Week 1: Meeting Heredia

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¡Hasta luego, EE.UU.!

This past Saturday, after leaving MCI, landing in Texas, enjoying a leisurely dinner during a 4 hour layover, having to get on a different plane than scheduled—due to mechanical concerns, and traveling for a total of  5½ hours, I arrived safely in Heredia, Costa Rica. Meeting my host family (Karla Quiros, a pharmacist, and her son Josue), eating a late dinner, and basically heading straight to bed rounded out day one.

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The flora here is amazing!

Since then, I’ve begun what promises to be a phenomenal four-month experience in Costa Rica, as I get to know more of the language, culture, and people (called ‘ticos’). The striking scenery and plants are so beautiful here. Lots of things are in bloom or just rich with green, yellow, and red hues. Add the mountains surrounding the city, and this is an amazing looking place.

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Universidad Latina campus

Class has gone well so far. I’m in a Spanish class from 8-11 a.m. five days a week—which took some getting used to. In my first class with local students, the professor had some fun asking me to pronounce my name. “Gabriel” is a somewhat typical Hispanic name. “Richner” is not. We all had a good laugh about my accent change between the two. My second day of classes with locals, one of my peers asked me during break if I like ticas (Costa Rican girls). We chuckled about the question before I broke it to him that I’m just here for the studies, haha.I was also originally in a theater class with tico students, but with only seven members, it didn’t meet the quota to remain intact, so I switched into a choreographed dance class…which also didn’t make. So now I’m signed up for a film history class with local students, which should be interesting.

I’m already learning to be a heavy drinker…of water. Seriously, if you’re not constantly hydrating, you’re gonna have a bad time. Fortunately, the tap water is potable and readily accessible. I’ve also already made a new best friend here—it’s sun block. In addition to your water bottle, don’t leave home without it.

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‘El Fortín’ in Heredia Central

We traveled to Heredia Central (the downtown area) Wednesday afternoon and had a scavenger hunt of sorts for local fruits by asking venders where they might be. We got to hang out in the central park, visit a historic colonial church, and see the house of past Costa Rica president Alfredo González Flores (whose daughters reportedly gave Heredia its nickname “City of Flowers”). Then off to a restaurant to try the fruits and practice the travel rule “Wash it, peel it, boil it, or vomit.” Fortunately, we avoided the last one!

So far, we’ve gotten to tour downtown Heredia and some of San Jose–it’s been fantastic! Going to the fair-trade market, called Chietón Morén, in San Jose where crafts made by indigenous people groups are sold at fair prices and the profit goes to the artists was especially interesting and insightful.

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Chietón Morén, a fair-trade organization; the information room and the store

I am excited for when we get to break off into smaller, less ‘tourist-y’ groups. But, for orientation and security purposes this first week, it has been nice to travel with the SOL group (34 students in all!)

Thursday, I went for a run after class; it was a nice day for it, but I apparently ended up making quite a sight of myself. I’m not sure if it was because I’m so blonde or because I was running at midday. Regardless, it was a great way to learn more of the surrounding area.

Last night, the other student living in the host family house made it here. He’s from India and had roughly 33 hours of travel (once the Indian government finally decided to let him come). He seems really neat, and think we’re gonna get along quite well. He’s incredibly fluent in Spanish already—and I honestly think he knows more in this fourth language of his than I do in my second. Pretty impressive.

As awesome as study away is, I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t let you in on some of the difficulties as well. There is a massive learning curve to go from two university Spanish classes a week to seven days of life in Spanish. My mind and energy level are definitely feeling the effects. The first four days or so I was ready to call it a night around 7:30 in the evening! My brain is trying desperately to keep up with the pace of day-to-day life, and I’m so looking forward to the day my mental operating system switches over from English to Spanish. But hey, if it’s not challenging, it’s not worth doing, right? Haha.

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My new home street

I’m also realizing that there is a lot of pride I need to curb during my time here in regard to Spanish. In the U.S., I’m a moderately accomplished student of Spanish and it’s kinda nifty to have that going for me. Here? Nope. Native speakers (and several of my SOL mates) have me bested in proficiency with the language. I’m here to learn, and more humility is a great thing to learn alongside a second language.

All-in-all, it’s been a fantastic time so far. I’m very excited to be here and expectantly await what else the semester has in store for me. Thanks for taking time to read and be part of this adventure with me. Until next week: ¡Pura vida!

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