Monday, October 27, 2014

Conquering My Fear of the Phone

Like I said in my last entry, this past week's goal was to find a place to live in Heredia. My week got off to a frustrating start. I sent out several emails to the scarce online advertisements for rooms, apartments and houses for rent. The past two years in Spain I was able to find a house this way; I simply saw the ad, sent a message to the landlord and continued correspondence through email. This approach didn't work so well in Costa Rica. First of all, Costa Rican's aren't particularly good about responding to emails, and most don't even put ads online to begin with. This made my life very difficult.
I'll admit that my struggle to find a place wasn't completely due to online problems. I also was busy planning lessons for my first week of classes with English2Go! I was a little stressed and so I didn't put as much time as I should have into the house search. Still, I was frustrated. I was ready to move out of the hostel I had been living in for over a week, and finally unpack my bags and settle into a place. After talking with some locals, they told me the best way was just to directly call the person posting the ad. This puts me WAY outside my comfort zone.
The house! Most people have outdoor garages like this. 
As many of you know, my Spanish is fairly proficient and I'm very comfortable speaking the language. However, when it comes to talking on the phone, I'll do anything to avoid it. So much gets lost in the translation when I can't see gestures, facial expressions and read lips. My confidence plummets as my palms begin to sweat and my voice starts to quiver. It's so embarrassing that all this happens over a few simple phone calls, but I can't help it! I am one of many millennials who falls victim to the fear of talking on the phone (even in English I don't like it). Why? Because we millennials grew up with AOL instant messenger, email, texting, and facebook, which means talking on the phone is rarely required. Because I hardly ever used it, I never became comfortable with it and now I'm a grown 24-year-old who shivers at the thought of talking to a stranger on the phone. Okay, I'm being a little dramatic, but seriously... talking on the phone makes me really uncomfortable.
My Street
However, after finding out that Costa Ricans respond better to phone calls than emails and messages, I knew it was my best option. I began to call some of the numbers I had been collecting and didn't have very much luck. Finally, I took a chance and called the number of an ad I saw online that didn't have a picture of the house posted (which usually I take as a bad sign and pass over it). However, a nice woman picked up the phone and told me all about the house and I was immediately interested. The following day (Friday) I took a taxi over to the house and met the woman I had been talking to on the phone, Francesca a smiley 20-something tica and her boyfriend Harold. I immediately loved them, the house and the neighborhood. They seemed to like me to because when I asked when I could move in they said as soon as I wanted. So, I moved in that very night and have been living here ever since!
The house has four rooms: one is mine, another belongs to Harold and Francesca and another belongs to another young tico called Roland. The fourth room is for guests (visitors welcome!). It's a nice small house with a dining/living room and kitchen. Everyone in the house speaks both English and Spanish so it's been a nice mix of languages. Our neighborhood is extremely quiet and safe, just a 10-15 minute walk from Heredia's center. Not to mention the office of the company I work for, English2Go, is literally one block away, lucky me! I feel so fortunate to have found somewhere that is such a perfect fit for me. It took a lot of time, patience, and work to find this place but as the saying goes "great things come to those who wait."

