Thursday, June 13, 2013

Costa Rica: Final Reflection - 6/13


I have been back in the States for 4 days now. Since my return back I have been trying to catch up on sleep and get mentally fit again. Needless to say being able to sleep for 10 hours and not be woken up by a rooster has done wonders. I have notice I've been having a little reverse culture shock right now. From getting used to American food to conversational skills. I've noticed that I still say "con gusto" to everyone that says thanks to me. Not to mention change of pace feels different in the states, even in the South. Despite all these things I feel that I brought a lot back with me that's really positive. But before I get to that I'm going to host an "exit" interview with myself first. 

1.  What were your goals for this trip and discuss if and how you met your goals?  
Original Goals
- Acquire enough Spanish to hold a conversation; which I can build upon in the States
- Try a lot of yummy Latin Food
- Don't get sick eating said yummy Latin Food
- Talk to all the locals I can
- Enjoy being with the host families; maybe they'll teach me how to play futbol
- Understand more about the culture within Costa Rica
- Understand more about the different geographical features of Costa Rica 
- Become one with the locals

I have to say that I completed 95% of these goals. The only ones I failed at were getting sick (not sure if food or water, but most likely water) and learning futbol. I did get embarrassed by a 6 year old playing futbol; somehow I don't think that constitutes as learning how to play futbol. The other goals I did meet. And a lot of it has to do with just being willing to converse with others. Like my mantra says at the beginning of this blog, "just keep babbling." Through that mantra I was able to feel confident in practicing the language and talk to a lot of locals. Thus gaining the skills to hold a simple conversation by the end of the trip. Not to mention my host families helped me in the process by inviting me into their lives and wanting to share the culture with me. I don't know if this made me one of the locals, but I definitely felt like I could fit into most places simply from wanting to try new things. Lastly, all our tours and our guides provided me with a lot of information about Costa Rica as whole. 

2.  Reflect on your significant experiences and why these were significant to you.  
a) The first significant experience I had was having a home-stay. As I've stated before I've never done a home-stay and was unsure of what to expect. But that home-stay aspect was the greatest thing about this trip. I learned how to speak the language, family dynamics, culture, and how genuine kindness goes a long way. This was highly significantly for me for a few reasons. The first is that by living with the family I can get a sense of what my students may have experienced in their native country and/or currently. Following that up I feel much more comfortable connecting with future families of students. Lastly, I have verified to myself that I could live in another country for a year if the opportunity arose. 

b) The second significant experience was taking a Spanish class in Costa Rica. I felt more like an ELL in a academics setting then when I was in Rome. At least in Rome my teacher spoke English fairly well. In Costa Rica it was hit or miss with the teachers. Some knew a little, others not as much, and some knew but didn't want to use it. Not to mention the structure of the program made me think about my own classroom. Struggling to understand simple instructions (both written and verbal). Dealing with inconsistent balance between grammatical aspects and conversational. Also not understanding why either one was the focus of the class. Then adding in the fact my native language was not allowed in some of the classrooms was a frustration. On the positive spectrum I acquired some new games and maniplatives to use. As well as understanding the value of just being able to understand a student's L1 and having a positive vibe. The reason these things are significant goes beyond just me being a future ESL teacher. But being able to convey this knowledge to my future co-workers as well. The ones I would want to stress to others is having instruction available in L1 (or at least key words) and just being genuinely caring with these students.   

c) The third significant experience was being able to go into the schools. I really got to see what resources and types of teaching students are exposed to in the area. This background knowledge I acquired will help me in my future classroom significantly. For instance in Costa Rica students don't have textbooks. So if I had a student from that area I may need to show how the textbook is laid out and stress that its something that's needed for class. From a teaching methodology standpoint the student will have been exposed to more teacher-direct lessons. It may take awhile for the student to get used to being at the forefront of learning. By going to the schools it was just great to just work with the kids in general. They loved having us there, it was like having a brand new friend!

** Everything was significant these are just the top three**

3.  What have you learned about ELLs, special needs children and struggling learners that you can now apply to your classroom?  
Everything in the last question  applies to what I learned about ELLs. But here are some additional things that shouldn't be forgotten. 
 - A great way to get a child to open up is to put out some color pencils and paper
- Using manipulatives makes learning fun and creates additional schema 
- Start with the student talking about topics their comfortable with and expand on those topics 

4.  What significant and potentially life-changing things have you learned about yourself?
- I can live in another country. I've wanted to teach abroad for over a year now. By having this experience I was able to verify that I could live in another country. Solidifying coping strategies and developing more personal knowledge of the immersion cycle. 

