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.

Sunday, October 24, 2010


I'll have a real post up in the next couple of days, but please go read this post by John Scalzi.  I thought about doing my own list, but since in so many ways John Scalzi and I are similar in what we don't have to think about, just go read what he wrote. Also a bonus is that many of the comments are excellent, too.

The only one I would add is the following.

I don't have to think about how to keep a roof over my head or my family's head or how to feed myself or my family when my current job ends,

but today I will.  

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Culture Day

This past Tuesday was Culture Day at school. There are all sorts of days here such as day of the arts and day of the tree. To celebrate Culture Day, the teachers split into three groups with each in charge of a country: Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and the US. Each group prepared a performance, some food and some decorations about each country.

This was probably my favorite one of these civic days so far this year. Independence Day was interesting, but yesterday was much shorter and sweeter. I was put with the group for the US, obviously. I was told I needed to show up in traditional dress for the US. Needless to say, I was stumped by that request. Not only do I only have the regular clothes I brought from the US and I packed light, but what would I have worn? Thankfully in the end it did not matter. I wore normal clothes and no one seemed to mind.

The performance for the US was a country dance sung. Being from Boston I'm certainly no expert on country music or dancing to it, but I thought the two teachers and two students did an excellent job of it. I don't know what country song they danced to, but it was very representative with good lines about hanging out by the river in Georgia somewhere. The dancers all wore cowboy boots and hats and all around it was really good.

Another performance (I think Nicaraguan but I missed the opening explanation) was a fascinating dance/drama where a boy and girl dressed nicely danced together. Then the boy split off, and one by one 4 other students came out dressed as vagabonds with dirty clothes. The girl continued dancing in the middle and from the side the vagabonds came out dancing with her one by one.

Each of the vagabonds had a different temptation. The first had money, the second alcohol, the third cigarettes, and the fourth a knife. She rejected all the temptations and then the boy came back and they together fought off the vagabonds.

All in all a good message. It was really interesting how the younger students enjoyed it because of the slapstick humor involved, while the older students laughed some but also understood what was being said. Hopefully they took it to heart as they go onto high school.

Then a small skit with a teacher narrating was performed in remembrance of the landing of Columbus in 1502 on the coast of what would become Costa Rica. While a little bit of the noble savage stereotype came out, it was certainly a better description of both the negatives and positives than I learned at the same age, which was good. Maybe too many positives, but it was at least not a celebration of Columbus "discovering" the New World.

After that I served the hot dogs and soda which were the US foods. The Nicaraguan food was a figurón, which is a yucca and meat dish. The Costa Rican food was rice pudding, chicken and rice, and empanadas. A good day was had and it was a lot of fun and hopefully the students learned something about all 3 countries and to respect and appreciate the differences.

The only annoyance was the students dressed in indigenous clothing making the standard "Indian war cries," which I did my best to put an end to. Some listened, some did not, but other than that, the day was pretty good.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Couple of things

So I asked my friend about how to say awkward in Spanish and he said "raro" is the word. Depends on the context because it can also mean weird, but yeah, I might be saying que raro a lot more often.   That is definitely one thing I am going to miss when I leave here. The ability to ask people about various things in Spanish and just speaking Spanish in general.

I am going to have to figure out how to keep my Spanish up when I get back to Boston.  I don't want to lose my Spanish. Well, hopefully I can find some people to speak with, maybe I'll just make time to call my Costa Rican friends and work to stay in touch with them.

In other news, teaching about animals and plants is so much easier in English than the human body or energy and matter.  The kids find it more interesting and they already know a lot of words, like for photosynthesis they knew sunlight, air, water, and oxygen, so it was pretty easy to explain.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

2 months

I have just about 2 months left here in Costa Rica.  At times it feels like I'll be leaving too soon and there's so much more I still want to do here.  Other times, two months seems like it will last forever.  My main focus for the next couple of months is to make sure that my teaching is as good as it can be.  As the year winds down, I end up not teaching nearly as much as I expect.

As I've started to find my feet here, its slowly becoming more frustrating that I don't actually teach my students.  I'm working on taking each class individually and not letting a given canceled class or bad class throw me off.  I need to remember the moments when my students understand me exactly, not only when they are hopelessly lost and I'm teaching in Spanish.

In other news, I did get sick yesterday and missed a class.  Very frustrating. The silver lining is this is only the second time I've gotten sick and the last time happened 4 months ago.  Knock on wood I'll be healthy the rest of my time here, since I really can't afford to miss any more classes, given that I'm missing the last week of October to finish my TESOL certification.

Other than that, October has been playing games with my head by not raining, but I'm still waiting.  This is supposed to be the rainy season.  I just hope I find the time to run every day.  Tomorrow I hope to wake up early and run, because it rarely rains in the morning here.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Banned Book Week

This post is different from my usual anecdotal and/or introspective posts on my year teaching here in Costa Rica. While that has been the focus of this blog, I have made sure not to imply that I would only write about my time here. I have written about other topics  and will do so more often as my time here winds down and I return to the US.

This is Banned Book Week in the US. In answer to a post by the Rejectionist, I am writing about To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (from this list) . This will not be a review, as Le R called for, but more focused on why To Kill a Mockingbird is important to me and why book banning is misguided at best. I am focusing on one book to keep this post from becoming book length, since I struggle with brevity in my writing, not because any other book deserves to be banned more.

To Kill a Mockingbird is my favorite book that I read in school, from 1st grade through senior year of college. It is also one of my top 5 favorite books of all time. While it is hyperbolic to say I would not be the same person without this book, to say it opened my eyes to a power of fiction I had previously not experienced is simple truth. It makes me incredibly sad that this book might have been banned from being taught1 at my high school or even from being shelved at my library.

When I was in middle school and high school, I read as a form of pure escapism. I liked it when the novels addressed weighty issues under the surface, but the majority of my reading was science fiction and fantasy novels (SF/F), with an emphasis on fantasy. Within fantasy, I gravitated towards simplistic Good vs. Evil tales. I loved the unimportant youth grows up to be the Good warrior fighting Evil trope, be it Harry Potter, Wheel of Time, or Tamora Pierce's Alanna (not to say these books are simplistic, since these are three series I still reread). This still holds true, but much less than ten years ago. If my local library had a fantasy series, I had read it by the time I was 14.

