Tag Archives: costarica2019

Homestay Reflection 

Ava Homestay

by Pheobe Day

Most students will say the most notable part of a service trip is the homestay. They will say they were nervous to stay with strangers for a night. If there is a language barrier, they will say they were scared they would not be able to communicate with their family. However, despite these fears and nerves, they will be beyond excited to be explore a day in the life of a civilian.

I can say I experienced all of these emotions while driving to the community where I would be spending the next night. Since I am not the best Spanish student George School has ever seen walk the halls, I was nervous to spend the night with a family who knew little to no English. I didn’t know if I would be able to hold a conversation over dinner, tell them about myself, or even be remotely interesting.

My nerves immediately evaporated once I arrived and was greeted by my host family. They welcomed me into their home and offered me juice and snacks. After a tour of the house we met the other members of the family who lived adjacent to their home. We all decided to go for a walk so they could show us around their community. The six year old, Joesph, wanted to show us the monkeys that were visible from their cousins house up the road. As we walked up the road to visit the monkeys, our host family members waved to those in houses that we passed. It was clear they were friends with everyone who lived in the community.

On our way back, Joesph and I exchanged information about our hometowns. I told him about the cold winters we experience in the north and how, sadly, we cannot find monkeys in our backyards. Joesph shared how even in their winter months, he is still comfortable wearing a T-shirt and that he can always find monkeys in his backyard. It was fun to share with him how life is the United States and watch his face fill with confusion and awe when I told him it can be to below freezing in some places in the States.

During dinner, we went to their aunt’s house and had dinner with the whole family. The house was filled with cousins, uncles, aunts, and grandparents. We told each other about our families and they were shocked when I shared half of my family lived across the country from me. They said they couldn’t imagine not seeing each other everyday and sharing their lives together. As the night went on and I witnessed more how close their family was not only in proximity, but also emotionally, I wished my family was as close as theirs and that I could share my life more with them.

As I have reflected on my homestay experience, I have learned the importance of community and family support. Everyone within the community I visited supports each other whether they are family or not. I hope to carry this kind of support when I return to the George School community in the fall.

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Costa Rica, Last Full Day

Ava Homestay

By Ava Doty ’20

Today I woke up in my homestay family’s house. At first, Phoebe and I woke up at 4:30 am to the sound of roosters crowing. We were able to fall back asleep, but last night Michelle – one of the girls who lives in the house – told us that the roosters wake up the whole family that early every day! Her school is a 20 minute walk from the house and she wakes up at 5 to get ready. We said goodbye to her last night before bed. She wakes up at 5:00 am to get ready for school and doesn’t get back home until 5:00 pm! After we got up for the day our host mom made us a delicious breakfast of plantains, sausage, beans, rice, eggs, and sliced mango. As we ate, the 4-month-old puppy in the house gnawed on our legs and constantly fought with the kitten. Without Michelle (the English speaker in the house) at breakfast this morning it was harder to communicate. I know zero Spanish so I had to rely on Phoebe, and when she wasn’t able to translate for me I found myself mostly saying “perro y gato! (dog and cat)” Thankfully our host mom didn’t seem to think that was too weird. We said our goodbyes around 8:30 and headed over to the school with everyone else.

We got to see the Festival de las Artes at the school where we did our service. The kids were adorable! They showed off dances, songs, and costumes they made! The show was held in the covered outdoor area we had painted just yesterday. It was so nice to see all the kids perform, and to see their families watch them. We couldn’t stay for the whole show, but some of the acts we saw are posted on Instagram!

We took a long, long drive to San Jose – sadly made longer by a traffic jam on the mountain road we were on. We dropped off Cosi at the airport and then drove to the hotel. After dinner we sat and reflected on our favorite parts of the trip. I can’t believe it’s our last full day. Our guide Mario has been so kind and we said our goodbyes to him tonight. I really don’t want to go home, but our current hotel is a Wyndham so it sort of already feels like we’re back in the US. Costa Rica has been so amazing!!

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Costa Rica, June 19

Cosi

by Cosi Janssen ’20

Today was a day full of lots of new experiences and adventures! I am Cosi Janssen and I will be sharing today’s happenings from my perspective.

