Author Archives: Dan in Costa Rica

About Dan in Costa Rica

Bienvenido! My name is Dan Sheehan. Thank you for visiting my blog. I am a Strategic Communications and Human Service Studies major with a Leadership Studies minor from Raleigh, NC, and I’m embarking on one of the greatest adventures of my life. I am so pleased to keep you updated on the many components of the Costa Rican culture that I will be experiencing, so stay tuned! Here are 5 Fun Facts about me: 1) At the center of everything I do – you can find my family. They are a wonderful group of Irish/Italian Americans, and I am blessed to have them in my life. 2) Maya Angelou inspires me because she emerged from her impoverished and discriminatory past with eloquence and excellence. 3) Writing and singing music have been passions of mine since as far back as I can remember. My most played songs on iTunes are alternative songs, such as Sink or Swim by Tyrone Wells. 4) I was nearly on the Oscar Meyer Wiener commercial as a child, but was too shy to audition once I got there. Now I’m in an a cappella group on campus and frequently sing in front of others. Check out this video of us singing Paradise by Coldplay! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=asGXrCvkKj0. 5) Ferris Bueller’s philosophy may be the reason behind my desire for adventure – “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

Pura Vida, Costa Rica

“The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” – G. K. Chesterton

Watching from the plane window as the sun began to sink below the rolling surface of the clouds was a surreal phenomenon.  I told myself the last time that I was on a plane – when I was on route to Costa Rica – that I was embarking on the grandest adventure of my life.  There are none compared to the stories I now possess, and I never imagined my experience would lead me in the directions that it did.  Unforeseen trials and adventures were had by all – close friendships were made, but most of all there was a sense of fulfillment amongst my fifteen classmates aboard the returning vessel.   Some cried of happiness, and some of sadness; some cried because the conclusion had registered, and others because the reintroduction to a reminisced life was like greeting an old friend.  I, however, sat and watched the flaps while the wheels steadily projected from the bottom of this flying ship.  Overwhelmed with the memories that I now possessed, I read the unfasten seatbelt sign above our heads, and unbuckled from the greatest ride of my life.

Some expected my group and I to have reverse culture shock upon our return to the United States, but I felt the adjustment to be a comfortable one. I was content to leave one adventure and resume the previous with new perspectives and experiences that would forever change my frame of mind.  In a matter of hours, I regressed to English, familiar faces, and the familiar atmosphere of my university.  At first, it seemed like another weekend adventure – like the ones that were so prevalent over the course of my past semester, but when I remained in this place I began to get restless.  Many new assignments passed through my mind and I was welcomed again into my old, over scheduled life.  The mechanization of life in the States compared to that of San Jose, and the paradises that I had visited, was the most challenging readjustment.  Also, I missed the natural food that had graced my plate frequently in my host country.  My body quickly felt the effects of the unnatural foods that are unavoidable in the States, and I have grown very health-conscious as a result.

By the time I became reacquainted with my schedule, and my upcoming tasks, I grew to greatly appreciate the communication that was always accessible to me.  In both the United States and Costa Rica, I had the communication necessary to remain content in each respective location.  Before departing for a new country for the first time, I was very scattered across my many passions.  I am involved in a number of organizations, and loved seeing multiple groups of friends throughout my day.  Costa Rica encouraged me to see another side of myself that is stronger than I previously believed.  I was abroad with about thirteen students from my university, and the majority of them were introverted.  This was one of the greatest blessings that this experience had to offer, because in addition to the friends that I made in Costa Rica – I decelerated to find a cohesive unit of students that truly supported each other throughout our four-month excursion.   They taught me how to love and listen to others and I am truly thankful for the characteristics and kindness that each of them added to the group’s dynamic.

In Costa Rica, a common expression is, “Pura Vida,” which is translated to mean pure life.  Altogether, I believe that is what I discovered while outside of the United States.  I went abroad in search of a new culture. I sought complete immersion into language and lifestyle that were unlike my own.  Costa Rica had plenty of differences, and surely enough to fulfill these desires.  However, there was something even greater that I discovered.  I found culture to look like a circle, in several facets of its existence there are cycles, rituals, and behaviors that make it rich. A circle is my chosen symbol because it is the essence of the whole.  While searching for contrast, I discovered comparison.  Culture, regardless of location can be whittled down to the same items that make us all inherently human.  We have the need for stability, for love, and for community, etc., and it is fascinating to see the ways in which a different country can accomplish the same feat.  When one becomes an ethnographer and sees an outwardly dissimilar world from within – it becomes visible that the individual is attempting to examine a similarity’s difference.  Pure life, or pura vida, is what lies at the heart of society’s inner-workings, and this is how we identify with one another.  Whether I am in Costa Rica, or in the United States, the hearts of people around me are not to be contrasted, but rather compared.