To Kill a Mockingbird was the opposite of my normal reading choices. It is a "serious" novel, both in its themes and in its literary style. It deals with shades of reality and how people are while also showing the consequences of the character's choices. Furthermore, I was required to read it for school. While I never had an instinctive dislike for reading assigned work in school, I think To Kill a Mockingbird had a lot to do with that. On the surface it is surprising that I would love a book set in the 1930s, in the Deep South, but that's the power of To Kill a Mockingbird (not to mention the assumption that boys won't read books with girl main characters, but that's a whole other post).

To Kill a Mockingbird taught me about a specific time in US history and social justice. I learned about a time in US history often overlooked in school. I also learned the importance of the day to day grind of fighting for equal rights and that disappointments are a part of the struggle, not a reason to stop. The stake which even the poorest white had in a segregated society was eye-opening, as well as the obviously rank injustice which a black man could face in that time (remember, I was 14).

Are these lessons I would have learned without this one book? Undoubtedly, but not as viscerally, not with the immediacy that To Kill a Mockingbird gave these issues, being as sheltered as I was from such concerns. Much of the book I knew intellectually, but not the stakes nor the ordinariness of the people involved.

Sometimes a self-centered middle class white boy needs to read a great book to see beyond the end of his own concerns and angst. That is what is lost when such books are banned. Be it a classic, such as To Kill a Mockingbird, a book about an all boys high school, The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier (thankfully my all-boys high school was nothing like that), or a book I have not read yet, but will, Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, a highly regarded YA book about dealing with rape, they are all important and all should be shelved in libraries available to all youth, since book banning is always framed as for the sake of the children.

If parents wants to stop their own child from reading a book, fine, but children age at different rates. Some age faster because they can and some because there are forced to against their will. To deny them the books to deal with and understand life as it is, not as we wish it to be, is a tragedy.

1. On teaching this book. I understand that the depictions of race relations and the language, in particular the n word, used in the book could cause trouble depending on how it is taught or the situation in which it is taught. I can only imagine if this book were taught to immature middle schoolers the damage it could do. My opinions on whether a given book should be taught are not nearly as strong as about book banning, though I value the lessons I learned from To Kill a Mockingbird in school. Heck, I'm more likely to argue for more nonfiction in high school English classes, not about the choices of fiction.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


One thing I have noticed as my fluency in Spanish has increased is that there are some words/phrases or just feelings which do not exist in Spanish.  Either that, or I do not have the ability to express them the way I wish.  Awkward is the example confounding me now.   Awkward is a word which I use all the time, as do many of my English-speaking friends, both here in Costa Rica and in the States.  Numerous occasions, situations, comments, people (myself included) are at times awkward.

However, I have yet to find a word which even sort of translates into Spanish. Yes, I can feed it into an online Spanish-English dictionary. For instance, wordreference.com spits out for awkward: torpe, poco elegante, and incomodo.  While those work for some cases torpe is clumsy, poco elegante is inelegant, and incomodo is uncomfortable.  None mean awkward in the sense I usually use it.  When I asked my WT volunteer friends last week, they said raro, which works, but really means weird (not to mention just not something Ticos say, ever).

I even tried to ask my host brother last night because we were watching Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and there was an awkward moment with Ron and Hermione.  End of story, my host brother thought I was crazy and had no idea what I was talking about.  I even narrated a situation, like randomly seeing an ex with her new boyfriend, but nada.  He was like, "It didn't matter? Or you were mad?"  and I was like, "no, argh!!" in frustration.

Because I'm at the point where I can just talk in Spanish without having to stop and translate first, even though I make grammatical errors, it makes it more noticeable.  I'm going along with a story and then awkward pops into my head and my entire thought process grinds to a screeching halt.  I guess I need to just give it up in Spanish.  I'm used to giving up words and phrases (even entire tenses, future tense anyone?) but I guess awkward is harder for me to give up.

I do wonder whether Ticos are way more socially conscious and so have no need to describe anything as awkward. Or do they focus on other aspects of a given interaction and the relative awkwardness simply does not matter?   It's fun to try to make conclusions about why awkward does not exist in CR, but of course I'm most likely wrong.  Eight months does not give one expertise in another culture, it just makes you less clueless.

Also, related, I am good at Spanish, but there are thousands of words and phrases I do not know. Maybe tomorrow I'll find the perfect way of expressing that moment when you try to pass someone on a narrow sidewalk but you both go the same direction and almost bump noses.... and then do it again the other direction. I hope so.

Unfortunately, my Tico friend who is basically fluent in English is not teaching this week or else I would have asked him as research for this blog post.  Next time I have a chance I'll ask him his take on the differences in language (and possibly culture) which causes me such confusion.  I can't wait to ask him.  Is that awkward?

Since this topic probably interests no one but me, I will try to keep any subsequent posts short and sweet!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

TESOL course

I just returned to La Fortuna from a week spent at the beach on the Pacific Coast, more specifically Quepos/ Manuel Antonio.  I was there to take the first half of a two week course in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL).  As a WorldTeach volunteer, I'm doing the course in two weeks, rather than the normal month.  Second week is the last week in October, so in a month I get to go back.

While, the week was very busy and tiring, being a student was nice for a change.  I also learned a lot of different teaching ideas to incorporate into my lessons.  While the focus was not on teaching English content lessons (such as science), the instructor did have experience teaching ESL students in the US, so we brainstormed some ideas to help me teach better.

Rather than go on about everything I did during the week (eg. I really like grammar now and surfing is just as hard as I always thought it would be) I'll just talk about why yesterday was such a good day.  One thing that has thrown me this year is the amount of time I spend with people who speak English and its one thing I miss most about the US.

Either, like in January during orientation, or Monday- Friday this past week, I'm with people who speak English all the time all day and it can be overwhelming.  Even this past week when it was some of my closest friends in the WorldTeach group, it was still a bit much by the end of the day, from 6 in the morning till 9 or 10 at night with them.

The other extreme is here in Fortuna, where I speak English with one of the other English teachers, but other than that I speak in Spanish to everyone I know around here and will go weeks without speaking in English to anyone except for friends and family on Skype.  I've gotten much more used to that as this year has gone on, which has been a relief and one of the main reasons I am much more comfortable here now than I was 6 months ago.

Back to yesterday. I spent the morning and afternoon happily reading. napping, and drinking way too much delicious coffee by myself (for the most part).  Then, 4 friends and I went out to the all you can eat sushi place in Quepos and spent 3 hours having great food and fun.  The right amount of alone time and time with friends to make a relaxing Saturday. Now I feel recharged to return to teaching tomorrow and improving my Spanish.

