Monthly Archives: June 2014

Age Regression

Part of learning to live in a new place is losing your independence and ability to do things for yourself.  To some extent, I felt like I went backwards in age and was like a child again, totally unable to do anything for myself at first.  As I figure things out, I am growing up!  Luckily, it’s not taking as long as it did the first time!

For example, when I first got here, I didn’t even know where anything in my house was, or what would be acceptable for me to ask for or get out for myself.  So I just had to wait until stuff was offered (good thing my hosts are very thoughtful and considerate!).  To go out, I had to have somebody with me both to show me the way, but also to help me cross the street without getting hit by a car.  Age: 5

By my second day, I had to run an errand.  I needed to go out and go to a local store, try to add minutes to my phone line, and get back home.  I used the time to try to walk around a bit and orient myself to the neighborhood.  I wasn’t able to recharge my phone, but I was able to communicate what was needed and figure out the next step to solving my problem. I was also able to ride the bus, but somebody came with me to help.  Age: 10

The next day, I made it to the neighboring part of town on my own, following the route that the bus had taken.  I was also able to get somewhere by taxi, but that didn’t go smoothly. I figured out how to wash dishes, help with the laundry, and operate the toaster.  Age: 12

I have already lost track of my timeline, but at some point I was able to ride the bus to downtown and back by myself, no bus transfers.  And finally, I was able to navigate several buses in a row to get to a more far away place.  Age: 16?  I plan to avoid driving here unless it’s absolutely necessary, so I don’t know if that puts me in the “less independent than the average 18 year old” camp.  But at least I’m growing up!  And I even know how to operate the coffee maker and reset the router!  Small victories.


Oe, oe oe oe, ticos, ticos










Costa Rica played their first elimination match today in the world cup, and advanced to the quarter finals – farther than they’ve ever been before.

So today was all about the football.  My host sister invited me to watch the Holland-Mexico game at a bar, and from there we went to a friend’s house to watch Costa Rica play.  It was an incredible experience overall, but also an interesting reminder that though I can share this experience with my wonderful hosts, I am an outsider looking in. That’s not a bad thing at all, it’s just the way it is.

First, the Mexico game.  I generally root for Mexico, because so many of the families that I work with are from there.  But down here, everybody was rooting for Holland.  Part of it was that my host’s friends were of dutch descent, but I don’t think there’s a whole lot of love for Mexico in general.  I’m sure there are a lot of nuances that I haven’t picked up on, but I can see why.  To the Ticos, Mexico must be the 800 pound gorilla that gets all of the attention, even though they’ve got a lot of really great things going for themselves down here.

I mean, it’s not like there’s open hostility towards Mexico, it’s just that I think that Costa Ricans want to be recognized for who they are, and not just lumped in with “Latin America” in general.  I wonder how many US tourists come down here and try to order tacos and burritos, for example.

The Costa Rica game was interesting in that it was at somebody’s house, so it was a lot more of a casual social environment than I’ve experienced since I’ve been here.  I think “mae” (sort of like “dude”) was every second word spoken.  And lots of fun Spanglish like “¿Dónde the fuck was esta mierda?”

I started worrying about my Spanish, and the minute I do that, it just gets worse.  I’m sure I sounded like an incompetent newbie, but oh well.  It was a good taste of what regular life is down here, including one point in which they talked about going to the celebration after the game to laugh at all of the foreigners with their wallets out and their big smiles and their “Pura Vida”, and then of course looked at me and said I’d be OK since I was with them.

There is a big difference in traveling with a group of people from the US, and spending all of your time with that group, compared to doing a family stay and getting as close as you can to real life down here.   I’m glad that I am staying with a family, and the way that it helps me experience Costa Rica through their eyes as much as I can.

I think for most tourists, the game down here was a huge party and fun, fun, fun.  At least for the group I was with, it was exciting, but also stressful.  Although the interesting part was the way the group sort of helped each other keep calm.  Whenever anybody would get too stressed or anxious, somebody would say something to calm things back down, and everybody would chill.  I don’t think I see this so much when watching sports in the US, where groups tend to work themselves up.  And maybe we need the sports with time outs to help us keep the pressure in check.

After the game, of course, everybody in the entire country rushed out of their houses and either to the Plaza de la Democracía, which is downtown, or the Fuente de la Hispanidad, which was close to where we were.

We went down the the Fuente, and it was a madhouse.  I don’t have a lot of photos because I have this clunky camera with me, and I was NOT going to be the foreigner lugging my camera along to this.  But I have some photos and videos that were taken there.  It was a huge celebration.  When we got there, some people had climbed to the top of the street sign.  We started off to the side a bit, but the party grew and grew as more people came in from further out of town.  People were cheering, blowing horns, playing the drums, and singing, and everybody was waving and cheering to everybody else.

It was definitely a memorable experience!


