Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The struggle to avoid “the abroad additions”

Before starting my first year of college, the principal question that I was most often asked was “Do you think you’ll gain the freshman 15?
. . .
Ugh, what a cringe-worthy question.

For those who are unaware, “the freshman 15” refers to the arbitrary amount of weight gained during a college student’s first year. It does not necessarily have to be exactly 15 pounds, it just has to be an abnormal amount of weight gain. The causes can vary from the following temptations: late-night study session snacking, the freedom to eat what you want/ how much you want/ whenever you want, overeating due to any type of stress or anxiety, and last but not least, consuming alcoh- *cough* I mean, empty calorie beverages. 

I, thankfully, evaded “the freshman 15”. I lucked out and got paired with kick@$$ suitemates that enjoyed working out, ate relatively healthy food, and busted out with lunges and squats during random times of the day (…ok that was just me).

Now, as a second year student, I can officially say that I have maneuvered past the possible gain-age the “freshman 15” promised by giving the temptations of college - pardon my language - the middle finger.

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As of recently, though, I have been exposed to a new type of possible weight gain that I now like to call . . . “the abroad additions”.

The implication of this phrase is similar to “the freshman 15”, however, add the temptations that collage normally brings to the temptations that other countries have to offer, and then BAM, this equals additional weight gain. 

As it turns out, the typical Costa Rican diet includes large portions of starch, grain, sugar, fruit, meat, juice, coffee, alcohol, and desserts.

Vegetables can be found at the markets but not usually on your plate (excluding casados, as shown above).

Sure, almost all of these products are fresh and nutritious, coming from organic farms with minimal chemically-enhanced food that is becoming less common in the States. But, the amount of consumption of these filling, dense, delicious, and some rather unhealthy food groups are predominant for most meals of the day.

My usual diet has gone from something like this: 

To something like this:

On the bright side, to fight against my change of diet, I have found that exercising in Costa Rica has not been as great of a challenge as I thought it would be!

Here’s what I have been doing so far: I found some running buddies to go jogging around the neighborhoods, met two girls who constantly show me new yoga moves and go with me to “todo espanol” yoga classes, I learned how to surf/ will continue to practice, I have been walking to the majority of places I've needed to go to (which includes hilly terrains and power walking past barking dogs), and live with roommates who don’t mind when I do burpees or other jumpy and loud-ish workouts in my room.
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Even though “the abroad additions” is a completely made up term, whether it’s real or imagined, this is what any future abroad-ers (or travelers in general) should take from this post:

Just eat like the locals.

You are going to be living in an exotic place for a period of time and it’s worth experiencing and savoring the food from that country.

Yes, a change in weight may occur.

Yes, you might end up creating pie charts to track your change in diet.
(ooooor maybe that’s also just me)

However in the end, traveling is a unique experience… Go taste your way around the world and come back with a full stomach, delectable tales, and new outlooks. Say heck to “the abroad additions” and just live.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Gringa in a Tico world: a montage of what I've seen and experienced

Definition of “Tico”:
1. The self appointed slang term for Costa Ricans.
2. The Embodiment of Latin flavor and zest for life

It's been two weeks since I was dropped off in Costa Rica for my study abroad adventure. So far, I've noticed certain aspects of the Tico culture that, to me, just screams "Wow! How unusual…" but for this area, it’s completely normal.

Here’s what I've found:

1. The locals actually say Pura Vida!
Turns out that the phrase “Pura Vida” is not just a saying marketed for the tourists. Tico's say it all the time!
More often than not, I'll find that the phrase is thrown around in day-to-day conversations. It can be used in so many ways, usually as hello, goodbye, cool, and sometimes as a substitute for saying "I'm doing great" or "sure, no problem".

As clich√© as it is, "pura vida" is more than a saying here… It truly is a way of life. And I have a feeling that I’ll end up incorporating this phrase into my vocabulary and actions soon enough, as well. 

2. The use of taxis, as well as buses, is more common than other vehicles.
This is due to the dirt cheap prices and the extensive amount of locations that these vehicles take people to. For example, from my neighborhood to downtown San Jose, I can either take a cab and pay 2 to 3 dollars (depending on traffic) or choose to ride the bus for 50 cents. So cheap! And since these taxis and buses travel all over Costa Rica, it’s no wonder that this is the most popular form of transportation.

The only unfortunate thing about taking a taxi… (Especially as a foreign female) …

3. There are only male taxi drivers and more than half of them will likely hit on you.
It seems that the taxi drivers I've met so far, which is a lot, are around 23-50 years old (more or less). And I can’t tell if the majority of those men are on the prowl or if they just find it amusing as we get uncomfortable when they try to flirt.