Also, my WT friend's post about anonymity and autonomy is really good.  I have similar feelings and she's a better writer than me.  Win win!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Independence Day

I missed Independence Day in the US, but I celebrated Independence Day here in Costa Rica for the past couple of days  Yesterday, September 15 was Independence Day here in Costa Rica.  All sorts of events have been happening for the past week or so, but the important events happened the 14th and 15th.

On the 14th, in a reenactment of the notice of independence for Central America being brought from Guatemala to Costa Rica, a group of students and professors ran about 8 kilometers (5 miles) with a lit torch and the flag of Costa Rica.  About 20 students and 4 teachers began the run and I was one of the teachers running. I even carried the torch for a little bit.

It was somewhat surreal running in the hills around the volcano with a bunch of cars blaring their horns behind us and our police escort blaring his siren  Every few minutes the torch would go out and the principal, who also ran with us, would relight the torch with a box of matches he carried with him. Adding to those stops, occasional stops for water meant that the experience was not a very satisfying run, but it was worth it anyways.

For anyone who became too tired, they were told to jump in one of the cars driving behind the runners.  I'd estimate about half the students and all the teachers made it the entire way.  We arrived at the school after maybe 45 minutes of running with intermittent breaks.  The torch was put in a stand and an honor guard of 4 students stood behind the torch, with different students rotating  in every 15 minutes for the next hour and half.

At 6 pm an assembly of the students and the parents all came with paper lanterns which had been made by the students in various shapes indicative of Costa Rican culture.  I saw a large ship, an oxcart (the Costa Rican symbol of work), and squares with pictures of various Costa Rican symbols (seal, bird, tree, those types of things) on them among many other designs.

These pictures from San Rafael are a good example of what I am talking about.  The paper lanterns (faroles in Spanish) were judged and then everyone walked around Zeta Trece in a little parade.  This was really pretty and impressive and I really enjoyed being able to witness the celebration.

Yesterday, actual Independence Day, was a lot more like the 4th of July in the US, except without any fireworks.  I spent most of the morning carrying a cooler of water to hand out to the members of the Zeta Trece band as they played and marched in the parade. I saw most of the parade, and some of the bands were quite good.  There were also traditional dancers and the best students from the surrounding schools marched with banners.

I managed to get sunburned like a 4th of July parade in the States because yesterday happened to be the hottest and sunniest day in months, even though we're supposed to be entering into the height of the rainy season.   While that was less than ideal, I really enjoyed the entire experience.  So much of this year is hard to appreciate in the moment, only afterwards can I appreciate what I've done and experienced here. This holiday was one of the few moments this year that I am grateful for both in the moment and afterwards.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Day of the Child

Today was the Day of the Child here in Costa Rica.  This meant that there were no classes and all of the classes had little parties.  I spent the day helping out with one of the 1st grade classes, which was fun if a little hectic.  I blame the candy, ice cream, and cake all before 10 in the morning.

Next week, September 15th, is Independence Day in Costa Rica, which means Costa Rican flags and various other decorations in red, white and blue all over the place. I'll be assisting the parades next week, which should be interesting.  The only annoyance has been the drum band practicing every morning this week and last while I try to teach, but they do sound better so that's something at least.

This week and next week there are assemblies every morning about various nationalistic themes, yesterday was songs and today was the various flags Costa Rica has had.  Apparently, the reason the Costa Rican flag is red white and blue is in imitation of the French Flag, in admiration of France.  Then again, the combination of Spanish and the poor loud speakers make my understanding of the assemblies iffy at times, so take that with a grain of salt.

One more week of classes, then I'm off to the beach for a week of classes to get a Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) course. I'll do the second half of the course at the end of October, rather than miss two weeks straight of classes.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Came and went

A week goes by really quickly when my family is here.  Other times it feels like time is crawling but not when I'm showing people around and trying to figure out how to get from here to there and back.  I've changed the picture at the top of the blog to one of Monteverde, because while I live in Fortuna, I love Monteverde.

As I said in my previous post, my parents and sister arrived last Thursday.  The next day they visited one of my third grade classes.  This was pretty hilarious as the students tried out their English on my parents and sister.  It worked out overall though, as my family got to experience over 20 third graders yelling in random English, which was pretty funny.

We went to lunch at this restaurant right near my house.  The restaurant was really good and I'm glad I tried it, since I've been tempted this entire year but did not want to spend the money to go by myself.  Some of the entrées came with side dishes which in Spanish is guarnición.  The confusing part was that the English translation was garrison. I was not prepared to eat two forts.

I then badly misjudged how difficult of a walk it was to the waterfall.  Sorry, Mom.  But still, the waterfall was pretty and we took a cab down from the waterfall to meet my host family.  My host family was very nice and we had some good coffee and tortillas.  The 2 year old was adorable and did not resemble the earthquake which he can be sometimes.

Saturday was taken up with me showing my parents where I use the internet and then a tour of the national park next to the volcano and hot springs.  Eco Termales hot springs is the best in my opinion.  I have not done Tabocón yet, but Eco Termales was not that expensive and the food was good and the springs were pretty and relaxing.

Sunday was a lazy day, sitting in the hotel and swimming in the hotel pools.  Monday and Tuesday were very busy. We took the jeep-boat-jeep to Monteverde from Arenal. After checking into our really nice cabin, we went on a fascinating insect/ butterfly tour.  Then we did a night hike in the cloud rain forest where we saw coatimundi, a large rodent type animal which I forget the name of, Mexican hairy porcupines and lots of spiders.

Tuesday we went on a coffee/ sugar plantation tour.  All very interesting with delicious candy and good coffee during the tour.   Then it was time to say good bye which came too soon, but it was great to be able to show them around and do new things with my family.  8 months is a long time to have been gone, at least for me.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Family in Fortuna

My mother, father, and sister all made it safely and without too much hassle to La Fortuna last night.  Interbus got them from Alajuela to La Fortuna without too much trouble.  I was a little concerned given the driving habits of some Interbus drivers, but they had no complaints and thought the driver was perfectly fine.

I have one more class to teach today and my family is showing up towards the end of the class. I can afford to take 10 minutes out of the 80 minute class to introduce some of my students to my parents.  I'm not sure I should be so amused by the thought of 30 9 year olds jabbering in Spanish and small amounts of English at my family, but I am.

