Friday, July 29, 2011

School's Out For....

So one of my biggest problems for the first half of the summer was missing school. The very first week I got there, I only had two days of classes. The last week before mid-service I only had one day, and not a single full week of classes in between. Since there are only 2 teachers at the school (not including me), anytime they have any sort of teacher’s meeting or director’s meeting, school is cancelled. It seems to me that the school directors (sort of the principal and many times the only teachers in the Costa Rican escuelas) pretty much have free reign. I’m not sure if they have an allotted number of days that they have to be in school, but I’ve just started to assume not because some of the reasons that school is cancelled lead me to believe that they can do whatever they want.

Reasons school has been cancelled:
Teacher’s meetings
Arts festival in San Isidro
*Christian has a soccer game
The Niña had a doctor’s appointment

Just to name a few. And for some reason if only half the school doesn’t have class (because each teacher teaches half the school), the next day the other half won’t have class, just to keep things “fair,” I guess. As a result of all the days of school we missed during the first half of the summer, I wasn’t able to finish Unit 1 and had to finish it last week. As much as I hate to say it, I’m extremely skeptical as to how much the kids in these schools are actually learning. For instance, in one of our first Charlas about Costa Rican teaching and education, we were informed that we couldn’t really be guaranteed that our kids would be able to read or write until at least second grade, if not third grade. I noticed that first hand when I realized how long it was taking my first and second graders to write out the full date in English each day. Since then, I’ve cut down on how much I have my first and second graders write. I try to print out handouts with the words on there and then have the students draw accompanying pictures.

Though I wish I had more training and expertise in helping some of the problems that my students have with learning, I do what I can. I’m extremely lucky, at least, that all of my students truly enjoy learning English and even if they don’t learn as much as I want them to, they’re getting a good basis that will certainly help them later in life.

*Christian is a 5th grader who plays on the county soccer team. Every time he has a soccer game during the week, school is cancelled. I’m still trying to understand this.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Another Hill to Climb

Or, two, actually. The volunteer who lives San Cayetano (about 12 minutes away) and I spend a lot of time together since we live so close. Since we both had a long weekend (Monday was the Annexation of Nicoya and today there is a teacher’s meeting), we decided to spend it visiting some people from her school. Sunday we went to the house of her school cook, Cecilia. We weren’t entirely sure where her house was, but we knew the general direction so we started our journey and figured we’d just ask along the way. Of course as we began asking we found out that her house was “muy arriba.” Considering we live in such a mountainous area we shouldn’t have expected anything less. It was about a 50 minute hike up the mountain. A stroll, really, in comparison to some places I have gone up the mountains (and especially in comparison to where we would be going the next day). As it turned out, I found out that Cecilia was my host mom’s sister-in-law. I should have known. Everyone here seems to be related in some way or another.

Yesterday we went to the house of Emili, one of the other volunteer’s students. The other volunteer had been to Emili’s house before so she’d warned me that climbing the mountain to their house was quite a feat. I figured I’d seen my fair share of steep hills so I’d be somewhat prepared for it. Wrong. The volunteer, her 19-year old host aunt, and I spent almost 2 hours (counting rest breaks) conquering that mountain. The hills were steep, long, and didn’t provide very good footing which overall made for an incredibly unpleasant (and extremely sweaty) experience. When we finally arrived, we found that it was well worth the traversing. Emili and her family lived in a big, beautiful wooden house at the very top of the mountain. The air was cool and refreshing. Both of Emili’s parents had lived in the states for a few years, so their house had many of the American comforts we were used to (hot water, microwave, electric stove, toilets that could flush toilet paper, etc.). It was about as American as you can get in rural Costa Rica. We had a delicious lunch of salad and spaghetti with meatballs (apparently one of her mother’s many jobs in the States had been working as a chef) without rice and beans. I can count the number of meals that I’ve had without rice and beans (including breakfast) on less than one hand. Once again, being there really reminded me of home. It was also really nice speaking with Emili’s parents because since they understood the difficulty of trying to speak a foreign language, they would always stop to make sure that we understood certain words (usually she was spot on to which word’s we’d never heard before). Eventually (and most unfortunately!) our visit had to come to an end. We were looking at an hour and fifteen minutes of descent so, despite the pouring rain, we had to get going before it got dark.