Immediately upon returning, my family and friends wanted to know what I had learned from the experience and the tales of my several adventures.  This is hard because I am continuing to grow as a result of this experience, and this process is just beginning.  With each new adventure comes an expansion of mind that will only continue to place into practice its newfound ideas.  I am grateful for the family I have made, and the memories I have shared with so many in such a short period of time.  So now I begin another adventure-

 

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100% Aventura: A Journal Excerpt

Here I sit at Drake Bay on the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica.  Two friends and I are resting with feet perched atop the white railing of our porch.  We are awaiting the moment when we can no longer see the sun behind the peaks of the westward mountains.  Jade Mar is the name of our jungle hotel that overlooks waters of the Pacific that are famous for whales and dolphins.  There are scarlet macaws perched in the branches above my head, and roosters roaming beneath the floorboards of our four-person cabin.  Currently, 8 weeks have elapsed since our arrival, and we have just passed our halfway point.

I have begun to write because I have not reflected upon any of my adventures thus far.  Each weekend has had new places and experiences that I never want to forget, so hopefully you find my tales entertaining.  I am going to take you through the waterfall gardens of La Paz; beaches of Manuel Antonio, and mountains of Monteverde.

La Paz Waterfall Gardens

Our first adventure began by meeting at the central park between our home-stay locations early in the morning with a friendly greeting from our weekend tour guide, Gustavo.  He truly made our first impression of this country an astounding one.  His charismatic stories, and charming humor won my group over in minutes.  We toured a coffee plantation, and learned of the several steps in its preparation as well as its waning economic influence.  We then traversed through a cloud forest toward a famous volcano that we thought would surely not be visible.  We waited at its peak encapsulated by a cloud.  Suddenly, the gaseous giant stepped aside for a matter seconds, and we could view the beautiful ridges and rainbow that was stretched across its interior.  The following hike led us into a center for several animals, such as jaguars, monkeys, snakes, and toucans – all of which had been removed from Costa Rican homes that had attempted to adopt these creatures as pets. My favorite section, however, was a magnificent butterfly emporium where the insects would flutter by in every direction. The several stages of metamorphosis that we observed were fascinating in that they completely change their figure.  I watched a Monarch emerge from its chrysalis, and then it was off to our next location – a delectable buffet.  We gorged ourselves to the point immobility, and then a cake was brought out.  It was the birthday of a girl in my group, and she became the victim of an element of Costa Rican culture.  Before she knew it, her face was flying forward, and then collided with the frosting.  On one’s birthday here, it is a custom to push the celebrated individual’s face into his/her cake.  Later, we climbed up a trail that ended with an elegant waterfall.  As legend has it, there was a woman who died here due to a broken heart.  Her tears formed a waterfall, and it is said that you can see her if you stare through the waterfall for 30 seconds and then glance away.  Naturally, we tried it, and were astonished at the sight of a woman who materialized on the mountainside.

Manuel Antonio

This location is the most honeymoon-worthy that we have ventured to thus far.  Manuel Antonio is the highest regarded beach on the Pacific side of Costa Rica, and my journey here begins with the Karahi Hotel.  I step in with luggage in hand, and glance around at the casual atmosphere.  The beds are made with our towels folded into the shape of swans, and through the sliding glass door at the back, I can see the hotel’s pool and restaurant sitting upon a beach that was more beautiful than any I had ever seen.

That night, my friends and I burned calories on an upward walk to a restaurant that was constructed from the shell of an airplane.  It was quite the sight.  At each meal this weekend, I ate the freshest of fish, and on this night I had Tres Leches cake as well.  We returned to the hotel shortly thereafter, and about eight of us decided to explore the beachfront.  The night was clear, and the stars were closer than ever before.  Sitting down in the sand, we spontaneously divulged several stories of our lives, and then returned to our beds.

