Teaching Ideas

Friday, August 3, 2012

Expectations and Flexibility in Potrero

At the Omprakash Cross-Cultural Conference last week, two videographers interviewed me about volunteering through Omprakash and what it has meant to me. One of their questions was “If you could give future volunteers advice about volunteering abroad, what would it be?” My answer was that I would want volunteers to really consider their goals and realistic expectations for their experience before they and also to continuously monitor themselves in terms of whether they are achieving their goals and meeting their hopes for the short time they have in the community abroad. I have tried to take my own advice this summer and it has been interesting comparing my expectations and actual realities in Portero. A lot has gone as I expected or hoped, but a lot has also turned out differently than I thought. The following list includes some things that haven’t gone quite as expected:

Expectation: “I’m going to Costa Rica. I’m going to get to practice my Spanish skills all day long”
Reality: I came to Costa Rica to volunteer with Abriendo Mentes, a really organized, established non-profit that hosts tons of volunteers year round. While I chose AM because of its impressive programs and organization, so did many other English-speaking volunteers, some of whom have limited Spanish knowledge. I spend much of my day in the office with other English-speakers so I have not gotten the Spanish immersion I thought I would. Also, the programs I’m working on here are about English education so I work on the English curriculum in the office and am supposed to speak as much English in the classroom with the children and adults in class. In order to help me achieve goal of practicing my Spanish, I took some private Spanish lessons, which were really beneficial and overall, my Spanish has improved from talking in the community and taking the classes.

Expectation: “I’m going to a tropical country. Fresh fruit and smoothies are going to be cheap and plentiful!”
Reality:  I live in the Guanacaste province of Costa Rica in a small beach community where rice and beans are much more available than fruit. There are small grocery stores with mangos, papayas and bananas, but they are more expensive than I expected and the closest fruit stand is a 20 minute walk.

Expectation: “I’m going to live near the beach. I’ll be able to go out hang out and swim all the time!”
Reality: I do live near the beach and I go regularly, but not nearly as much as I thought I would. Between meetings and classes during the week, I’ve been busy here. During the week I have to really make an effort and a plan if I want to make it to the beach. Many days I’ve been really busy, but have just run down to the beach to take a quick swim to cool off, which has been nice. The past two weeks (my last two weeks), I have gone to the beach every single day. This has been a challenge, but it’s been absolutely worth it!

These disappointments or different realities than I expected aren’t necessarily bad (and there have been tons of good surprises too!) but I think they show that when we come to volunteer, we need to be flexible and realize that not all of our expectations will be met. Another thing they make me realize is how hard a volunteer needs to work to make sure it’s the experience they want. For example, once I realized that I wouldn’t be speaking as much Spanish as I thought I would, I started taking some private Spanish lessons to improve my language skills. Nearly anything is possible to achieve when volunteering abroad, but it might take some work and dedication to fulfill both your work goals and personal goals during the time abroad. 

Celebrations in Potrero

For the most part, Potrero is a pretty quiet community and day to day volunteering doesn’t change much. Usually I get up pretty early (between 6 and 7:30) and head to the office to check email (the main form of communication between everyone at AM) and work on the curriculum or plan lessons for my adult classes. There are classes in the afternoons and sometimes volunteers get together at night or go to the beach to see the sunset. Most of the members of the communities go to work or are at home during the day. A big soccer game sometimes happens on the plaza during the weekend and that’s generally the biggest party around. People enjoy the relaxed atmosphere and spend time with each other.

However, a few days out of my time in Potrero have been really exciting because of celebrations or activities that have been going on here. I’m a little behind on writing since some happened a while ago, but I’ll write briefly about each of them and add some pictures of each event.