After a night influenced by heavy chicken, bird, and rain noises, Lizzy and I woke up in our host family to a typical Costa Rican breakfast, including rice and beans, eggs, meat, plantains, papaya, and a fantastic coffee. Reflecting on the time with the host family, it was nice to get to know the rural Costa Rican lifestyle and language. Even though I am a non-Spanish speaker and was really nervous about going, I was, with Lizzy’s awesome help, able to tell them a little bit about myself. We tried to find other ways of communication such as playing games, soccer, and showing pictures of our families. The house was typical for the community and provided a place to sleep for about ten people of all ages. Lizzy and I could see drastic differences to how we live but, surprisingly, all of them, starting when about fifteen years old, owned a smartphone with functionary data. This really got me thinking about where people set their focuses regarding living conditions in the current time – but I also realized that in this day and age, cell phones have become a necessity for living.

After we said goodbye to our host family, we met the group on the bus and drove to the school for our second day of community service. The school is in a conservative area and teaches students from pre-kindergarten until sixth grade. The Costa Rican government provides free education including the building, supplies, uniforms, and food. Students are required to wear uniforms: in the kindergarten the children wear light blue shirts and dark blue shirts, in primary school they wear white blouses and dark blue pants or skirts, and in sixth grade they are allowed to wear an additional blue tie since they are the oldest at the school.

Today’s service projects were painting the ground of the gymnasium in green, and painting the playground, tire obstacles, and hopscotch in different colors. All of these needed several layers which took a good amount of time and was interrupted by a heavy rainfall. After we finished all the planned projects, we had lunch in the schools dining hall which was the typical rice with chicken and a pasta salad with tuna. Sadly, we did not see any students today, because every school can take one day off during the week. Still, all of us were passionate about their work, because we enjoyed so much talking to and singing with them the day before. It felt great to make the school look prettier and renovate things in order to provide these children a good time at school. Reflecting on the service, all of us had a lot of fun, even though we were soaked in sweat, dirt, and paint, and, additionally very exhausted. It was amazing to see how much of a difference we could achieve in these two days. We tried to embrace the ‘Pura Vida’ way of thinking!

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Costa Rica, June 17, 2019

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by Abby Eisold ’20

Today was full of many wonderful excursions. After waking up and eating a lovely breakfast together, we took a boat back up the canal to where our bus, and dear friend Ronald, was waiting for us. About 90 minutes later, we arrived at lunch to eat another balanced meal. On our way to our next lodge, we made three spectacular stops. One was to a banana plantation where we learned how bananas are grown, harvested, and selected. Seeing the system in place and learning of the history of Costa Rica as a “Banana Republic,” we were all able to take away a useful piece of information from this short stop. I was particularly interested in what Mario said as he explained how bananas and pineapples are two of the most important exports for Costa Rica. This stop was very important because it showed us how much Costa Rica relies on these crops.

Our other two trips of the day included destinations for food. The first was a common grocery store. Here we felt more comfortable, as it was something familiar to us, because it resembled the Walmart we stopped at previously and the grocery stores we have at home. Next though, we made a quick stop at a local fruit market, and the experience was very different than the previous grocery store, but in only positive ways. This stop has honestly been my single favorite event thus far, and it was mostly spontaneous. One of us on the trip wanted to get a fresh mango, so our guide, Mario, called ahead to a fruit stand he was familiar with and arranged for a tasting of exotic fruits! At this fruit stand we were immediately welcomed to fresher and cheaper fruits, and it was an overall better experience. Upon arrival there were many fresh fruits and coconut products for us to try. I tried more than ten new foods and was not disappointed with a single one of them. Offering cheaper prices, and better products, we were more than willing to buy the produce we tried and loved. This was one experience that showed me how the ‘Pura Vida’ way of life is found everywhere in Costa Rica. This fruit stand was generous to us in ways I have rarely experienced, and the kindness we were shown was positive for everyone who was there. We all left happy and our stomachs full, as we discussed our favorites of the fruits we tried. This brought me even closer to my friends because we tried this new and exciting experience together.

After returning, having a rest, then getting an orientation to our service projects in the community, we went on an adventurous night walk. Here we saw the Red Eyed Tree Frog and other interesting insects such as a cicada. This night hike was unlike any other we have done because we were not focused on the breathtaking views, but payed close attention to what was right in front of us. Previously our nature adventures involved looking at birds and animals, but tonight we focused mainly on insects, a very important part of the ecosystem. These insects, although sometimes pesky, are extremely beneficial. This time spent was eye-opening and created a greater understanding of these animals that we so often complain about. Today I learned new lessons and was continuously blown away by the beauty and history of Costa Rica. Being immersed in this culture, our group acquired a greater understanding of Costa Rica’s economy and culture.