I thought I’d figured out all there is to know about Costa Rica (or at least, all that was possible for me to know), but in these last few days, I’m still figuring out that I have quite a bit to learn.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Community Service Project

I am about to have my first class for the adults of the community as part of my community service project. Despite having almost four weeks of teaching under my belt and a lot of practice with teaching my host mom in Spanish, I’m still a little bit nervous. This will be my first time really getting to know some of the members of my community. I had so many plans to be as visible as possible before I arrived in Santa Marta, but once I actually got here I chickened out. I’m trying to make the most of my last three weeks, so I’m glad that I am now being forced to put myself out there. I’d hate to return to the States regretting hardly leaving my house for 10 weeks. 

Monday, July 18, 2011

Quince Días

Quince Días is a 15 day holiday in July beginning on July first and ending on the 15th. Since our summer marks their winter, Quince Días is their Christmas break. It is the WorldTeach policy that the first week of Quince Días is free for volunteers to travel about Costa Rica after a brief 2 days of Mid-Service (which includes more Charlas and lots of reflection on our time thus far). The second week is to be used (optionally) for implementation of a community service project, though the project can be started before or after that week.  In the past, these projects have ranged from such things as putting on plays in English, organizing soccer tournaments, teaching exercise classes, and teaching English classes to adults. I will be teaching adult English classes, but my project will not begin until next Tuesday because my director was convinced that no one would come during the vacation time.

But, now that my Quince Días are over, what do I have to say for myself?

Well, I spent the first week in Playa Guiones, a beautiful surfer town in Guanacaste. One of the other volunteers offered up a beach house owned by her uncle for others to stay in at a discounted price. Knowing I wanted to do nothing else but bum around at the beach the whole week (as opposed to bumming around in the mountains), I eagerly jumped on that idea. Through the various coming and going of all the other volunteers, there were probably about 17 of us in and out of the house all the time.

The house had every comfort that we loved and missed like air conditioning, an oven, hot water, a washer and dryer, a stove, large refrigerator (with a real freezer!), and soft pillows. It was nice to be able to cook what we wanted, sleep when we wanted, wake up when we wanted, and be independent in all the comforts that we were used to for a week.

 I think that Mid-Service (what we call the first week of Quince Días) comes at just the right time and also just the wrong time. It was just at the right time because it was nice to have a break from teaching and trying to be Costa Rican. But, I’ve been told that they* say that the first three weeks of language immersion are the hardest. My fear was that a week of constant English would ruin my Spanish improvement, but I actually found it to be quite the opposite. I think being removed from the stress of constant Spanish practice (I’d often wake up and find myself conjugating verbs in my head or practicing various parts of Spanish grammar) helped me to relax a little bit more and increase the ease of my Spanish speaking and understanding. I think the other problem was that spending a week the way I was used to really made me miss home. For the first time this week, I really began to feel homesickness and various frustrations over things I have been encountering here. It definitely made me see my entire experience thus far in a very different light and I definitely want to try to make more of the rest of the time I have left.

*If anyone would happen to know who “they” are, I would appreciate if someone could tell me. I’d like to see about the accuracy of those findings.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Still Learning

Last night I learned the names of all the fingers in Spanish because I am teaching my host mother and brother how to type. As I learn, I am also realizing how much Spanish I don’t know. I never think that I don’t know something until I’m speaking and have to pause and think, I have no idea how to say that. In this situation, I was trying to describe to my mom and little brother where to place their fingers when I realized that I didn’t know what they were called. They quickly filled me in, though:
Thumb: Pulgar
Index: Indice
Middle: Medio
Ring: Anolar
Pinky: Meñique
And then I taught them their names in English. I always try to make sure to trade them knowledge for knowledge.

Typing has been going splendidly. I will give them a line to type (usually nonsense since they only know one row of letters) and then have them type it while timing them using the timer on my ipod. I’ve been making it into a competition and trying to get them to do a certain number of characters in under a minute. The first time my host brother was able to do it he jumped up and ran around the house yelling, “¡Lo hice! ¡Lo hice!” which means, “I did it!!” which was very cute. Now it’s becoming a competition between the two of them to see who can do it faster.

Thus far, Grace (host mom) is winning.