Día de la Patrona de Potrero
In July, Potrero celebrated their patron saint. During a four-day period, there was a parade and special masses and decorations in the church. For the most part, there not too much seemed different during the day, but I ended up being part of the parade one of the days. The community members had told us there would be a parade starting at the school so I headed over there to see if I could find the festivities. The parade was one truck that had been decorated by one of the moms and the statue of the saint was carried onto the float. All of the kids and some of the parents got on the truck too and they invited me along. Curious to see what it was all about, I jumped in the truck too. The truck carried us around the square and then out onto a few roads to reach the families that don’t live right in town. A few hundred feet from the square on the way back, we met the priest and people brought the statue off of the truck. They then walked the rest of the way back to the church with the priest reciting prayers along the way. The kids had a great time throwing candy to people watching along the road and to any children in the houses that we passed. I’m really glad that I caught the parade and got to go with the kids because the one float would have been easy to miss since it left town for most of the route. Once the statue was taken into the church, mass started (I think), but I left the parade at that point to go watch our Abriendo Mentes children be filmed by the CNN crew that was in town that day.

I did go to the Catholic church the next day to see what the mass was like. I went with another volunteer and we weren't quite sure what was going on for parts of it. The group sang very joyous songs (something like Let God come in, and then God is Here) and then began praying in partners. Becca and I were each picked up with two Costa Rican women and joined in their circles. We definitely weren't quite sure what was going on the whole time, but it was a nice way to see a different part of life in Potrero and to learn about one of the very important celebrations for the people here.

Carerras de Cinta
On Sunday, horses and riders started showing up early in the morning and staked out places around the plaza. By mid-morning, there were horses all around the square and flags had been set up on one of the sides of the plaza where the races would take place. Once the races got underway, people came out to see the horses run down the dusty road with the riders trying to put a stick through a small ring strung across the road. Two horses and riders started sprinting down the road and then the riders had to ride one handed using their other hand to try to point their stick perfectly to capture the ring. If they did get a ring (which was pretty unlikely), they then had to keep the stick upright so that the ring didn’t fall to the ground. It was pretty crazy to watch and really incredible to see the riders that did manage to get a ring down. These races are held all over Guanacaste in different cities with different levels of competition. Many people from town came out to see the races and food was sold all around the plaza too. It was a really fun afternoon!

Guanacaste Day
On July 25, the province of Guanacaste celebrations it’s annexation from Nicaragua in 1824. Much of the celebration occurred in Liberia (formerly named Guanacaste), the capital of the province. We almost went to Liberia to see the horse parades, typical dances, and bull riding, but instead we stayed in Potrero and watched the children in the town’s parade. School wasn’t in session, but all of the children had to attend the parade in their uniforms or traditional dress. The school band led everyone around the plaza a few times for Portrero’s celebration of the holiday. It was fun to see which of the AM kids played in the band and some of kids dressed up in their traditional colorful skirts.

These celebrations are nice additions to the more regular days we have in Potrero. They’ve allowed me to learn more about the important celebrations for the families that we serve in the community and how they celebrate. All of the events centered around coming out to the plaza and spending time with family and friends on special days of the year.

Where has the time gone?

In four days, I will be on a plane back to Philadelphia. I’m amazed at how fast my time volunteering in Costa Rica has gone. I’m not quite sure how I feel about going back home but I do know that 3 months is an entirely too short of a time to really get to know understand a community abroad. I feel like I just got here even though I’ve been here for two and a half months. Yes, most of the faces I pass as I walk to the AM office are familiar now and many of the kids wave or stop to say hi when they are outside playing. Just today one of the girls in preschool eagerly told her big brother “Ella es mi maestra!” (she’s my teacher!) as she pointed to me walking by.  However, I still have a lot to learn about the Costa Rican culture and I’m really just getting accustomed to the slow way of life here. There’s still much to learn:

I want to learn about the education system here and how people make a living in Portero.
I want to know more about the Nicaraguans’ lives before they came to Portrero.
I want to learn how to cook Costa Rican food.
I want to spend more time teaching English to the kids.
I want to teach more English lessons to my adult students.
I want to keep teaching my host mom how to use a computer.
I want to see more monkeys in the trees and I want more days hanging out with other volunteers at the beach.