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Costa Rica, June 18, 2019

Caitlyn

by Caitlyn Mihalik ’20

The day started off a little rainy and dark, but became very bright and hot as we started working. We went to a local school and started to help landscape the playground and brighten the area. A lot of hard work went into re-painting the playground, but it was worth it once we all finished the first coat and saw the finished product. We also got the chance to talk to and play games with the kids – and some of us tested our Spanish! We also made them laugh when we were unable to use Spanish as well as we would like. By visiting the school everyone’s spirits were lifted, and everyone left happy and eager to come back the next day to continue our work.

Later in the day, some of us set on the road today to get dropped off at our homestay families, and many people were very nervous. I was the first one to get dropped off, and although I was excited, I became a little nervous as I turned around and saw all the other people on the bus watching me leave. The family I stayed with greeted me with hugs and some of the best food I’ve ever eaten, and they were patient with me as I tried to my best to use the skills I learned in my Spanish classes over the past three years. Being able to truly communicate with the kids at the house and play with them made all of us very happy. As we shared laughs and facts about us, they quickly began to feel like my family as well.

The whole experience today felt very surreal, we got to live in a whole different life, and we able to witness how people in such a different country went to school and lived day-to-day life. It was very interesting to see the similarities and differences with what we call our own home.

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Costa Rica June 16, 2019

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By Lexie Osbourne ’20

Today was filled with adventure and a learning experience. We started the day with a great breakfast at Pachira Lodge then headed off on a boat to the Tortuguero National Park to explore the canals. This was a two-hour long boat ride through the canals learning about the species that live along the river. In total this national park is 50,000 acres of protected land established to ensure the safety of the wildlife which live there. The area is most known for green sea turtles, however, there are many other amazing animals in the area. We were able the see neotropical river otters, green iguanas, caimans, howler monkeys, a rat snake, a basilisk (“Jesus Christ” – because it walks on water) lizard, bare tiger herons, green herons, an anhinga bird, and northern jacanas, as well as, many different types of trees. One thing that stuck with me is how important the protection of the area is given there is a high density of various animals but a low concentration of them all. I truly appreciate how the community was able to come together to work on the goal of protecting their environment through eco-tourism. This community effort is so important and should be more widespread.

After lunch, we worked on the beach of the Caribbean side of Costa Rica and cleaned up the trash that could be injested by the animals. We were able to remove a lot of materials that could be recycled – we know because we sorted it all! Because it was Sunday, the recycling Center was closed, but we still wanted to make sure we were recycling, so we sorted the trash and left the recyclables outside of the recycling center in labeled bag. Even though this was a relatively small effort in the big picture, it still means a lot since we were able to help remove part of the problem. I did find it interesting that for an area that talks about protection of wildlife there was quite a bit trash. Whether that be from tourists or locals that don’t see the importance of not littering hopefully soon there can be more awareness to how harmful the trash can be. The Sea Turtle Conservancy is doing a great job of that and hopefully their amazing work gets further spread throughout the community.

During the beach clean I made a new best friend – a dog I named Marble. I met him on the beach and after the clean he followed me to stores and even to the boat that we were leaving from. He was so adorable, and I hope that someone takes care of him. It was so sad having to leave him since he was such a great addition to the trip. Later, we were able to walk through town to buy souvenirs and help the local community. The community is so beautiful and vibrate with colors and nice people. The visit to the canals and the beach clean-up has further showed me how important and beneficial taking care of the environment is. It will be very hard to go back to busy New York City since everything in Costa Rica has been amazing. I can’t wait to visit again and learn more.

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Costa Rica: June 15, 2019

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by Eden Jones ’20 

Hi everyone! My name is Eden Jones from the class of 2020, and I’ll be filling you in on today’s activities during our sixth day of the 2019 Service-Learning trip in Costa Rica. Today was a typical traveling day for everyone, with an early morning drive (early meaning 6:00 AM!!) from the town of Arenal to the port of the “Lucky River.” From there, we all boarded the boat, sailed through the river,  into the canal and headed towards the beautiful town of Tortuguero, located on the Caribbean/Atlantic side of Costa Rica.