Waking up the next day was no hard task.  We left to explore a rainforest that was down the street and along the beach.  The birds, sloths, and monkeys were magnificent, but the most entertaining creature was a fearless doe that greeted us, and allowed multiple people in my group to pet her. The trail that we hiked along brought us to three of the most radiant beaches.  The water was crystal clear, and the trees and rocks that cradled its edges contributed to the illustrious image.  My group began to laugh – this must surely have been a joke.  We never expected a sight this grand.  We spent the majority of the day swimming, taking pictures, and exploring every detail of this place.

Immediately after leaving, my friend and I caught sight of a man selling coconuts by slashing a hole across the top, and sticking a straw through for drinking purposes.  We had to try it.  Personally, the flavor was not the best, but I felt exotic walking around with a coconut.  After stopping for lunch, we continued to walk back across the beach in the direction of our hotel.  My friend and I relaxed in a hammock, and eventually fell asleep to the sounds of the ocean’s rolling waves.

We woke up, and there was still time left in the day to return to the water, so many of us swam for a while longer.  All day, we had witnessed horses running back and forth across the beach.  From the water, I watched a man ride with three horses in our direction, so I waded out to inquire about it.  He told me that he would meet me in thirty minutes if I wanted to ride one along the shoreline.  Shortly thereafter, the sun began its descent, and the man approached me with the horse.  He had to show me how to climb aboard because this was my first time riding.  I felt surprisingly comfortable initially, but I will admit that it was quite painful when he began to accelerate.  Nonetheless, the white horse and I cantered along the ocean’s edge at sunset until colors could no longer be seen.  That concluded the evening, but the next morning was an early one because several friends and I woke up to go jet skiing.

Around six o’clock, we got on a bus from our hotel that read, “100% Aventura.”  This heading seemed to be a common occurrence in our excursions across Costa Rica.  The bus escorted us to a close and contained shore, where we partnered up, and hopped atop our vehicles.  The only rule that our guide gave us was to operate in a formation that resembled a flock of geese – him at the front, and us trailing on either side.  We ripped across the surface of the water, and past the beaches that we had swam in the day before.  At our halfway point, we stopped to snorkel for a while with a fleet of tropical fish, and eat a lunch of pineapple.  I began to follow a separate group of fish, and the current began to increase.  The fish scattered from sight, and all I could see was white water.  I then yank my head upward and see that in the next instant I will be colliding through rocks. I crash into the first, prop myself up on it, and propel myself in the opposite direction.  I almost became a permanent resident of Costa Rica.  When it was time to leave, my group and I glided back to our starting point, and began our voyage back to San Jose.

Monteverde

Monteverde is a city in the mountains of Costa Rica that is famous for florae, zip lining, waterfalls, and crafts.  Upon arrival, I unpacked in a cabin of my own and prepared for the following days.  On the first morning, my group and I journeyed across a rickety bridge and through a cloud forest.  We discovered many exotic plant species, and the jungle here was truly a sight to behold.  On one vine, over thirty plant species could be observed.  On the route back, we stopped to watch hummingbirds, and one perched atop my hand.

That afternoon, we were picked up by another 100% Aventura bus and escorted to the longest zip lining center in all of Latin America.  I attached my camera to my equipment as we geared up at the entrance.  We encountered a group of middle-aged women from Peru who were adventuring around the world, and they took our picture.  It seems that many places in Costa Rica attract a global audience.  My group excitedly began this next experience by zip lining traditionally through the first section of the course.  We then hiked to the second section, and our harnesses were flipped in order to hang in the Superman style.  From there, we zipped between two mountainsides, and were stopped by a man waiting on the other side.  Our final trial was a “Tarzan Swing” that would require one hundred and fifty feet of free fall.

My group was not all together at this point, but a few of us were lined up and ready to walk across the bridge from which we would be falling.  I saw my friend drop first.  I heard the scream, but I could not see where she fell to because it was at a substantially lower altitude.  I began to inch forward across the narrow bridge to the last guide.  I asked for a count down, and he strapped me in – it was just one bungee that I was to hang from.  My toes were grazing the edge of the metal box, the man stepped behind me, he quickly counted to 3, his knees hurtled into mine, and I began the free fall that temporarily blurred my vision.  Once the swinging started, I could breathe again, so naturally I screamed.  I was descended to meet the ground, and looked back up to see my friend at the top.  We all jumped, and then made our return to the cabins, had dinner at a tree-house restaurant, and called it a night.

