Journaling Reflection

Looking back on my trip now about a month removed I wanted to take the time to discuss something I have made a habit of during this trip and how it has affected me.

Throughout my time in Costa Rica I took up the habit of journaling. I wanted it to be everyday but as time went on and days became busy I ended up enjoying the every 2 day approach. I only bring this up because I have never done anything like this before, journaling. Frankly, I thought of it as only something high school girls do. But as time progressed it became my favorite part of the day. Being able to unpack my thoughts, emotions, and actions for the day became essential to my growth not only as a language learner but as a young man as well.

Through this I found small things that brought me joy, realized events that made me uncomfortable, and discovered ways I can improve myself. Additionally I carried my journal everywhere I went, scribbling down notes or ideas I had and occasionally doodling my surroundings in an attempt to capture the environment without a camera. By no means am I an artist but still I was able to draw some memorable places.

What I hope to do with this blog post is convince others to journal because I believe it is a great outlet for understanding oneself and your ideas, feelings, behaviors. Being able to take a step back and review your day from an almost third person view allows for a great way to improve oneself.

Poco a Poco

I knew this moment was going to be bittersweet. The overjoyous feeling of accomplishment coupled with the sorrow of hearing Flight 2455 is boarding to Las Vegas leaves me with mixed emotions. On one hand I am proud of myself for this two month journey in which I was able to not only work towards and see leaps and bounds of improvement in my Spanish skills but also come to some realizations about myself and my identity. While on the other hand I’m sad because the bags of Costa Rican coffee don’t seem to be sufficient in my attempt to take this place and the feeling it gives me back to the States. 

This two month long trip seemed to adhere to the cliche “time flies when you’re having fun”. But genuinely for me this was one of the best times I’ve had in my life. The variety of learning and the different situations I was in gave me the opportunity to learn through a variety of mediums. In the classroom I learned how overcomplicated my thought process was and was even able to kick the awful habit of translating from English to Spanish. With my host family I mastered being able to talk about my day and learned a lot watching the news with my host dad, Wilbur encouraging me and giving me confidence throughout my stay. With friends I made surfing or playing basketball my Costa Rican slang won me a few, “gauw no le parece como un gringo mae”, “wow you don’t seem like an american bro”. Working with kids taught me other valuable lessons, ones that kids always seem to teach adults, like patience. All jokes aside, spending time with those kids was the highlight of the trip.

As I sit here reviewing my journal entries, there seems to be a recurring theme that I want to end my blog with. Big change happens poco a poco (little by little). In almost every journal entry I wrote I describe either a small setback in my journey or a small victory. What gives me hope as I review my trip is that the victories outweigh the setbacks. And at this point in my journey having this refreshing realization that I AM making progress, that I AM going in the right direction and even though I have a long way to go, the end is in sight and not only that but I am content in the journey. All of life’s difficulties are a marathon and if you only look forward to the end or the final result of something you miss out on the hidden blessing that is the act of achieving a goal, poco a poco.

View from Volcan Irazú
Pura Vida
The boys from the community center
Last day with Dilan and Cheri
Church in Sarchí

Journal Entry #3

My last week at the beach and first week in San Jose:

Friday: This was my last week in Quepos/ Manuel Antonio and it was one of mixed emotions. Over the past month I have formed some great friendships with students here, other Ticos, my host family, and with my Spanish teacher. My time here was filled with hikes, beach days, surfing, progress and dinner conversations with my host parents, Wilbur and Carmen, and I can’t believe it’s over. They, especially, made my experience here so much more enjoyable and welcoming. This last week specifically was filled with conversations that a month ago I would’ve never been able to have in spanish. But I think that is what makes this program so great. Students who genuinely want to learn and grow are able to do just that in open and welcoming environments. Tomorrow morning I head out to San Jose for volunteering/ spanish lessons for two weeks. I am SUPER excited to see what is in store for me and while I am sad to say goodbye to the beach I am ready for a change of pace and new faces.

