Wednesday, June 29, 2011


I think that some of the easiest Spanish to pick up here have been the sayings. They’re just so easy and people here use them so frequently that you can’t help but use them, too.

Some  dichos Ticos:
An all purpose phrase. Can be used to mean anything from “Now!” to “Stop it!”
¡Ya voy! : “I’m coming!”
People are always calling to each other from one room of the house or school to the other
¡Qué Lindo! : “How cute!”
Can also mean, “How cool!”
T.Q.M. or T.K.M. : I love you a lot
This is an acronym for te quiero mucho. Most often used by children who like to use a “k” to spell “quiero”
Chiquillo : Little one/child
I think one of the cutest things I’ve seen here was watching Mariela (the smallest of the children) yelling, “¡Chiquillas!” to try to get the attention of the other girls during recreo.
¡Pura Vida!
Literally means “pure life,” but it is used as a greeting
Ex: “¿Pura Vida?” “(Sí,) ¡Pura Vida!
It can also be used as an adjective, though. My host dad once told me that one of the other volunteers was “very pura vida” when she came to visit me. I guess it could somewhat be considered to mean” easy-going.”
Used as a greeting like pura vida. I have no idea what it actually means.
Can mean “young boy,” “little person,” or anything that is small.
Rico : Delicious or tasty (food), wonderful
I’ve never heard a Tico use anything else to describe food. Ever. No delicioso.  No sabroso. Just rico or riquísimo (extremely delicious). Also, things can be rico
Ex: La perfuma es riquísima
Digamos… : Let’s (just) say…
Used most often when trying to describe or explain something.
Ex: Digamos que Ud. quisiera un novio…
Rato and Ratico
These are arbitrary units of time. Basically means “a while.” A ratico is less time than a rato.
¿Como le va? : How’s it going?
Adiós : Hello
When passing by one another in the street, people often use adios as a greeting
Arriba : Up (over there)
Most often used to describe where people live. Often used with arbitrary pointing and/or snapping in the direction of the nearest mountain. Additionally, the longer they roll the “rr” or the more times they repeat the word, the farther the person lives.
Ex: Ella vive arrrrrrrrriba or Ella vive arriba, arriba.
 ¡Qué pecado! : What sin! Or How sinful!
That’s the literal translation; I’m still trying to figure out if that is also what it means colloquially. My host mom loves using this expression.
¡Que + almost anything!
Used as an exclamation.
Exs: ¡Qué calor! = It’s so hot!
¡Qué rico! = How delicious!
When used in conjuction with names it is usually meant as a chide
Ex: *Enrique knocks all the soap off the table* ¡Qué Enrique!
An ay may be added at the beginning to add extra emphasis
Ex: Ay, ¡Que lindo! (I use this for babies and fluffy animals)

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Queen Would Be Proud

Coffee, it appears to be, is the main crop of Costa Rica. There are coffee fields in every town, coffee plants (wild and not) in every garden and every forest. It’s the only thing that outnumbers banana trees. It makes sense, then, that they drink so much of it. Ticos tend to drink at least one cup of coffee for breakfast, one during cafecito in the afternoon, and—I have even heard—one at or after dinner. When we visited my host grandmother, her other daughter came to visit as well with her husband and their one year-old son. Even he drank coffee (with a bit of milk) in his bottle for breakfast.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I have abstained from drinking coffee since a little over a week ago. I’d like to save my stronger caffeine for when I really need it (like during finals week). My host parents obligingly got me two boxes of tea (chamomile) that I now drink in the morning and afternoon. What I thought was funny is that today I realized I’ve gotten the rest of the family hooked on it. The situation went like this (as usual, it was actually in Spanish):

My host dad came back from work. After eating lunch, my host mom asked if he’d like a cup of coffee (it was just about time for cafecito). Both the coffee pot and the tea kettle were already going by this time. I already had a cup of chamomile and was sitting at the dining table.

“No,” he replied. “I want tea.”
“No coffee?” she asked incredulous.
“No,” he said again. “tea.”
She looked to my host brother. “Enrique?” He shook his head vigorously.
“Tea, too.”

I chuckled over my mug at the stunned look on her face.

