Saying Goodbye

I didn’t want to let go, Jefferson’s little arms around my neck squeezing tightly felt like they were supposed to be there. So, I continued to hug until he let go. As I hugged my host family, I thought back to precious memories from the trip.

I closed my eyes and reminisced about the first night in San Luis, how nervous and unsure of my Spanish I was. Today was a black and white difference. No pretending to be busy or standing awkwardly at the edge of the crowd, we really got to enter into the lives of our host families for the duration of the trip.

I thought back to last weekend when my host mom and I spent the morning together on the porch. We sat and talked about everything from commercialism in the United States to her childhood Christmas traditions. Some monkeys came to say hi from the forest in our backyard. Yolanda disappeared into the house for a moment and returned with one of her bracelets in her hand. She gave it to me with a smile and said that she had enjoyed the time we have spent together. Leave it to me to break it within one minute in my hands, but other than that it was a precious moment.

I thought back to visiting my grandma’s house this week. Yolanda’s father passed away last week, and the Catholic tradition is that the whole family gathers every evening after the death of a loved one leading up to their funeral. It is a time for prayer, hymns, repeating of phrases, and food. I got to see a different side of their culture in that little house. With their eyes closed and hands griping either their rosary or their kids, I could see the strength of their family ties. Both nights I went we shared food together, each family bringing their own contribution. It was beautiful to see so many generations in one room, noting who was related to whom by the freckles on their face or by how their skin creases when they smile; it was like living in a family album book.

I thought back to one of the nights when it was just Yolanda, Jefferson, Stephanie and I at home. Eylin was at his grandma’s house watching her for the night (him and his brothers and sisters take turns spending the night with her each day of the week). All was quiet in the house, watching our favorite Costa Rican TV show “La Pensión” when all of a sudden the sound of a cheap blender began in the kitchen. The sound grew, and before I knew it a black thing, the size of a bat, flew in. It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s… A COCKROACH!!! So the game of cucaracha vs. Fuentes family began. I was dubbed the cheerleader who encouraged from the sidelines (with my binder turned into a head-tent). The valiant Stephanie, with the broom, showed that cucaracha whose house it was. Needless to say the next morning I found a toad in the shower… Oh I love this place.

Jefferson gave me one last squeeze and I opened my eyes. Sigh, what a rush of emotions. I looked at my little Costa Rican family, and thanked the Lord that He put me in this program in this little town with these precious people. The verse from Esther came to mind “And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this”. For such a time as this, the Lord created me to experience these moments. And the amazing thing is that He is not finished with me yet!



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You know you’re in the cloud forest when you’re above the rainbow!



A Week at the Beach

Our little class of 12 made the trek over to the beach this last week. We traded the rolling green mountains of San Luís for the white, sandy beaches of Playa Sámara. What a change it was! It is pretty fascinating to think about how such a tiny country (about the size of West Virginia) can contain so much diversity, both in weather and in plant/animal life.

No more crickets singing me to sleep at night. Instead, we were introduced to the Iguana, tarantula (just ask Augustín about the time he almost wore one to class), Congo monkey, and a mountain of different types of lizards. And thus, the constant sweat began. With 100% humidity and about 99 degrees in the sun, people live either in the shade or in the water. Thank goodness we were treated to air conditioned rooms at night!

Apparently we brought some rain with us from Monteverde though, because the second night we arrived there was a thunder storm. There were four of us to a little house in a resort on the beach. Ours, of course, was the lucky one to get flooded. Hotel employees worked frantically to dig a ditch next to our little house to try and divert the little lake at our front door around the house. It was fun to talk with the employees in Spanish about how often it rained there and what life was like.

The rest of the week we continued classes (sometimes even on the beach!) and got to explore around to other beaches as well. It was fun to have a change of pace for a week, but I actually think a lot of us had reverse culture shock the first couple of days. All in all, it was fabulous to experience a different part of Costa Rica.

Some of the activities I did were:

-Wrestle some salty waves

-Walk to the nearby city of Sámara and walk around (there was quite a bit of ice cream tasting to be had)

-Bike ride on the beach

-Volleyball in the pool

-Relax in the hammock

-Reapply sunscreen and bug spray about 12 times every day (I’m sure there is a hole in the ozone layer because of me)

-Kayak to the nearby island

-Witness some beautiful sunsets

-Snorkel in the ocean; hold some speedy/prickly starfish

-Eat some delicious ceviche

-Frog catching

As you can see it was a full week, one that I will never forget! Here are some pictures from the week:

Picture Samara


Picture Kayak

My second family

What a week it has been, full of excursions and new sights and experiences. I have been especially grateful this last week for my host family. I just feel so lucky to have been paired with an awesome family! I got to know them a lot better this last week I think. For Stephanie’s birthday on the 8th (also the birthday of my brother James, how cool is that?), we spent the night at a building used to feed and teach biology students. My host dad works here, and he knew that the group was gone, so we had the place to ourselves. Universal fun for the evening: Chocolate cake and an Uno tournament. The laughter filled the empty building, and I couldn’t resist the feeling of home away from home.

