All Abroad: My Immersion Experience (Guest Speaker)

I couldn’t believe I was actually doing this.  The plane had just touched down in San José, Costa Rica and here I was, all by myself with my life packed into two little roller bags about to exit customs and head out into the unknown.  I was met with the blur of what seemed like a thousand paparazzi shouting at me, hands in the air, waving signs and trying to get my attention.  I was dumbfoundedly looking around for my name, when all of a sudden a man came up to me, said something very fast and proceeded to grab my bags and walk away…

As they say “the rest was history”, or was it?  To hear inspiring personal travel abroad stories, cultural immersion experiences, and exchange anecdotes, join or invite Dustin to speak to your group/schoolperson with 2 dogs.

Speaking dates are available year round (virtual) and in person dates are subject to availability.

Upcoming in person speaking opportunities in Wisconsin:

Oct. 24th – Nov. 3rd, 2016

Jan. 23rd – Feb. 1st, 2017 (exchange groups)

For more information contact us

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Why not Embrace Monolingualism?

Author’s note: About a month ago I shared a piece written by my sister as it related to something I’m quite familiar with in Costa Rica.  Her thoughts were spot on and I totally thought the same, that learning languages opens up a whole world of opportunity (especially if you have to learn English).

I got to thinking though, and began to ponder, however, just what the world might be like if there was only one, universal, language.  This post started off as a fun, light-hearted jab at all the promotors of bilingualism (myself included).  However, the more I got into to picking arguments to justify the contrary, they didn’t seem as far fetched as I’d imagined.  I’m not sure I sold myself on the monolingual platform (languages are just too fun not to have) or if I’ll convince you, but it is interesting to analyze what a mono-world might look like.  Discussion/comments welcome 🙂

The first time I heard the term “monolingualism” used in the noun form (-ism ending) was about a month ago in this very same space.

It wasn’t a surprise that the author, my sister, would use a high-register, lexical term to send me running to the dictionary to find out what I was missing.  In promoting not speaking one language, she opened the proverbial “can of worms” in my head. Needless to say, there are two sides to every story, and even though we both chose to live in diverse, Spanish speaking countries, it seems we should be able to bend on the language aspect.

I’m not sure we really need more languages in our life.

If we break down the word “mono-lingual-ism,” we’ll find the prefix “mono” in Spanish translates to monkey.  If you’ve ever been in a forest and witnessed a pack of monkeys passing overhead, you’ll see they have it pretty good.

The alpha leads the pack and watches for predators while the mothers follow behind with their young ones. There is plenty of monkeying around for the teens and the noises they make are mostly squeals of varying degrees, but the understanding is there. Rarely do you see a monkey away from its troupe.

In all seriousness though, if monkeys can do it – and they’re close relatives to humans – there’s no reason we shouldn’t be able to all agree on one language.

Think of the possibilities. Travel would instantly open up to all parts of the world and the connections made would be a lot more meaningful. No longer could someone rule out the Basque country because they don’t speak Euskera, and think how much more you could learn about another culture being able to understand it without relying on a filtered translation?

There would probably be fewer wars, and not that my mother-in-law would be interested, but at least she could knowingly nod in agreement when the Macy’s lady at the mall asks her if she would like to apply for a Macy’s card. She could even respond “Thanks, but no thanks.”

And with that, I think I just stumbled upon the economical ramifications of monolingualism.

Imagine all the business that could be done with one language. Granted, you could argue that this already exists with English being the proclaimed the world’s business language, but imagine being able to launch marketing campaigns in any country without having to translate.

Right now, if you want to see “The Conjuring 2” but happen to be in Costa Rica, you’ve got a problem. It’s bad enough you aren’t sure if it’s /kan/ or /kon/ -juring in the English pronunciation, but then think of the shame and possible humiliation trying to ask for tickets to “El Canjuro Dos.”

Besides that, it would be great to do away with all subtitles and horribly dubbed TV shows/movies. Remember when Psy broke YouTube with “Gangnam Style”? Just imagine how many more views it would have had if the lyrics could have been understood by more than 1.2 percent of the world’s population.

According to vistawide.com, there are approximately 71 million Korean speakers in the world, but at latest count “Gangnam Style: has just under 2.6 billion views on YouTube. There’s a simple explanation for how that has brought so many people to the same place: Music, like numbers, is universal.

