Exchange Brings Novelty, Nostalgia to Thanksgiving

It was darnn chilly getting off that bus. Chillier than I expected or remembered for this time of year.  

Thankfully, my parents were waiting for me and had brought a winter jacket for me, knowing I wouldn’t fully acclimate for a few days.

I don’t normally come home for extended periods in November, however this time I’d brought an exchange group of high school students with me from Costa Rica. They’d stay with local families, visit schools and experience Wisconsin for a few weeks.

If I was having problems, these kids had to be hopeless. It’s one thing to come from Costa Rica, but their region brings out the extremes.  

Just for them to get to the airport is nearly six hours and they can almost get to Panama City faster. Only a few miles from the border with Panama, this region is low lying, hot, humid, and full of rainforests, farms, and minimal population.  

They were going to get a shock to their system from more than just the weather. They were in for experiences all across the board. And so was I.

After spending the first night with their host families, I was interested to hear their reactions.

There was the usual, “Wow, the family is so friendly.” or “The dog is so funny.” and of course the “IT’S SO COLD,” but there is always something that uniquely draws their attention. The most interesting comments I heard referenced having a lower-door freezer and the astounding dishwasher.

Freezers do exist in Costa Rica, but they are almost always upper door freezers, whereas unless you are upper-upper class, or an expatriate, a dishwasher is a complete luxury. They were amazed at its simplicity and the fact that you “don’t even get your hands wet.”

I silently chuckled to myself hearing those comments as I had never really noticed those differences before.  I then overheard one student saying he had been cold at night. I asked him if he had enough blankets and he said he wasn’t given any.  Hmm, that couldn’t be right.

cheesehead model
On Wisconsin!

I decided to follow up with the family, and they were just as puzzled. They said the bed had various sheets and blankets all tucked in.

All tucked in. All tucked in. That was it. The student had never thought to untuck the comforter and sleep under it.

After I thought about it, it made complete sense.

I know where I live in Costa Rica, I rarely need more than a light sheet to cover up with at night, and that is mostly to keep the mosquitoes off. I also know that bedrooms are more focal points of homes in Costa Rica.  

It’s not uncommon to walk into a home and have a bedroom right off the entrance. Because of this they will put comforters on the bed to dress it up and sleep on top of it with a light sheet.  

That’s exactly what happened and is why the student never bothered to untuck the bed!

Don’t get me wrong, these students were modern.  This was not like the Amish coming to the big city.

I’m sure they dominated their hosts in Snapchats per capita and could overwhelm absolutely anyone at the mall, especially since they happened to be in town for Black Friday.

In addition to that utterly American event, this group also got to experience Thanksgiving, a holiday that has no Costa Rican equivalent.

Due to school schedules, we had never been able to exchange during a holiday, and this is what families (and I) enjoyed the most. Having those extra days off really gave them a chance to get to know their student and was highly emphasized in their feedback.  

one inch snowman
Juuust enough snow…

The opportunity to sleep in, take in sporting events and visit family was an intended consequence families took full advantage of. They shared tons of Thanksgiving photos/videos, Badger football/hockey games, cheesehead modeling and the world’s largest snowman you can make with an inch of snow.

It was also a bit of a homecoming for me.  Thanks to the exchange students and their host families, I was excited to experience Thanksgiving as well.

I honestly can’t remember the last time I was home for Thanksgiving (probably 10+ years), and there were more than a few relatives surprised to see me.  I’m also rarely home for Christmas, so when I do visit, it’s typically not when people get together.

On my mom’s side, we were only missing my sister and cousin, which is probably the closest we’ve gotten in a long time to having everyone together. It’s no small feat when we span states, countries, and continents apart.

In all, I spent almost a month at home, which really only felt like two weeks. I could never quite shake the cold, I made a half-hearted attempt at raking leaves (if there is snow on the ground, that’s just embarrassing) and we narrowly missed a major snowstorm getting out of Chicago.  

Maybe November isn’t what it used to be, or maybe I’ve forgotten what it’s like, but hearing the stories from the families and exchange students brought a lot of novelty to the visit and provoked a lot of nostalgia.  

There might not be as much nostalgia for my next visit in late January, but there is already a winter jacket in my suitcase, and I look forward to the exchange students providing the novelty.   

-Dustin

Dustin is the director and founder of Costa Rica Frika.  Originally from Southern Wisconsin, he specializes in providing immersion experiences to/from Costa Rica via exchanges, volunteering and interning.

