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Jane’s Costa Rica experience.

By Jane Gantz

Jane fue estudiante de español del 31 de setiembre al 02 de octubre de 2009. A continuación se muestra un artículo que ella escribió sobre su experiencia.

My friends told me that they thought I was brave..brave because I’m a “mature” person…not a traditional university student going abroad…I’m a wife, a mother, an early retiree from a successful professional career, and a grandmother. Personally, I don’t think I was brave. I think I was fortunate. Going to Costa Rica to study Spanish was, without a doubt, one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I’d do it again in a heart-beat. I’ve travelled a lot in my life…to Europe many times, to Asia, and all across the United States, but I had never ventured off by myself with a life goal in mind….to get closer to becoming bilingual.

I remember consciously telling myself as I got off of my plane in Costa Rica…..” take every opportunity….. don’t miss a thing….look at this experience as a gift and get everything you can out of it.” And that’s how I tried to spend my five weeks in Heredia, a town near San Jose.

I tell my husband, now that I’m back in Bloomington, that the experience was “perfect.” Of course, nothing is perfect, but to me it was…

My School: Intercultura- a center for Spanish language instruction was amazing. While Heredia isn’t going to win any prizes for most beautiful community, Intercultura was an oasis for me within that town. It provided a lovely, warm, friendly setting in which to study Spanish. At Intercultura there is a lovely garden, several outdoor courtyards where students can study, a kitchen for weekly cooking lessons, a dance studio where daily latin dance lessons are offered, a setting for “movie night”, lots of comfy couches and chairs for informal discussion, classrooms for small group or private classes, computers for students to use to check their email and Facebook, a friendly staff, and an unlimited supply of excellent Costa Rican coffee. It’s located close to the city market , the city park, and to lots of good restaurants offering Costa Rican and Carribean food.

My Teachers and instruction: I had some of the best teachers I have ever had in my life (I’ve had a lot of teachers as I have two college degrees). Each new student is evaluated by Marcelo, the director of the language program (and also an instructor) prior to being assigned a teacher and a class level. I placed into a “low intermediate” level in my entrance interview and had the good fortune to spend my first week with Jesús, a young Costa Rican man. I was brought to tears one day when Jesús was able to explain a grammatical concept that I had never “gotten” from any instructor in high school or university. I attended group class for 4 hours a day, 5 days a week, but in addition, hired Jesús for private lessons for 3 hours a week. He was that good, and worth every penny that it cost me.

My new Friends: Never have I been in an environment (even at my Big 10 university where I studied for 6 years), where so many people with such interesting lives have gathered under one roof. I think that those who choose to uproot themselves from their familiar, move to a country far from home to learn a language are generally adventurous, interesting people. I made friends with people of all ages….from 18-73. My friends came from Chicago, California, Maryland, Texas, as well as from Switzerland, the Netherlands, France, Germany, and New Zealand. My new friends were attorneys, doctors, teachers, retirees, and university students. All were there by choice….with a desire, like mine, to learn a new language. Some had given up jobs to travel the world for a year…stopping in Costa Rica for a few months to study Spanish. Some were working in Heredia, teaching English. Some came to volunteer to protect the turtle eggs being laid on the Pacific coast. All were amazing.

My tico family: Most students at Intercultura rent a room from a host family. I went a different route and rented a one bedroom apartment owned by a Costa Rican friend of mine who now lives in the United States. The apartment is above his parents’ house. While I had my own space….my own bathroom (really a nice luxury), kitchen, and living space, I had all meals with this wonderful family. Rafa and Leila are retired school teachers and are without a doubt two of the sweetest, most patient people I’ve ever met. They speak no English…none….but we were able to communicate. From them I learned so much that I’d never know by just going to school. I learned how close Costa Rican families are….not just in terms of how much they love each other and depend on each other, but how physically close they live to each other! On the same street where I lived also lived two of their five children, grandchildren, brothers, sisters, and cousins. There was always a family member stopping by for a little “cafécita” or to watch futbol on the tv. There was often a grandchild in the house using the computer to play video games. From my family I learned to cook and appreciate Costa Rican food… pinto, tortillas, guiso de ayote, and arroz con pollo.

I travelled in this gloriously beautiful country on weekends to San Carlos, with my family to their “finca,” to their son’s home near the Carribean, and with my classmates to Monteverde and the volcano Arenal.Some adventures: Everyday in Costa Rica was an adventure for me… there were new opportunities every day. One day while taking the bus home from school (tired, hot, and weary from a long day), I sat next to a woman in the front seat of the bus. She started talking to me and while I really wasn’t in the mood to chit chat, I responded politely. What a lovely person she was…. she invited me home with her for a cafecita where I met her beautiful family and enjoyed a very special hour with another lovely Costa Rican family who opened their life up just for me.

I explored my town by walking to school and passing fields and fields of coffee bushes. I looked at gorgeous, lush, green mountains that surrounded my town each time I stepped outside of my house. I went shopping in local markets and bought amazing cooking tools so I can prepare Costa Rican food in my house in an authentic way. In the markets I sampled new fruits that I had never heard of or seen before.

While it’s not usually “my thing,” I went with Leila (the adorable sen~ora in my house) to play Bingo…a popular activity among her group of friends. I didn’t realize when I said “ok, I’ll go with you” that that meant an 8 hour commitment to playing Bingo. What a trip! 200 people (men, women, and even children) gathered in a community hall all trying to win some of the hundreds of prizes available. Leila is, without a doubt, the BINGO QUEEN…She always comes home a winner. In the 5 weeks I was there, she came home with a microwave oven, electric sandwich makers, coffee pots, bed comforters, clothing, toys, and even baskets of food. I won nothing, but I learned my numbers very well! It was one of those experiences that I probably wouldn’t want to do again, but one that I wouldn’t trade for the world because it gave me an insider’s view to typical Costa Rican culture…something not everyone is privy to.

I learned to love Latin music…to really, really love the richness of the lyrics (when I can understand them) and the unique sound. If you don’t know the group Maná, you MUST listen. I promise you’ll be hooked. If you haven’t heard the sweet voice of Julieta Venegas, you’re missing out on something wonderful. I experienced the Costa Rican Day of Independence and the week celebrating the Patron Saint of my neighborhood. That meant parades every day, concerts in the local park every night, and fireworks. I spent 6 really fun hours one night making tamales with my host family while we drank fabulous Nicaraguan rum with Coca Cola and listened to great latin music. I had cooking adventures every week at the school, taking lessons with my classmates from Janette…BIG fun for me, as I love to cook and discover new things. I learned that I adore tortillas and fried platanos.

My written words cannot even come close to expressing how amazing “getting out of my familiar” was to me. My photos cannot even come close to showing the beauty of the country or the warmth of the people. I have come home with a new view of the world….with a new attitude toward my life and my surroundings. Who would have thought that spending 5 weeks away from my familiar could be so life changing….could make me want to “live in the moment” every day of my life? I am indeed very fortunate.