Everyone can understand music, and apparently if the beat is catchy with a dash of humor and/or goofiness, you can reach billions. YouTube would argue the same, as 28 of the 30 most viewed videos of all time are music videos. So if music can unite us universally, language should, too.

If you aren’t born with the preferential language, you face an uphill battle to get it, and the costs can be quite high. Even in Costa Rica, a country that teaches English K-12, most students graduate shaky at best. What’s even more concerning though is that knowing English is not even enough.

A few years ago, San Ramon was buzzing because a new call center had just opened and had tons of positions to fill. Even I was excited, as this could be a potential job opportunity for me. But when I went to the job fair to get more information, I was astonished to hear the starting salary: just barely more than the required minimum-wage pay per month.

So applicants were basically better off cleaning bathrooms at a public institution and not spending their money on language classes.

Let’s face it: We’ll all have to have the world’s language as soon as we can. You shouldn’t waste time being taught the language in a classroom. Literally, you need to be born with it, because speaking it alone won’t get you ahead. You also have to be able to do something with it.

So instead of arguing against monolingualism, let’s argue for a world language. It won’t be easy, but maybe there’s some combination of singing and gestures that can unite us all in common understanding.  I nominate Psy and a pack of monkeys to get to work on it.

This Week in San Ramon….

Some observations around town the past week or so…

Tractor parked on city street

Tractor parking downtown San Ramon

I know you are thinking how dumb can this guy be for parking on yellow?  Well that isn’t a concern for anybody here, notice the van parked facing oncoming traffic?  My guess is he ran out of compost for his coffee plants and decided to drive into town to get it rather than pay for a truck to come out and deliver.  While in town he probably spotted a friend and pulled over to have coffee with them.

 

Biker-dog gang on the streets of SRMotorcycle dog

You should probably keep your dogs at home, at least on a leash, unless you want problems with this little guy.  Known to cruise the streets and frequent the park on the weekends, he’s as tough as they come.  Although, he keeps a pretty straight face whether going 0mph or 50mph.

 

Friendly squirrels at the park

These little love squirrels put on quite the show at the park.  Ahhh, to be young and in love.  They seem pretty content and hopefully the won’t get hassled by the biker dog gang.

squirrels on treesquirrels on tree

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Gods love San Ramon

I can count the number of times I’ve seen a rainbow on my hands and never would have imagined I’d witness a double rainbow, but stranger things have happened.  This picture doesn’t quite capture how we saw it live, but it has been a good luck charm for us since the day we saw it.

Double Rainbow

 

Reminds me of the time I witnessed this in La Fortuna:

Sky divided

 

Grade school kids receive scholarships

Congratulations to the second semester scholarship recipients in San Ramon!  The Community Action Alliance of San Ramon organizes English conversation groups throughout the year and the proceeds go to a scholarship fund to help K-12 students purchase school supplies for each semester.  Students receive vouchers to redeem at select retailers for school uniforms, shoes, and school supplies.  Find out more about the Community Action Alliance and the education committee’s scholarship program.
Scholarship dispersement

Eradicating Monolingualism

This is a special guest post from my sister, Ashley.  She rarely writes about Costa Rica, but this topic touches a wish that is prominent in Costa Rica (and one that I can totally relate to too).

Monolingualism.

The first time I heard the word I thought it was some kind of disease,

although this probably had to do with the way it was pronounced to me. Europeans, in

particular, tend to let it escape from the back of their throats in that same gently

horrified tone that one uses to talk about leprosy or syphilis. Monolingualism! they

gasp, The poor thing will have to be sent to the nun’s convent. Or Monolingualism?! You

should really get that checked out.

In the Basque Country of Spain, where I live, monolingualism was never even a

tangible threat. One could argue that it had its heyday during the rule of Spain’s

dictator, Francisco Franco, but Spain’s regional languages never really went away,

they just moved to being spoken behind closed doors. Nowadays, many parts of Spain

are trilingual – a regional language (such as Basque), Spanish, and English being the

languages of instruction in school. Multilingualism is the norm for many schools

across Europe and while it’s not always easy to find a utopia balance, most agree that

it is certainly better than a monolingual upbringing.

As a foreign language teacher, I often hear: “I wish we didn’t have to learn so much

languages,” (so much instead of so many, because I’m direct quoting here), but I’ve

never heard anyone say that they wished they only knew one. Furthermore, my

students frequently enjoy complaining about monolinguals and Americans above all.

