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The McDermott Scholars Award covers all expenses of a superb four-year academic education at The University of Texas at Dallas, in concert with a diverse array of intensive extracurricular experiences, including internships, travel, and cultural enrichment.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

¡Pura Vida! says Alice!

Some education takes long hours of study and sleepless nights before an exam, another kind feels as easy as breathing. Learning Spanish in Costa Rica is most certainly the latter. My classes teach me the mechanics and vocabulary of Spanish, but living, traveling, and socializing with Ticos (Costa Ricans) allows my brain to breath in Spanish.

The majority of my time is spent in San Jose where I study at Veritas University (the exact opposite of UTD: art, language, and architecture are this school's strengths and it is common to see classes painting outside). I also live with a wonderful host family a short, though hilly walk from the university. Like any big city, San Jose is crowded with people and traffic and most Costa Ricans don't really like it. I enjoy calling San Jose my home base because there are buses to every part of the country. Since the entire country of Costa Rica can fit within Texas seven times, most beaches and volcanoes are within a five hour bus ride.

For my first three weekends the program I am in arranged excursions to Tamarindo, Arenal, and Manuel Antonio. These two beaches on the Pacific, Tamarindo and Manuel Antonio, are beautiful and have nearby national parks that protect some of the abundant wildlife of the country. Volcano Arenal is the most active volcano in Costa Rica and I was able to hike as close as people are allowed in order to take a Woosh picture. The clouds cover most of the volcano, but you can make out a faint outline. By the way the country is on the Pacific Ring of Fire, and I felt my first earth tremor during my first week abroad. The area around Arenal has spectacular waterfalls and hot springs that were quite enjoyable.

After my first month of Spanish classes came to a close I traveled around the country for a week making a slingshot route from the Caribbean Sea to the mountains of Monteverde to the Pacific of Playa Sámara.

On the Caribbean coast the language Patwa, a Creole English-based language, is widely spoken. One vendor in Puerto Viejo explained how some of the words are formed from a mix of English words. It is really fun to listen to, but is incomprehensible even to an English speaker.

Making my way back through the volcanoes outside of San Jose, I enjoyed a tour of a coffee company called Cafe Britt. Much of the monetary system of Costa Rica was formed from coffee trade, and after independence the government directly subsidized farmers to grow the college students' fuel. Illegal drugs may be smuggled through Costa Rica, but there is plenty of caffeine here to supply my legal addiction. The high altitude and volcanic minerals make this coffee delicious.

Traveling to the mountains of Monteverde and hiking the cloud forest of Santa Elena and then catching some waves (yes, this Texan has learned the basics of surfing!) in the most tranquil beach town of Playa Sámara was super fun because I could travel on the public buses and get away from the gringos of the group in the officially planned excursions.

Now that I am comfortable with traveling around the country (which was much easier to learn than in Ghana) I am excited about my upcoming month of continuing Spanish at Veritas University and then taking my knowledge on the road to some other beautiful places in Costa Rica.

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