Wednesday: Wow! I have been to San Jose a few times before in my life but haven’t experienced like this. Don’t get me wrong I like it here. The big city life was a huge shift in flow but I think it’s fun. One main difference is riding buses to get to everywhere I need (as an American, this is weird). To get to my volunteering program in the morning I either need to take an hour long bus ride on 2 different buses or take an Uber. What I’ve decided, or maybe what my wallet has decided for me, is to take the bus. This time on the bus has allowed me to think, journal, and get to know the city a little bit more. Speaking of getting to know the city, I have gone to three museums and found them to be extremely interesting. As someone who likes history, learning about the original Indigenous people who lived here before the Spanish conquest or the founding of Costa Rica as a regional power in Central America has been fascinating. But what has me the most excited is my volunteering program at a kids daycare/school. It has been 3 days and it seems to have gone by so fast. The kids are so enjoyable, funny, lively, and talkative that it doesn’t even feel like volunteering. It’s more hanging out with some friends who are 4 feet tall. This next week and a half is going to be super fun and I can’t wait to see what it has in store for me.


Mis metas/ My Goals

Desde la semana pasada he estado pensado en algunos objetivos que necesito para tener metas concretas que me permita ver los avances que estoy haciendo. La semana pasada algunas veces tuve halagos sobre mi español, pero a veces recibí una expresión como, “Ah! Usted no es de aquí?” después de que hablé español. Ademas, he tenido muchas conversaciones con mi maestra, ella tiene que recordarme que yo estoy aprendiendo y que va a tomar mucho tiempo. Ella dice “Necesita caminar antes de correr”. Creo que estoy mejorando pero algo que estoy aprendiendo mucho aparte de aprender otro idioma es aprender sobre la vida, algunos días va a estar bien y otros días va a estar mal pero lo que es más importante es que me mantenga una actitud positiva.

Sobre lo que he estado haciendo, hace una semana fuimos a las cataratas de Nauyaca. Era muy interesante y tomamos unas fotos magnificas. Era un camino largo, como 14 kilómetros pero valió la pena. Ademas he estado surfeando mucho y estoy mejorando y probablemente mañana vaya a Jaco, una playa que tiene las mejores olas en el area. Creo que aprender como surfear me ha enseñado mucho para tener paciente y persistir. Porque como aprender español, unas veces cuando estoy surfeando tengo impaciencia. Trato de surfear en una ola que no esta muy bien y me caigo. Pero algo que es importante para ser un buen surfista es tener paciencia y saber esperar una buena ola. Creo que puedo usar esta paciencia nueva en español también. Bueno, creo que termino aquí, hasta la próxima vez.


During the last week I have thought of some concrete goals that I can strive for that will allow me to see advances that I am making. The last week I have received complements from locals, teachers, friends on my spanish. Reversely, I have also had some, “oh you are not from here” comments. I have had a lot of conversations with my teacher about some areas of improvement but one thing she has to remind me frequently is that I am still learning spanish and with that takes time. She tells me, “You need to walk before you run”. I think that I am getting better but something that I am learning about is learning another language is like life, some days are going to be good and other days are going to be bad, but the most importantly is maintaining a positive attitude.

For fun, a week ago I went to Nauyaca waterfalls. It was amazing at just how strong the mist infused wind is at the bottom. Of course this view was after a longer than expected hike, about 8 miles. In addition to practicing my spanish I’ve been learning to surf. After making some friends with some locals I have been spending a lot of time on the board and I am slowly getting better. I think the process of learning how to surf has taught me a lot about having patience and persistence. Like learning spanish, I get impatient trying to catch a wave. I find myself trying to catch a below decent wave and failing miserably because of it. What I have been learning is that to be a good surfer 90% of it is being patient and knowing to wait for the right moment. This patience can be applied in many aspects of my life and a prime example: spanish.


Pictures from Nauyaca Falls

Una Actualización/ An update

Bueno, he estado aquí en Costa Rica por 11 días ahora y ya he aprendido mucho. Los primeras días, no voy a mentir fueron un poco difíciles. Y lo siento familia pero no fue porque los extrañé (aunque los extraño) pero fue debido a no creía que yo estaba preparando para estar totalmente inmerso. Me llevó uno o dos días para adaptarme pero ahora creo que yo me he adaptado y estoy prosperando. Las clases de español son geniales y están ayudándome con la producción oral y para practicar en la vida real que he aprendido durante las clases de la universidad.