Cultural Exchange Brings Tingling Feelings to Life

AAAHHHH!!  Was the shriek I heard coming from the other side of the bushes.  This was no ordinary scream, as we were in an area surrounded by jaguars, pumas, and bobcats.  And by no ordinary scream, I mean it didn’t sound quite like an animal attack, but something else.  I rounded the corner to find my cousin, amongst other students, taken aback by the “massive” spider they had just spotted right outside the jaguar enclosure.    

For a group of Wisconsin teens on their first visit to Costa Rica, any creature would appear “massive” in fake spider on armcomparison to what they are used to seeing and this spider sure qualified.  Thankfully, they didn’t scream every time they saw a new insect/animal or they would have been hoarse by day two, but there was a lot of “new” for this group to take in.

Our spider encounter at the Costa Rican zoo we visited that day was just one of the many cultural experiences these students had over the course of their cultural exchange trip to Costa Rica.  When you add that to the cockroaches, gecko lizards, mutant mosquitoes and the occasional rat/mouse there’s already a lot to experience not even counting human interaction.  This was a very special group of exchange students as they had received Costa Rican exchange students in their homes January and would now live with the same students in Costa Rica.  

Over the course of two weeks, the students visited the host students high school, attended classes, participated in educational and recreational activities, and most importantly, were immersed into the Costa Rican culture.

When I talk about cultural exchanges, I always refer to “tingling” moments or sensations where cultural interaction is taking place, but there is no good way to describe the feeling as it is not something you can detect physically (unless you’re screaming).  What’s fascinating is everyone experiences these moments differently for a variety of reasons and there is no telling what their main take aways will be.

Observing these students over the course of the exchange I noticed a lot of these tingling moments. There were card games the US students shared and there was salsa dancing the Costa Ricans shared.  There was our trip to the capital city San José, punctuated be getting stranded (but not soaked) under a torrential downpour and a visit to the main central market of San José.  There was also the unique experience of living through a power outage in all of Central America.  Besides that, there were many great memories created on the other excursions such as the beach island trip, where Wisconsinites and Costa Ricans could be seen kayaking, playing volleyball, and having a good time chilling out in the jacuzzi.      

dave with host familyThe little things were also noted.  My cousin, for one, was relieved despite his limited Spanish, that there were still Costa Ricans that spoke naturally slow enough for him to understand.  There were also students very keen to pick up vocabulary and some carried around a notebook to be ready at a moment’s notice.  Even the teacher/chaperone had a list of different foods to try that was made for her by students at the high school.  (I was curious to hear from her what toad’s soup tasted like.)  

These were only the things that I could observed.  The other aspect of this trip was all the opportunities the students had on the weekends and evenings with their host families.  Even though we insisted the students only spoke Spanish when together, we could rest assured that they were being forced to try out the language while at home.  For the higher level students, this was their time to speak the language freely without feeling as if they were being graded.  For the lower level students this was their chance to see just how far they could get while having their host sibling as a backup should they get stuck trying to communicate something to their host parents.

For me (and them) it was a big accomplishment completing both stages of the exchange.  The only thing I’ve ever regretted about international travel was not starting sooner (and I started when I was 20).  These students now not only have the international cultural travel experience at a young age, but they also have international life long friends that will no doubt continue to be resources for them.  There was lots of sadness at the going away party, however I don’t foresee this being the last time they are together.     

I still keep in touch with my original host family from 11 years ago and rarely do I miss a celebration.  Even being fully integrated into my wife’s Costa Rican family doesn’t take away from that first experience and bond I’ll always have.  I visited a lot of countries after first coming to Costa Rica, but no matter how much I enjoyed the other places, it was never enough to overcome the experience I had from my first time in Costa Rica.  

The future is bright for these students as it’s anyone’s guess where this experience will take them.  I ended up in Costa Rica, however maybe they will never return to Costa Rica This exchange though will no doubt give them the confidence to take other risks putting them out of their comfort zone.  Let’s just hope those risks don’t involve jumping into a jaguar enclosure.  That would provoke one extraordinary scream.  

group photo at park

No Snow No Problem Winter Exchange

Wow, was this ever shaping up to be quite the cultural exchange.  After last year’s inaugural exchange, this year 50+ students and teachers from Costa Rica would brave a two week winter wonderland in Wisconsin in January, and after receiving consecutive weekend snowstorms in December, I assumed snow would be the least of our worries.