OK, now that I’ve gotten that pesky first post out of the way, I can go back to the beginning.

This summer, I am spending 8 weeks in Costa Rica chaperoning high school exchange students from Oregon.  I am here with one other chaperone (who lives on the other side of the capital) and 25 students, who are staying with families all over the country.  It’s our job to keep in touch with them, and also to act as a go-between for students, their host families, and their families back in Oregon, should any of them need anything.  The program also matched me up with a host family who lives just south of the capitol.

I am going to try to share my adventures and observations here without sharing too much about the students or my family, to protect their privacy. 

I thought it would be interesting to journal about things that I notice, and just about day to day struggles and interests along my way as I figure out how to live, work, and move around the country.  I hope you enjoy the read!

Bus Adventures

Let’s start with today, because otherwise I might never get started.  Hopefully I will be able to go back and fill in the previous week’s adventures as I have time.

Each day so far has involved some sort of challenge or something I needed to figure out on my path to being successful and independent while I’m here.  For the first couple of days, I felt totally helpless.  It was like I was a kid again, and couldn’t go anything for myself.  But since then, I have given myself some sort of challenge to work towards as I get the hang of things.  Or sometimes, like today, the challenges present themselves because there is something that I need to do.

Today my big challenge was to make it up to Barva, Heredia by bus.  To do that, I had to take a bus from where I am staying (San Francisco de Dos Rios) into San Joe, then take a bus to downtown Heredia, then from there get on a bus to Barva.

Also, I had to do that carrying a slice of cake.  I was visiting a student for her birthday, and there’s this really wonderful looking bakery on the way to the first bus stop.  So I decided to stop in and buy some cake to bring with me.  I got her a slice of chocolate cake with puffy frosting, which was just wrapped in a little plastic bag.  So now I have to get to Barva essentially one-handed.

Having one hand full of cake turned out to be a really good way to travel.  If am am just walking around downtown San Jose looking at stuff, I can feel like a clueless gringa.  But I discovered that walking around with cake somehow gave me legitimacy.  I was clearly going somewhere, with some purpose, not just gawking.  I had a mission- to deliver cake.

The other thing to know about the bus system is that there really isn’t any central organization.  Each bus route, I believe, is independently owned and operated.  So the bus into San Jose drops you off at one place, but then the bus to Heredia is somewhere else.  The advice I got was “get to San Jose, then ask somebody where the buses to Heredia are.”

This would be my third trip into downtown San Jose, and while I’m starting to get familiar with it, something about it just throws my sense of direction entirely off.  I kind of know the landmarks to look for, but can get turned around backwards so that I end up heading in exactly the opposite direction from where I need to go.

This time, everything clicked.  After figuring out who at the bus stop looked like they might know where the bus to Heredia would be, I asked, and somebody nearby gave me directions- get to the Banco de Costa Rica, turn right, and go a couple of blocks. “The Boulevard” would go the whole way, if I took that.

And while I do know the Bank of Costa Rica, my instinct of where is was in relation to the bus stop was once again completely backwards.  But the girl had been gesturing in one direction, so I went that way.  With my cake.

It worked!  I started passing familiar landmarks, like Central Park, turned to the right, and could see buses way down yonder.  And when I got there, they were even going to Heredia.  Success!

The bus to Heredia seemed like it took forever.  There really aren’t any signs that tell you where you are or how far until you get there.  When we got to the stop where everybody seemed to be getting off, I got off too.

Now I needed to get to Barva.  I had heard that the Heredia buses are all pretty much in the same spot, so I just walked around looking for one that said Barva.  Nothing.  I turned around and passed a line of people waiting on the sidewalk, and up pulled a brightly colored school bus with a sign for Barva in the window.  Perfect!

Since I was at the back of the line, it was standing room only when I got on.  And these are not smooth luxury buses.  Also, I still had cake.  I was supposed to call the student from Heredia to let her know when to expect me.  All I had done was given her the Tico time ETA which was, “I think I’ll be there some time in the afternoon.”  I tried to get my phone and the phone number out without dropping the cake, but the bus started moving.  I did get everything put back away without dropping the cake

But the buses here do have unspoken rules about who gets a seat.  I don’t know the exact rules, but definitely the elderly and people with small kids get a seat first. Women get seats before men do.  And people will get out of their seats if somebody gets on who has seat precedence.

So anyway, somebody got up, and as the only woman in that part of the bus, I was “next in line”.  This involved having the guy who was actually next to the seat move over so that I could go past him to sit down.  But I think having cake might have helped too.  So I got to sit down, put the cake in my lap, and make the call.

I had forgotten my camera, so no photos today, but Barva was really charming.  After being in San Jose for a week, it really just had a pleasant, small town feel to it.  I delivered the cake, visited a soda (a “typical” small Costa Rican restaurant), and walked around with the student before getting a ride back home.

Once again, I successfully accomplished my challenge for the day!