It looks like we won’t need to buy coffee anymore.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

In the Heights

I have a ton of different musical soundtracks on my iTunes, but I tend to only listen to a few (Spring Awakening, Next to Normal, Into the Woods, Hair, Sweeney Todd). Every once in a while I get tired of those and try to delve into a new musical which—if it’s good—will join the list of musicals I listen to frequently. Today, I decided to go for a run and while doing so, I decided to listen to In the Heights, a Hispanic and hip-hop flavored musical littered with lots of Spanish dialogue. I figured it was an appropriate new musical since I’m in Costa Rica.

To run, I had to brave the road outside of Santa Marta since it is somewhat flatter than the road inside town. While I was doing so, I was excited to find that I could actually understand a lot of the dialogue going on along with the music (as long as it wasn’t too fast). I was also surprised by how good it was, and how it made me even more enthusiastic to be learning Spanish and being immersed in a new (and wonderful!) culture. I’m not sure what it was exactly, but one of the things I’m most excited about for my return is being able to look back and see all that I will have learned.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Thing about Ticos

In the back of the Spanish workbook, there is a section meant to help us induce conversation with our host families. We are supposed to ask them the meaning of many idiomatic phrases and the origin of many customs. One of the topics asks about the origins of the nickname Ticos. After asking my host family, the consensus response seems to be that stems from the fact that they add “-tico” to the ends of so many words.

As you will learn if you take a Spanish class, “-ito” can (essentially) be added to the middle of a word to indicate that it is small or as a pet name. A lot of the time, instead of doing this, most Ticos use tico. Words like, chicitico and ratico are always being thrown around. Once, when I asked my host mom what, exactly, was a ratico (since it seems to be used in a manner of ways from time limits to intangibles), her answer was simply, “anything that is smaller than a rato.”

Gotta love the Ticos. :)

Escuela Santa Marta

Is the official name of my school. It Is home to 28 students (six 1st graders, seven 2nd graders, four 3rd graders, seven 4th graders, three 5th graders, and one 6th grader), 2 teachers (not counting me), a cook, and whoever’s dog happened to follow them to school that day.

The school has a split schedule. Mondays and Tuesdays are días largos, meaning the school day begins at 7am and ends at 3:30pm, and Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays are días cortos, meaning the school day begins at 7am and ends at 1 pm. 1st, 2nd and 5th graders go for the first half of the day and leave after lunch, and 3rd, 4th, and 6th graders arrive at lunch and stay for the remainder of the school day.

Unfortunately, since English is not a part of their regular schedule, I teach the students during their off time. This means that 3rd, 4th, and 6th graders must come in early for me to give them their English lessons before lunch begins and 1st, 2nd, and 3rd graders must stay later for me to give them their classes after lunch. As a result some students have ceased coming to English class. I’m not sure if it’s at their own behest or that of their parents, as well. I have lost three 1st graders, and a 5th grader. I would probably lose another 5th grader if he weren’t my host brother and therefore obligated by his parents and politeness to stay. I don’t blame them, though. One of our WorldTeach orientation leaders likened it to your principal announcing that you had a traveling math teacher coming to your school to give you extra classes. I’d roll out, too.

The WorldTeach suggested teaching method is not what I expected to be. At orientation in Orosi we were asked to try to teach without using Spanish. Immersion classes are what we are going for. This means that we have to teach our students using modeling (acting out what you want your students to do), charades, a daily routine, almost excessive amounts of repetition, songs, drawings and pictures, and whatever else you can think of to get your students to understand you.

Here are some of my successes and failures with the aforementioned techniques:
Songs: I have successfully taught all of my children to ask and answer “What is your name.” The words:
Hi, my name is Kyra, Kyra, Kyra
Hi, my name is Kyra,
What’s your name?
The ABCs song was more or a less a success for everyone. For a while my 1st and 2nd graders would just sing random notes and sounds, but now they have a tune that has a good semblance to the melody so well-known and –loved by English speakers.

Pictures: I drew out different times of day to show when to say “Good morning,” “Good afternoon,” “Good evening,” and “Good night.” This worked for all classes except 1st and 2nd grade (see below).

Pictures: When teaching classroom commands, I had each command assigned to a picture. Repeat didn’t have a picture, but I hoped it sounded enough like repitir that the students would assume. I had a drawing of a book for “Read” but I later found out that they thought “read” meant “book.”