- If there's a will, there's a way. Whether its stepping into a home-stay for the first time or conquering your fear of ledges having a strong mental will makes a big difference. By having a positive attitude and reminding myself of why I was on this trip helped get over the hurdles along the way. 

5.  If you could begin the trip all over, what would you do differently?
- Smaller group. With having a big a group it takes more time to get around and get organized. Also people will tend to get disengaged during certain activities just from not being able to get close enough to the guide. 

- More time in the public schools. I understand that organizing these things is tough. But I feel that those experiences in the classroom are so valuable to future teachers. 

6.  Would you now choose to work in a school with high poverty and/or English language learners; why?
I have wanted to work with ELLs for several years now. This experience just made me appreciate what I'm doing even more and made me a better teacher of these students. Taking the time to understand not only language but culture too. I want to establish in my classroom a sense of community by incorporating all my students cultures into the classroom. 

7.  What advice do you have for people considering this study abroad experience in the future?  
This experience was pretty awesome. But there are some things that future study abroad participants should know about this particular trip. 
- Download the Spanish-English dictionary app on your phone. This will give you a handy way to communicating with your host family quickly and not have to deal with awkward pauses by using a big dictionary.
- Bring a filtered water bottle. The water is generally good in Costa Rica, but there's always a slight chance. Nothing ruins a trip like getting sick from something that could have been prevented. 
- If you have an iPad bring a functional sd card adapter. I bought a cheap one and it broke. For the rest of the trip I had to go through an annoying process to upload pictures. Spend the extra money for something reliable.  
- Have a support team. You're going to get frustrated at some point. This is just a reality of the immersion cycle. Whether you form a bond with a fellow student on the trip, scheduling communication with family, or just talking to the local stray dog. Just having someone there to listen and help you process goes a long way. 
- Go in with the right attitude. This trip is not a vacation; yes we did get to go on trips on the weekend. But overall this trip is meant for you to immerse yourself in the culture and experience the stresses of an ELL student. There were people who went on this trip thinking it was all a vacation and they burned out really quickly and some never recovered. This trip means so much in terms of becoming a better teacher. Like the saying goes, "You get as much as you put into it." 
- Be prepared for culture shock. Culture shock is very real and happens in various degrees. Sometimes it may just be social norms other times it can come in form of living conditions. The more you know ahead of time the more you can be prepared mentally. 

8.  How would you assess your overall experience?
Overall I really enjoyed this experience. I grew in a lot of different ways and would vouch for others to go on this trip. For me personally this trip was all about the cultural immersion and acquiring some Spanish. I didn't get as much out of the class as I would have liked, but then again my field of study is ESL and the class was geared towards mainstream teachers. I went in with a pretty good mindset to just dive in and experience as much as I could. From that I was able to push through the lows and the frustrations that trip/immersion cycle brought. Something that I would love to pass onto my students; positive mental attitudes. I was glad that a lot of mainstream teachers went on this trip. In my ESL classes we always talk about promoting knowledge about ELLs to our fellow teachers. This experience definitely helps that and I think helps break down a lot of barriers. Now when I share with my future school I can share personal knowledge not just book knowledge. With ELLs being close to one-third of the nationwide school population teachers in all fields need to acquire some knowledge of ELLs. This trip provides that and I would promote any trip whose focus is immersion for future/current teachers. I thought the extra trips were also chosen pretty well. I really enjoyed El Trapiche, La Paz Waterfall Gardens, and the zip lining. Each one allowed us to learn something new about Costa Rica or ourselves. I have to say that without this trip I would not have discovered the Cloud Forest School. A school that I will most likely apply to in the upcoming year! 

Look out for my new posts on Panama! Coming in December. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Costa Rica: Zip Lining To The Finish - 6/7/13

So the time has come to say goodbye to Monteverde. I truly feel that I have acquired a new family. I couldn't possibly say enough good things about them. They took me in and provided hospitality at the highest level. Teaching me about the culture and the language. They even said they'd keep the room I stayed in available for me in the future! 

The last two days in Monteverde were really good. We had a great adventure on Thursday with the Sky Trek zip lining. Then followed that up by having a great last night with the family. 

