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 #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!

Getting my feet wet (and pretty much everything… it’s the wet season in Costa Rica)

I’ve already arrived here in Costa Rica and this time it’s different *insert dramatic duhn duhn duhn*. This summer I have had the privilege to be selected to join 2 other students in internships in Costa Rica and I am super excited about this opportunity. Last summer as a part of the SLA grant I was able to come to Costa Rica and continue my growth in Spanish but after a semester of studying in Mexico, I’m ready to return and show off my skills.

My family is originally from Costa Rica so I have always held it close to my heart, returning here almost every year for the past 4 years. This summer I will also be able to live with my aunt and uncle as they live near where I am set to work. This is a super special opportunity for me as it gives me even more time to spend with my family and really get into a routine.

I’ll keep this short but I would like to get some of my goals in writing because I think that’s important in seeing them come to fruition. So without further ado:

  • Improve Spanish within a Business context
  • Immerse myself into “living” in Costa Rica (less tourism more local)
  • Lose the fear/ embarrassment of making a mistake for good
  • Gain real-life work experience that I can use in upcoming interviews