While not all of us Americans suffer from this troubling malady, enough of us do that it

has become our established international stereotype. In reality, we aren’t even the

only country guilty of being monolingual, but as I’ve been schooled in more than one

classroom discussion, we just happen to be the most annoying. Not only are most

Americans blissfully monolingual, but we also appear to have the nerve to obligate the

rest of the world to learn our language if they want to secure any longstanding

economic opportunities.

I frequently remind my determined, but often tired English learners that most

Americans are not personally hell-bent on ruining others’ lives with their language.

Myself, as their teacher, being the exception. The rest of us are too busy eating fast

food and buying firearms. (They laugh.) But in reality, our lingua franca has more to

do with luck and politics than personal vendettas. Before, it was French, now it’s

English, and our children will probably be learning Chinese. Would anyone like to try

their hand at Chinese? I ask them. Silence.

However, even though I owe the majority of my international career success to the

fact that English is the current lingua franca, I would argue that this is both a blessing

and a curse. Monolingualism might not be a disease, but it is a severe handicap and we

should be working hard to eradicate it from our country. Because unless we require

all of our citizens to go about the monumental task of acquiring another language, we

will never fully understand the insurmountable effort that our counterparts are

making, year after year, to communicate with us. And that deeper understanding and

appreciation for this effort is fundamental to our survival and respectability in a

global society. Language learning must work both ways.

The good news is, we are getting better. On one of my annual visits home to Verona, I

was delighted to see that my former elementary school had taken steps to post

signage in both English and Spanish and that bilingual programs are very much alive

in the school district. However, there is still a lot of work to be done in actively

encouraging a multilingual ideal outside of the school environment.

It isn’t enough to take a crash course on a foreign language in university or show off

your Spanish food vocabulary at a Mexican restaurant. Nor can we claim to be a

multilingual nation just because “many languages are spoken”, when those languages

are predominantly used only by those who consider it to be their native tongue.

Tolerating foreign languages is simply not the same as actively speaking one in your

daily life.

Well beyond just another school subject, the ability to speak a foreign language is

perhaps the most powerful resource available to us. It teaches us humility, because

when you are suddenly stripped of a skill that you’ve had nearly since birth and

handed a blank slate, you must swallow a lot of pride. It pushes our patience, because

fluency is a lifelong journey. It doesn’t happen overnight and you don’t “learn a

language” and then know it forever; you have to maintain it. It even helps our

creativity to flourish, because we’re forced to find new ways to convey our message.

Most importantly, a multilingual society builds solidarity between cultures. Taking the

time to learn a foreign language is perhaps the most authentic gesture of goodwill. It

says, quite simply: “I care about you and where you come from.” It’s the perfect design

for mutual respect that I experience every time I rattle something off in Spanish and

receive the reaction: “Wow, where did you learn your Spanish?” and I respond, “Right

here. From you. Because I wanted to learn and you took the time to teach me.”

-Ashley writes about travel with her husband on her own blog http://www.elbigmonday.com, but obviously, could write about anything, including Costa Rica sometimes.

 

Taking the Scenic Route to Tortuguero

tortuguero boat dock

I swung myself up over the side of the narrow ten passenger boat, that would take me into the unknown or at least to “the lesser known.”  The boat wobbled unevenly as I made my way to my seat and I immediately noted the absence of life jackets and paddles, as well as the beer in the hand of our “captain” as he fired up the engine.  It was 9AM and this was already shaping up to be a ‘Captain Ron’ experience.  He had all his eyes but less teeth than Grampa Simpson. 

It's not that difficult to get there.....
It’s not that difficult to get there…..

In all my time in Costa Rica, I have stuck to visiting places that can be reached by car and maintain some resemblance of civilization.  This time, however, I wanted a little more adventure.  I had always heard about Tortuguero, a small community on the northern Caribbean coast. It was in the middle of nowhere or as the locals say, “the anus of the world”. Therein lies Tortuguero’s appeal: its proximity to the ocean and the surrounding rainforest, and the fact that it is only accessible by plane or boat.  I would soon

realize that just the journey to Tortuguero alone would highlight the trip.

The journey to get to the boat had started in the capital city of San José on paved roads and then continued through a side-winding, hair-raising mountain pass. The route forms a part of a majestic national park, but the scenery is difficult to enjoy when you have to be prepared for landslides, rain, fog, or a broken down vehicle at every turn.

