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!