The following morning, after an early breakfast, consisted of another exhilarating experience.  Three of us boarded a similar bus that took us to rappel down seven waterfalls.  We arrived, received a bit of instruction, acquired our equipment and we were off.  The guide warned us of the frigid water that could only ever be conquered with Tequila, but we braved it without.  The first was a practice, but we followed the resulting river through seven additional waterfalls.  Each ended in some kind of freezing pool of water, but that did not take away from the escapade at all.  At one point, I was convinced to walk forward into a puddle that was actually a pit of deep water.  Our guide photographed all of our endeavors, but managed to video tape that clumsy misstep.  By the end we were exhausted, and so satisfied.

We stopped at a local shop before the bus ride home.  A few of us got ice cream, but I went next door to see an artist creating colorful blown-glass trinkets.  I asked him what he was finishing, as flippers were apparently coming into existence on his creature.  He told me it would be a turtle sculpture designed for a necklace.  I told him that I would buy it, and currently – it is hanging around my neck.  It has been ever since.

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An International Ambition

sunHistory has thrived upon an ability to dream.  I have never received the comprehensive road map, or tutorial for direction in my life.  What I have had is inspiration that grows from wisdom and stories by sometimes seemingly insignificant interactions.  My dreams are composed of ideas that I have built based upon these interactions.  A benefit of taking on the world without following any given example is that I have been able to explore several influences rather than rely on a select few.  Many aspirations have been absorbed from my experiences, and Costa Rica has allowed me to find pieces of my professional ambitions that I had not previously pondered.

While abroad, I studied the culture and climate of Costa Rica, the Spanish language, and the literature of Latin America.  I attend Elon University, which is a liberal arts university in North Carolina that requires one to take a variety of courses outside of one’s selected major.  This practice brings depth and breadth to an already extraordinary institution of learning.  By encouraging this type of study, students can look to fulfill several of the requirements abroad, which is essentially what I accomplished.

In addition to classes, however, I found inspiration in the adventures that were had within Costa Rica.  The biggest shock in the short time frame that I have been home in is the scheduled nature of society.  Expectations for an individual at nearly any age are abundant and unwritten.  In order to acquire the common concept of success, one must plan his or her life years in advance, and always be looking for something more.  Our schedules and lives are mechanized, and however important this far-sighted requirement is – a person can easily forget the benefit of adventure.  To not be retained by the circulation and commonality of routine is where true success lies.  Costa Rica has shown me that there is so much more to life than the brand of getting rich quickly that many seem it idolize.

gilmanWhen I think of the leaders that I would like to see in the future, they are individuals that have explored outside their comfort zone.   The greatest professional ambition that I have gained was a greater idea of the leader that I will be.  To settle in one area, and to base ideas from within the confines of one’s own four walls is constraining not only to the individual, but to those who admire that person as well.  Not traveling, but rather experiencing diversity is absolutely essential in order to gain creative and intellectual perspectives that would otherwise be absent.  The leaders of this upcoming generation will be culturally intelligent and able to talk across difference in order to innovatively engender success.  A global motivation is now hard-wired into my system, and it forever will be one of the several ideas that guide the direction of my dreams.

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Several Shades of Gray

Perhaps everything in ones life can be measured with something as simple as the sixth-grade mathematics.  We learned of an object known as an open line segment.  This theory may sound too simple to be accurate, but upon closer inspection, one may find clarity in his/her circumstance. Too often do individuals obtain ideas throughout their lives, and place them on either Point A or Point B.  This black and white mechanism disregards the difference and the beauty that can be found in each moment because on an open-ended segment, the answer cannot be found on the two opposing points, but rather in the space between.

On this segment, people will never fully have one trait or another, but rather some degree of that characteristic.   The gray area that exists between the opposite ends of the segment is where one’s reality lies, for the perfection of an ideal composes the opposing points.  When one polarizes the complex nature of social situations, he/she creates a stereotype that places an idea of a person or thing into the box of an ideal.  It is necessary to examine that which cannot be defined because if we do not, then we gain a satisfied yet inaccurate judgment of others rather than a well-rounded understanding.