After a couple near misses, we came down the mountain pass and hit the hot and sticky  Caribbean lowlands.  From there the towns became fewer and fewer, the paved road eventually dissipated into gravel, then dirt, and finally, we were at a small boat landing in the middle of a banana plantation.

We pushed off from the boat dock and made our way down a narrow waterway with the rainforest

See the croc?
                                    See the croc?

teeming on all sides, muddy waters, and crocodiles sunning themselves on the shore. The waterway was littered with rocks, trunks, and submerged tree branches. Some of the trunks that had been brought to shore had tribal faces carved into them, almost as if to warn the boaters of their trespassing.  From the incessant Cicada bugs to parakeet canopy chatter, the sounds were amazing…  The only thing not Jurassic about this experience were the missing dinosaurs.

Everything was going well until we had to make a tight pass between two tree trunks.  Our boat was about halfway through when there was a big clunk and the motor killed.  An eerie, dead silence shuddered through the boat. The casual chatter came to an abrupt halt.  We were stopped dead in our tracks, no paddles/lifejackets, and muddy waters with who knows how many predators.   I was recalling the tribal carvings and wondering if this was a trap when I heard a splash.  Our “captain” had just abandoned ship.  Maybe he knew something we didn’t know? 

Instinctively, I was waiting for an ensuing crocodile attack, however, the captain emerged the splash, standing in water that was barely knee deep.  How could this be?  We had just seen Jesus Christ lizards that could run on the surface of the water, but this was unprecedented. Was he an X-men living in exile? He must be on a tree branch or something, I thought, but then he walked right up along side the boat and began washing the place where the clunk had happened.  “I don’t like it when they critique me.” he chuckled, as he passed by on his way to the front of the boat, whereas as if were the routine, he grabbed the front of the boat and pulled us through the rest of the pass.

What could possibly be in that water??
         What could possibly be in that water??

After a while it turned into a guessing game as to how he would navigate the hazards.  I began to notice how he instinctively stayed away from the sandy side of the canal and kept us close to the rocky edge.  You could tell he had some experience, or at least instincts when it came to this waterway.  I’d find out later that the water level was at a record low, and that only suffering one engine killing clunk was actually pretty impressive. 

Shortly after that, we exited the narrow waterway and entered a more traditional river way.  We began to notice scant signs of civilization along the banks which were mostly boat landings surrounded by a few homes on stilts.  We pulled into one of the landings to drop off some passengers and the silence was deafening.  There were no noisy motorcycles, or loud busses that I had grown accustomed to in my town.  There was peace and quiet.  This would continue as we made our

Tiny towns...
                                       Tiny towns…

way to Tortuguero, with the exception of a few single engine fishing boats, we were the only ones making a wake.  The fisherman all used canoes and the most sophisticated ones had small electric motors to drift in and out of the river inlets and marsh areas.

When the captain docked us in Tortuguero, we could all let out a sigh of relief, this officially concluded our adventure for the day.  I cherished that sigh as I knew it would only last a few days until we got back on the boat to journey out of Tortuguero and back to the paved land. 

Tortuguero itself was rather boring in comparison to the arrival.  Here are some pictures from the stay:

IMG_2637
           Like I said, a relatively boring town
IMG_2643
                               Tortuguero beach
IMG_2645
         Night critter in downtown Tortuguero
IMG_2663
                        Main Street
IMG_2686
                  Getting gas for the boat
IMG_2692
        Power lines over the river, only source of                                      electricity for town
IMG_2696
                             Welcome man?
IMG_2665
       When you reach the end of the                                 trail….

Rebel Cattle Herding in Costa Rica

(Note: I really wish I had some pictures to go along with this post.  You’ll have to use your imagination to get an idea as to what was really going on.  Most days I go for a casual walk/run and don’t end up on wild goose chases.)

One of the great things about San Ramon being a fringe town (‘fringe’ being that it is far enough away from the big city to not be plagued by crime and safety issues but close enough to not get bored ex. has a food court, a shopping (s)mall and a movie theater) is that the countryside is not far and a 5 minute walk outside my front door puts me into the rolling foothills amongst sprawling coffee and sugarcane plantations.

It was a lazy Saturday morning and I needed some air so my wife and I decided to journey into the plantations and do a little exploring.  My wife’s uncle had just purchased 2 cows that he had planned to raise as beef cattle.  He had purchased an expensive breed and had proudly brought them to the family farm, nestled in amongst other family farms, forests and some residential homes.  What he hadn’t anticipated was how rebellious they could be.  After locking them into their corral Thursday evening he returned Friday morning to find one missing.