Physical Associations: After a day of incorrect responses when holding up drawings of different times of day, I tried to teach them greetings by assigning different physical acts to each.
Good morning: Arms stretched wide like you’re waking up
Good afternoon: fanning yourself because it’s hot out
Good evening: yawning because the sun is going down and it’s almost time for bed
Good night: use your hands as a makeshift pillow to sleep on; the students added in a raucous snore

Finally, I thought they’d got it! When I would do the motions, they would respond correctly. The problem is, I found out later that the associations gave them the wrong meaning.
Good morning: Buenos días +
Good afternoon: ¡Hace calor! (It’s hot!) -
Good evening: Estoy cansado (I’m tired!) -
Good night: Buenas noches +
I ended up correcting them in Spanish (it was at recess when I checked with one of my students to see if they could translate what they had learned) outside the classroom, and I every time I see one of my students outside the classroom I make sure to greet them in English so they get used to hearing the greetings used correctly.

 I’m learning that teaching is very much a trial and error experience.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Costa Rica

is pretty wonderful. Honestly. And it’s so different from all of the comforts I’m used to.
Por ejemplo:

Things that are not readily available (in Santa Marta):
·         Hot water. That means I boil water every morning to bathe. And by “I,” I mean mostly my host mother.
·         Toilets that can take toilet paper. One of the first things we learned upon entering Costa Rica is that you cannot flush toilet paper. You just can’t do it. There is a trash can next to every toilet that is intended for the toilet paper. Despite this, I have yet to encounter a bathroom that is gross. On average, public restrooms in the States are far more disgusting than those that I have encountered here. I think they try extra hard because of the TP issue.
·         Electricity (sort of). If you plug in too many things at once, none of them get quite enough of it.
·         Internet. I have finally acquired internet access on my own laptop at school. Before I was using the laptops of the director or the other teacher. Their laptops have Spanish keyboards and none of the symbols are in the same place. Makes for slow going.
·         English. I only know 1.5 people who speak English. I say .5 because the other person doesn’t speak it very well. I’m very confused about this though, since he claimes to have lived in the US for 9 years… The other guy only lived there for 4 but we are able to have quite good conversation.
·         Things to do. I have taken to doing a yoga video that I downloaded from the free section on iTunes very, very long ago.
·         Television. Not that I ever watch it anyway, but there is not so much to do here (see above). We only have 2 (reliable) channels. Our television screen is definitely less than 1’ square and the shows all have a very rosy hue. Sometimes everything is straight-up pink when the antenna gets off kilter.
·         People my age. People my age are in their last year of colegio, meaning, I never see them because they’re in school. I did meet a girl my age (finally) who is the older sister of one of my students. She was astounded when I told her I was 18. She offered to hang out with me. I’m still waiting for her. D; Actually, I do have a host cousin who looks to be in her early 20s. Still waiting for her to hang out with me, too.
·         Babies. But my students are soooooooo cute and small that they make up for it.
·         Meat. We have chickens but we don’t eat them.
·         Vegetables. Ticos don’t really eat them. It’s very interesting since (some of them) are in such abundance.
·         Ovens. (Almost) Everyone has one, but no one uses them. In my first homestay in Orosi, my host family stored leftovers in the oven. The fridge was literally empty. The day I realized that I burst out laughing at the absurdness of it.
·         Plantains. I say this just because I don’t have them as often as I’d like. I want them all the time.
·         Cars. These hills are killer. Most people have motorcycles or four-wheelers.
·         Stores. There is only a pulpería (essentially a convenient store) in Santa Marta. Before we left we were told that the small towns don’t have any sort of stores and they weren’t joking. The pulpería  has bread, toilet paper, candy, chips, ice cream, juice boxes, and corn flour. The nearest Super Mercado is an hour away in San Isidro and you have to take the bus to get there.
·         Soap. Isn’t in as many places as I’d like it to be…

