Tuesday, December 14, 2010

In the US

So far the single hardest thing that I've faced is trying to explain to a couple of friends why I at least somewhat seriously considered whether quitting made sense.  I realize that last sentence ends clunkily, but I intentionally thought about it like that, as a way of considering quitting without really considering it.  Its hard for me to gauge how close I really came, though there is no denying that it was a possibility, even if not that likely.  Now back in the US, it seems obvious that I would stay the entire year, yet at times it definitely was not a foregone conclusion.

At the time the thought of quitting seemed so tantalizing.  I had gone to another country to do a job I had no experience in voluntarily and at the times when I was struggling the hardest, to just up and leave had an undeniable appeal.  I never wrote about it at the time because I worried that even saying it out aloud would make it seem more realistic.  Now it seems absurd.  Life here in the US is clearly not perfect and I was doing what I wanted to do, something few people can say, given the economy and the vagaries of life.

I am extremely glad that I made it the entire year.  Its hard to overstate how glad I am, though of course some of that is the inevitable justification for past actions. Still, things improved so much once August 1st came, that I would have missed out on so many of the best parts of the year.  In May I had no reference point for how much of my struggles were culture shock and how much was being a new teacher.  In August, I was more or less over my culture shock and while I was a better teacher, the teaching  also seemed so much less intimidating because I had created a home for myself in the community.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Back to the US

Culture shock is a pretty straightforward concept, when someone moves to a different culture and has to adjust to the new culture.  What I am more interested in seeing how it effects me is reverse culture shock, starting when I return to the US tomorrow.  At first it seems strange that I would feel out of place in my own culture, especially considering I will be staying with my parents again in the same situation as when I left.

Still, many former WorldTeach volunteers say that the reverse culture shock is harder to deal with than the initial culture shock. That you have worked to become accustomed and build a home in a new country, and now you have to go back to a culture which seems familiar but in fact at least I will have not experienced for almost a year.

I will be home tomorrow night assuming my travel goes according to plan.  Crazy.

Sunday, November 28, 2010


This is my belated post about what I am thankful for in my life.  As my time here in Costa Rica winds down, it becomes more apparent to me all that I have to be thankful for.

All of the people I have met this year in Costa Rica.  While at times it felt like I have struggled to make friends, as I figure out who I have to say good bye to in the next week, I realize there are quite a few people I will miss when I leave.  I will always remember the people I've met here, both the other WT volunteers and the Ticos who've been so accepting of me living and working in their community.

My family, for fully supporting me in my choice to live and volunteer in Costa Rica for a year.  Not all of the other volunteers had such support from their family, and I know it made a huge difference for me.  I probably would have quit if my family, especially my parents, had not been supporting me all along the way.

My health.  As someone who is young and generally very healthy, I take this for granted. However, I try to  not to, because it could be gone so quickly.

The opportunity to do this program.  I was so lucky to be able to be here at all.  I had the freedom, both financially and otherwise, to do something amazing and I'm glad I did it.  This year was much more challenging than I expected it to be, but I made it and am glad I did it.  Given the economy in the US, I am lucky to have been able to do this and to gain skills which will serve me long into the future.

I had a way better Thanksgiving than I expected. The food was good, the friends were great and while I missed my family, I'll be seeing them soon enough, so all in all a great holiday.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

I have trouble writing deeply meaningful posts about what World Teach Costa Rica 2010 has meant to me.  I want to write something which gives people at least a little glimpse into what it has been like to live and teach here, but I have one flaw (at least) which keeps getting in the way.  I really like using cliches when I write.

This is not a new flaw for me.  I remember basing an entire paper for religion class freshman year about cliches.  My teacher understood my point and I got a decent grade, but it makes me cringe thinking about it.  Every time I sit down to write about my time here I end up wanting to use one cliche after another.  Part of it is laziness, its easier to convey a feeling using a well known phrase than have to think up my own way of saying it.

Well, I'll have a post up after this which hopefully does not fall into this trap, but I'll let my words speak for themselves after this meta post.


*edited because I still click the wrong buttons using my netbook all the time. I've only had it for a year.

Today I begin trying to process this year through my blog.  One thing that has helped me immensely this year, though it is challenging to do, has been thinking "This is water." every day.

The late David Foster Wallace in a graduation speech in 2005 at Kenyon College said, "
There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says "Morning, boys. How's the water?" And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes "What the hell is water?"   

 The point of the fish story is merely that the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about. Stated as an English sentence, of course, this is just a banal platitude, but the fact is that in the day to day trenches of adult existence, banal platitudes can have a life or death importance, or so I wish to suggest to you on this dry and lovely morning.

I love his entire speech, and this part in particular, because I have tried to keep the entire year in my mind as I struggle against the day to day grind here.  While there are moments I will remember forever, both good and bad, more than anything this year has been a marathon, not a series of sprints.  It is a marathon in which I did not run a good time, when I did not know if I could make it, when I watched friends drop out along the way, and yet I still kept going for some unknown reason. Throughout it all, I have tried to at least once every day look up from whatever I am doing, whatever I am worried about, and just appreciate where I am and what I am doing.

