Time has flown in San José! The days have been so packed that I feel like time is already flying and that I’ve been here in the city for much more than just a few days.
On Sunday we were all taken right to our host families where I was greeted with a delicious soup of chayote, corn, potatoes and plantains, as well as fresh mango juice. My host mom graciously encouraged me to unpack and use the dresser in my room when she saw that I was having reservations about unpacking and settling into my new environment. She has made me feel very comfortable, but at first I felt a little awkward asking her simple questions, like where to leave my sandals, or if it would bother her if I showered at certain times. Over all, she seems to be very easy-going and has offered each day to help me with homework or questions about navigating San José. I tend to be shy when speaking which is a great challenge that I need to overcome here, but she is very supportive and patient while explaining phrases and parts of the local culture and the city that she thinks I should become familiar with.
On Sunday afternoon, my host sister invited me to come into the city with her friend, which meant that she showed me how to use the buses and how to get from the house to the bus stop. Since the streets rarely have signs, she pointed out the useful landmarks and stops.
We explored a few shops that had artisans making all sorts of crafts, like painted bird feathers and wood masks. We stopped for a while to talk to a young man in a stall that was making jewelry from recycled goods like old wires, kitchen utensils and bottle caps. He was happy to explain with enthusiasm and patience how each wire is flattened to make the beautiful jewelry that he had in his stall.
The first day of classes, we went to our orientation at ICADS, the Institute for Central American Development Studies, where we were shown our classrooms in the beautiful building and garden. Then, we went on the University of Costa Rica (UCR) where we will be having some classes and lectures. The country is known for their care for the environment and small footprint, which is evident in the college campus where there are beautiful trees and plants everywhere.
When talking with people from Costa Rica about Temple University, they often ask about the size, and are absolutely shocked by how many students are attending the school. The UCR campus is quite large though, so I did some research and found out that there are actually 37,000 undergraduates at UCR, which is comparable to the amount of students at Temple. That said, the campus is much larger and with fewer tall buildings and more hills to separate the different disciplines which may have something to do with the perception of the population being a little smaller than it really is. The cafeterias that we ate in, for example, could probably seat only around 50 students, which created a close atmosphere.
Finally, after a delicious lunch, we returned for the first day of language lessons. We each spoke separately with an instructor to evaluate our skill level in Spanish, and then were placed into small classes of just 2-3 students. My classroom is actually in the garden, although the teacher says that we will have to move if it rains! A few times, when an interesting bird was nearby, we paused to take a look. The classes are very practical, and the instructor is very patient with our questions, not only about grammar but also about cultural nuances, like what type of money is appropriate to use to pay for the bus, or the meaning of new slang that we hear around our homes or in the street.
I’m looking forward to the weekend, when we are taking a trip to the closest beach to San Jose. My host mother was very excited to hear that I was going to get the opportunity to go to the beach, so even though I am torn between exploring the city more and traveling to a different part of the country, it’s a great feeling to be unsure of which awesome thing to do!