Last week, after traveling for nearly two weeks, I was really ready to go back to the U.S. I was tired of living in hostels and wandering new cities every day. I was ready to eat my own food again, have hot showers all the time, and be completely understood every time I opened my mouth. Now that I’ve been back in Portero for a few days, that’s completely changed. I’m not ready to leave at all- partly because of all of the things I listed above, but also because there are so many things I’d like to help AM with too. I’m finishing up my projects here and am excited about bringing my experiences with Omprakash and AM back to my own community, but I’ll definitely be sad to goodbye to this sleepy little town on the coast in Costa Rica.

Some things I’ll miss:
                Smiling children singing “The Wheels on the Bus” and “The Hokey Pokey” in class
                Adult English students working so hard to learn a very confusing language (why is glass part of a
                                window and what you drink from, why do read and red sound the same, etc.?)
                Beach sunsets
                Warm weather
                Monday staff meetings where we talk about all of the events of the week
                Fun Fridays with the kids
                Speaking Spanish
                Passing soccer games on the plaza
                Having everything I need within walking distance
Some things I’m pretty excited about having again in the US:
                Hot showers!
                A lack of everything being covered in dust
                My car / being able to get around
                My job and getting to share my summer with my students
                Friends back home
                My own food
                Paved roads

Although I think it’s possible to have a very rewarding experience in just a month or two for some people, I really would have liked to stay longer. However, in my time here I’ve learned a lot about rural education, beliefs and values of families here, and issues they face. I want to continue thinking about how volunteering abroad can be made as beneficial to both the volunteer and community members as possible and how to continue spreading the word about the wonderful opportunities Omprakash has to offer. 

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Giant Waves Recently

The waves at our beach have been giant recently, which makes it pretty hard to swim. They're calming down though and now the water is clear again. 

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Sloth moving through trees

We saw a sloth!

Pictures from my trip

I'm back in Portrero after being gone for exactly 2 weeks. It was a great adventure, but I'm happy to be back in one place and without people waking me up at 4am in my hostel dorm rooms. I've been to the beach both days I've been back too...only 2 more weeks here so I need to enjoy the beach as much as I can! I

Here is a recap of where I was the last two weeks.

Picture time!

Plaza in Heredia. Lots of pigeons!

Post Office in Heredia

El Fortin- old Spanish fortress in Heredia

Church in Heredia

Gold Museum- gold pieces found in tombs in Costa Rica

Random feline exhibit in the Gold Museum. It showed all of the different cats in Costa Rica

Gold Museum exhibit on money of Costa Rica

Plaza de la Cultura, San Jose

 National Theater at Plaza de la Cultura, San Jose

National Museum, San Jose

Pretty building on a pedestrian street, San Jose

Mysterious stone spheres found in Costa Rica

National Museum, San Jose in background

National Museum- another stone sphere

National Museum Butterfly Garden

Case Rideway- Quaker hostel I stayed at for a night in San Jose

Casa Rideway street

Casa Ridgeway window

Santa Elena Reserve Monteverde

Hiking in the reserve

Took lots of picture of plans since I was there for an extra two hours after my hiking companions had to leave

BIG centipede!

Bug on a leaf in the rainforest

Shiny leaf at night in Monteverde

Monteverde hostel- my favorite hostel!

Inside hang out place

Balcony at hostel

Hostel hammocks!


View from balcony of hostel

Almost went to see the frogs, but I just walked outside instead

Hostel balcony

Adorable lost puppy in the hostel

So little!

I wanted to take it home with me!

Friday, July 13, 2012

San Jose to Monteverde!

Wow, it's been a while since I've written. So much has happened in the last few days! Here's a long post about what I've been doing since I last wrote. I'm hoping these blogs will inspire me to go travel again sometime when I think I don't have time to do it. The recent days have been better partly because I'm more used to traveling on my own now. The city shock wore off a bit and now I'm in beautiful Monteverde.

Grab a cup of coffee if you plan on reading this one:

I ended my last post sitting in Pangea hostel in San Jose. That was probably around 10pm and after that I went to bed. The only problem was that there were hundreds of people in this hostel and the bar blasting music was right outside my window. My room had all girls in it who tried to go to sleep pretty early too. I don't know if I actually got to sleep though until after midnight since that was when the music stopped. Pangea Hostel was definitely an experience and not one that I would prefer to do again. Other than the noise, it's was okay though. They had great showers though!