Tortuguero is one of Costa Rica’s more secluded locations because it is only accessible by boat or plane. Also, tourists are not the only visitors to this amazing place. Sea turtles (five different species to be exact) arrive on the Caribbean shore of Tortuguero from the months of July to October. The females come to lay their eggs and begin the newest generation of sea turtles. The Sea Turtle Conservancy, along with the people of Tortuguero and aspiring marine biologists, assist in the protection of the young sea turtles by prohibiting poaching or abuse to the animals during their nesting period. During our visit to the Conservatory, we learned important facts about the protection of Sea Turtles, along with now the people of Tortuguero help to make a larger impact. Through todays experiences, myself and everyone on the service trip included dove deeper into understanding Costa Rica’s emphasis on Eco-Tourism and the importance of protecting the environment. Along with learning this, I personally felt a strong sense of community and safety while exploring the town of Toruguero. The store front owners and those watching soccer on the television greeted everyone with a “Pura Vida!” or a kind “Buenos Tardes.” Everyone on the service trip clearly had a smile on their face after our day trip to the town.

After, we sailed back to our hotel, the Pachira Lodge, and enjoyed our second meal together in Toutuguero. Overall, our service-learning trip to Costa Rica has opened a new door to the wonders of renewable energy, the happiness that Eco-Tourism can bring to people, and for me, a view of the world that I’ve never seen before.

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Costa Rica June 14, 2019

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by Urgen Sherpa ’20

What’s up yaw? Its Urgen Sherpa ’20 and I am your blogger for today. After spending the second night at Hotel Montana Monteverde, we sadly made our departure to our next stop, Arenal. However, prior to our departure, we were able to make full use out of what the hotel had offered us: Breakfast. To those who are not familiar with me, I typically eat a heavy breakfast to start my day right. Luckily, Hotel Montana was able to offer just that, a heavy breakfast. We then continued to our next stop, with a slight adjustment, that being the switch with bus drivers. Our beloved Ronald made an even earlier departure then our group in order to ensure the safe arrival of our luggage in Arenal. Thus, Antonio, our replacement driver, drove us to our next destination – Arenal. The journey was long, but scenic in every imaginable way. We drove up, down, left and right, passing by schools, churches, fields, mountains, and even “fresh” cows. Antonio’s determination was touched by everyone heart during the ride to Arenal. And we finally made it to Lake Arenal!

Upon our arrival to Lake Arenal, our group gave our regards to Antonio, and opened arms for a new mate, Carlos. Carlos, much like Antonio, contained the gushing determination that was touched by everyone during our boat ride through Lake Arenal. During the boat ride, our tour guide, Mario, began introducing key facts about Lake Arenal. I for one, took notes on his informational lecture and would like to share some of this notes that I took during our smooth boat ride. Did you know that Lake Arenal was a man-made lake, built in 1970 stretching over 34 square miles? And did you know that Lake Arenal produces 30% of the electricity used in Costa Rica daily? Lake Arenal is also known for its contribution towards Costa Rica’s hydroelectricity as it contributes around 70%. Lake Arenal is also home to wildlife such as, fish, otters, and caymans. Though the boat ride was smooth, I noticed that water levels in the lake were low. Mario stated that the decrease in water levels in recent years was due to insignificant amount of rainfall which is caused by the pressing issue of global warming. Mixed emotions were felt upon our arrival to the other side of Lake Arenal. However, the cooped-up emotion was disregarded when we met up with Ronald! With the help of Ronald’s astonishing driving skills our group then proceeded to our next destination, Hotel Arenal Paraiso, the hotel we are staying at right now. We ate lunch and then made way for our final stop during our day – a hike to the base of a volcano.

As we drove through the security gate, we made our way through the national reserve. We could smell the change in air as we drew closer to the volcano. Because the volcano is 1700 meters, it took time for our group to hike up to the lookout point. As we journeyed along the volcano, I took in some informational facts about the volcano. Did you know that it last erupted on July 29, 1968? The eruption formed about 5000 small craters along the volcano. And being that the eruption was somewhat recent, vegetation around the volcano is relatively new. Mario explained to us about the concept of Ecological War. And luckily, we were able to glance Ecological War at first hand. What does it mean? It means that species of plants compete with each other for space in the forests and we could see the tall grasses beginning to take over! After about 45 minutes into the hike, we made it to the summit where we were able to view the volcano (sadly, the top was in clouds all day) and Lake Arenal. As the hike came to an end we came back to our hotel. Which is where I began to start this blog. Pura Vida!