Then this afternoon I will give them a tour of the community I live in and they will meet my host family.  That will be a test of my translating abilities.  I am much better at either speaking only in Spanish or only in English. Having to switch between the two of them confuses me no end.  I will have to watch myself and not start speaking Spanish to my parents and English to my host family, as I have done in the past.

Not much else going on here.  Tests are next week which will be interesting.  I will be madly grading at the end of next week, but I should be able to finish everything.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


Update:  For a similar take on what I talk about here, read Derek Thompson at the Atlantic.  I particularly enjoyed when he mentioned how it's not our generation that wrecked the economy, we're just the ones who are paying for it.  And I say that fully aware that in terms of socioeconomic class I am incredibly lucky (as I type on my netbook from Costa Rica)

There was an interesting article in the NYT Magazine about twenty-somethings and whether or not they are in a previously unrecognized stage of development.  The article is good and I'm definitely following some of the paths outlined in the story.  If I had not been accepted to WorldTeach, my next option would have been City Year, an organization mentioned in the article.  This one is also less depressing than some of the others I've read such as the Atlantic's or this one in the WSJ.

While the article is good, I do agree with both Matthew Ylgesias's criticism and Jamelle Bouie's criticism They both point out how the article focuses on people in their 20s with college degrees.  The majority of people in their 20s have not finished college;  More focus on them would have fleshed out the article.  The one anecdote is good, but not much else is made of it beyond that. 

As a somewhat aimless 23 year old, the part that bugged me was the lack of attention on the recession. This is what I found annoying, "Parents are helping pay bills they never counted on paying, and social institutions are missing out on young people contributing to productivity and growth."  As my parents can attest to, I did not do the most intelligent nor comprehensive job search before deciding to do WorldTeach. However, when unemployment for college graduates was over 7 percent, even my friends who knew exactly what they wanted had trouble finding jobs, never mind jobs which allowed them to move out and pay the bills.     

Add to this the sharp drop in employment in manufacturing and construction, two job sectors which traditionally employed 20-something year olds without college degrees, and its no wonder we're not moving out as fast as some say we should.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Two interesting bits

Today, I want to point out two interesting pieces on education policy at opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of age.  I tend to read less about pre-K education policy and university policy. They are just less focused on.  It is more common to see a LA times story about the effectiveness of elementary schools or an article in the Boston Globe comparing MCAS scores across middle and high schools.  The importance and relative effectiveness of pre-K and universities seems to be less focused on. (I hate to use the word seem, but of course I have not been regularly reading any US papers for the past 8 months so for all I know the Globe has run a hard hitting series on dropout rates at local colleges.)

The first is an interview  with Sara Mead, a pre-K policy expert, by Dylan Matthews who is filling in for Ezra Klein on Klein's blog at the Washington Post.  The part that interested me the most was when Sara Mead points out, "It's actually possible with universal pre-K in Oklahoma to improve learning for everyone while also moving to close the achievement gap."   I guess it should be obvious, but this to me argues for universal pre-K education, not solely focusing on the most disadvantaged groups, since they will benefit the most anyways. 

The second is an excellent article in the Washington Monthly by Ben Miller and Phuong Ly.  This part might be controversial, but I think important, 

"But we won’t make real headway on the college graduation problem until two even more fundamental steps are taken. The first is acknowledging that colleges share responsibility for graduation with their students. Without that, governors, mayors, accreditors, and secretaries of education won’t be willing to expend scarce political capital on behalf of students like Nestor. The second is a willingness to broach a heretofore-forbidden topic in higher education: shutting the worst institutions down."

The article points to universities which deal with the same types of students and graduate students at double and sometimes triple the graduation rates.  If a college or university is truly this terrible, the money and effort it will take to turn it into a functioning university seems to be not worth it.  This is especially true for schools in areas such as NY, where efforts could be made to increase enrollment at universities which actually serve their students.

Saturday, August 21, 2010


Yesterday I probably played a total of an hour and 15 minutes between my two classes playing Pictionary.  What a great way to prepare for the exam and so easy for me. Both 2nd and 3rd grade loved it.

I could make teams without having to have the students actually move their desks.  Simply divide the class in 2 with one half and the other half.  I had barely any complaining about who the kids had to team up with.

Thankfully simple machines and machines in general are quite drawable and thus work well for pictionary.  Levers, wedges, and wheels all can be drawn even by me.  Phones and refrigerators are not prove too difficult.  Bicycles and hammers are trickier, not to mention drawing an airplane and not a shark, but overall I've managed to get them to recognize my drawings.  Then when the students draw, its even better (both in terms of them learning and the fact that a bunch of them draw better than me.

Overall a very successful Friday.  I even managed to involve a student who was sent to the principal's at the beginning of class, which I have really struggled with.  Once I lose him he's usually lost for good.  Now if only all my subjects were so easily drawn, but drawing a liver, gallbladder, stomach, and kidney just does not work as well.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Teacher! Teacher!

I'm probably jinxing myself by writing this post, but I do feel that the last couple of weeks have been better teaching-wise.  I have to give tests to 2nd and 3rd grade in two weeks and I feel way more confident about it than I have at any point so far.  I'm unsure if this is warranted, but its a nice change from the last minute scrambling to figure out how to test my students and general stress.

My lesson planning is also coming somewhat easier.  I now need to focus on making my students speak in English and forcing them to use their English.  Now that I have the presentation part down, I need to ensure that my students don't spend the entire time passively listening to me ramble on in English.  I need to figure out ways to gauge how much they understand. This is harder in science in English than in English, but certainly not impossible.

I'm almost two-thirds of the way through the school year here.  To think that I'm that far along is surreal.  At times it feels I've been here forever, but at other times it seems I was in orientation just last month. 

Monday, August 9, 2010

15 again

One of the odder aspects of this year has been that I am navigating being an adult in the real world for the first time, while at the same time feeling 15 at times

I feel 23 when I am standing in front of 25 6th graders for 80 minutes teaching about technological advances and their impacts on society... in English. Teaching science in English to Costa Rican elementary students is something I struggle with daily and I can not imagine trying to do it even a couple of years ago. I am living in a foreign country for a year with a more limited support system than I had in my study abroad program (not a criticism of WorldTeach, which does a lot to help me.) While I'm a volunteer, I am a full teacher in the sense that I do all the lesson planning and tests for my sections of science in English.