Things that are readily available in Santa Marta:
·         Bananas. Literally everywhere. They line the streets. I assume that is because someone is coming to pick them up to take them to San Isidro/San Jose, but occasionally I’ll pick one up and bring it home with me. My students assured me that this is legal.
·         Eggs. Everyone has tons of chickens. We eat eggs at least once every day, if not 3 times. I suppose it takes the place of meat.
·         Tap water. I have almost gotten over my irrational aversion to the stuff. Almost.
·         Insects. I have at least 3 new bug bites every day no matter how often I douse myself in bug spray. Not to mention the giant spiders and cockroaches. Raid is my very, very best friend. Thankfully, there are not many bugs in my house.
·         Dubbed television shows. Our 2.5 channels have a myriad of dubbed reruns. So we watch things like Walker, Texas Ranger; Hercules, Smallville, and The 4400, just to name a few.
·         People who speak Spanish. I’m getting to the point where I can understand at least a little bit from most of them.
·         Fruit trees. Unfortunately, most of the fruit on them is not ripe yet (I quickly learned that ripe = maduro). We have to buy most of our fruit.
·         Fruit. This is very good for me.
·         Rice and beans. For every meal.
o   Breakfast: Gallo pinto (rice and beans mixed together)
o   Lunch: Rice and beans sometimes (though not as often as I’d like) with some sort of meat, sometimes with eggs, sometimes with fried plantains, sometimes a combo of the 3.
o   Dinner: Rice and beans (see above)
·         Weird (as in different) fruits and vegetables that I have never encountered. Chayote looks like an avocado but tastes like a potato. Manzanas de agua look like freakish apples but taste kind of like weird pears. Limón dulce looks like a pale orange and tastes like nothing. Naranjilla looks exactly like a green tomato except that it has a brown fuzzy coating that can wiped off with your fingers. It is pale yellow on the inside and tastes like lemon juice. Mandarinas look exactly like lemons except they have a much thicker and bumpier skin. I haven’t tried these yet, either, because I just found out about them yesterday.
·         Dogs and chickens. But we eat neither.
·         Umbrellas. It’s the rainy season. Rains for at least a few hours every day.
·         Cell phones. Practically everyone has one. A few of my 3rd graders even bring theirs to school. My host mom is constantly texting everyone in town.
·         Family. There are 3 different last names in my town.
·         Visitors. Our house is the first one in Santa Marta and also at the top of the hill so people are always stopping by to say hello, buy things from my host dad or give clothes to my host mom to take in or hem.

Anyway, I really love my host family. They are so kind and accommodating. My host mom is extremely perceptive/remembers everything I say, my host dad is really funny, and my little brother is very generous. I really couldn’t imagine having a better host family and I am so very, very glad that I got them!

All in all, it’s been a wonderful experience thus far and I have nothing to complain about. :)

