Tag Archives: birthday

Tempus Fugit

Life is like a roller-coaster; the following is a peak-and-trough analysis of the past two weeks. My least favorite moment in Shanghai came when I said goodbye to some good friends I had made throughout the last two months. I am relocating to a second internship in Beijing. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction, and sure enough, the next high would present itself with the long awaited arrival of my hén hǎo de péngyou, Terry. When I met Terry in Calculus class, I never would have expected that three years later I would be waiting for him at the airport in his native country.



My best friend Terry.


In my previous posts, I talked about the meaning of food and how excited I was to try authentic Chinese cuisine. I did not fully comprehend how dangerous it would be to order my own meals. Most of the time it was hit or miss but more often than not I would regret it later when nature called. Eventually, I learned my lesson and started cooking my own meals, always alternating between McDonald’s and KFC for lunch, much to Terry’s dismay. Over a span of four days, Terry restored my faith in Chinese food as I tasted Shanghai with virgin lips.

Finally, it was time for us to leave for Chongqing where we would meet Terry’s family. Terry’s father and mother were very welcoming and showed incredible hospitality. They arranged superb accommodations and placed reservations at the finest restaurants in Chongqing. China’s economy has seen tremendous growth over the last few decades and as a self-made business man, Terry’s father offered me practical life advice. He asked me to call him shūshu (uncle) and showed me a glimpse of the luxurious life of the Chinese elite.



Chongqing hotpot.


We toured the city, enjoyed bubble tea drinks at an exotic zoo-themed café and went to the most famous hot pot restaurant in the city. Chongqing is near Sichuan and boasts the spiciest food in the country. Naturally, they thought I couldn’t keep up. Dish after dish came and I proved I had a stomach of steel. At the culmination of the meal, Shūshu’s friend, who is the president of a university, presented a nice gift that featured original postage stamps from all over China.

Later we went to a famous night club and watched a performance from the number one DJ in China. This was one of the most memorable nights of my life. Chinese people are not known for being liberal dancers and I saw this an opportunity to share my culture. I jumped on the empty stage when the DJ started playing hip-hop music and soon I was lost in my own world. I opened my eyes only to be blinded by the spotlight. As I looked across the sea of people, I realized they were all frozen; a thousand eyes fixated on the Egyptian-American dancing wildly before them. At first, I was intimidated, but then I encouraged the spectators to come on stage and dance with me. One by one they came until the stage was filled with Chinese people dancing around Terry and myself.

The next morning, I felt excruciating pain as my stomach fought the side effects of the hot pot. I mustered up the last of my strength to attend the home cooked meal that Shūshu had prepared. Although I could not eat much, the food looked and smelled delicious. Afterward, we enjoyed a scenic view from his company office overlooking the famous Yangtze River. The following morning, they arranged a “goodbye” dinner with an assortment of Shūshu’s acquaintances. I did not know it at the time but I was sitting next to one of the most powerful men in China. We laughed and shared stories using Terry as a translator to overcome the language barrier. At the end of the meal, they poured their drinks into their baijiu wells, which is the highest honor you can give someone.

I was sad to leave but at the same time, I was ecstatic to see my sister, Mel. I arrived in Beijing on my birthday and had dinner with Mel. Afterward, we met Val, my Russian friend, for a night on the town and celebrated my birthday in style. We made many new friends. My new co-workers here in Beijing are very kind and have gone to great lengths to welcome me to their city. I am excited to experience the rich history that Beijing has to offer. From the Great Wall to the Forbidden City, and the terracotta warriors in Xian—I want to see it all. With just under twenty days left in China, I cannot wait for the new adventures that await!



Reunion with my sister.