At the same time at times my life is like being 15 again in so many ways. Teaching in August makes me feel like I'm working at a summer camp, except more serious and without the songs. I eat the food I am served both at the school and at home.  I am reluctant to just grab food from the kitchen, not knowing what is needed for dinner that night.

I have amusing arguments with my host mom about who should do my laundry. One of the first things I did when I arrived in February was ask how to use the washing machine. Yesterday I started doing my laundry, but then my host mom told me to leave it and she would finish it. I tried to convince her I could finish it myself, but she was having none of it.  I was not going to argue about using her washing machine, but yeah, not being allowed to do my own laundry is not what I'm used to at 23.

Other things which make me feel 15: I walk or take the bus everywhere I go. I have limited spending money, even less than I did in college, because I can't have a part time job (which I probably would in the US, given the free time I have). I only have the stipend, which while not nothing does not go that far. Some of the emotional ups and downs have also reminded me of being 15, though of course the specific causes (culture shock and anxiety over my lack of teaching experience vs. normal adolescence) are different.

I do intend to do a better job of trying to figure out making food. That will help me if I feel I can get myself lunch without needing to wait for someone to serve me. I just don't want to do what my host sister did, when she made chicken in salsa with chicken the host mom was saving for chicken in rice. I can barely cook with ingredients I'm used to in the US, never mind here in a foreign language without recipes. Still, making rice and beans is not that hard.

(the title is a reference to the Zac Effron movie, which was pretty amusing to watch dubbed into Spanish with my 13 year old host brother)

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


Admitting to being an aspiring author is an odd thing, at least it is for me. For some I am sure it feels quite natural, people who have been writing since a young age. I am not one of them. I never took a creative writing course in college nor did I write much fiction in college. I for a while now been a some day person about writing fiction. Some day I'll write a book. Some day I'll sit down and write. 

Now I am trying to do more than say "some day", since some day can so easily become never.
Admitting on this blog that a dream of mine (however low the chances are) is to become a published author makes me wince inside. I am not sure why exactly I feel self-conscious about saying this. Maybe worried about appearing as a wannabe writer, but why that's bad I'm not clear on. Every published author spent some time as an unpublished writer. Most from what I've read spent  ten years working on their writing until they sold their first novel.

I do not plan on living at my parents writing forever and not looking for a job (don't worry Mom and Dad). I make a conscious effort here to make sure not to spend time I should be prepping for teaching writing. I am here to teach first, everything else second. While I am not perfect, I do my best. Still, I have plenty of free time, especially if I use my time wisely, to write here. No stranger than knitting, watching tv, reading a book or any of the other things people do in their free time.

Well, this is me telling the world (or at least the 5 people who read my blog) that I do intend on making an effort to someday be a published author. Right now my aim is to write a 1,000 words (at least) every day. For the past month (except my week at the beach) I have done a pretty good job. I have only missed a couple of days.
By tonight I will have finished 20,000 words. Not too bad. For now I am a writer, in time maybe I will become an author.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Quick story

I don't have time for a longer blog post since the internet at the school was not working today. I'm now trying to figure out how to teach a lesson about the history of electricity production in Costa Rica. Thankfully the ICE (the Costa Rican state-owned energy company) has a helpful description of its efforts. I will have to decide how to deal with the irony of it as I remember losing the power in all of Manuel Antonio during the final of the World Cup.

Quick story:  Yesterday, I was unsure of whether to be offended or take it as a compliment when two fifth grade girls came up to me and put a picture from a magazine up next to my face and said, "Mire, la misma cara!" (Look, the same face).  I had no idea what they were talking about as I was reading my email and did not see who it was.

As they turned and walked away, I asked them who was in the magazine picture. One of them turned her head and said, "Es Robert Pattinson!"

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


I realized that I have not actually written about teaching in a while.  I mention it off-handedly like at the end of my previous post, but for the most part that is about all.  There are a couple of reasons for this, but this blog does not need to be me meta-analyzing why I post what I post.

This week marks the start of the second half of the second trimester.  What that means in non-confusing talk is that I am spending this week grading the tests from my 5th and 6th graders.  I am also going to be ramping up my teaching to my 2nd and 3rd graders since the next test in science for them will be in English.  The opposite is true for my 5th and 6th graders, who will be focusing somewhat more on science in Spanish.

I am still feeling like I am in over my head at times.  I do feel like I am a much better teacher now than I was even 3 months ago.  Obviously that is good.  I hope to continue to improve and not level out, since there are definitely many areas in which I could improve my teaching.

The next few months will also be taken up with me attempting to find some direction on what my next step(s) should be.  I will be applying to jobs from here though I am unsure of how I would do a phone interview.  Over skype?  Maybe I'll just time it so any phone interviews would be after I am home in early December.

The one goal I had which I do not feel I will be able to achieve was to figure out whether I want to be a teacher or not while here in Costa Rica.  I was talking to the director of World Teach, the program I am volunteering through, and she commented on how many volunteers come here because they think they might want to be teachers.  The problem with that is teaching here is so different from teaching in the US that it is not comparable.  Just having textbooks would make things so much different for me and for the students.  Not that I know of textbooks aimed at teaching science in English as a foreign language, but it would be nice if such textbooks existed and I had some

In more interesting and exciting news, Season 4 of the Guild has started up again!  

Monday, July 19, 2010

Back to Teaching

The reason why I have not updated my blog in 2 weeks is because I spent the last week in Manuel Antonio/ Quepos at the beach.  I did have internet access there, but not enough to devote time to writing a blog post. Manuel Antonio is in the southern part of Costa Rica on the Pacific side.

Manuel Antonio has the beaches and the national park.  I actually stayed in Quepos, which is a town over the hill from Manuel Antonio.  Quepos is a cool little town with an interesting mix of plantation workers taking time off from work, expats, and tourists all mingling.  While not aesthetically the nicest place, it had great little cafes and interesting places to find. 

My time at the beach was a lot of fun.  I did a bunch of generic tourist things like wandering around the national park and lying on the beach.  The weather did not cooperate for the second half of the week so I spent less time on the beach than I had planned.  That was not that big a deal because I was more than happy to stay in and read the books I had bought at the used book store I found in Quepos.

I went white-water rafting for the second time in a month which I enjoyed immensely.  The river was running really high since they had had a lot of rain in the days before I went.  This meant that the guide was actually somewhat unsure of how some of the different parts would run which made parts a little hairier than they might have been otherwise. 