Spanish Class

Despite only have two days left of class our teacher had us going full speed to the end. In the last two days we went back to more focus on the grammatical aspects of Spanish. Specifically learning about past tense for irregular verbs. Irregular verbs were hard in the first place, but adding in the past tense was even harder. The reason being was that the past tense doesn't follow the same groupings the present tense does. Its a completely different structure of rules! Needless to say I struggled and I know my classmates did too. By this time everyone was mentally exhausted and ready to shut down. I really did try till the end but felt it was only sticking for ten minutes at a time. I can't imagine feeling that way for months or a whole school year like some ELLs do. After these three weeks I went from not knowing anything to being able to get around Costa Rica and hold small conversations. 

Takeaway: Mental fatigue is very real. I know I touched on this last post, but I can't stress it enough. I know my Spanish teacher knew we were crunched for time and wanted us to push on. But in my future classroom I need to be more attentive to that situation happening to my students. Thus building in some light work days or "fun" days where the students can take a mental break. The other thing I've realized overall is that not only a balance between grammatical and conversational skills is needed, but also vocabulary work is needed as well. There were numerous times where I was learning a new grammatical feature and wanted to us it in a situation, but didn't know enough nouns or other words to pull from. A good idea would to create a word wall where the student puts words that they discovered along with a short definition or picture. 

Zip Lining

First thing is first. When we heard that we were going on a zip line our group was excited. But then the doubts started to creep in. How high are we going to be? How fast are we going to go? And many other questions. Some of us don't deal well with heights, others don't like the idea of being near a ledge. That being said the Sky Trek tour was amazing! Its noted as the highest and longest in the area. We took a sky lift up a mountain and then climbed a tower to start the tour. You could see everything! The view was just incredible and my own fears were gone by the second line. I wish I could have used my camera during the ride. I definitely would go on this again!

Got my gear and ready to go!

On the way to the top!

Just hanging out before one of the lines. 

Takeaway: Zip lining is so much fun!! Most things can be conquered by having a great mental attitude. For me, I just kept saying to myself, "I'm having fun." 

Family Time

There's nothing more I can say about family time. Each night is just as fun as the last. Whether its watching Spanish soap operas or coloring with my hermano tico. Also the Costa Rica national soccer team has been on TV lately. So we've been watching them play. Its so funny to hear my mama tica go from sweet and funny to yelling at the TV. Not to mention just getting to sit and talk to the family about the day's events is still good. 

Our final photo together. They will always be with me, hopefully I'll get to visit them in the future!

Takeaway: Family is family no matter where you go. Nothing can top kindness and genuine hospitality. I have learned to always take the extra effort to meet people and get to know them on a personal level. In my future classrooms I want to establish that parent-teacher relationship early as a way to understand my students at a personal level. Also it creates a support system for the student. 

Other Observations from the week:
- I officially completed 60 hours of Spanish
- I completed my first home stay and would vouch for others to do the same!

Stay tuned for my wrap-up post from Costa Rica. 


Monday, June 10, 2013

Costa Rica: Cloud Forest School and Live Monteverde 6/5/13

Pura Vida Mae! 

We are now into our final week of our immersion trip to Costa Rica! These past two weeks have flown by. It feels like I've not stopped moving, everyday brings something new. I'm still feeling a little mental fatigue, which is normal. However; I've really been enjoying my time with my family and keep reminding myself why I'm down here. In order to be a better teacher. Remember when traveling abroad for extended period of time that its good to have a support group. I would consider my friends, my girlfriend, my parents, and my tico family part of my support group. They really helped me push through mental fatigue. For the first half of the week we visited the Cloud Forest School and Life Monteverde ( a coffee farm). 

Spanish Class
For our third week we received a brand new Spanish teacher. I also remained with the same group that I was put into halfway through last week. Our teacher had just finished school as a guide, but had been teaching Spanish at CPI for two years. She came off as friendly and really wanted to get to know us. Also she was pretty firm about the rule of the class, no English. Her personality in the classroom could be described as tough love; she wanted us to learn but not cut corners. This first three days showed me that she had a good command of both teaching grammatical points and promoting conversational skills. Another added bonus was that she understand enough English that she would listen to our questions in English if we couldn't say it in Spanish and then respond in Spanish. This was surprisingly a lot more helpful than expected. I just feel bad that my classmates at this point were over trying to learn Spanish at an in depth level. 
**no pics from this class**

Takeaway: having a good balance of grammatical teaching and conversational teaching is key. Also being able to understand some of the language of your students' L1 is very helpful. Allows them to work through a tough language issue by being to talk about it and if they want to ask a questionthe teacher   could respond in English as a way to model the language. 