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Starting Over in Heredia

I'll admit it, the transition to Heredia wasn't easy. It's been a long, lonely first week, but things are finally falling into place. But I'm getting ahead of myself, let's rewind to my journey here.
I woke up bright and early at 5am to catch the bus from Santa Teresa to San Jose. A couple days earlier, when I asked where the bus stop was, I was comically informed "everywhere." Upon further investigation I found out that "everywhere" meant that the bus stops anywhere along the main road the passes through Santa Teresa and Mal País, the whole process takes about an hour, but after that we were off. We drove about an hour and a half to a location where we got off the bus and on a ferry. The ferry took a little over an hour to cross from the Nicoyan peninsula to mainland Costa Rica. It gave me a chance to soak up the sun and breathe some fresh air before we had to get on the bus again and make the final two hour push to San Jose. I got off at the airport and waited for a bus to Heredia. I was confused when the first few buses refused to take me because of my luggage, and started to get nervous that I might have to pay the price for a taxi. But, luckily with the help of a nice local tico (Costa Rican) after about ten buses, one finally agreed to take me and put my luggage in the handicapped section. I was relieved to be on the bus but then realized something significant, I had no idea where to get off. I knew I needed to get off somewhere near the city center, so I tried to look for clues. Finally, when I felt that I was seeing big groups of people and more movement, I leaned over and asked the man next to me where I should get off. Not only did he tell me the bus stop, but he showed me where to catch a taxi too. (Are you noticing the trend? Ticos are very nice people). Unfortunately by this time it was pouring rain, so I rushed into the taxi and gave the driver the "address" of the hostel. Something you have to understand is that "addresses" don't really exist in Costa Rica, not the way we imagine it anyway. There are no numbers or street names. Instead they give you directions from a landmark nearby. For example 75 meters north and 200 meters west of the church... well what if I don't know where the church is?! Luckily, my driver had a better idea than I did of where we were going, so we only struggled a little to find the place. Before I could even knock on the door, the door to the hostel opened and who was standing there? Andrew, one of my TEFL classmates. What a coincidence! Then I found out that the owners of the hostel were on vacation and we had the who place to ourselves. So this entire week we've been living in a giant, empty, quiet hostel and it's been quite the experience.
Right away the following day I had two interviews for English teaching jobs. One was in person in Heredia and the other was a skype interview for a job in San Jose. Wednesday I had another two interviews one for a job in Heredia and another for a job in San Pedro, a suburb of San Jose. Throughout all four interviews I heard the same thing over and over... October is low season and there aren't a lot of teaching hours. However, I stayed optimistic and by Friday I had accepted my first few hours of work (10 hours a week to start) with a company here in Heredia that teaches English to local businesses. It's going to require some traveling, so it's not ideal, but I'll take anything at this point!
Central Market
There have been a few other highlights of the week. The first one happened after I read my Lonely Planet Costa Rica guide book and found out that Heredia has a nice central market. So, Andrew and I stopped by and were very impressed. Not only does the market have fresh produce, meat, fish and spices for affordable prices, but they are also full of little restaurants where you can pull up a bar stool and eat some local food. It's my favorite part about Heredia so far. Another big highlight this week was one of my other TEFL classmates, Cassie, was visiting her Costa Rican boyfriend in San Jose. I went out to dinner with them and some friends to a great Lebanese restaurant on Wednesday night, and on Thursday we went to her boyfriend's family's house for dinner! It was nice to see a familiar face and to get out of the hostel for a couple nights.
Saturday, however, was the most eventful day I've had so far and it was completely unexpected. Earlier in the week, I asked if I could observe a class at one of the schools I had interviewed with, and they welcomed the opportunity. So Saturday morning I went to go observe one of the three-hour morning classes. Fifteen minutes into my observation, the coordinator of the school pulled me out of the room and told me that one of their teachers was very sick and they needed a sub for her afternoon class. She asked if I would do it and of course I said yes, even though I wasn't sure how I was going to pull off planning a two-hour class in the matter of a few hours. However, with a little help I managed to do it and by 1pm I was teaching my very own class of 9-12 year olds. Although it was nerve-wrecking and unexpected I really enjoyed the experience. It felt great to be back in the classroom.
Well tomorrow I start my new job and hoping that all goes well! Now that I've got the job nailed down,  this week's task is to find an apartment, followed by finding a new circle of friends here in Heredia. After that, settling in will be a matter of finding my new gym, a new favorite bar, favorite cafe, running route, etc. It's not easy starting over again, especially after I felt so comfortable after my first month here, but it's all a process of a big leap of faith into the next chapter of my life: My Life in Heredia.

P.S. Sorry for the boring play-by-play blog entry but as much as I write this blog for the entertainment of others, I also write it to record my memories for myself. Sometimes the play-by-play is necessary.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Beach Bummin'

Well, my "few days" that I was planning on spending in the beach house turned into a full week. I had a feeling that it might happen, but no regrets! My friends/former classmates and I have been having a great time here in Santa Teresa, a small surfer town on the southern portion of the Nicoyan peninsula. We're currently living in a nice little place just about 100 meters from the beach. We even have our own pool and AC! Since it's "low season" for tourism, my friends were able to get a really good price for the house, so we're enjoying the luxury for the time being.
Getting down here to Santa Teresa was quite the adventure. Gerardo, a TEFL student of ours from Samara, is a taxi driver and offered to drive us from Samara to Santa Teresa. During dry season, the journey only takes an hour and a half, but since it's rainy season there are many roads that are impassable, so we had to take an alternative route which took just shy of four hours. Gerardo's vehicle was a small SUV that tightly seats seven (which was perfect, because including Gerardo there were seven of us) and had next to no trunk space. Not to worry though, Gerardo had a rack on his roof where he some how managed to tie 8 pieces of luggage and a surfboard with a single rope. So, we packed into the car with our smaller bags in our laps and made the four hour journey to Santa Teresa. Nearly the entire journey was on small, dirt roads that winded through mountains and over rivers... literally, we drove through rivers. Although it was a long journey, I can't really complain because the scenery was stunning and the company was great. I even had my first crocodile sighting, which was very exciting. After hours of pothole ridden roads, we pulled into the tiny beach town of Santa Teresa. We even invited Gerardo into the house have a beer with us to thank him for driving us (don't worry, we paid him too).
It's been a great week in the beach house. After 8+ hours a day of TEFL training and teaching, it's been nice to relax. Because we have a former chef (Matt) among us, we've spent many mornings and evenings putting together some pretty elaborate and tasty breakfasts and dinners. The best part is that we've been able to save a lot of money by picking papayas from the tree in our yard, knocking down coconuts from trees on the beach, and cutting down "cuadrados" which are similar to plantains with our friends machete. It's been a blast trying to be resourceful and making dishes with local flavors, not to mention I've been learning a ton from Matt. Because of him, I now know how to break down and use an entire chicken. Thanks Matt!
Cooking has been a blast but it's not all that we've done this week. Because of the on-again-off-again rain, we've been spending a fair amount of time both in and outdoors. Indoor activities include job hunting, setting up interviews, watching movies, reading books, updating blogs, etc. Outdoor activities have included laying on the beach, watching our friend Ben surf, looking for coconut trees that are short enough to reach the coconuts, swimming in the pool, slackline-ing on the beach, and hiking/exploring. One of the highlights of the week was on Wednesday when we went in search of some sea caves that were supposedly a thirty minute walk down the beach. We we're also told that the caves were near a fishing port where we could buy fresh fish caught that day. So four of us ventured out into the rain in search of the fish and caves. In the end, it took us an hour and a half to get to the caves and the fishing port. Unfortunately due to the rain, the fishermen didn't fish that day but they told us to come back another day to get some tuna, mahi mahi or red snapper. We found the caves at the end of a path that had turned into a creek due to the heavy rain that was dense with jungle trees, vines and branches. We had another stroke of bad luck because the tide was so high that we weren't able to get into the caves.  However that's where the bad luck ended because the caves we located on a pristine, untouched, white, sandy beach surrounded by nothing but sea rocks and trees. We spent some time on the beach and were even graced with the presence of a family of white-faced tree monkeys called "mikos." After some time on the beach, we made the hour and a half trek back to our house and rewarded ourselves with some coconut water from coconuts we were able to collect on the way home.
Cassie, our slackline expert
All in all its been an excellent week and I don't want it to end. But, sadly today is my last today in beautiful Santa Teresa with my friends. Tomorrow, at 6am I'll be boarding a bus that will take me to San Jose and eventually taking a second bus to Heredia. I don't like the idea of leaving my friends because we've become so close these past five weeks. What makes it even harder is knowing that they still get to be together for another three weeks, while I'm alone in a new city. But, all fun must come to an end. I have two interviews on Monday which will kick off the next chapter of my time in Costa Rica. Although it's scary to start over, I'm looking forward to seeing what the future holds for me in Heredia! Until next time, pura vida to all.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Adios Samara