He immediately called my mother in law worried as there was no noticeable damage done to the corral to indicate the cow had forced itself out.  Maybe it had jumped the fence?  Maybe a crime ring looking to satisfy the prime rib black market had come by?  It was all so strange because in either scenario why would there still be one cow left?

With that on our mind our walk through the plantations took on a new objective.  At every clearing we combed the landscape for a lonely cow and every piece of excrement we encountered required in depth examination.  We even had to keep our dog from getting to far ahead of us in order not to disturb any possible footprints.  Despite our efforts we saw no trace of the renegade cow and dejectedly headed to the corral to complete our walk.  As we were approaching there was a neighbor’s sugarcane plantation to our right.  March is prime harvest time for the sugarcane and this field had just been cleared giving us excellent visibility.  I was half-heartedly scanning the field when I saw a head bob right at the edge of the plantation where it meets the forest.  It was almost as if the cow was actually trying to hide itself as the second I paused and focused on her, she froze instantly.

We were still a good 60 yards away and had no way of corralling her so we decided to short way back to the corral and deliver the good news to my wife’s uncle.  When we arrived though we were greeted by a different scenario.  The uncle wasn’t there, the gate to the corral was badly damaged and worst of all there were now no cows in the corral at all.  Turns out we were only saving our uncle from a second major headache as we had found the second cow which everyone to this point had assumed had not escaped.

Just then the uncle came out from the nearby forest cussing up a storm and not even our news seemed to calm him one bit.  He just seemed to snarl and say “Well come on, what are you waiting for, let’s go get the cow!”  If that didn’t tell me I was family now, I don’t know what will.  So off we went the three of us, with two of us having absolutely no experience herding any type of farm animal much less one that was predisposed to run from us.

So the plan seemed pretty simple, we would separate around the cow and then attempt to converge on it and funnel it back towards the corral.  Our first attempt failed as I apparently failed to maintain edge containment.  I thought I was doing a pretty good job but I guess needed to be faster on the edge, and he let me know “CORRA! CORRA!” (Run! Run! explicative, explicative….).  It reminded me of working with my father when I was younger and him getting frustrated with me when I just couldn’t visualize the objective he was after even though it was second nature for him.  I had to bite my tongue to keep from laughing at the predicament we were in as I honestly didn’t know what I could have been doing better.  Eventually the cow tired and we were able to get a lasso on her and lead her back to the corral.  Unfortunately we still had the missing cow and a damaged gate.

This is where a picture is worth a thousand words.  Not knowing what to do about the gate but having rope and some wood planks at our disposal we put together the most makeshift gate together you’ll ever see.  I thought I would be in for a treat observing how a Costa Rican cowboy gets by in the wild but we ended up putting up and taking down the temporary gate three times before we found a design that would keep the cow from getting out.  It wasn’t pretty but did the job.  I guess not everything is second nature when it comes to farming.

A few days later the other missing cow magically showed up back at the corral on her own.  I’m not sure if she planned to do this or maybe she just got bored wandering around the farms.  The next day my wife’s uncle took them back to the auction and sold them.  If I had to guess I’d say he’s learned his lesson about this breed and that there might be a very good reason as to why they are more expensive than your average cow.  Luckily, neither cow got injured or stolen while they were out on the town.

Thanks to living in a fringe town my walks are able to cover not just urban areas but also nearby rural zones which can be quite diverse.  I’ll have to be on lookout the next time I go out as you don’t always find the things you are looking for but rather find/discover things when you’re not looking for them.

My First (Offical) Cultural Exchange

cultural exchange shirt with signatures

I was excited for the 1:30am wake up call.  It didn’t matter much since the anticipation was so great to begin with I knew I wasn’t going to sleep much anyways.  Today was day 1 of the Costa Rica – Wisconsin high school exchange.  18 hours from now we’d be in a snow frosted parking lot, temperatures in the teens, and students darting off the bus into their host families arms not only to greet them after months of emails and phone calls but to receive hats, gloves, and winter jackets, all scarce in the tropics.

