Archive for April, 2008

Giving Back in Costa Rica

April 21, 2008


Lots of people think that spending a semester in Costa Rica would be a lot like a vacation.  While in some aspects being in this tropical climate feels like a day at the beach, we still have to keep up with schoolwork and adapt to this unfamiliar culture.  One thing many of us have noticed is that there are lots of needs here in Costa Rica.  After seeing how much more fortunate we are than many of the people here, we have decided to help in a variety of ways. 

Jessica and Amanda have been visiting a nursing home to spend time with the elderly there.  Many of these people do not have family who visits them.  They are so excited to receive the companionship that Jess and Amanda offer when they visit.

Parker has connections through his Tica family to a family whose house burned down.  This family of two parents and eight children lost almost everything.  The children can’t attend school because they no longer have their uniforms.  Many of us know the dad of the family as the guy that sells fruit from the back of his truck in front of Mas por Menos and after Parker told us of his horrible news, we gathered some money to give to the family.

Erica, in addition to her practicum at Escuela Roosevelt, has been volunteering at the local elementary school Betania.  She’s been helping out with English classes there and became aware of the many needs of the school.  The school lacks materials for teaching English and the building could use a little repair.

In an effort to help, our GST and Education classes have joined forces.  In the Education class we are creating materials such as posters, flashcards, and games that could help the students at Betania learn English.  This past Thursday our GST class went down to Betania to paint two classrooms.  However, we didn’t realize exactly what was in store for us.  The two classrooms were fairly large with high ceilings and the administrator wanted the top half painted white and the bottom blue.  After about three hours of working and only having one coat of white in one of the classrooms, we realized we were going to have to do some rearranging.  Since we had to wait for the paint to dry, some people decided to return on Friday to paint a second coat of white.  Today, a couple of people returned to paint the bottom of the wall blue.  While the roadblocks we ran into were a little frustrating and we only got one classroom painting instead of two, I think we are all really glad that we got to help out.  As these last few weeks dwindle down, I’m sure we will find more ways to give back to this community and appreciate all that we have at home in the United States.


            Brandy Sparks



The Day I Held a Hummingbird

April 17, 2008

Over the past weekend, eight other students in the environmental science class and I went to a part of Costa Rica called Cerro de la Muerte, or Hill of Death, to examine how much hummingbird feeders affect pollination.  No one is exactly sure why it is called Cerro de la Muerte, but there have been many accidents on the road going up to it, so that is a possibility.  It also could be describing the weather conditions in comparison to the rest of Costa Rica.  The temperatures at night have dipped below freezing at Cerro de la Muerte, and our humble cabins without heat helped us with a WONDERFUL good night’s sleep. 

We drove about 1.5 hours to a mountain bog to experience that type of marshy land with lots of epiphytes (plants that do not root in the ground, but up in trees).  After walking around in our black rubber boots and getting stuck in the mud, we drove another hour to La Georgina restaurant, which is a popular place for tour buses to stop in and have a nice meal.  The restaurant has plenty of flowers and feeders, resulting in hummingbirds flying all over the place.  To catch them, we would wait with our hands out until one landed, and then would simply squeeze.  That would be amazing if it was true, but unfortunately it was much less exciting, since we simply had nets up that they would fly into.  Once we caught and released them from the net, we rubbed tape along their neck to track how much pollen they were carrying on their feathers.  While holding the hummingbirds, we were able to lay them flat on the palm of our hand without closing our fingers because they thought their wings were trapped.  The point of the experiment was to see if hummingbirds have stopped going to flowers for nectar because they can get food from the feeders, resulting in a lack of pollination.

The lone night we had together was very entertaining despite not having very much to do.  I brought my guitar with me and we all had a sing-along in the restaurant.  When we left the next day, we stopped at an area called the Paramo and climbed up a small mountain for a nice lookout.  The clouds flew by us, so one minute we could see for a mile, and another we couldn’t see 100 feet out.  The final part of the trip was stopping by the side of a road to hike in 30 meters or so to a tree so big, that the hollow inside could fit six students!  Even though the trip was short, it was very informative and gave us the opportunity of a lifetime to hold hummingbirds in our hands, which is something most people will never do. 

Posted by James Homan

A Public Elementary School with Uniforms and Prayers?

April 15, 2008

When you walk into Escuela Franklin D. Roosevelt in San Pedro, Costa Rica at 7:00 AM on a weekday morning, you will see a statue of the Virgin Mary in the courtyard and a bulletin board that displays the words to the “Padre Nuestro” prayer. You will see elementary school students wearing their blue and white school uniforms and bowing their heads to pray before class begins. Did I mention that this is a PUBLIC elementary school?

Throughout the semester, Elon Education majors have had the chance to compare and contrast the Costa Rican education system with the U.S. education system by taking a seminar class and engaging in a practicum in a local Costa Rican school. Some Elon NC Teaching Fellows have been spending time with teachers at local private schools. Three Elon Elementary Education majors have been observing and assisting various teachers at the public school Escuela Roosevelt.

With the semester ending in a few weeks, we are now preparing to teach an English lesson or lesson about life in the United States. Overall, our practicum experiences have been worthwhile and eye-opening. We all hope to remember our practicums and the lessons we have learned about Costa Rica so that we can help prepare our future students to be globally aware citizens.