On this studious adventure of mine in Costa Rica, I have discovered that when my reality changes – all that I am left with are my philosophies – the ideas that compose the nature of my existence.  What I know about the world becomes somewhat invalid because I cannot view this new place through the same social lens, so my ideas have been whittled down to the original figures of love, persistence, positivity, and other things that are inherently human. When one says that they want to study abroad because they would like to find out more about themselves, I believe that is essentially what they are describing.  Because when one’s surroundings change, it is true character that will stay the same.

The past month has filled me with insights that have begun to expose the shades of gray surrounding many of the prevalent social issues, such as social health care, education, and gay rights.  Continuing to discover the specifics of these things has been a motivating factor for me recently.

Social Health Care

In brief, this country is run on a social health care system in that everyone – including those that work here from Nicaragua have access to it.  During my first weekend here in Costa Rica, my group and I went on a tour of a coffee plantation, and explored the park of a legendary waterfall.  Our tour guide, Gustavo, shared his thoughts about this feature of Costa Rican politics.  He used to be opposed to the system, but his sister was then diagnosed with a terminal case of thyroid cancer.  Not many survive from this ailment, and because of the health care system – she was not only able to receive a treatment that cured her, but also was able to receive substantial financial aid.   Something that she would have spent the entirety of her life without paying off was reduced to something that the government took as their expense.

My home-stay mother can offer another perspective on this topic.  Her view is more negative due to the fact that many qualify for the same degree of assistance that there is not enough present to adequately handle problems that arise.  As she sees it, if she were to get sick, it may take three years to receive satisfactory attention.  The complicated nature of this issue is apparent – and as controversial as it may be – there is no black or white answer.

Education

Costa Rica is known for their phenomenal education system, but every system has its flaws.  Upon arrival, I believed that the system must be very respectable because the government of this country does not have an army – it chooses instead to finance its educational institutions.  As a result, the literacy rate is much higher than that of other countries, such as the United States, and it places a great deal of pride on these facilities.

Today in class, we discussed the experiences of several education students that have been working in the school systems now for about a month.  Notably, they have been working at selected private and public institutions in a small radius within San Jose.  They offered several takeaways:

1)   Without going into excruciating detail – the standard of literacy is sufficiently lower here than it is in the United States.

2)   English classes are highly valued – especially in private schools.

3)   Religion is present in the classroom in that occasionally – one must be Catholic to teach, and the teacher leads “prayer time” at one or multiple points throughout the day.

Another interesting point that can give a powerful look into the occupational nature of this country is an exit exam that students take after their high school experience.  The idea is somewhat like the SAT in that it includes questions that are non-major related, and is indeed a standardized test.  However, the outcome of this evaluation does not just give one a number to submit on a college application.  It actually limits one’s future occupation.  For example, if one does not achieve the score necessary to study communications, then that option is not a possibility.  One can take additional classes to become more proficient on the exam, and then take it again.  This, however, assumes that one will have the necessary resources.  Every society has constructs that control the success of individuals within its population.  I view this exam as a factor that sustains a socioeconomic cycle.  If one grows up in an underprivileged neighborhood, then there is an excellent chance that the educational capacities of that area will not be equal to that of privileged areas.  Immediately following high school, young adults take this exit exam, and have their possibilities minimized to some degree.  The underprivileged population may never gain the ability to study for a higher paying profession.  Comparably, in the United States, if one receives a bad score on the SAT, community college can be an alternative.  From there, one can enter into a more highly ranked institution.  Opportunities to step beyond the constraints of social class are more easily accessible in this regard.

Gay Rights

Before I begin – I should discuss my misguided initial impressions of this country. I had not yet experienced the social environment, therefore, my views were uneducated and ensnared by a stereotype.  Homosexuality was a word that I thought would never be mentioned in my household.  The opposite has proven true.  I have found that not only is it acknowledged, it is supported.   I am aware that my household may be an exception to the majority, but I never thought I would be living with a house of avid advocates.  Many individuals in my Costa Rican home are actively aware of the present social movements, and this has been a great resource to jump-start my regional education.

