Chapter 1: The Quest for Pura Vida

The First Week of School; More Terrifying Than Kindergarten

So my mom was complaining that I haven’t posted in a while, but I must have adventures to be able to write about them, so that’s my excuse.

It may seem a bit premature to write about my first week of classes on Wednesday, but technically the week’s over for me.  I only have real classes Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday, and this Thursday is a national holiday in Costa Rica.

Whew, I’m so glad there’s a holiday.  I needed the break.

But really.

On-campus traffic.
On-campus traffic.

I’m only taking two classes with the rest of the university this semester, and the rest are specific to exchange students for Spanish learning and practice.  My first (and only) class on Monday is a creative writing workshop (in Spanish! Ah!).  I sat in the front corner next to the door, as I tend to do.  I eyed the rest of the room as they chattered in Spanish and made eye contact with a guy across the room who looked like he could possibly be a gringo.  It helped me feel a bit less out of place, even though I was still definitely the only one anywhere close to blonde in the room.

Now, usually, when the professor explains the syllabus, I mostly tune it out and pick up on the few tidbits of information that I’ll actually need that are not written in the syllabus, but in this case I had to listen with all my concentration to understand even the gist of what she was saying.  Since this is traditionally a freshman course, she spent the first hour explaining things like being on time to class and not having to ask to go to the bathroom.  It’s really hard to hold concentration when you are not interested, but without the magical power of being able to listen with 10% of my mind, I had to choose all or nothing.

As a side note, most of the classes in Costa Rican universities are three hours long, once a week, since most students live at home rather than on-campus.  And as it turns out, it is possible to take the entire three hours to explain rules and the syllabus, if you try hard and believe in yourself.  Unfortunately, I spent all my Spanish-listening superpowers on the first hour and a half of class, relearning how to be a college student, and somewhere around the time the professor started talking about when assignments are due and how they should be formatted, all I was hearing was gibberish.

At one point, she had us introduce ourselves, say where we’re from and why we’re taking the course, which I would have known was what she was asking if I hadn’t already stopped trying to listen.  As it was, all I saw was her motion at me with an expectant look, because of course I was lucky number one.  After I composed myself enough to stutter, “¿Cómo?”, she asked if I was foreign.  It was sweet of her to not make assumptions before this based on my looks, but at this point I could really use some coddling.  I managed to make it through the introduction in a fairly composed manner and spent the rest of the time waiting for the other gringo’s turn.  As soon as he started speaking, though, I knew.  Yep.  Definitely not a gringo.  I was alone.

I talked to the professor after the class, and she kindly reexplained the more important points of the syllabus–such as where to get the syllabus, since professors here tend to put the syllabi with anthologies of readings for the course to be picked up at a copy shop.  I give her points for patience, since by this time, my Spanish was shot and I had trouble stringing together coherent sentences.

I would like to make a note at this point that I am usually better at speaking than listening since I have control over what I want to say and the words I remember and no control over other people’s accents, speed, and degree of clarity.  But like I said.  I had spent all my superpowers for the day.

Tour 024 web

With this still fresh on my mind, I entered my botany class the next day with some trepidation, although I felt a bit better since there is another girl from my program in the class.  Together, we managed to cobble together the more important points and survived the introductions.  Because apparently introducing yourself to the entire class is a thing here.  We also managed to copy down five pages of notes about how to label different types and parts of hojas, leaves.

The professor is hilarious, at least I assume so based on the amount of laughter coming from the students, but I suspect that a couple of jokes came at the expense of the gringas.  He’s a good-natured man, though, and he reminded the other students to include us in the group work.  We get to take field trips later this semester, so I’m looking forward to that.

My exchange student-specific classes are a lot easier to handle, but I may explode if I have to concentrate so hard on these two classes again next week.  People keep telling me that it will get easier, with estimates ranging from one week to a month (I already know from experience that it’s more than one week).  I’m banking on two weeks, since this is the first estimate I heard, so hopefully Saturday will be the magic day where the language listening clicks for me.

Tour 017 web

Well, some of the other students and I are taking advantage of the long weekend to go to the beach, so as much as I would love to lug my laptop along, you definitely won’t hear from me for a while.  I’ll send happy-chilling-on-the-beach-vibes toward Texas.

¡Hasta luego!


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