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Filed under East Asia, Khalid in China

Transitioning Back Home in the United States

Hello from Houston,

As I reflect on my time as a Gilman scholar in Costa Rica, I think one of the greatest aspects I learned from my community in Heredia was a sense of humility. In my opinion, one of the most important reasons anyone should choose to study abroad is to learn how to connect to all people through a shared mutual respect. On my final exam for my Spanish course, the professor had us write an essay on what we felt had changed us most during our time studying abroad in Costa Rica. I reflected on how my perspective had changed on childhood memories I had of children in my grade school courses. I remember one student in my class who never spoke up and how some students would taunt him. It wasn’t until I had been put in similar situations of not being able to verbalize and speak my thoughts that I could perceive empathy for this child. After being that person who was sometimes silenced not by lack of intellectual capacity but rather lack of language skills, I definitely appreciate the courage it takes for other people who come to the United States without the ability to communicate in English.

I have been back in the United States for a little over a week now. I officially graduated from the University of Houston with my degree last Thursday and it has been incredibly surreal to think I completed both my program in Costa Rica and my undergraduate degree.  I cannot stop asking myself where the time has gone.



I really miss my chess family. It was emotionally challenging saying bye to people who’ve been my friends since day one. Chess will never be the same without these enthusiastic learners, but I’m certainly thankful life brought us all together through a common passion.


Before sending me off, they all signed my chess set with wishes for the future. I’ll always think of these faces when I’m thinking about my time as a student at my host university, Universidad Nacional. They taught me so much about the Spanish language and culture. Their friendship was truly such a gift.


The highlight of my return has definitely been celebrating graduation with my family.  My siblings and my parents were all lucky enough to get off work to see me walk and to also go to a celebratory dinner. It’s moments like that when I can’t believe how lucky I am to have such a supportive family. I have been so happy to be spending much-needed time with them.

Of course I also sent several photos of my graduation to my host mom in Costa Rica. She showered me in affection and congratulated me. I miss her so much already. How sweet she was to send me off with a coffee mug and a photo of us because she knows how much I love coffee. And a few weeks before leaving Costa Rica, she threw me a birthday party for my 23rd birthday! She baked me a pineapple upside down cake, and lasagna and played a CD with birthday songs to sing me happy birthday. I can’t believe she did all of that for me. I’m so grateful for having had such an incredible host mom who always made me feel safe, happy, loved and took care of me like her own daughter throughout my time in Costa Rica. I’ll treasure my moments with Mayela forever.



My 23rd birthday was one of the best birthdays I’ve ever had. Mayela baked me a cake and had a small gathering at the house. She made a huge lasagna, and salad and put on a CD of different Spanish birthday songs. Both of us had two of our close friends over and all of us had such a great time singing and laughing.


I think this photo is a great portrayal of the sense of warmth and love that filled my relationship with my host mom. She was the best part of my experience abroad and the person whom I turned to for advice with Spanish and life in Costa Rica. It was so touching that she put so much effort into making me feel so happy and special on my birthday. What’s more, she always made me feel like her daughter and for that, she will always be my second mom. I already miss her so much.


In terms of reverse culture shock, I’ve had my share of a few moments. I had become so accustomed to kissing people on the cheek when greeting them in Costa Rica that it took me two times of doing that here before I instantly became self-conscious for having done it. Luckily my friends and I laughed about it but I won’t be doing that again! The second aspect has been seeing physical changes to familiar places and people. I learned recently that my favorite tea place in Houston had been closed down. It was especially saddening because I had always associated it with my time as a student at University of Houston.

As of now, I am a proud alumni of the Gilman Scholarship Program and the University of Houston. With the language skills I’ve learned abroad, I will continue to work toward the common good in meaningful ways in the mental health field. I have been applying for mental health aid positions in psychiatric clinics where I know my Spanish would be used to serve people in the Spanish speaking populations. I’m hopeful within the coming years I can complete my prerequisites for a health professional school where I can continue toward my dream of being a bilingual psychiatric professional. I look forward to the long journey ahead with excitement for my future.



Having finished my degree in Costa Rica, I officially graduated the University of Houston on May 12th! I definitely had an incredible senior year thanks to Gilman and am so excited to finally say “I did it!”


On a closing note, it has been such an honor writing for the Gilman Global Experience blog. There is no possible way I could have studied abroad without Gilman. Thank you so much for everything!

Warmest Wishes to All,

Alexandria Rodriguez

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Filed under Alexandria in Costa Rica, Central America

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 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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Filed under Central America, Dan in Costa Rica