For example, La Boca del Diablo (the Devil's Mouth) ended up being really tame because of how high the water was.  On the flip side, just below la boca del diablo, the guide directed the boat directly into a large hole, unintentionally.  Luckily only the guide was tossed from the boat, but it was still pretty intense.

I also watched the final of the World Cup from a bar in Manuel Antonio.  The bar had one tiny television, but it was the only place I could find where I could sit down to watch the game.  I'm used to watching sports on a tiny television from college, so it was fine.  The entire game was really exciting, with plenty of chances and lots of yellow cards. (Nigel de Jong definitely should've gotten a red card). 

In the 131st minute, seconds before the end of the game, the power went out in all of Manuel Antonio.  The entire town ran outside of wherever they were watching to try to find somewhere else to see the end of the game.  The power came back on a few minutes later with the Spanish players celebrating in the middle of the field, so I didn't miss anything important.

Now I am back to teaching, which is proving tough.  I need to sit down and focus on what I need to be teaching.  Well, there are only a couple of weeks left in July, soon it will be August.  I will be back in the US in December, before too long.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Quince Dias!

First day of vacation today in La Fortuna.  The vacation is called Quince Dias, which is how Costa Ricans say two weeks most of the time.  Hence, the vacation is for two weeks.  The first week I will be spending relaxing and hanging out in La Fortuna, while I will be off to Manuel Antonio and the Pacific Ocean for the second week.

This also marks the halfway mark on my time here in Costa Rica.  More specifically, it marks the halfway time of my teaching here, since I'm past halfway if I include orientation.  Still, its crazy to think that I'm halfway done with the school year.  At times it seems like this has been the longest 6 months of my life, but at the same time I know before too long it will be December and I will be back in the US.

I will be excited to be back in the US, though the recent jobs report makes me less than excited about job searching.  I was really hoping the economy would be adding jobs, not simply moving sideways.  Still, there's hope that in 6 months things are looking better. A second dip would be depressing on a number of levels.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010


         Today I will be going to play soccer with a few of the teachers at the school.  I have been doing this for the past month once a week and its been great fun.  While its just a bunch of guys playing soccer, its still a higher level of soccer than I've played in years.  I need to work on making quicker decisions.  Too many times I end up staring at the other players, trying to figure out what I should be doing.
         I will hopefully play better tonight, though I've been failing to run over the past week.  I will have to work on conserving my energy, something I am not used to doing.  I'm used to ultimate frisbee, where there are unlimited subs and the goal is to go out and run as hard as you can.  Yes, you learn to take a breather in the stack, but generally you just run the entire time (or at least thats how I played).  Needless to say, this is not an intelligent way to play soccer.
      Well, if I end up sore tomorrow, I will be able to soak it off at the hot springs.  The school has organized a trip to the hot springs tomorrow night, which should be fun.  I have not been yet, so I'm excited to go see how they are. 
      Two more days until vacation! 

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Why I will never write about sports for a living

         So the main reasons I will never write about sports is I don't have a strong desire too.  I mean, I enjoy it in my blog, but as a career it does not attract me at all.  However, my latest analysis of the Argentina side was terrible.

         I said that Diego Milito should start ahead of Gonzálo Higuain, and so of course Higuain goes out and scores a hat trick against South Korea.  I'm hoping Brazil plays better or that North Korea proves to be better than everyone thought, so at least that prediction turns out better.

         Well,  I will not make any comments about the game between the US and Slovenia other than to say I am extremely excited for the game.  Also, Celtics- Lakers is tonight. Less said about game six the better, but given how the series is going tonight should hopefully be better for the Celtics.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


             (I'm now posting this at school, though I wrote it earlier. Apparently Switzerland is beating Spain now?)
            Sitting here watching the Spain- Switzerland game, I don't have much to talk about. I did a good job updating my blog every day last week, but nothing has happened particularly blog worthy the last few days.
            I'm been basically teaching and watching the World Cup. This is fun but not something I feel make multiple blog posts worth of material. This week at the school I need to give a homework assignment because in 2 weeks I have to give the exams for 5th and 6th grade for the second period.
I'm teaching energy in various forms and levels of detail to the different grades, from a basic understanding of what is wind with the second graders to the 6th graders who are learning about how wind is a renewable clean energy.
            Costa Rica is an interesting place to teach about energy since there are examples of places where Costa Rica is developing both wind and geothermal energy (from a couple of volcanoes), so it is easy to put the material in the real world.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

More World Cup

          So the next month of my life is going to be dominated by the World Cup.  Most of the time I am not teaching or preparing to teach I will be watching World Cup soccer.  The World Cup is probably my favorite sporting event and I think the US has a chance at making it beyond group play, which would be great.
           Yesterday's games were pretty boring, aside from the goal South Africa scored. I'm glad we probably won't have to see Uruguay and France play each other again, since that was an excruciating game. I hope the Mexico- Uruguay game is at least a little exciting, since I can see that being another deadly dull affair with 90 minutes of midfield passing.
           Today was much better. South Korea was impressive against Greece.  Argentina dominated their match, even though the final score was only 1-0 against Nigeria.  I prefer Diego Milito as a partner to Carlos Tevez rather than Gonzalo Higuaín. It'll be interesting to see who plays up top next to Tevez next game. Maradona's not afraid of change, considering how many players he used in qualifying. I fully admit to not knowing much about Higuaín, but Milito impressed me for Inter Milan.  Higuaín missed some chances right in front of the goal, which he needs to finish for Argentina to go far.
            It will be interesting to see if I am able to wake up tomorrow to watch Slovenia-Algeria.  I would love to, as this is the other game in the US's group, but 5:30 is awfully early for a Sunday.
            I watched the US-England game today at a restaurant which had a fair amount of both US and England fans, which was fun.  The general reaction to the US goal was amusing, even the US fans just shook their head.  I'll gladly take the point though.
            To change sports, Go Celtics!  Its odd to say, but Andrew Bynum's knee might be the most important part of this series.  The Celtics struggle so much scoring inside with both Bynum and Pau Gasol's length inside.  Glen Davis is so much more effective against Odom, who doesn't tower over him the way Gasol and Bynum do.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Hola, thank you!