Later in the week I got home from a long day of classes. My family welcomed me with smiles. The whole evening was just plain fun. I helped Yolanda and Stephanie prepare a dinner of beet salad, something like fried rice and beans, and a little fried chicken. We couldn’t help but notice the cheese puffs (a specialty down here) on top of the fridge, and Stephanie looked longingly at the perfectly plump plastic bag. We finished off every last crumb before the men of the house even knew what happened.

The rest of the evening I played soccer with Jefferson with a little ball, the doorpost as the goal. If you missed the whole Soccer World cup thing, Costa Rica’s team barely missed the final four; one penalty shot in triple overtime against Netherlands was all it took. Jefferson is certain he is going to be the next Keylor Navas, Costa Rica’s portero or “goalie”. 16 years from now, I’ll be watching the next World Cup and be the proud older sister of Costa Rica’s champion goalie.

On a more serious note, it has been a rough time for the family because their grandpa, Yolanda’s dad, has been in and out of the hospital. He has been sick for a while and probably will pass away soon. It has been hard to be in the thick of it all, but at the same time death is one of those things that nobody can avoid, and even your host family in Costa Rica experiences it. People have strong family ties here, and you can tell that they genuinely care and love each other.

When my family arrived last night after another trip from the hospital, I gave them all hugs. They brought home the world’s best comfort food, cheeseburgers and French fries. I really am learning so much more by living with a host family. Now, I can’t imagine being in a school or a hotel during my time here. To say the least, I really am blessed by my host family.

Picture Jefferson and Stephanie

Stephanie and Jefferson enjoying some ice cream! No worries, I will have a full family picture before the end of the trip.

Experiencing the Culture

Last Friday a group from Florida came to put on a “Festival de Salud” or Health Festival. We worked together to make it all happen, and overall I think it was a success. Many people came and brought their youngin’s too, which I and other students from OSU had the pleasure of entertaining for the duration of the festival. We had sack races, various games, coloring station, a clown who painted faces, and of course soccer games. I had a blast talking and playing with the kids, they truly speak a different type of Spanish and it’s a little easier to understand.

Doing a little Zumba with the locals!

Doing a little Zumba with the locals!

During the fair, we had an assignment to interview adults about the effects of tourism here. It was interesting to hear their responses; almost everybody thought the effects were completely positive and that there weren’t any disadvantages of tourism. It really does provide a significant amount of jobs and revenue for the area. I don’t think there is one person who is not affected by tourism in one way or another here. Even though the city is rural, many people have family or jobs in Santa Elena related to tourism. I hope that they were being honest and not giving the tourist what she wanted to hear.

The next day my family and I woke up at the ripe hour of 3:30am to head out to the beach to stay with family for the weekend. On the way we picked up other various family members; the van was plumb full when we set out on the rocky road. Slowly but surely everything started becoming sticky, not solely due to people packed like sardines, but also due to the fact (that I quickly learned) that the beach=constant sweat. I didn’t realize how lucky I was to have the wind in the mountains of Monteverde! None the less, we had a fun and family-filled weekend.
We watched the Costa Rica-Netherlands soccer game on Saturday, and celebrated afterwards despite the triple-overtime loss. We played at the beach until dusk, relaxing, playing in the surf, and building sand castles. One odd little pleasure I realized was that fingers don’t get pruney in the ocean! I know, I’m weird… but it was fabulous. Also, I saw one of the most breathtaking sunsets I’ve ever seen in my life. I am constantly reminded of the Lord’s handicraft in different ways, and the sunset was certainly no exception. We ate fish and rice and beans with fresh veggies the whole weekend, so tasty!

Picture Sunset at Playa Hermosa
It was eye-opening how many people from the states live on the coasts of Costa Rica. They really are accustomed to having “loud, drunk tourists” around all the time, and I hope I altered their stereotype. I also got my first compliments on my Spanish-speaking this weekend! It took me by surprise, but then I realized how much my vocabulary has changed. The only down side is that I am unable to speak/spell in English, so I apologize for my numerous mistakes (but not really because it’s worth learning another language ;))

Love from the Jungle

A day in the life of…

The sound of thundering rain against my metal roof resounds throughout the house. It’s roughly 5:45am and light outside. My family is up bustling around the house; my little sister, Stephanie (14 y.o.), is about to leave to catch the 6am bus to Santa Elena where she goes to high school. My mom and little brother, Jefferson (8 y.o.), are grabbing a bite to eat. After a large breakfast of rice, beans, fried plantains, a whole avocado, and coffee (of course), they pile into the van with my dad and drive off to school. My mom is a cook at the local grade school so she and Jefferson get off a couple of miles or so down the road while my dad continues on to work.