Fast forward to our 40 degree arrival and having to strain my eyes to pick out any recognizable snow banks as we pulled into the high school parking lot Friday night in Madison, WI.  Besides staying with a family and practicing English, snow was a key trip feature that had enticed students to come in the first place.  

Maybe they wouldn’t miss the snow (I sure wouldn’t) and I could smooth the disappointment by blaming global warming (assuming they believed that I believed it was real).  Luckily, there was a big enough distraction for the lack of snow, and that was the Presidential inauguration, which was happening the day we arrived.  

Students were quick to sprint into their families arms at the pickup, probably due to not having any winter clothes, but just as much due to the excitement of meeting the family. It couldn’t have been long before the topic came up though, as the town was abuzz with the Women’s march scheduled to happen the first full day the students were in town.  Those students that were interested were treated to an opportunity of a lifetime to see the march.

There is never not a good time for a cultural exchange, but there are times when exchanges are more necessary than others, and the next four years will definitively be important for cultural exchanges.  Especially with all the fake news and demeaning rhetoric, personal experience is going to end up being the only credible means to get an authentic view of the United States and its people.

So there was plenty to chat about our first weekend, but still no snow.  Wednesday was our big Chicago outing, so at least the huge skyscrapers could take our minds off the lack of snow.  At this point, we had

Drilling hole in ice
Luckily the ice was thick enough to drill holes in it?

had to cancel our sledding and move ice skating to indoor venues, which hadn’t bothered the students one bit, however I felt like we were letting them down.  Fortunately, there was some snow in the forecast for the Chicago trip, but nothing to get excited about, yet.

One thing I always joked with the teachers was how difficult it is to plan a snow day into the itinerary.  We had to assure that all our host schools would close for the day and then figure out how to rearrange the schedule to still get everything in around the snow day.  

Well sure enough, the day of the Chicago trip we began the day under a winter weather watch.  Our departure was scheduled for 6:30am and by 6am the first host school had already closed for the day.  That was great for those students, but I was still inclined to get them on the bus so they wouldn’t miss out on Chicago.  Then, about 15min later, Madison schools closed.  That knocked out another school and we only needed one more school to close for the trifecta.  Madison schools are one of those districts where they only close if they are expecting the worst, so based on that information I was ready to cancel the trip and send the remaining students to the high school to shadow, when the message board began lighting up signaling that their school had been closed too.

Snowman with girl
Poor man’s snowman

I don’t think anyone could have exhaled longer or more deeply than I did at that moment.  Gone was the necessity to make a tricky decision and potentially put students at risk, and I picked up a much needed catch-up day to re-confirm and re-arrange activities with the snow day having now been added to the itinerary.  I still found time to make a snowman and even do some shopping, but what was most satisfying was watching the photos come in of everyone out in the snow (of course, with me tucked in at home in front of a warm fire).

Thank goodness for the snow day, as it came right in the middle of the exchange and proved to be the only opportunity to catch our breaths.  The students didn’t need any downtime, but it was invaluable for the families and teachers.

The reactions from the visiting teachers were also very interesting as a lot of them had been to the United States before, but had gone to places such as Disney or New York, or went to visit Costa Ricans already living in the United States.  It was interesting because they already had experience, but having a family stay was completely new for them.  They saw a lot of things on their previous trips to the US, but didn’t have the chance to necessarily experience them.  For example, a host family treated our group to a bonfire and taught them how to make smores.  This was something that even if you had been to the US, you wouldn’t have experienced unless you were with a family.  Also, for being Wisconsin, the teacher’s hosts made sure they got to experience a brewery tour, which was definitively a novelty coming from Costa Rica.  

tshirt signing
Making memories

Thankfully, the snow day was a dream come true for everyone and we still managed to fit in most of our activities.  What really made the experience stick though were the going away parties.  At the parties you could really see how much the students and families had bonded over the two week experiences and they displayed their affection in various ways.  Some made banners to say good bye, one student put together a video of the experience, and everyone made sure to sign each other’s t-shirts as a going away momento.  

good bye poster
Time to say goodbye…

I addressed the families, but I didn’t have much to say.  By then everyone had created their own experience and at most I could do was recount what I had told the families at our pre-trip meetings in that the experience you will make on your own and no two experiences will be alike.  The “tingling” sensation that you get when you are sharing your culture impacts people in a variety of different ways and I couldn’t possibly give a blanket explanation that would cover everyone’s experience.

I’m super thankful for the families that opened their homes for this experience and I hope they will continue to communicate with their exchange students and encourage other families to take part in this experience.  We won’t get inaugurations nor snow storms every year, but in the end that won’t really matter, despite all the hype we give it.  What will matter is the experience itself and how it can impact one’s future.  