Cloud Forest School (CEC Monteverde) 

On Tuesday we got to visit the Cloud Forest School which is a private school in Monteverde. The school is only 150 students roughly and most of the students receive scholarships from a foundation based in the Unites States. The school is Pre-K through 12th grade and follows a dual language model. From pre-K up to 5th grade the classes are co-taught with a native Spanish teacher and a native English teacher. In middle school and high school the classes are taught in English with only Spanish and Social Studies being in Spanish. What was interesting was that they had an SSL program for non-native Spanish speakers but no ESL specialist. The school prepares the students for higher education in the Unites States or Costa Rica. A unique feature of the school is that they are very environmental. They recycle everything that they can, have a reforsetation area, and a compose pile. A lot of the projects put on by teachers or students have an environmental theme. Though we weren't able to teach there, I did enjoy the tour very much. Even getting a chance to talk to the academic counselor at the school. Hopefully this up coming year I'll get the chance to interview with the school! 

Inside a kindergarten room. 

There was a lot of paintings on the sides of the buildings. Which students and the art teacher helped with. 

This is the compost pile that the school created. They use worms to create fertilizer out of the compost. 

They even have a tree house!!

Reforestation area. Every student plants gets to plant a tree. 

I thought this situation was funny. The students found a thin tree to climb on and jump off. They did this for 10 minutes or more and not one teacher said anything. In the States teachers would be all over the kids for doing that. Just a simple contrast. 

Takeaway: I love what the school is doing here. The language philosophy is one of the better situations I've seen. Honoring both languages throughout the academic years. Something that I myself want to promote in my future school. I also like the environmental aspect they have going on. As much as I love technology I think we all still need nature in our lives. Even for myself I've been exposed to a lot more environmental activities here than at home. Lastly, I'm looking to teach outside the United States for at least a year and this school will be either number 1 or 2 on my list! 

Life Monteverde

On Wednesday morning our group went to a coffee farm called Life Monteverde. This farm was created by a family to not only produce coffee and other products, but to teach others about sustainability. We talked to one of the owners about all sorts of aspects of sustainability. From being environmentally friendly to community sustainability to economic sustainability. The farm is on its way to being completely sustainable. They create their own fertilizer, help out with reforestation, and have animals which they use for other products. The owner even took us on a tour and picked our brains from a teacher's perspective. Asking us what questions we could ask our students if they were taken their. Even better how would we promote their on inquiry into the farm. Of course we weren't just there to talk and tour. They put us to work! We cleared a small part of land and planted a small patch of seeds for them. I knew farming was hard but I'm really glad that I don't have to clear land everyday. 

These are some of the goats from the farm. They help created fertilizer and other products. 

The area I'm standing on we had to clear. And the stick  I'm holding is used to create holes for the seeds. And a nifty way to pretend to be a warrior. 

Takeaway: I learned a lot about environmental teaching to my future students. From what questions to ask and how to put them in situations to explore nature. If I lived in that area I would definitely have my school go to that farm to learn about sustainability. 

Other takeaways from the beginning of the week

My hermano tico graduated from 1st grade! This is him attacking the piñata they had at the class dinner. 

Till next time. Pura Vida! 

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Costa Rica: Mountain Escape pt. 2 6/2


The rest of the week in Monteverde went really well. For the most part everyone has now moved out of the frustration phase and into the comfort phase. The mountain life and life in Costa Rica has really had an affect on most of the group here. All positive of course, including; becoming more environmental aware, being more adventurous, letting go of control, becoming more patient, and just living the Pura Vida lifestyle. These last few days incorporated another visit to the public school, El Trapiche Farm, and the St. Elena Reserve. 

St. Elena Primary

Our visit on Thursday was our chance to work with the kids. We got to observe the English teacher give a lesson on the structure of family. This lesson was with the fourth grade morning group. The teacher used photos of people and constructed a family tree on the board. The students then had to create sentences using the key words. During our lesson (1st grade) we broke into small groups, two students per two members of our group. In some cases one on one groups formed. We taught a lesson on body parts as well as read stories to them. With my student we drew out the human body and labelled it then did the "head, shoulders, knees, and toes song." To finish we gathered other students for a story time and to act out the animals in the story. Normal obstacles occurred; no prior knowledge of English profeciency, distractions from other groups, and students weren't inform we'd be working with them. Overall, it went as well as expected. My student was very kind and knew some English. But he really opened up once we started to draw and act out animals. Though I got the feeling the information was already covered just not as much in English. 