Posted by Kara Cowdrick


April 8, 2008

After 2 months of being immersed in the culture of Costa Rica, we finally had the opportunity to catch a glimpse of another Central American country this weekend.  On Friday morning, we boarded the 6 am TicaBus for a nine hour trip across the border into Nicaragua.  A native of Pennsylvania, the travelling time was about equal with the length of my drive to Elon.  While there may be some existing differences between northerners and southerners in the United States, crossing the Nicaragua-Costa Rica border separates far more cultural differences than any Yankee could claim about the Mason-Dixon Line. 

We noticed the distinctions between Nicaragua and Costa Rica soon after making our way through the long process of crossing the border- even the gallo pinto tasted different.  Most prominently, we noticed more people begging for money in the streets, and trying to sell us anything they could for a few extra Cordobas (the currency of Nicaragua).  We all felt extra generous, handed out a few extra coins, or often shared any leftover food from dinner.  On a lighter note, we enjoyed the fun, relaxed atmosphere of the colonial city of Granada.  People gather around the concrete soccer field in the main square of town, sit along the street for hours in rocking chairs, and seek the shade to escape the scorching sun.  Horse drawn carriages offer colonial taxi rides around the city.    

On Saturday, we had a busy tour through some of the highlights of Nicaragua surrounding Granada.  We started the day at Volcano Masaya- on the drive up to the main viewpoint, our guide gave us cautionary instructions that we would need to run as fast as possible back into the van in the case of an eruption (the last eruption reported occurred in 2003).  After enjoying the several lookout points of the craters, we travelled to the Masaya market, and purchased paintings, handmade crafts, jewelry, and other items for low prices.  Later we ate lunch together, and visited a local pottery business, where some of us had an opportunity to try out the pottery wheel- and found out it was a lot harder than it looks.  Next, we headed to Lake Nicaragua for a short boat ride.  Our entertaining guide showed us the islands with prized real estate, Monkey Island, and even sang us the Nicaraguan National Anthem. 

Sunday we were free to explore Nicaragua on our own.  The extremely hot weather kept some of us by the pool, while others visited Lake Nicaragua, the Granada market, or a local baseball game- unlike most Latin American countries, soccer is not the most popular sport in Nicaragua.  Finally, a group of us climbed the bell tower for a beautiful view of the city to see the sun set.

We enjoyed an extended weekend, and departed from Nicaragua on Monday.  Once again, we were shuffled around, filled out paperwork, got our passports stamped, and waited in long customs lines at the border to reenter Costa Rica.  The process of crossing the border was tiresome, but thankfully uneventful as well.  The long tedious travel was well worth the trip to visit another country, but we all welcomed the cooler temperatures when we stepped off the bus in San Jose.

Posted by Amanda Stamplis



Spring Break in Costa Rica

April 3, 2008


What to do when given a week and a half off from school in the middle of spring semester? That is exactly the kind of question students studying abroad in Costa Rica had the joy of answering. Beaches, volcanoes, family visits, and national park excursions characterized the breaks for us, and I don’t think anyone came back disappointed from the beautiful places that they got to see here in Costa Rica and around the world.

            Speaking for myself, the break was a blessed time of fellowship and beauty. As my host family and I have continued to establish a better relationship, I spent the last part of Semana Santa cooking with my Tico mom, learning recipes, and sharing stories about our families. The slow, contemplative nature of Semana Santa was a blessing to unwind from school and see millions brought to a halt by the memory of Christ’s death and resurrection.

            When Easter Monday came around, my adventure excursion began. I took an 8:30 bus out of San Jose into the mountains to attempt to climb the famous Mount Chirripo, where the tropical climate actually dips to below freezing. Its Costa Rica’s Everest— a treasure in the middle of the Talamancas mountain region—and people from all over the world flock to the site. I met Costa Ricans, Swedes, Americans, and Lichensteiniens with other nations surely represented as well.

            The climb itself was a test of perseverance. Most people hike Chirripo in a group, but every step I took seemed to prove that my God was with me. As I climbed higher and higher, through six different environments including a beautiful cloud forest, I took some incredible pictures, met other climbers, and felt close to my NC roots (and those great Appalachian Mountains).

            At the peak, those who had gone before me had littered their signatures and comments throughout a log book that recorded everyone’s name that had successfully climbed Chirripo. Many signatures included special dedications to God and prayers for the health and well-being of friends. I found myself joining in the chorus:

“Every valley shall be raised up,

Every mountain and hill made low…

Even youths grow tired and weary

And young men stumble and fall;

But those who hope in the Lord

Will renew their strength.

They will soar on wings like eagles;

They will run and not grow weary,

They will walk and not be faint.”

Isaiah 40:3, 30-31

I added my signature, prayers, and thanks to the book as well, and stopped for lunch on top of the peak, looking out over the lakes and path I traveled.

            My return to San Jose has put this same path in even broader perspective, causing me to consider all my friends back in the States and my new friends in San Jose. Here at the halfway point, I realize how much I’ve been learning in Costa Rica. The Spanish language continues to seem more natural, and the simple family life more comfortable. In Costa Rica, life is often more stunning, more delicious, and more peaceful than life in the United States; it is an excellent complement to my Elon experience.

Posted by Parker Cramer