Monday, June 20, 2011

My Daily Schedule

On a Día Corto (in reference to a short day in the school schedule)
5:00 am Wake up (the chicken coop is right outside my window). Lie in bed and try to ignore the fact that the sun is already almost fully up. I can hear my host mom making breakfast in the kitchen. I’m not sure what time she wakes up but it’s always before I do.
5:15 am Finally get out of bed. I’ve probably taken a few intense naps since getting up the first time so now I feel refreshed. Or particularly groggy.
5:20 Go out for a walk. When I first started doing this I intended to run, but I quickly learned running would be impossible. The hills are too steep and the road (yes, there is only one) is covered in rocks and red mud rather than pavement. I say rocks because they are far too large to be considered gravel. Also, when I first started doing this, people were texting my host mom and calling on the radio to see what I was doing and where I was going. In our WT Living and Teaching in Costa Rica Guidebook they warned that your town/family might think you are crazy if you exercise in public. Or at all.
5:50 I have returned to my house drenched in sweat (those hills, I’m telling you!). I finish off with a 10-minute yoga video that I have on my iTunes only because it was a free video of the week at some point in time. It’s pretty legit and I will definitely buy more if I ever get internet access on my own laptop.
6:00 am My host brother is usually in the shower by this point so I eat breakfast which is (always) gallo pinto (a mixture of rice and beans that, unfortunately, doesn’t have any chicken in it, despite its name), a scrambled egg, a cup of coffee, and a few slices of bread or fried plantains. My host mom apparently thinks I am starving because I am constantly being overfed. She will also have put a kettle of water on the stove to boil.
6:20 am I use the water that has been boiled in the kettle to bathe. I refuse to take completely cold showers, no matter how hot it gets. Besides, we don’t actually have a shower, just a faucet really high up in the wall, and it doesn’t get very hot. I’m used to bathing in this method since that’s how I have to do it when I visit most of my relatives in Cameroon.
6:45 am For some reason that I have yet to figure out, it takes me at least 20 minutes to get ready. Once I’m done I usually finish up last minute lesson-planning for the day. I either go to the school and do this in the comedor (essentially the cafeteria that also serves as my classroom) or finish up at home at the kitchen table.
7:00 am School begins. We say a prayer and sing the Costa Rican national anthem. I have yet to learn the words to both of these things.
7:15 am If I’m in the comedor I’m using talking to Jocelyn (a 4th grader). She is always asking me how to say things in English and I return the favor by having her teach me Spanish. It’s a good trade.
8:40 am I have my first English lesson with the only 6th grader at the school, Jose David. He’s precious. The school is split into half days with 1st, 2nd, and 5th being there in the morning and 3rd, 4th, and 6th being there in the afternoon. At first I worried about having to teach him alone, but during the lesson a few 3rd and 4th graders will start filing in to watch and I usually make them join in. This means I’ll have a few more students to help with modeling and examples when the next class begins.
9:20 am I teach the 3rd and 4th graders. This is my biggest class and simultaneously my most interested and quickest students. I’m glad it is working out this way. Sometimes I tend to forget that they don’t understand most of what I say to them. I usually remember to slow down when I see the look of utter confusion on Marilyn’s face. (D;, for those who know). I really ought to take a picture of her doing it. It’s quite hilarious.
10:00 am We wash our hands, say a prayer (that I need to learn), and then eat lunch. It’s usually really good and consists of rice and beans and something else. Paola (the cook) could definitely give all the HUHDS  chefs a run for their money.
10:30 am Another recreo (recess). There are 10-minute recreos between ever other class and 20-minute one at lunch. I’m usually (the only one) still eating at this point. Since coming to Costa Rica I have noticed that I eat incredibly slowly.
10:40 am The 1st and 2nd graders start filing in and I have to remind them that class doesn’t start for another 10 minutes. I have to do this every day.
10:50 am I have class with my 1st and 2nd graders. They are definitely the cutest bunch with their ages ranging from 6-8-years old. Some of the 6 year-olds don’t even look like they should be able to talk yet, let alone be in school. This is definitely my rowdiest class. It is very difficult to keep their attention without bribing them with candy. I’ve been teaching them the English alphabet for the past few days and I’ve never been so frustrated. A few of them continue to call “A” “F” and “F” “Fee.” We’re getting there though (with the candy/sticker incentive) and I still love them.
12:22 pm I have class with my 3 5th graders. I usually have to take a breather while I recover from 1st and 2nd grade. This class includes my host brother Enrique. They are more enthusiastic than I would expect 5th graders to be. I am glad for this.
1:10 pm I’m back at the house. I do the yoga video again (because the trainer says stuff about relaxing after work) and then have cafecito (coffee and either bread or fruit).
1:30ish pm I do my Bible study, watch various television shows, sit outside (after spraying down liberally with bug spray), get bitten by tons of mosquitoes (despite the bug spray), try to keep from falling asleep (despite the coffee), eat fruit, take a nap, read a bit.
5:30ish pm Have dinner (rice and beans and various other things like pasta (sometimes)). Again, I get a mountain of food. I’m beginning to think the reason it takes me so long to eat is because I always have so much. I’ve taken to feeding the dog once everyone else has left the table.
6:00pm Watch the Copa Oro (Gold Cup) soccer games with my host brother. I haven’t seen the US in quite some time. I think we’re out.
7:00pm Café Con Aroma de Mujer (I have yet to translate this in a way that makes sense to me) comes on and we all watch it. It seems just as crazy as any American soap Opera.
8:00pm I get ready for bed (which includes doing the yoga video again). It’s taken me quite some time to be able to stay up this late. For some unknown reason as soon as we (volunteers) got to Costa Rica, we all fell into the habit of going to bed early and rising early. It was almost instantaneous. During orientation in Orosi I was going to bed at 7pm. I think waking up so early made me think I had to be in bed by then or I’d be tired all day. On Thursday of that week I realized I was getting over 10 hours of sleep each night.

EDITS: I have since stopped drinking coffee, and—after a few headache filled afternoons spent lying in bed—I feel good about this decision. I’m not sure if the headaches were related, but I’d rather not take chances. I drink juice instead of coffee in the morning and hot chocolate in the afternoon. Fresh (but boiled) cow’s milk isn’t so bad.

I have started serving myself at some meals. This means I now eat less than half as much as I used to. My host mom continues to constantly ask if I’m hungry. Sometimes she’ll give me things even when I say no.

My first graders have gotten A-H down (except for the occasional, Fee)!