For me this was a homecoming exchange in the fact that my alma mater and hometown was playing host to this exchange.  With them providing the families that would adopt the visiting students for the next two weeks and inviting them to school for a few days, the exchange had its firm foundation from which to work from.  Even my parents were delighted to be hosting their son and daughter in law for two weeks.  From there students could explore their surroundings and see all that snowy Wisconsin had to offer.  It didn’t take long for us to hit the ground running.

Just our second night we hosted a welcome event for the exchange families and community to come together and get to know the students.  Very few anticipated the number of interested community members that would turn out for this event and almost

IMG_2516
Big news for small town 🙂

no one expected the local newspaper to be there taking pictures and interviewing.  I was however very proud of the group as they showed no fear in making a small presentation about Costa Rica to the audience and even treated them to a mini salsa recital.

 

With cultural exchange activities and English language practice being our objectives we took in everything I’d been lacking since my childhood and then some.  Sledding and ice skating were at the top of our list but even activities such as ice fishing were prominent memories for the group.  And by group I include myself and a lot of the host parents/siblings as not all of us grew up ice fisherman. We pretended to stand on the ice and look knowledgeable during the demonstration to not lose face in front of the students.  Between these events, schools visits and family time the experience ended up turning into one of a lifetime.

I couldn’t help but notice the bonding going on between the local and visiting students.  Watching them explain how to skate or how to get maximum velocity on a sled was emblematic of the whole experience.  Every day the students would get together to share stories and funny experiences they had.  The amazement of the lack of rice and beans present in a Wisconsinites diet, the wonderment of how cows stay warm in the winter and how ice could form so strong that someone could walk on it, let alone drive a car on it were just some of the conversations had between students and their hosts.

Some people wondered why we chose to come in January.  Costa Ricans know what summer is all about but why not choose spring, or fall?  Well to begin with we were limited

IMG_2456
First time for everything!

due to the summer break in Costa Rica being Dec/Jan but to find the most diversity and biggest departure from the norm winter is what it has to be.  None of the Costa Ricans had seen snow before this trip and I don’t feel a bit of regret facilitating this experience.  Wisconsin does not have coffee plantations, volcanos, rainforests, or beaches that are within an hours drive of each other so we have to get creative with own nature and natural beauty.  Sure you’ll find a big enough cultural difference but the difference in climate is literally the icing on the cake of a winter exchange to Wisconsin.

 

I don’t believe the impact of this experience really set in until it was actually over.  We had gotten into this routine and we felt like it was never going to end.  But it did and the realization was almost instant.  When we boarded the bus to head back to the airport my

IMG_2536
Who could forget this?

phone began to explode with host parents and students expressing their gratitude and happiness with the experience.  As that was going on the Costa Rican parents were anxiously messaging us about travel plans and flight arrivals. 14 hours after bidding farewell to Wisconsin the students were back in the arms of overjoyed parents.

 

I think back now to the first meeting I had with parents in the fall and all their quizzical looks and even the parent who point blank asked me if I had children (I don’t).  Leaving that meeting casted some doubt on how I could ever convince a parent it was safe for them to send their child with me to a foreign country and to stay with a family they had never met before.  I could stand before them and give as much assurance as I could but until I have my own no one is really giving me the benefit of the doubt which is why host families make the exchanges so magical.

Whenever I talk to students and host families I can’t stress how important they are in the success of an exchange.  Months and years later a student doesn’t remember falling while ice skating or building a snowman but they do remember who they were with.  You might go on vacation or take an educational tour but there is no better way to learn about the place you are visiting than experiencing it with a local.  These bonds, created with the goal of learning one’s culture stay with us much longer than a week spent at an all inclusive resort where asking for a cerveza from the wait staff qualifies as culture.

With technological advances students and families can live the experience through each other, even if they are not actually on the exchange.  Every school we visited and every

IMG_2538
Hi mom, I’m on Wisconsin!

activity we did there was an opportunity to snap a photo and share it with all of the Costa Rican parents.  Watching a hockey game, participating in class, or even eating at food court, parents were able to see what we were up to and that was very reassuring for them.  Combining that with the pre-trip communication they had with their host family via email and video calls everyone felt confident with the trip and this was the backing I needed to convince parents my empty nest was not a cause for alarm.

 

At the end of the two week whirlwind trip I could have slept through four alarms having maxed out all the energy in my body.  As I write this now a month has gone by since the exchange ended and recalling all these fond memories provokes the same excitement all over again.  This inaugural exchange couldn’t have gone better and I’m hopeful to carry over these positive vibes to many more exchanges in the future.