Jonathan writes a sentence on the board about family. Later we would play soccer at recess. 

The student in black is the one I worked with. This picture was taken after they were acting like monkeys. 

Takeaway: when we told the class we were going outside chaos ensued. Today was one of those days you learn how to adapt to the situation. 

Spanish Class

Halfway through the week I was moved to another Spanish class for unknown reasons. This teacher was more friendly with the students and gave off a good vibe. Her methods were more geared towards the communicative approach. We talked the whole class whether about our lives or during games. She didn't speak English and could tell she didn't feel comfortable if we spoke a lot of English. In this class I started to feel more comfortable in my speech and my homestay was improving because of that. This week was perfectly split between grammar work and communication skills, even if it did require a second teacher. 

Playing a game of Guess Who. Perfect for language acquisition, not to mention me and my partner kicked butt! 

Takeaway: sometimes you need to make the judgement call. Is it more important for my student to pronounce everything correctly and be grammatically correct or should he be able to get a message across. I personally lean more towards getting to message across because grammar will come, but as a teacher I will try to find a good balance in the classroom. 

El Trapiche

Our first tour of the week was to El Trapiche Farm. This farm focuses mainly on sugar production and coffee. We learned all about the process for each of their products. From how each is growned to who picks it and then the final product. 

Eating the delicious sugarcane directly by sucking out the sugar. 

The inside of a coco plant. 

The Trapiche machine which takes in sugarcane and extracts the liquid sugar. 

Grady making some candy out of sugar and ground up coffee. 

Takeaway: in Costa Rica majority of the farms are very much into the the environment. Using natural resources to fertilize the plants and make the products. Not to mention Ticos are very proud of their coffee production and being able to compete on the global scale in terms of quality. 

St. Elana Reserve

Our final trip for the week was to the rain forest reserve in St. Elana. I would like to write up a out how awesome it was, however; we went during the rainy season. And the rain forest lived up to its name. It rained and poured the whole time. So we only saw one bird and that was it. I felt bad for our tour guide cause our group got soaked and was miserable for most of the tour. Definitely showed Wilmington's rain showers up haha. 

Justin (guide from CPI) using some leaves to protect himself from the rain. 

Hiding inside a tree like an animal.

Everybody, be happy it's photo time!

Takeaway: always bring a rain jacket and extra clothes to the rain forest. 

Other things to note from the week. 

Ariel was getting a kick out of my glasses.

View from our hotel in Arenal. 

Saw this awesome guy crossing the road. First and only sloth sighting so far in this trip. 

One more week of this awesome adventure!! Can't wait to see what it brings. 

Husta Luego mi amigos. 

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Costa Rica: Mountain Escape 5/29

!Hola¡ Amigos. 

It's been a very long time since I've talked to you. But first a little story. 

It's been two weeks since that faithful day. Contact with the outside world has been severely limited. We have started to become frustrated with each other and differences in culture, others even resorting to talking to rocks. The worst is that an illness has affected some of the group. Communication with the natives is still hard and seem to even have taken a step back from the first few days of arrival. Our bodies just too exhausted to even give energy to our listening and speaking abilities. The natives say this place is beautiful and that we just have to open our eyes. Tomorrow, we hope to regroup and search out this beauty. We have hope. 

This is an exaggeration of our situation. However, the feelings portrayed are very real and are experienced by English Language Learners. This is part of the super wonderful immersion cycle (insert sarcasm)! Our group has hit the frustration stage of that. At this stage it's make or break for some people. Teachers and family need to be aware when a student hits this stage because the student may shut off completely. Instead they need to be encourage that this stage will pass. Our group has the outlook of being able to leave in a week. For ELLs this isn't the case. And frustrations can come from a variety of factors, but mainly just from wanting things to be the same in their host country as in their home country. 

Now that you know how our emotions are at this point I'll move on to telling you about what we've done the first few days in Monteverde! 


I love my old family, but I have now been blessed with a super awesome second family. I live with my papa tico, mama tica, hermana tica, and hermano tico. My tica sister is 15 and goes to the local public school. My tico brother is 6 and goes to the private Monteverde Cloud Forest School. My papa tico is a farmer, which the farm is located right next to the house. The mom works and volunteers within the community at various places. Here my family speaks a little more English than the last mainly due to Monteverde being more of a Eco-tourism spot. Right away the family took me right in and I felt at home. Honestly, if they didn't speak Spanish you would think they were the typical American family. Again the dual language dictionary came in handy haha. 