Now the house is mine. I get ready for the day and relax a little, often finding bugs in new places every morning (examples: in my toothbrush bag, in my shoes, and even on my hair brush!)… it keeps me on my toes, literally. It is really nice to have time to write and read my Bible in the mornings when all is quiet in the house.

I walk up the road a ways, up a very steep hill (there is only uphill and downhill here) to the Centro Comunitario where I have class every day. We have gotten in the habit of doing morning yoga at 8am, which feels great on a traveler’s body. Class begins at 9am, and in Tican time that is 9:10 or so. Mornings we have grammar with Isaura, taking a coffee break at 10:30. Lunch is served at noon, and boy is it delicious. Our cooks are a godsend; they make delicious meals and even teach us how to make it sometimes too! Their names are Mari and Mell, mother and daughter.

We reconvene at 1pm for culture class in the afternoon, often times watching a movie and interpreting short stories in Spanish.  This class is taught by Eva. Both instructors are from Santa Elena and don’t speak a lick of English, which is perfect! We often have another coffee break in the afternoons (I’m afraid you might have to hook me up to a central line of caffeine when I get back) and finish class at 3pm.

I work on homework and write e-mails for a while after class until 4:30 or so. By now it is a bit calmer outside and I don’t need my rain jacket to walk home. Jefferson and Yolanda are at home with the TV on and greet me as I come in. It is a relaxed evening of TV watching and eating fried chicken, gallo pinto (a mix of rice and beans), chopped tomatoes and mango juice for dinner. Jefferson wages a card game against me that lasts about an hour and after that we play “portero” or goalie. We are all pretty tired and the kids go to bed at 8pm. I take my time and write about the day and finish up on any homework. I am the last one with the light on at 8:30pm, so I turn it off and crawl into bed. I fall asleep to the sounds of the jungle: crickets chirping, lizards barking, dogs fighting, and insects buzzing overhead.

-This is my little Costa Rican home!


Entering a new world

The Big Guy upstairs sure does have a sense of humor sometimes. That is what I was reminded of as I stepped off the plane in Costa Rica, breathing in the thick air, barely able to keep my eyes open. Before the trip I was praying for patience and a willing spirit, as this was going to be a long day of travel. As you can already guess, the Lord gave me ample opportunity to practice my patience. The first flight to DFW went flawlessly. After boarding our second flight to San José however, we were in for a rocky ride. We waited on the plane for an hour, periodically told that they were working on various problems. Comforting, right?

Finally the pilot admitted that they were a little optimistic about it all and had to unfortunately pack us up and send us on another flight. Alas, after another two hours of waiting in the airport, we boarded a second time to a much more promising aircraft. Thank goodness the program director was on our flight, so we didn’t need to worry about what to do when we’re stranded in San José. Thank you Lord for the practice, and I’m certain much more is coming!

The following day consisted of touring San José. What a beautifully diverse city! I definitely had a full-blown Spanish-speaking headache by dinner time. It was so worth it though, talking with other students and adults and natives. Some people were surprised when we responded to their English questions in Spanish, it was a marvelous feeling. Overall, a very touristy city with a lot of people in a little space, and if I told you all about it you would probably envision Pike’s Place Market on steroids with less room to walk around.

I will tell you guys all about the little village of San Luis (where I am staying with my Costa Rican family for the next 6 weeks) another time because there is just too much to describe! 

Love from the jungle,


-The first photo is of Katie and I at a statue in the National Park in San Jose which depicts the war Costa Rica had with many other countries including our own. The second is a picture of the road to San Luis, it looks like this everywhere!


Pre-travel Jitters


Less than 21 hours and I will be on flight 1220 headed for Dallas Fort Worth. Wow. It is finally sinking in. What I’ve found out about myself over the years is that I am really good at tuning things out right up until the last minute; I really don’t get nervous for big things like this until right beforehand. None the less, I am sitting here listening to my heart go “pitter patter” as the pre-travel jitters finally set in.

A little background behind why this whole shenanigans is happening:

Two summers ago I had the privileged to go with a group from my church, Mid Valley Community Church, to our sister church in León, Nicaragua. This experience was amazing on many levels, one of which was finding my love for the Spanish language. This is when the Lord told me to get a minor in Spanish. So here I am today, going abroad to Monteverde for 6 weeks to study the glorious Spanish language and culture.

I am so very excited to see what the Lord is going to do while I’m down there. There are many unknowns, but what I DO know is that the Lord is faithful and will provide, whether it is sleep, homesickness, or a serious case of the squirts. I have peace knowing that He has prepared me for what’s ahead and that as long as I trust in Him, He’s got it covered. One of my favorite verses gives me this hope:

“…And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” Esther 4:14

So please keep me in your prayers these next 6 weeks, and I will try and keep you updated about what’s happenin’ down here in the jungle!

Much Love,


Well, even Panda guessed it!

Well, even Panda guessed it!