             I just found out today that one of the preschoolers thinks my name is "thank you". The preschoolers eat at the same time as I do, so they sort of know who I am. One of them came in to the lunch room saw me, and say in Spanish, "I know his name! I know his name. It's "thank you"!" He said thank you in English.
            I was not really paying attention to him so I was unsure if I had heard correctly what he had said. The preschoolers all got their food and then they sat down at the same table I was at. Once again, the preschooler started talking about how he knew what my name was. This time, there was no doubt that he thought my name was "thank you". I tried to explain to him that thank you meant gracias in Spanish, but I'm not sure he understood.
            I was trying to think how he could have thought that was my name. My best guess is that one lunch he heard me talking to someone and they said thank you to me and he thought they were saying my name. I can't think of anything else that makes even a little sense. Still, I've been called much worse names than thank you, so I'll take it. Frankly, remembering back to my days in 5th and 6th grade, I'd love to know what my 5th and 6th graders call me.

Thursday, June 10, 2010


"Ya viene La Liga!!!"

        So the students kept yelling today, as they waited for La Liga de Alajuela. Liga is one of the best soccer teams in the first division in Costa Rica. The team visited for maybe a half hour today and the entire school was extremely excited, before, during, and after. I had a number of my students drawing black and red flags on their arms during class in preparation.
        The big question about soccer at this school is if someone is a Liguista or Saprissista. Liga and Saprissa are the two major soccer teams in this area. I consistently answer with Liguista, since that is the team my host family supports. Though really, my favorite Liga team is Liga de Quito, which I saw play live twice when I was Quito and still follow a little.
       Still, it was pretty cool having Liga come visit the school. As one of the teachers pointed out to me, it was like if the Celtics visited a school in the Boston area. Especially funny and fitting was when one of the janitors was flipping out over meeting the coach, who was one of the best players on the 1990 Costa Rican World Cup team.
       I did not get any autographs from either the players or the coaches. There were already hundreds of students and teachers running around trying to get autographs, so I just sort of hung out. I spent the time trying to figure out who the players were, which was interesting, since I have seen Liga play a couple of times.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

La Copa Mundial

           Only two days until the World Cup. I am becoming more and more excited.. I have class until 8:20, but then not again until 10:10, so I will be able to watch most of the first game, which starts at 8. I don't think I'll be able to watch the second game, but that's ok, since the game I'm really waiting for is England vs. USA on Saturday.
           One of the other Costa Rican English teachers here is a huge soccer fan. I've been having some really interesting discussions with him. Two days ago he was telling me about how much he dislikes Jonathan Bornstein, which is something I should have realized but never thought about.
           For those who don't know, the final qualifying game for the World Cup in the CONCACEF division, which is the group the US, Costa Rica, and Honduras all play in, was played between the US and Costa Rica. The US had already qualified for the World Cup. Costa Rica needed to win outright to qualify, whereas if the US won or if the game ended in a tie, Honduras would qualify for the World Cup. Bryan Ruiz, the best player for Costa Rica who starred this past season for FC Twente, the champions of Dutch Eridivisie, scored two first half goals. The US then scored one goal in the second half.
         Costa Rica looked to have the game in hand, but in extra time with only 2 minutes left in the game, Jonathan Bornstein scored the game tying goal. Here's the call of the game from the Honduras announcers, which is amazing. With that one goal, Bornstein became a hero in Honduras and a villain in Costa Rica. I find that really amusing, since the game had relatively little impact on the US men's national team.
         My friend also really dislikes the Mexican team, way more than he does the US. I wish I knew more Costa Rican fans, since I always figured the US was the most hated team in the CONCACEF.  I wonder whether thats true or simply me assuming the US is the center of everything, especially in North America, Central America, and the Caribbean, which constitute the CONCACEF
         We're both going to be rooting for South Africa on Friday, though I will be rooting for Mexico against most of its other opponents. I tend to root against the established powers, particularly the European teams and Brazil.
        My pick to win it all is Brazil. I think Spain's injuries will catch up to it.  I like Dunga's counterattacking style. Brazil can win ugly, in ways which is more difficult with juego bonito. I'm also skeptical that we will not see any jogo bonito, since although the players Brazil has picked may not be as skilled as Ronaldinho, they still bring plenty of skill to the table.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


            Today's excitement is a peace march. Every week the school focuses on a different value which the school is trying to instill in their students. This week the theme is peace, hence the peace march. There are signs around the school declaring this week the week of peace.
            Costa Rica is an unique country in the Americas in that it does not have a military. The military was abolished in 1948. Costa Rica takes great pride in this and it features prominently in many of there teachings at the school. They do have their military history which they celebrate, notably the defeat of William Walker in 1856, but overall they talk about having more teachers than police officers.
           That last bit may be changing, since a main issue in the recent presidential election was security. The perception of many Costa Ricans is that Costa Rica is becoming more less safe. The two main culprits are increases in drug trafficking or greater inequality, depending on you ask. However, Costa Rica still prides itself on being a country at peace.
           This is particularly noticeable at the school I am teaching at because of the amount of students who are Nicaraguan. For many of them their parents and grandparents lived through the civil wars in Nicaragua. The wars still resonates today even in Costa Rica, where Oscar Arias just finished his second term as president. During his first term, he won the Nobel Peace Prize for working to end the violence in Nicaragua and El Salvador.
           Back to the march at the school. The students all had white balloons with slogans such as "I love peace" in Spanish on them. The entire school then walked around the neighborhood up behind the school where many of the students come from. The students had large banners with slogans about the importance of peace on them. Parents took pictures from the fronts of their houses and everyone enjoyed the sunshine.
         Not the most exciting peace march, but it was still interesting to walk along with the students.  I have trouble imagining something similar happening in the US.

Monday, June 7, 2010


         My host family calls me Pedro. This is fine with me, since that was what my host family in Ecuador called me. I even have friends in the US who call me Pedro. I'm used to answering to it. Its only an issue when someone from WorldTeach calls my house looking for Peter. The first time it happened, my host brother told the caller that nobody with that name lived at the house.

        While Pedro is fine, the baby (well by now he's a toddler) has begun to call me another nickname, which while far more amusing is also much more confusing. He alternatively calls me either tio (uncle) or tia (aunt). This has only started in the past week and is quite odd. I was confused when he was standing outside my door at 7am yelling for tia (aunt). I had no idea he was calling for me.

       The reason he calls me aunt at times is that he has not quite figured out the difference between aunt and uncle in Spanish. For a couple of months every time he sees my host brother, his uncle, he says, "Tia!" and everyone in the room goes, "Tio!" back at him. The last week or so he has seemed to have figured out the difference. Now I'd say half the time he says Tia and half Tio.