My new tico family! 

Every morning he feeds the little chicks. The rooster has been waking me up each morning at 5 am (no bueno). 

Takeaway: throughout the country the families have been very welcoming and friendly. Wanting to treat you as the guest of honor. Plus they want you to learn about the culture, which they are more than happy to share. It cannot be stressed enough that family is key and that future teachers should strive to make those connections. 

Spanish Class

We received a new teacher at the Monteverde CPI this week. This one was vastly different from our previous teacher. Her teaching style was more traditional for language acquisition. This means more exercises in the form of worksheets and memorizing grammar forms. Though these things have their place its tough to do that for four hours each day. Also she wanted us to not use English at all in the classroom and didn't promote using our dictionaries to look up new words. I understand she was trying to get us to be more confident in our speech, but our group is very beginner. So her explanations in Spanish or when we tried to explain in Spanish the vocabulary was lacking in both production and comprehension. However; I have learned the first few days some irregular verbs. And I discovered that I can take what she's talking about and re-word it into my own understanding. 

Our only non-worksheet activity. We had to describe a trip we were going on using pictures from magazines. 

Takeaway: teachers will always different in style. Some will cater to your style of learning better than others. From a student perspective we need to learn how to adapt to the situation and use personal strategies to help acquire learning. Also it's up to us to bring the engagement instead of shutting off because we don't like them. For future teachers we need to help our students develop those learning strategies in case this situation happens. Also we need to watch our own language and sentence structure so that it matches our students abilities. Another stress to be made is that giving off a good vibe as teacher is key to reducing a student's anxiety in the classroom. Don't want to hit a student with a double negative of bad teacher behavior and not catering to learning style. 

St. Elana Primary School

For this week we are visiting the St. Elana Primary School, which is public. On this day the English teacher was not there so we just toured the school and observed. Compared to American schools the school would be considered Title 1 due to its lack of resources, but compared to the first school we visited it was in better shaped. The school had more students (they came in two shifts during the day) and the building itself was in better shape. The students didn't have textbooks and the teaching styles differed between classes. Hopefully on our next visit we will be able to do some teaching. 

Some teachers live at the school during the week if they have homes in far off places. 

At the school they have a garden which they grow vegetables and herbs. These are used in the cafeteria or given to the students. 

Takeaway: public schools in Costa Rica tend to lack a lot of resources. However, they are very resourceful in creating what they need to teach. For teachers who may receive ELLs from Costa Rica should know that students may not have had access to textbooks or other resources Americans take for granted. Also these students are very much into the environment and nature. This knowledge can be used to get the student to open up in class or guide learning. 

Other observations
- Environment has been a common theme throughout the country not just the schools
- Students really feed off the teacher and notice when a teacher is disengaged
- No matter the community in Costa Rica they have community pride
- The frustration stage is very real when it comes to immersion, but having hope that it gets better makes all the difference 

Got to go do some more Spanish homework and hang with my tica family. 

Talk to you later! 

"Hope. That is the key to making it through the tough times." 

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Costa Rica: Español, Escuela, y Familia - 5/25

¡Hola! Mis Amigos. 

I'm back! Sorry for being away for awhile. As with any trip abroad one should expect a few things to not go according to plan. This week I found that out first hand in two cases. The first was that I got sick (breaking one of my goals) and had to stay at home on Wednesday. They believe it may have been from the water, but the water is generally safe. I was just one of the unlucky ones. Then my card adapter for my iPad malfunction so I haven't been able to upload pictures. And no one ever wants to be unable to post pictures to Facebook! Due to the lack of postings I will be posting a general overview on three categories; Español, Escuela, y Familia.

- I have officially moved into the simple phrase and simple sentences stage
- my vocabulary though is still lacking. I feel that may be due to spending a lot of time with my classmates and not as much with the locals. 
- This week I learned both present and past tenses as well as directions and how to ask questions.
- Our teacher created a calming affect in the classroom throughout the rest of the week and allowed us to be silly and curious with the language 
- She continued to use a lot of games, manipulatives, and student created situations to teach the language. Allowing us to create with language kept us engaged and create our own connections for our new language skills. 
Here we are playing guess who in Spanish. Practicing our descriptors and listening skills. 

Takeaway: Exposure, exposure, exposure. Can't say enough about exposing ones self to the language and practicing it. Engage, engage, and engage more. The more students are having fun and naturally curious about the language the more students will retain. 