I am now past the 26th mile. While I at times have faltered, I have made it.  I will stop pushing the marathon metaphor since it is stretched as it is.  To return to the story from David Foster Wallace, as long as I lived in the US and only left for short amounts of time, it was very hard to see the water.  That is one thing which living abroad has taught me, what I like about the US and what I don't miss at all, while at the same time giving me an appreciation and at least a superficial understanding of a new culture. This has com over time, in fits and starts.

There have been no eureka moments, but rather gradual realizations. A couple of times I have appreciated a specific moment, but I can't honestly say there were many moments where I was overjoyed that I was here right now doing this above all the other things I could have been doing.  However, I am glad that I made it this far.  I have successfully navigated living abroad and working in a foreign country as a teacher, both things I had never done before.  Becoming an adult abroad has been trying, but as rewarding as people kept telling me it would be in April and May in my lowest moments.

I am excited to return home in three weeks.  I miss my friends and family (not to mention the library).  Still, I would not have wished I was doing anything else this past year. As I say good bye to friends, both Costa Rican and with World Teach, and my students over the next couple of weeks, I remember so much about this crazy year.  The importance of saying "This is water," is one of thing I will remember.

Costa Rica, I can't say I loved every moment, but I love this country and I will be back.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Preparing to return

Blame NaNoWriMo for the blog silence. I am on pace to finish with over 10,000 words written so far, but it has been taking up most of my free time. It's really odd having to remember that for both the student and teachers we are approaching the beginning of June in the States in terms of focus and attention span. That is making teaching interesting. I am as susceptible to it as anyone else. I have to focus extra hard on bringing the same energy, since I know I am leaving soon and only have a lesson or two more with each group.

In thinking about coming home its odd how some of the things I have not done in almost a year. Most of them are things which I have not done because I am a volunteer on a volunteer's stipend (read quite small), not because I am in Costa Rica. I chose Costa Rica because of how developed it is and I have not been disappointed (as the fact that I am posting this at my favorite café with fast wireless internet attests to).

1. Cell phone: I have not had a cell phone since I left in the beginning of January. While it turns out that getting a cell phone here is not nearly as hard as it used to be (thanks CAFTA-DR, I think), I still did not have much need for it nor could I justify the cost. I've liked not having it most of the time, but I am looking forward to having one when I get back.

2. Driving a car: I've barely even ridden in cars at all, at times going weeks with going everywhere either by bus or by walking. I will have to be careful the first time I go to drive. At least I won't have to unlearn the norms of the road here in CR, which are quite different than in the States.

3. Having internet where I live: Sadly, but not surprisingly, this is probably what I have missed the most on this list. Having to strategically plan my internet usage has been something I have had trouble adjusting to. I have not watched a single episode of this season of the Guild, which is a testament to how having the internet for on average an hour a day has changed my habits. Though, I hope to be more reasonable about how much time I spend on the internet. If I spend 8 hours in one day on the internet, I at least hope that I will have done something useful for some of that time.

4. Wearing a sweatshirt: This is one which I did have to do in Orosi the first month and will probably have to again when I go back to Orosi for Thanksgiving, but here in Fortuna it never gets cold enough. A few days ago I was too cold to wear shorts for the first time. Normally I decide between shorts and pants based on whats clean, not on the weather. I forgot until about a month ago that I had even brought my Colby ultimate frisbee sweatshirt, since its sat in my suitcase unused for the entire year.

I'm sure other things will come to me. I definitely plan on having a follow up post when I am back in the States, seeing what takes the most getting used to.  

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Being Trained

I am well on my way to finishing up my TESOL certification.  I mainly just have to do an one-on-one lesson with someone in Fortuna, which should not be too difficult.  A few people have asked me to help them with their English, so they should be willing to take the time.

Yesterday I team taught with another of the teachers here and it went really well.  I was pretty nervous beforehand between teaching with someone I don't know that well and teaching adults for the first time. However, once I started teaching, I felt so confident.  The prep work we had done really paid off and while we certainly made mistakes, none were glaringly obvious and they are all very fixable.

While I have a lot of work to do to become the teacher I can be, yesterday was such a ray of hope.  I understand why so many teachers end up burned out with the day to day struggle of teaching and those lessons where it just works are how I survive and even thrive.  I can take the successes of this week back to La Fortuna for my final month and then on into the future as I continue teaching.

My week was unexciting other than teaching.  I watched some of the World Series, failed to find a way to watch the Celtics-Heat game and other than that just hung out when I wasn't working on stuff for TEFL.  I head back to La Fortuna tomorrow and am there until Thanksgiving.  Then I go back to where this all started in Orosi where we had orientation in January for our final goodbye before my last week.  A week later I fly back to the US.