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Costa Rica–Last Night in Monteverde

by Kelly ’20

Howdy everybody! It’s Kelly ’20 with today’s blog post. Tonight is our second and final night in Monteverde and I’ll outline what we did our last day in the area, before we travel to Arenal. After a hearty breakfast, we traveled to the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve (which is run by the local high school!) where we helped carry gravel to prevent erosion on visitor pathways. Our two guides, Walter and Jackson (aka MacGyver), showed us the path that we were paving and then we got to work. We carried sacks over our shoulders on a windy path and eventually it began to rain quite hard. After working for a while, we were cold and wet, but after our work we returned to the forest with Walter and MacGyver to see the quetzal, a colorful and shiny bird with a very long tail. Although we did not see the male, we did get to observe the female leave her nesting box; the female is not as visually striking as the male since she is grey with some reddish orange markings, but she was still exciting to see. (Side note! Today I just realized that “quetzal” is etymologically linked to “Quetzalcoatl,” the feathered serpent of ancient Mesoamerica, so the bird’s name literally means “feather.”)

After eating lunch and resting for a bit, we traveled to Monteverde Friends School. In the 1950’s a group of 11 Quaker families moved here after four members of their community were jailed for refusing to serve in the Korean War. They chose to settle in Costa Rica shortly after Costa Rica abolished their army and began encouraging foreigners to settle the land. The Quaker families started around 30 farms, including a cheese factory – the Monteverde Cheese Factory, which still exists today! While at the school, some of us played a very informal game of volleyball with a soccer ball that we had found, which had left some gnarly forearm bruises by the time we entered the school’s Meetinghouse for a brief Meeting for Worship. A short shower of rain passed by while we were there and I found the sound and sight of it through the door to be both centering and calming. At the end of meeting, Walter (from GS) observed that the beams of the room weren’t held together by nails of screws, but by fitted joints and pegs, which was very interesting. I don’t know much about construction, but I do know that the walls and ceiling of that room were unique.

Then, we went to a bat forest exhibit, where a woman named Anna taught us about the types of bats that could be found in the region, told us how bats are beneficial to the environment, and showed us the bats that were cared for there. I loved her enthusiasm and her clear enjoyment of her job, so I asked her a lot of questions about different types of fruit bats, especially Flying Foxes, which are the largest type of bat in the world (and do not live in Costa Rica). She also brought out her two dogs at the end of the tour for some of us to pet. One of them was named Coffee, because “she looked like a little coffee bean as a baby.”

Overall, today was a groovy time, especially since things that I enjoy – linguistics and wildlife conservation – which I didn’t think had a connection, actually did. Likewise, I also have always loved bats, so seeing and learning more about them was very fun. I’m going to miss Monteverde immensely, but I did see some farmland for sale up here, so maybe I’ll move back – and as Kim suggested, maybe teach at the Friends School!

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Costa Rica, June 13

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by Catherine Tatum ’20 

Hi everyone! It’s Catherine Tatum ’20, today’s blogger. Right now, I’m typing this from the lounge of Montaña Monteverde Hotel, our hotel in Monteverde for tonight and tomorrow. We started the day by leaving our beautiful hotel in Guanacaste, Hacienda Guachipelin, and retracing our steps back towards Liberia Airport, stopping at a Walmart. There we picked up snacks, and Kim and Mario bought some beach towels for our service that day.

Today’s service was picking up trash at the Playa Hermosa (“beautiful beach”). At first sight, the beach looked pristine and we questioned whether there’d be much work for us there. But upon closer inspection, we found trash that often goes unnoticed or is misconceived as too small to be harmful – microplastics. These small bits of plastic are frequently consumed by marine animals like fish and sea turtles, and the accumulation of these plastics in an animal’s stomach and intestines can be fatal. We found these small bits strewn throughout the beach and did our best to pick up every piece we saw. When we think of the problem of plastics in the ocean, mostly larger pieces come to mind, like plastic bags or bottles. And while these are harmful, and we certainly found some of those, small pieces of plastic are just as deadly. In addition to these, my group found a bonfire of partially burned beer cans half-covered under brush. Shout out to Tracy Banfield (Kelly’s mom) for the extra work gloves! Before it was time for lunch, we got to play in the water a bit too, which was surprisingly salty to some of us.

We continued past the airport we arrived to make our way to Monteverde. This was a three-hour drive, with the chunk of time being a twisty, bumpy road up into the cloud forest in which Monteverde is located. The second shout out of this blog post goes to Ronald, our bus driver. Ronald was not fazed by the drop offs or the cars coming towards us from the other direction on the very narrow road. It was amazing to watch the climate shift as we moved from Guanacaste to the Pacific to Monteverde, going from a semi-dry forest to the beach and on to a cloud forest. The view from the bus ride was absolutely incredible, and if you check out our Instagram you’ll see some photos (or videos!) of that. Tomorrow we’re doing more service locally, but tonight we’re enjoying experiencing the climate of the cloud forest and seeing an incredible sunset.

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