All home safe and sound, I can take another big exhale knowing I won’t have to worry about snow again till next year.

group of students
Cultural Exchange class, Winter 2017

This post was written by Dustin Dresser, director at Costa Rica Frika and winter exchange trip coordinator.  Dustin is from the Madison, WI area and now lives in Costa Rica with his Costa Rica wife.  You can read about the 2016 winter exchange here, and find out more about exchange opportunities here.

My First (Official) 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

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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

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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

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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.

Taking the Costa Rican out of Costa Rica

See you later San Ramon…..  Follow us the next two weeks as we take 11 Costa Rican students and 2 teachers on a cultural exchange trip to Wisconsin.  They’ll be visiting high schools and experiencing the best that Wisconsin winter has to offer.  Departing 80 degree Costa Rica at 5:30am and should see the snow by midday.  Should be interesting….

Without winter, it’s easy to start missing fall

Note: I grew up in Wisconsin, one of the colder places in the United States.  

Fall used to mean the beginning of the end.

As the mercury began to drop and the days began to shrink, it was a slow, steady countdown to the abominable winter that always awaited us.

For me, the leaves changing colors used to be the first signs of death. I always used to cringe upon opening the closet to look for my jacket and would curse in vain having to scrape the ice off my windshield.

The end of my high school football season was always a blessing in disguise, as it signaled the end of my required outdoor activities for the year. Winter was coming. Long johns, fires, lip balm, snow shovels… ugh.

To me, fall was just a little tease from winter, sprinkling in enough nice days with enough terrible days to remind us of the ever-approaching deep freeze. Even with the beginning of the holiday season and the weekly meetings around the TV to cheer on the Badgers or Packers, I always felt an emptiness, knowing these would be short-lived highs as there was no turning back the clock on old man winter.

But then I moved to Costa Rica.

It was never about the weather, of course; I wanted culture, language and sights. And living in a tropical climate was just a bonus.

Now that I live here year-round, I have developed an “outside looking in” perspective, and what I’ve realized is that if you take winter out of the equation, fall becomes the greatest cheesehead season there is.

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How often would you see this in Costa Rica?

Not only is it a nice buffer between my favorite and least-favorite seasons, it has so many traditions attached to those subtle changes in the weather and carries so many childhood memories.

And that makes me a little jealous sitting on the sidelines in Costa Rica.

Living in Costa Rica has meant more or less the same weather every day. Consistently good and tropical with the occasional rain.

That is good enough for me to brag to friends and family that 75 percent of the year, the weather is better than in Wisconsin. For the other 25 percent, it’s not that the weather in Costa Rica gets worse, but rather the lack of fall.

Umbrella or no umbrella is the only change you’ll recognize here, and the monotony of that, to an experienced snow-shoveler, takes some time getting used to. When it is fall up north, it is the heart of the rainy season here. It is not by any means an apocalypse, but we receive heavy thunderstorms almost daily and the roads deteriorate faster than a stick of butter on an open stove.

I can’t complain about the heat and sun, but I do miss the climatic and environmental changes, along with the traditions of fall.

Every fall my biological clock gets flipped on its head. I don’t know what is more awkward, trick-or-treating in shorts or eating turkey without a wearing a sweater vest. The other day, I helped put Christmas ornaments on a palm tree.

Yes, a palm tree.

And Monday Night Football en Español? Well let’s just say I would rather watch the game on mute than learn how to say (much less explain), “intentional grounding,” in Spanish. Ex-pats have tried to bring fall traditions with them to Costa Rica and as much as they try, they just can’t be replicated.

I’ve stopped trying and am now figuring out how to fill the void. I think that’s part of the problem.

Nothing of great nature happens from September through November. Many people are flat broke from summer vacations and are trying to save money for the Christmas season. By law, they are required to receive a year-end bonus, but that doesn’t get paid until December.

There is also a lot of anticipation for the rains to end so the harvest season can begin and resupply the world with fresh coffee. Needless to say, there is a lot to think about during those rainy afternoons.

Once a sign of death, the beautiful September foliage now paints every hillside in my imagination. Grabbing that jacket from the deep ends of the closet? Duh, it’s gotta be football season. Scraping the ice off the windshield? At least I won’t have to mow the lawn anymore this year.

Maybe it’s easier to see the brighter side of fall knowing that I won’t be there for the ensuing deep freeze.

