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

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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, overscheduled 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-

I am going to continue posting my journal entries as I compose them~

 

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An International Ambition

An International Ambition

History has thrived upon an ability to dream. I have never received the comprehensive roadmap, 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.

When 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.

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.

Día de San Valentín

To: The United States

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.  Love is my religion, and when asked what God is I would have the same response.  I do not know, but I believe people strive to find Him either directly or indirectly every day of their lives.  I believe that my Catholic high school was correct in saying that we are created in His image, so perhaps Les Miserables is true in saying that, “To love another person is to see the face of God.”  We strive for meaningful relationships because they bring us the greatest feeling on Earth, and it is with that feeling that we can find God.  We see Him in the eyes of another, 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, 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

Un Poema: El Morpho


butterflyA beautiful blue,
That the world can see,
When he graces their sights,
On a light-hearted breeze,

Flapping his wings,
To an unsung song,
He will appear to be happy,
But this is inherently wrong.

~

To alight upon a person,
Brings the greatest of joy, DSC00544
To his simple desires,
Of gestures to employ.

The wings of the Morpho,
Are open to all,
However when injured,
Will cause him to fall,

So his wings will lift,
To a color untrue,
And no one will see,
His enlightening blue.

A delicate creature,
With limited time,
Sets forth on a journey,
To conquer his rhyme.

When I woke up this morning after a weekend of adventure, I wrote this poem about the morpho butterfly that I encountered in an exhibit.

Group Dynamics

Group Dynamics

Dear Readers,

My class is starting to establish strong bonds already as we tour the local areas, such as the University of Costa Rica (UCR), religious facilities, hospitals, and restaurants. We have had several faux pas recently that can be attributed to the language barrier, and have been recording a few of them on a twitter account. Feel free to follow that for a closer look! (GringoLingo13)

Also, tomorrow we set off on our first aventura through the rainforest, up a volcano, and into a butterfly exhibit.  Be ready for the incredible photography that is yet to come!

Yours truly,

Dan

All You Need Is Love

All you need is love

Today, my classmates and I were provided an in depth orientation to Costa Rican culture. By listening to accounts, and witnessing life on an excursion into the city, we discovered several things of which we were previously unaware. We arrived at our school building at 9AM after a 40 minute walk from our respective houses, and in our first session – we were told of the social plights that rule the families of this nation. I try not to view their circumstance through my own cultural lens, but as humans – that is our first reaction.

We were told of the positive and negative family dynamics that are prevalent within the nation.  It was mentioned that the primary social circle in this community was family.  One’s closest friends can be found within the walls of his/her home if not a short distance away.  It is typical for children to live with their parents until marriage for both financial and cultural reasons.  One is only supposed to change his/her living environment if starting a family is the primary intention.

Women’s rights appeared to be an issue in that we heard stories of wives staying with their husbands despite physical abuse, and stories of men that split their weeks and paychecks between women.  Some resort to prostitution because it is legal in Costa Rica as long as they are checked for STI’s every 6 months.  Linda, the director of our program, illustrated the tale of a young woman who had engendered eight children with eight different men. That same woman began seeing another man. She had been broken eight times before, but the need for an emotional attachment outweighed the remnants of pain left by deserting men.

Notably, these cultural phenomenons can be witnessed in several places throughout the world, so they are not absolutely specific to this region, however, the degree to which they exist is something that is currently driving me to discover more about this nation. Immediately following this orientation, I became motivated to start an internship program abroad through my university in order to eventually uncover the several societal constructs that currently elude me.