I woke up the next morning semi-rested with another whole day in San Jose. Because I didn't really want to stay in that hostel again, I got up early and walked all the way across town in search of Casa Ridgeway, run by the Society of Friends office in San Jose. With my trusty Lonely Planet map, I found the hostel all the way across town on a cute, little one-way street. I went inside to ask if I could see a room (learned that's important!) and if there was space. It was probably a little odd to show up at 8:30am and barge in on the guests eating breakfast, but the staff showed me their dorm and I told them I would come back with my stuff.

On the walk back to Pangea, I decided that Casa Ridgeway wasn't nice enough to move for just one night and that I would just deal with Pangea again. Once I got back to Pangea, I went back to my room to figure out what I was doing for the day. First though, I had to call the IU Bursar and spent 20 minutes on the phone with them asking why I had such a big bill on my account. I got that figured out, but in the meantime, everyone else had decided they wanted to stay at Pangea and the hostel was full when I went downstairs to pay for the second night. This wasn't part of my plan, but Pangea wanted to give me two options: I could either stay in the TV room pull out couch or the movie theater lounge for $10. Those were not even options to me since there was no way I wasn't actually staying in a room so I decided Casa Ridgeway would have to do. Back upstairs I went to pack my bags and get out of Pangea.

Back on the street outside of Pangea, I had to hail another taxi with no idea how I was going to explain where I needed to go. The taxi driver was super nice though and he ended up calling the hostel and getting directions from them. He also happily gave me a receipt, which has been difficult throughout this trip. I got to Casa Ridgeway and checked in and immediately was glad I changed hostels. Pangea really wasn't my type of place anyway.

Once I was settled in at Casa Ridgeway, I headed back to downtown to go to the Museo de Oro. This is a museum that had a lot of Pre-Columbian artifacts and especially gold found in the tombs. It was underground at the Plaza de Cultura. Lonely Planet says this plaza is one of the safest in the city because of the underground museum.

Let's see...after the Museo de Oro, I went back to the hostel and decided I was going to go to Monteverde. I had been debating about it and couldn't decide if it was worth it, but I was really ready to get out of the city and thought that I would regret missing THE place to go in Costa Rica if I didn't go. I wandered to the Mercado Central but there wasn't much to do there since I didn't need to buy anything. I also tried to go a Costa Rican art gallery but it was closed so I just went back to the center of town. It was a good walk though since it was far from where I had been (oh it was also raining and I had decided to leave my umbrella at the hostel because it hadn't rained at all...oops). Next I went to the art market which was really fun. It is totally a tourist spot, but it had tons of jewelry, bags, sarongs, etc. The vendors were pretty aggressive and were trying to barter with me. Since I didn't plan on buying anything, I just wandered through just to see what was there. In the end, I bought a bracelet from the vendor that left me alone the most. I am hoping to go back sometime next week to get anything else I want before I leave the city. I had dinner at the hostel (cereal, papaya, and a red pepper) and headed to bed super early. I ended up having the whole dorm room to myself so it was a little too quiet, but much much better than Pangea.

The next day I had breakfast at the hostel (included) and talked to two other guests. One woman was Italian and traveling around the world and the other woman was French on vacation here, but she had also done a year-long world tour. She spent 3 months in Bolivia and convinced me I need to go there! Apparently there are tickets that you can buy to go anywhere in the world with no reservations. Wish I could do that!

After breakfast, I packed up and left my stuff at the hostel to go back into town for the morning. I ended up going shopping for underwear (I don't know how I didn't pack enough) and I went to the National Museum. This place was interesting because it was housed in an old fortress from the time when Costa Rica had an army (also where an important general lived). Inside there was a butterfly garden, photography exhibit, the army barracks, and the super fancy rooms of the general's house. I kind of rushed through the exhibits since I needed to get back to the hostel to get myself to the bus station at 2:30.

