans, I think it may have caused a lot of U.S. Americans to be wary of the people living there and, thus, unwilling to fully serve as volunteers in SIFAIS and other organizations in La Carpio. Much to my surprise, I was told by one of my students that I am the kindest and most humble American that they had ever met. Following my initial shock, I reflected on some of my international experiences with U.S. Americans. Although I believe that there is a large number of U.S. Americans who are selfless and considerate, I do think that a lot of U.S. Americans are out of touch with the hardships and realities of other societies (both inside and outside the U.S.) and often show pity instead of elevating the humanity of those struggling. Regarding their thoughts on Americans as wasteful, unfortunately, I have to agree. However, as a Panamanian-African American, I believe that, from an outside perspective, the racism in the U.S. is exaggerated, because sooooo many other countries have problems with racism (especially anti-Blackness), but their race issues have yet to come to the surface like in the U.S.

Reflecting on these hetero-stereotypes, specifically how Americans have indirectly belittled Costa Ricans and Nicaraguan refugees living in La Carpio, . Overall, it was very beneficial and interesting to hear how U.S. Americans are perceived to be, and I cannot wait to discover more about Costa Rican culture in the coming weeks!

Post #2: Critical Incidents

Throughout my time in Costa Rica, I have been able to adjust myself decently well to the culture and climate. I have enjoyed all of the new experiences and people I have met since arriving here. As anticipated prior to my arrival, I have adjusted well to the food, my internship, pace of life, and with my host family. Every now and then, I have encountered some cultural clashes, such as work-life balance, or eating habits, but overall I would say that I have adjusted well. However, one of my greatest challenges has been learning how to maneuver through the Costa Rican public transportation system.  

Coming from Fort Worth, Texas, I had little-to-no experience with public transportation. Using the South Shoreline train from South Bend to Chicago during my first year at Notre Dame was a new and exciting experience to me, but did little to prepare me for the public transportation in Costa Rica. Prior to using Costa Rican public transportation, I assumed that all bus fares cost the same and that the bus would stop at every stop on route. Furthermore, I assumed the buses to arrive consistently and periodically.

However, upon first using the buses in Costa Rica, I felt very overwhelmed, as I had to strategically plan when to wake up so that I could not only sleep, get ready (while sharing one bathroom with four other people), and eat breakfast comfortably but also to get to the bus stop on time. Though it sounds easy, it was quite difficult for me primarily because the bus only comes once an hour at any time within a 30 minute time period (sometimes really early and sometimes really late). Upon using the bus for the first time alone, I was very nervous. Since not every bus stop in Costa Rica is distinctly known, I had to learn how to be comfortable with asking people for directions to the bus stop and confidently waving a bus down. Moreover, I had to quickly learn how much each bus fare was (I take 4 buses to go and come back), where it is appropriate for me to sit during the bus ride, and how many times and when to pull the cord to stop the bus.  Furthermore, it is quite common for Costa Ricans to greet people–stranger or not–on the street. Due to this, I was expecting it to be normal to show acknowledgement to the person sitting next to me on the bus. However, when riding the bus, I learned that even though it is common to say “Buenas” to those in passing, on the bus it is not normal to greet the person sitting next to you.

Overall, I am proud of myself for finally learning how to navigate public transportation–and especially in another language! I feel far more independent and confident in my abilities to travel alone now that I have mastered public transportation. Furthermore, I cannot wait to see how I will grow from future cultural critical incidents! 

Post #1: Pre-Departure

Saludos! My name is Gabriella Doe and I am a rising sophomore studying Architecture and Latino Studies. This summer, I will be venturing to Costa Rica and interning with the Praxis Center as an art teacher as well as an administrative assistant for the performing and fine arts program. I am beyond ecstatic (a little nervous too) and grateful for this opportunity to gain professional experience, serve my Latino community, immerse myself into Costa Rican culture, and improve my Spanish! 

Growing up as an Afro-Panamanian American and traveling to Panama on various occasions, I have been greatly exposed to the common culture and lifestyle in Central America. Moreover, with Panama and Costa Rica sharing many similarities, from climate to food to the speed of daily speech, I don’t think I will have an extreme level of culture shock. Nonetheless, as seen with the IDI results, because there are still differences between Panamanian and Costa Rican culture, I will definitely encounter moments where I am left unaware, confused, or shocked. Moreover, I am most nervous about my speaking skills. Although I can speak Spanish proficiently now, I still think back to the time in my life where I could not speak Spanish at all.

Reflecting upon my Intercultural Goals, I hope that throughout my time in Costa Rica I am able to build my confidence with speaking in Spanish in front of multiple people, as well as gain a new perspective on Latin America and my “Latinidad.” Though my Panamanian background has provided a basic understanding of certain customs, environmental practices, and accents throughout Latin America, each country is so unique and I hope that being in Costa Rica will expose me to some of the significant differences. Furthermore, while interning, I aim to discover how I can serve my Latino community through architecture. I have a passion for architecture, especially residential/community architecture in the U.S. and Latin America, so during my time in Costa Rica I hope that I gain insight to different types of effective architectural practices utilized in Costa Rica or Central America in general. 

Following my six weeks in Costa Rica, I hope to return to my home in Fort Worth, Texas with greater independence and increased confidence in my Spanish abilities. With this new and exciting journey I am about to embark on, I am interested to see all I will encounter, looking back at my special memories, professional development, and personal growth!