Last year my timing was perfect. I got to spend the better part of October and November in Wisconsin, and I felt shame. Like a corrupt politician splurging on a yacht with taxpayer money. The day before I headed back to Costa Rica, we received our first substantial snowfall of the year.

The pre-Costa Rica Dustin would have rolled over in bed and willed a profound sleep until May, but this year I was content as ever. I could have been the first one out making snow angels.

With old man Winter out of the way, I could finally embrace fall and usher in the onset of winter.

Costa Ricans in Wisconsin: Focus on the little things

ticos4thAfter curiously perusing the aisles of Miller and Son’s supermarket, the Costa Rican crew settled on some familiar cans of pop and headed for the check out.  They bought the drinks and just as they were about to leave, one of them remembered to ask the cashier for straws.

“The straws are located in aisle 10.” She replied politely.

There was an awkward pause punctuated only by the beeping of the check out machines where the cashier may have been thinking: “Why did he ask for straws after he paid?” while the Costa Ricans were definitely wondering “Why won’t she just give me a straw?” In Costa Rica, when you buy a can or bottle of pop at the supermarket, they usually give you a complementary straw. After talking up the friendly, hometown service at Miller’s, this was a difficult one to explain and it was one of many among other surprises my Costa Rican family would encounter on their 10-day quest through the Midwest.

I first began traveling to Costa Rica in 2006 and after experiencing the hospitality and kindness of the Costa Ricans, it has always been my dream to share that same experience with a Costa Rican in Wisconsin.  That dream became a reality last fall when guest writer Bernal Blanco shared his one month experience in Verona.  This time, however, would be different.

In January, I married my lovely Costa Rican wife. I knew I was marrying into a large family, but  wasn’t exactly sure of its proportions.  I found out fast as word got out that my wife and I were planning a trip to Wisconsin.I had invited the in-laws, but before long aunts, uncles, and cousins came calling to see if they could get in on the experience too.  In the end, there were eight of us and a ten-month-old infant.

I’m sure this had a lot to do with safety in numbers.  Costa Ricans are known to travel in packs. To given you an idea, San José – the capital city of Costa Rica – is 60 minutes by bus from San Ramon and my 27 year old wife has never gone there by herself.  If she can’t go with her parents or a friend, she won’t go. The majority of our family travelers didn’t have passports and had never been on a plane before. As you can see, telling someone here that they don’t get out much really takes on a whole new meaning.

The “pack” mentality became apparent when we decided to cram all of us into one large vehicle to visit Minnesota instead of dividing up into two comfier cars and even more apparent when the whole group spent one gleeful night on air mattresses in my parent’s living room.  For them seeing the sights, hearing the sounds, and smelling the smells—- both good and bad—- together, are what makes the experience special for them.

I knew this coming in and I had repeatedly pledged to keep the trip simple. We did spend close to 10 hours in Target and Walmart and we may be responsible for the uptick in sales at the Verona St. Vincent de Paul store, but even I overestimated when purchasing water park tickets for the group.

I had envisioned screams of fear and excitement as they experienced the water park rides, but in reality, I was only able to get half the group to go into the water. The other half were content hanging out at the hotel and relaxing.  I even got passes to the indoor/outdoor water park so they couldn’t say it was too cold outside, but nonetheless, my raging river idea went over a little more like a trickling stream.  I soon realized that I had been going for the big impression when they were looking for the little things.  Watching the squirrels run around

xinia mower
She’s a natural…

the yard, seeing the ducks at the park, and riding our lawnmower were just some of the small details that they really enjoyed.

For them, the most fascinating mystery of my hometown was how anything survived the winter.  Being from a tropical country where plants bloom year-round, they were particularly perplexed by this dormant period. “Where do the squirrels and birds go?  Do you have to replant the grass every year?  What about the farm animals?  What about the cows? Does their milk freeze?”

What about the cows? Well, a trip to Wisconsin wouldn’t be complete without a dairy farm visit.  Cattle and dairy farming are very common in Costa Rica and if you have even 15 cows, We took them to a local farm where approximately 600 cows are milked three times a day and I was finally able to impress them with something BIG. The level of efficiency, organization, and calculated production that happens in our local agricultural industry is something that doesn’t exist in Costa Rica.

In the end, the little things always win us over. Seeing the awe and appreciation for our small corner of the world through the eyes of my Costa Rican in-laws was definitely the best part and even if they couldn’t get straws at the supermarket, they had the experience of learning to drink from a can.