Escuela y La Carpio
So one of the best things about this trip was our different projects in the community we got to do. The first was that we got to spend two mornings at a school in Heredia working with 3rd and 4th graders with English. The first day we worked on body parts. 
This is Johan. He was really shy at first, but opened up right away as soon as we broke out the crayons. He loves to draw and was able to label most of the parts with a few hints. Language wasn't as much of a barrier as I thought it would be. I think this was due to having objects, pictures, and other visuals ready to help with communication.

This is Stephen. On this day we worked on shapes, descriptors of shapes, and personal hygiene. He was super polite. Even came right up to me and asked me what my name was. He loved getting to do a scavenger hunt around the school to find different objects. Again the language barrier wasn't as big as I thought it would be. However; certain concepts and labels were hard to convey. 

Takeaway: Kids need to feel comfortable with you in order to speak a new language. Either due to shyness or just not wanting to be wrong. Cause no one ever wants to be in a position where they can't convey their thoughts. Also hands on activities are a great way to build vocabulary, concepts, and break that anxiety barrier. It's similar to a pre-school mindset that I like to call intentional play. You retain more when your having fun and engaged.

Our other service we got to do was in La Carpio. This little settlement was created by a few immigrants many years ago. Now it's packed full of immigrants and low socioeconomic peoples. The town is actually built along side a river and the city dump! The houses are very very tiny, constructed out of aluminum in some cases. Most don't have any furniture inside besides a bed, a place for the bathroom, and a cooking area. There is electricity and some running water throughout the town. Every day is a struggle to make ends meet. However; despite these hardships the people have hope! A lot of this can be contributed to the Humanitarian Fundacíon. This small charity organization was started by a former teacher in the United States who moved into the area to specifically work with the people. She works directly with the people and helping them take ownership in the changes being made. For my group we had the majority go out with a few grandmas; they basically run the streets haha, and talk to the locals about a new recycling program they want to start up in order to clean the streets. Myself and two other girls stayed at the office and worked in the daycare they had set up. The children were really shy but once we played for a few minutes the kids really opened up. It really didn't matter that we couldn't speak each others language they just wanted attention. I even had the most stressful event happen; I was in charge of putting the last block on top of this TALL tower. Everyone just stopped and stared at me as I tried to not knock it over haha. 

I bought this doll as a way to keep myself motivated in helping those in need. These are handmade from the women in the community. 

Takeaway: The biggest gift you can give someone is hope. Generally people will work hard if they know that it's worth it, aka hope for a better future. Also getting into the community and incorporating everyone in what you do makes the biggest impact. As an outsider it does no good to not have any local ownership. This experience really makes me want to get involved in the community outside my future school. Invest in the community achieve a better future. Lastly in cannot be stressed enough even the smallest acts make a difference. This lady just started by having a women's group. 

So I just want to say if you ever want to do a study abroad with a host family Latin America is a great place to go. They are just simply hospitable and friendly. Not to mention my mama tica took really good care of my when I was sick. I even got homemade chicken and rice soup. Since I can't simply put into words how amazing this family was I will be using pictures. 
Here's Kevin (left) and Anthony (right) pumping up their new soccer ball. From this point on we just played soccer every day when I came home from school. Kevin got a kick out of making me look silly. 

Here's the whole family outside watching fireworks. Kevin and Rosa are vey much into fireworks. I found out that this past week was a special week in this Catholic country; not exactly sure what it entails. 

Typical night hanging out with the family. Not so typical was the choice of food, French fries and hamburgers. 

This is Brandon (far right) and his girlfriend hanging out with little Abigail eating some cake. 

My mama tica and myself on our last morning. She was truly comforting, friendly, and we had a few laughs in our language mixups throughout the week. 

Kevin at his soccer practice. You can see the church in the background. Soccer and the church are very much a center point of the community. 

Takeaway: Family is everything! You live within close approximation of family, you hangout with family, you take care of family. And family even includes guest. Everyone treats everyone with respect and holds them accountable. I saw that the parents are very much involved with their children's lives. I absolutely hate hearing that Latino families don't care about education. All of the family cares about education. I know now that I can be comfortable with hanging out with families of my students and really building that relationship up. As with any child building that family connection creates another academic support system for that child. 

Other observations:
- it's really hard to do homework when you have to keep looking up words in the directionally just for the instructions part. This is why key words should be written in L1 if possible.
- Locals will help you learn the language if they know you are trying to acquire the language
- Even though the country is starting a bilingual movement I have yet to see a lot of English literature displayed except in tourist areas. 