Weeks ago, I traversed to the Congress building where I received a tour.  Laura Chinchilla is the current President, and is the first woman to hold the position.  She appointed her version of “the cabinet” to establish the priorities of her presidency.  Those topics are discussed over the course of several months, and I came at the right time to hear about a few of them.  Gay rights, however, did not make it to her list.

The state of the human services agency that is run through the government may function gloriously, but my experience indicates that the leadership is somewhat unpopular at the moment.  This organization exists to protect people against the social inadequacies or injustices that government produces.  Currently, the man who is in the director’s chair believes that there is a cure to being gay.  He has proposed this cure, and has received government funding for its implementation.  The LGBTQIA group, or “Los Invisibles,” which is an easy translation, feels that their rights have been infringed upon.

In response, the LGBTQIA community organized a rally in the middle of San Jose that several members of my household and I attended.  It was made public via the news, etc.  Upon arrival, I expected there to be protest against the rally.  I expected this event to be dangerous to attend.  There was no noticeable protest – and in this place where I thought anger would be present – all that was visible was a peace-seeking community that had gathered to celebrate their difference.   We, as a single unit, marched to the Ministry of Human Rights.  Chants that were first sung into a microphone were then echoed by the moving mass.  As we proceeded, I witnessed the looks of hope and happiness displayed across the faces of the crowd.  My family and I stood next to a motorcycle that honked the rhythm of our Spanish chant.  The character of this populace possesses an indomitable spirit that seeks to enlighten a people, and revolutionize a legal system.

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For if one chooses to see in black and white, he/she will gain a perception that will satisfy, but not exemplify existing complexities.  If one could merely see in these two colors, his/her image would lack the depth that shades of gray provide.  This country is struggling with the concepts related to health care, education, and gay rights, and much of this can be observably attributed to people living inside of a social box.  If one matures without the ability to question, he/she will inevitably become a product of the surrounding environment.  It is by starting the difficult conversations with people that one will find new and exciting perspectives that may challenge what he/she believes.  I advocate for these conversations – because even if offered a perspective that contradicts one’s own – it produces a more open mind, or a deeper understanding of a previous belief.  Hiding from difference will only continue ignorance, while embracing it promotes a future that can speak and operate across it.

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Día de San Valentín

To: El Mundo

From: A Costa Rican

Valentine’s Day in Costa Rica, is not just a day for lovers, but rather a day that celebrates love in the most nonspecific form.  It is for friends and romantics alike to celebrate the greatest of human emotions.  I have had a philosophy on love for quite some time now, and it is one that is not easily put into words.  Upon being asked what love is, initially, I would answer that I do not know, but I believe people strive to find it either directly or indirectly every day of their lives.  We strive for meaningful relationships because they bring us the greatest feeling on Earth, and it is with that feeling that we understand the inter-connected nature of humanity; whether it is a grandmother who has baked a batch of cookies for her two young grandchildren, a sick mother who lives for the next conversation with her boys, or the unity that a couple can feel while interlacing fingertips.  This is love – regardless of circumstance.

The smallest gestures can leave the greatest impact.  Arts and crafts in Spanish class helped me revert back to my Kindergarten self as each student made a Valentine’s Day card for someone else in the class.  After a day of “work”, I explored the city a bit, bought a flower for my Costa Rican mother, Noemy, and returned home.  Shortly thereafter, the two other students, Noemy, and I gathered in the kitchen for dinner.  We had lasagna for dinner, which reminded me a lot of my home in the USA – my grandmother in North Carolina is a wonderful Italian cook. Just as we were about to finish, the doorbell rang twice.  It was Noemy’s son and her ex-husband.  Both entered, and we all sat together at the table in her kitchen.  The older man had brought a cake for her, sat next to me, and began to speak in English – only I could understand.  He said, “There is only one woman for me in this entire world, and she is here in this kitchen.  I can die happy because I know that I have found her.”  I was taken aback to say the least.  An elderly man of dwindling health sat next to me and shared his wisdom of love.  His relationship had transformed from marriage into a friendship that had grown stronger now that the two are apart.  I can only hope that one day I will understand the depth of his statement.