It's official. I am a TEFL certified English teacher! It honestly may have been the fastest 4 weeks of my life. I felt like I blinked and it was over. Well as the saying goes, time flies when you're having fun and I enjoyed every minute of my TEFL certification course. Not only did I genuinely love the lessons, but I couldn't have asked for better teachers and classmates.
So a few fun things happened this week since it was our last week of the course. Our last night of lessons was Thursday night and afterwards one of our classes threw us a little party. They made Costa Rican picadillo which is easily the tastiest thing I've had since being here. Picadillo is green papaya, minced and cooked with ground beef, onions, garlic and other spices and served on a corn tortilla. I never knew papaya could taste so savory; it was a nice surprise. It was nice to spend some time with our students outside of our structured classroom environment, and we really felt the love from our students that night. They thanked us for the services we provide because since Samara is such a touristy place, English is necessary to find work here; however most of the people who live here can't afford classes so they feel very fortunate to have us TEFL teachers that give free classes during our training. It really put the importance of teaching English into perspective and helped validate that coming here was the right thing to do.
Our students who threw us the party
Friday night we went to class a little earlier than normal in order to take our final exam and turn in our portfolios. The teachers graded our tests and portfolios during our long lunch break when we celebrated being done with sandwiches and beer on the beach. Afterwards, we went back and got our final grades and TEFL certificates. Later that night, we had a graduation celebration with the teachers at TEFL, other classmates and some of our students at a local bar in town (which TEFL's owner's husband just so happens to own). We drank some champagne and toasted to a stellar four weeks at Costa Rica TEFL. It was definitely a bittersweet moment for me because although I'm relieved to be done and excited to begin my TEFL career, I've really grown comfortable here in Samara and come to love this little beach town and all the people I've met here. 
So, what's next? Well, of my seven classmates, five have decided to spend the next month in a beach house in a town a little further down the Nicoyan peninsula. Some of them will look for work and/or take Spanish classes while they're there, but they're mostly planning on relaxing on the beach for a month. While I don't think I can afford to stay for the whole month, I'm planning on joining them for a few days next week on my way to the central valley of Costa Rica (San Jose area) where I will start job hunting. I've already got a handful of connections and interviews set up for when I get there, so I'm really hoping that one of those pan out. Fingers crossed!
Tomorrow we're leaving so it's time to start the packing process... the worst part of traveling in my opinion.  However, yesterday I spent nearly the whole day outside on the beach, slack-lining, swimming, and trying to soak up my last moments here in Samara. Also, by some miracle it didn't rain at all day! That's a first since I've been here. It must be mother nature rewarding us after all of our hard work these past four weeks. 
There's a lot of sad and nerve wrecking things coming up, saying goodbye to my friends and the little beach town I've come to love in order to go to a new, bigger city where I don't know anyone to start my next chapter! I know it will be worth it, but it's a little unsettling for the time being. But at moments like these, I like to think of one of my favorite quotes, "In order to cross an ocean, you must lose sight of the shore"