We are heading to Monte Verde today and meeting our new host families! We won't be having a lot of access to Internet, but I will try to post by mid-week! 

Hasta luego! 

"Any progress is good progress." - anonymous 

Monday, May 20, 2013

Costa Rica: Mi nueva familia - 5/20/13

¡Hola! Mis amigos. 

Been a few days since I posted and I definitely need to catch y'all up to speed. A lot has happened since I last posted on here. As you can see I can now write a few words, but I'll get to that later. To start with I'll go back to Sunday (domingo). 

Sunday was a pretty eventful day. To start off with we went with our guide, Javier, to a volcano outside of Heredia. Along the way we stopped at a coffee farm on the side of the mountain. It was so beautiful. 
Coffee is one of their main exports along with; tourism, textiles, and electronics. Of course I had to buy some coffee beans while I was there. I bought some "Peabody" beans which means the beans are whole instead of in half. They can't sell this type of coffee on the international market, but they say its naturally sweeter. My roommates are into coffee so hopefully they'll enjoy the Costa Rican flavor! 

The volcano Poas was a great visit as well. We had to climb up to around 3500 feet above sea level! And I believe even a little bit more if I'm not corrected. Needless to say my heart was in overdrive and I could feel the air getting thinner. The view was worth it though. 
That smoking thing in the middle? That's the still active volcano (clarification: it hasn't done anything in a long time). To my surprise its not in a cone shape that we typically associate with volcanoes. Instead it's down in a crater. What was also interesting was that the smog from the volcano would overcome us without any notice. 

Finally we arrived at the school to take our placement test. As well as walk around the community.
The wonderful CPI logo placed at the front of their building. 
Every city/town has the same setup. Centrally located is the church, soccer field, school, and a bar. Shows a lot about the society on a micro level. 

Home-stay placements finally happened!
One of my fellow students meeting her mama tica. (Unfortunately I don't have a picture of me meeting mine)
 This is mi nueva familia! My mama tica is in the top right of the picture. She's super friendly and welcomed me right into the home. Over casado we pieced together a conversation, getting to know each other. One point she even got out a dictionary so that we could point out words to each other. She lives with her husband in a small house that's connected to five other houses via a giant patio. Each of the other houses host family members. In the picture above is most of the family hanging out in one of the houses. Three sisters, a brother, and her mom plus respective husbands with 5 nieces and nephews total. Even though I couldn't speak that well we all hung out, laughed at the tv, piece meal conversations, and played UNO. Yes, they do play UNO in Latin America. Which they are very good at or at least better than me! 

Today was muy bien. It was our first day of class. In the morning we got to hear a lecture from one of the ministers of public education and a English as a Foreign Language Teacher about the school system in Costa Rica. Even though the EFL and ESL branches are different overall, but there are some similarities when it comes to language acquisition. Plus it was neat to hear about the school system in general. Did you know the public schools are majority of the time better than the public schools? 

Side note: my lunch was very delicious. We went to a small restaurant down the street and had great empanadas with cheese and meat. 

In the afternoon we met our Spanish teachers! We were each put into groups of three. My group was a semi beginning group. Our teacher though was awesome. She was really engaging and put off a friendly vibe. We worked on the letters, common syllables, greetings, numbers, days, and months. All was done in a super awesome environment involving creating our own dialogue for pictures and playing hangman. By end of the first class we were laughing and feeling a lot more comfortable speaking Spanish. Can't wait for tomorrow's class! 
Great view from the classroom! Perfect for studying Spanish. 

To wrap up the day I came home to a very excited Kevin. I hadn't even put my bag down and he wanted to play more UNO (he's nine). After dinner (casado with ham) we played along with his cousin Anthony. It was such a blast. Everyone was yelling, screaming, and laughing from the enjoyment of the game. Again I lost, but I beat Kevin which he was overly dramatic in his lost haha. Overall, another great night in Costa Rica! 
Kevin showing Anthony a card trick. 

Other things to make note of:
- moved from babbling to simple phrases
- dictionary is being less used in short conversations
- mi nueva familia is very friendly and family oriented as seen by the living arrangements
- Kevin is the perfect conversation partner because he loves to talk and no judgment on me 
- CPI uses the communicative approach, which is up to current theories in language acquisition 
- I love that we got to create our own input and output in class 

Soy cansado. Tomorrow we're making our first school visit! Adios mis amigos. 

"Just keep babbling."