Stories have the power to recount history, but they also evoke emotion and reveal character. The old man was not the only appalling part of tonight, for a great love story had yet to be delivered.  A story that this family holds closely to their hearts is that of how Noemy’s son found his wife. He began the tale by describing his relationship with the woman that he would later wed.  The two were exclusive for three years at their university before going their separate ways.  They did not talk for nine years, and were both in relationships with other individuals.  One night, his former girlfriend had a dream of his father suffering from a terrible accident.  It sounds unusual to contact someone after nearly a decade based off of something one saw in a dream, but she called him the next day.  The two began to talk, and rediscovered a spark that had not been present for 9 years.  Within the next two months, the couple had moved in together, and in ten they were married.  From an objective perspective, this seems completely ridiculous.  However, my grandmother did something similar – she rejected a scholarship to a university in order to get married at age eighteen.  Love is not logical.  It is not able to be understood, yet when one finds it he/she knows exactly what it is.  Perhaps that is the greatest mystery of all.

~ I hope you all had a wonderful Día de San Valentín!

Sincerely,

Dan

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A Whole New World

For someone that has never left the United States of America, studying abroad should seem like a frightening concept.  I came to the conclusion that books, documents, and online tutorials were limited in their educational capacities.  Rather than trying to build up an expectation for what this experience would be like, I consciously decided to go into this culture with an open mind – completely ready for the challenge ahead.

Upon arrival,  my group clamored to baggage claim, breezed through customs, and hopped on a bus that would take us to the Elon University Center – where the thirteen of us would be studying for the next four months.  We had half an hour to relax before our Costa Rican families arrived to retrieve us.  Excitement overwhelmed me as I imagined my home-stay family.  All of a sudden I was a kindergartener again, waiting for my mom to pick me up in the car pool line – except I did not know a single thing about her.  Tales of her cooking glory had been passed down to me as I waited, so naturally my excitement grew.  Finally, she arrived.  The traditional Costa Rican greeting is to lean in and kiss each other on the cheek.  The language was a huge barrier because I did not have the vocabulary to conduct a casual conversation, but she understood.  We called for a taxi, and were on our way.  The bright red taxi was caught in traffic for the majority of our excursion, and the driver would honk at fellow taxi-drivers when they would pass us on the opposite ends of the road.  Although I did not understand what he would shout out of his window, I could tell they were friendly exchanges.  The roads were not the most elegant site as they appeared to be gashed open in part due to plumbing replacements.  My eyes were darting from one thing to the next as I took in my surroundings.  Hooters and McDonalds should not have surprised me, but I was caught off guard by the immediacy of their presence.  Another disturbing sight was the barbed wire and metal gates encompassing every house that we would pass.  I had just entered an entirely different world.  The taxi driver made his last left into my neighborhood, and finally, we had arrived.

As Noemy and I approached the jailed entrance to her home, my mind began to gallivant across the possibilities that could lie at the heart of this place.  The final key turned, and we crossed the threshold into her humble abode.  There were tile floors, pleasant furnishings, hardwood ceilings, and multiple rooms that seemed to be puzzle-pieced together in a somewhat methodic manner.  At that moment, I learned that Noemy was lending her home to three other students as well.  I would be living girls from central Costa Rica, Japan, and Peru.  I was overjoyed at the chance to take in so many different perspectives.

Currently, I have been living here for two weeks, and have never felt more at home in a place that was not my own.  This house has a summer camp feel to it, and the area is much different than any I have ever experienced.  Throughout the afternoon and into the night, sounds of cars accelerating, sirens ringing, and dogs barking are fully audible through my paper thin walls.  When I glance out of my bedroom window at night I can see the city lights from the other side of the mountain that San Jose sits upon.  During the day, my view is composed of  a mismatched conglomeration of colored tin foil roofs that are without separation.   Doña Noemy, cooked a delectable meal of arroz con pollo with beans and vegetables the first night, and has continued to amaze me since.

In a matter of fourteen days, I have witnessed certain universal constants.  Whether it is something commercial, such as Hooters or McDonalds, the relational nature of people, or the simple interactions that make us quirky as individuals – some things are noticeably consistent. The differences that are so apparent (ex. language) are so minute compared to the nature that brings us together. Once upon a time, I heard a the phrase, “Growth is always two steps outside of your comfort zone,” and that could not be more true.  The diversity that should separate us appears to be bringing us together, and as we all strive to learn more about each other, we grow.

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