He hecho amigos que están en un viaje de aprender español y nosotros hemos hecho algunas actividades divertidas juntos. Nosotros fuimos al parque nacional de Manuel Antonio y vimos algunos animales interesantes. También, fuimos a la playa para surfear, NO es tan fácil como parece. Está bien para estar con otros estudiantes porque nosotros nos ayudamos mutuamente para practicar y evitar errores.

Yo sé que me estoy sintiendo más cómodo y seguro de mí mismo en conversaciones con personas como conductores de taxi o meseros y no puedo esperar para ver que va a suceder en las próximas semanas.

Well, I have been en Costa Rica for 11 days now and I have learned a lot. The first few days, I’m not going to lie were a little hard. And Im sorry family but it is not because I missed you (even though I do) but it was because I didn’t think I was prepared to be immersed fully. It took me 1 or 2 days to adjust but now I think I have adjusted and I am flourishing. Spanish classes are awesome and are helping me with conversations and to practice in real life what I have learned at College.

I have made friends who are on the same spanish learning journey and we have done some fun activities together. We went to the Manuel Antonio National Park and we saw some interesting animals. We also went to the beach to surf, it is NOT as easy as it looks. It is nice to be with other students because we help each other to practice and avoid errors.

I know I am feeling more comfortable and confident in myself in conversations with people like taxi drivers or waiters and I can’t wait to see what is going to happen in the coming weeks.

Some pictures taken at the National Park through binoculars

See if you can spot who this selfie is with…
View from the classroom

Procrastination at its finest (Gabriel, Costa Rica)

Just as my usual self I procrastinated this pre-departure blog post until the last minute… actually the last few hours. This unintentionally turned into a great opportunity to express these last minute thoughts, emotions, ideas, and feelings because as I sit in the airport now, it’s real. All of the planning, scheduling, and budgeting has paid off. Realizing that this trip is about to begin I’m feeling…all sorts of emotions. For the most part excitement is kicking in. This has been a moment I have been looking forward to for months now and the thought of how in just a few hours I will be in Costa Rica makes me almost impatient as I sit here (4 hours before my flight because my mom didn’t want me to be late). I’m optimistic in thinking about the future or what I hope to gain for this trip. Language and culture learning ‘through the fire’ or trial and error is what I am focusing on the most. I understand that my biggest downfall and obstacle that has been holding my language skills back is my attitude towards failure. I hesitate to write that this trip is going to change that. Because I know that this change must come from within. But I also know that I am committed to this. Changing my outlook on failure has been something that I have been working on for weeks now in preparation. Rather than writing this trip is going to change my nervousness to speak and take risks, I feel better writing that this trip is going to be an opportunity for me to showcase these changes. With this, I am able to come to terms with the idea that I am going to mess up. I am going to be at a loss of words.  I am going to have to shake my head up and down smiling even though I know darn well that I didn’t understand a single thing that this person just said to me. But I am ok with that, I am not going to be perfect but I will be trying.

Ok about my program, for 4 weeks I will be located in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica, a small town located on the coast of the pacific ocean. During my stay I will be taking private Spanish lessons, while living with my assigned host family. Manuel Antonio is a great place to be able to start my lessons because of the smaller town and location near great outdoor getaways. After this, I will be ‘moving’ to San José, the capital of CR and will be not only attending private lessons but also volunteering at a local community children’s center. This location gives me the perfect opportunity to apply what I have already learned and use the change of scenery to practice in different settings. The big city also gives me the chance to help those less privileged than me and in tern they can help me in my learning. To make my time even more worth it I plan on fully immersing myself. What can be more immersive than living in another country you may ask. I will be strictly listening to only Spanish music, writing 100% in Spanish, changing my phone settings language, and even THINKING in Spanish. We’re going ALL IN. I will be translating my future blog posts so don’t worry, you can still keep up with what I’m doing. 

Until next time,

Pura Vida!

Gabriel Belt

Why Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica is a Great Coastal Getaway | Anywhere
*Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica
*San José, Costa Rica