      I also just added pictures to my picasa account for anyone who is interested. They are from Easter Week so they're pretty old, but still some of them came out pretty well.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Living in the shadow of a volcano

             The last couple of weeks or so here in Z-13 have been interesting because Volcano Arenal has been more active. The volcano is not doing much more than sending some more smoke up than usual and making some more noise, but it still adds a new dynamic to living here.
             A few nights ago was especially surreal. I fell asleep early just before 10:00. All of a sudden I woke up to a large booming noise.  As I lay in bed, I was discombobulated and unsure of whether I had imagined the volcano making noise or not. It sounded almost like thunder but without the rumbling and it was not raining, so I figured it had to be the volcano.
            The next day, I asked my host family and they confirmed that I had in fact been woken up by the volcano the night before. They asked me if I had told my parents about the volcano. I think they wondered whether I would tell my family for fear of worrying them. I did debate whether or not to write of the volcano, but it is too much a part of my experience here for me to leave it out. 
              Not to mention the fact that the top of my blog is a picture of lava flowing out of the volcano, so its not exactly a secret.  The entire city is built around tourists who want to see the volcano.  There's some other stuff to do, zip lining and canyoning, but for the most part this town is built around the volcano, jobs-wise if not literally.
             My other experience with the volcano came two days ago at about 5:45. I heard what I thought was thunder and then heard my host brother yelling for me to come look at the volcano. A good sized cloud of smoke was billowing out of the top of the volcano. The smoke was a light gray and was mushrooming out of the top of the volcano.
            When the volcano starts acting up I am particularly grateful to have a host family. There are times when I would prefer to be living alone, but the fact that my host family is taking the volcano's actions for granted is comforting. They have lived in its shadow for years, so they obviously have a better sense of whats normal for the volcano to be doing. I would be way more worried if I had no one to ask whether this is normal.
             I wanted new experiences when I came to Costa Rica and being woken up by a volcano is definitely one of them.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Mental Health Day

            I could use another mental health day like the one I had a week ago. Last week on Wednesday, the school day ended at 10:00 and all of the teachers went to have lunch at a local hotel.  Then we all took part in a few activities intended to improve our mental health.
             The social worker showed a slide show about the negative aspects of stress and how it can affect a person. The slide show said that the three most stressful jobs are firefighter, nurse, and elementary school teacher, so it was important for us to work on lessening our stress levels. The slideshow also listed a bunch of medical issues which can arise from too much stress, including cancer. That struck me since I knew some of the other ones like hypertension, but not cancer. I'll admit to some skepticism at that, but still, lessening stress is importantt.
             Then we did a little bit of yoga, once again confirming that I do not enjoy yoga. After, the psychologist led all of the teachers in a meditation style activity. She asked us all to close our eyes and then she narrated a trip we were to take in our minds. We walked towards a river, then we all turned into birds and flew across the river. We ended up seeing a cavern from the air.
              We turned back into people and opened the door to this cavern underneath a mountain. Inside the cavern was a room which we were all supposed to imagine in whatever way we wanted. The psychologist then gave us all markers, colored pencils, and paint for us to draw our room. Everyone then spent maybe 15 minutes drawing what they had seen.
              The most amusing part for me of the experience was that the trip I just described might not have been the trip the psychologist described at all. While I knew 95% of the words which the psychologist was using, the fact that the entire narration was in Spanish meant that it is quite possible that I ended up somewhere completely different from the other people in the group.
              My suspicion of this only increased when I saw what other people had drawn. I drew a room with all sorts of things I would want in an ideal room, such as a computer, frisbee, bookshelves, basketball, my running sneakers, etc. Other people drew the beach or a river in the middle of a forest. One lady drew her house.
              I considered asking one of the other English teachers where the story had taken them, but I figured that would defeat the purpose of the exercise. Since I enjoyed the place I ended up, I figured it all worked out.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Random happenings

          I don't have much time to write full blog posts today, but here are a few snapshots of the past week or so here in La Fortuna.
         My running has been cut short by the fact that the time when I used to run is now the time every day when it pours. While I can run in rain, the lightning and thunder makes me much less willing to go run. Hopefully I will figure out a way around this. The most obvious solution is for me to wake up earlier in the morning, so I'll see if I can pull do that.
        Today, I taught static electricity to my 5th graders. For this I brought in some balloons and showed them how the balloons will become attracted to each other if they are rubbed together. I also did the trick of sticking my hair up using the balloons.
        About forty-five minutes before the class started I was in the English classroom with the balloons rubbing them together and on my shirt. I needed to make sure that I could actually pull off the experiments I had planned for the class. Thankfully the only person who walked through the office was one of the fifth grade teachers, so she immediately understood why I was rubbing balloons on my head and did not think I was being really strange.

        Kinder has been interesting the last couple of days. We have played duck, duck goose for a while every day. While I enjoy playing it with them, at the same time I'm not exactly teaching them much English when they only learn those three words. At least they know the same game in Spanish, so hopefully they can connect duck, duck, goose, with pato, pato, ganzo.
       I've figured out that if I have them stand in a circle and throw a ball to them, I can convince them to talk. That's helped my teaching. I still am not particularly adept at teaching Kinder, but at least they can now say good afternoon, how are you, and I'm fine. We'll start working on "I'm 5 years old," today.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Good cafes

It is possible I've already written some of this, but I don't have time to go back through my posts and figure out if I have, so here goes.  La Fortuna is an odd place to live for me because of the focus of the downtown.  The entire town is built around tourism.  While in the outlying areas they are still some farmers, for the most part tourism is how the majority of the people around here make a living.
          I live in a neighborhood, Z-13, next door to the school I teach at, about 3 km up the main road from La Fortuna.   The neighborhood I live in is Costa Rican (or in places Nicaraguan, since there are many immigrants here) through and through.  This is a sharp contrast to the main road down to La Fortuna, which has hotels and restaurants all along its length aimed at tourists who stop on their way to and from the the volcano.
       One aspect which I have been enjoying of living near such a touristy town is the coffee shops in town.  There are two main ones which I frequent.  One is called Rainforest Cafe, though as far as I know it has no relation to the Rainforest Cafes in the US.  This one has the best iced coffees and the people there are nice and helpful.
       The other one is the Vienna Cafe.  Full disclosure, the owner is dating my host sister, so I know him and am biased towards it, but it is very good.  There brownies are excellent and their coffee quite good.  Both places have fast internet and are good bets if visiting La Fortuna.