I ended up back at the hostel at 11 because I was worried about not getting a seat (Lonely Planet said to reserve ahead specifically for Monteverde and I hadn't). I took a taxi to the bus station and got there about 12:00. After walking around trying to figure out where to buy tickets, I found a window and stood in line. When I go to the front, they told me that it was not the right office and pointed to a deserted looking building with no one in it. It turned out the Monteverde bus staff was at lunch and not coming back for another 2 hours. So much for getting there early to make sure I got tickets.

Not long after I got there, a Norwegian man and his teenage son got there too. I ended up talking to the dad for most of the time we waited and I heard all about their trip. They had been in Belize, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica. We finally were able to buy tickets and get on the bus (it wasn't at all full!) Other than making a stop somewhere along the way and having to switch buses and move our luggage for no apparent reason, we continued on our way and I arrived in Montverde around 7pm with a reservation for the hostel Josh (English guy I met in Alajuela) was staying at but no idea how to get there.

I quickly found out Santa Elena is only a few blocks total and my hostel was 300m from the bus stop so I found it easily by asking people along the way and being pointed up a rocky, dark road. Once I got there, Josh and new friends he had made were there making dinner. I ended up eating some of their pasta and then we played Jenga and cards until midnight. They were heading out early the next morning, but I met two other people who asked if I wanted to go with them to the reserve the next day so I decided to do that since I didn't have any other plans. Everything in Monteverde was working out quite nicely!

We took the 8:30 bus to the Santa Elena Reserve, which is one of two places where you can visit the rainforest. Monteverde Reserve is the other one. I'm not really sure what the difference between the two is. We did a two hour walk very quickly since the group I was with had to make sure they got the 11am bus back to town for their zip line tour. Since we really rushed through, I decided to stay until the next bus at 1pm. That meant I had two more hours to walk around the forest. Not many people were there, but we didn't see any animals to speak of. We passed a guide showing people a huge snake in a tree, but I couldn’t see it even when he lent me the binoculars. It's hard when someone is saying, "see that big tree really far off, now look at the tree next to it, on the small branch to the left."

I came back to town around 1:30 and wandered a bit. I'm actually staying in Santa Elena, which is the town tourists stay in. Monteverde isn't actually a place people stay- it's just the Quaker community that lives here. I bought lunch supplies at the grocery store (baguette, turkey, lettuce, mango) and ate lunch at the hostel. I also made reservations for Tortuguero and paid for two more nights at the hostel. So far my non-planning is going pretty well now that I'm out of San Jose. I did learn to make hostel reservations online though from now on!

Last night we went on a night tour to see animals. Our guide told us he would do his best to see animals but it wasn't a guarantee. The tour ended up being a lot of walking and looking and seeing something interesting every now and then, but overall it good to have the guide and he told us information about each animal we saw. We saw:

bats sleeping in a tree
stick insects
viper snake (so poisonous it can kill a human and way way too close for my comfort!)
glow in the dark fungus on trees
frog (all of the frogs are really little in Costa Rica. I didn't know that- the guide said computers make the rainforest frogs look big)
sloth (yay! I've been wanting to see one!)

After the night tour, I split a bag of pasta with the French girl I had been hiking with and we went to bed early.

I'm finally on to today! Today has been a nice, relaxing day for me. All of the people I met moved on early this morning and I wasn't planning on doing any more tours. I really like the hostel though and the timing is working out well since I am staying one more night here. Today I walked around the town again and a little bit out of town. I tasted some coffee (yuck!) and now I'm back at the hostel catching up on work. I'm sitting on the balcony with a puppy in my lap. This puppy is probably the most adorable puppy I have ever seen. I don't like dogs much, but I would take this one home if I could. The hostel owner said the puppy isn’t hers and it showed up today. It's clearly lost because it's clean and must belong to someone. She said she'll keep it if it doesn’t find its owners.

I think I'm going to head back to town to do the rest of my shopping and maybe get some ice cream or something. People left me salsa so I think I'm going to have nachos for dinner. Time to see who my new roommates are too!