Some of my experiences have gone similarly to this scenario:

After the usual "take me to this location" spiel, they sometimes like to ask about where I'm from, how old I am, if I like the country, oh, and if I'm single.
Lately, I've decided to say that "I'm taken" just to shut the whole thing down. However, one shutdown didn't go the way that I planned…

Taxi driver: "Mmm, so you have a boyfriend... Where is he?"
Me: "He lives in the states."
TD: "In the states? So he's not here. Basically, here in CR, you are single then, yes?"

This is an example of how many, though not all, Tico men act. They're a persistent and confident bunch.
Which leads me to…

4. Tico men will, with no hesitation, openly stare/ whistle/ blow kisses/ cat call/ etc. at foreign women on a regular basis.
Well…Can't say this hasn't boosted my ego a bit.
I actually find this behavior super amusing, enough that I laugh openly.
But it gets rather annoying after awhile. 
Sometimes, you just want to go for a run without a bunch of guys pulling out their cameras to take a picture or have a peaceful walk home without getting honked at.

I can see why the Tica women tend to ignore the men completely because if you look a Tico guy in the eye, just once or longer than normal, that's all he needs to come on over!

5. Costa Rica has micro climates.
 I would say that it is widely known that Costa Rica has two major seasons, the dry and rainy season. However, it turns out that there is more to the weather here than one would expect.
Costa Rica has twelve climatic zones! The zones can vary from hot and humid to cold and frosty. These temperatures are determined by the elevation and other geographical factors.

What’s interesting is that even though this country is about the size of West Virginia, which is pretty dang small, it manages to be one of the most diverse places I've ever seen. One can explore exotic volcanoes, alluring cloud forests, secluded waterfalls, tranquil beaches and experience different climate changes within hours.

6. It’s a rarity to find a place with air conditioning.

I've surprisingly gotten used to this fact pretty quickly. The only time I truly miss air conditioning would be if our room (depending the hostel) has a lack of airflow and ends up feeling stuffy and sticky. But, wonderfully, most buildings are built as "open air", (with fans included) to let in the cool breeze.

7.  Flushing toilet paper, or much of anything, is not ok here. There's a basket for that.
I guess the sewage system here is set up differently, and not very well I would presume.
So, it is always advised that everything is put in the "waste basket" unless you want to end up with a clogged toilet.

8. On my first post I mentioned that there are actually no street addresses here. And it's completely true.
This is why people run on "Tico time" here! You will most likely get lost (and end up late to wherever you had to be) until you cover the area and learn the landmarks.

9. Tico time is a thing; it’s a lifestyle of taking your time because you will end up late anyways. However, this does not apply when driving a vehicle.

The driving here is so scary! I'm surprised I don't see an accident occur every few hours!

Whether you are driving a small car or a giant bus, they will squeeze into any space without decelerating. The roads go from a one way lane to a two way randomly and can be found in so many directions. Drivers are really aggressive and work their way into traffic by just throwing themselves into it the chaos rather than taking turns. And it's quite possible that the red lights here mean "caution… or maybe just slow down a bit " rather than "red means STOP".

10. The use of machetes (from what I've seen) is for both recreational and grass related purposes.
As of recently, I've seen a kid have his own personal machete and adults (casually) carrying their machetes throughout the neighborhoods.

The adults use them for cutting grass, weeds, and whatnot while the kid was playing with it on the beach to just hack at random things.

Quite interesting, eh?

11. When it comes to breakfast, lunch, and dinner, rice and beans will always be involved.
I would advise anyone who is going to Costa Rica to mentally prepare yourself for this. Sure, it’s totally possible to find meals that don’t include this pairing but it just wouldn’t be a simple task.

Weirdly enough, I don't think I'll ever get tired of rice and beans… especially now that I discovered a beautiful thing...the addition of Tabasco sauce.

12. No matter what skin type you have, here in Costa Rica, you will get a sunburn. (And quite possibly a bad one at that)
This was one thing that caught everyone off guard. The sun seems to be more potent over here! People who normally don’t ever wear sunscreen found themselves red and peeling after just a few hours out and about.
Thus, sunscreen has become a life saver because if we didn't wear any, we would all surely get burned every day.

13. If you are a lover of fruit, Costa Rica is the place to be.
The fruit in Costa Rica has seriously changed the way I look at fruit in general. Usually, when I think of fruit, I’m like “ok, I’ll eat this because it’s nutritious, filling, and good enough”. However, after consuming a butt load of various types of fruit here… the only thing that crosses my mind is:

The fruit here is fresher, juicier, sweeter, or basically any delicious-related adjective you can come up with.

Why? You may wonder. Well, I have absolutely no idea. But I intend to find out!
I might even dedicate a whole blog post to Costa Rica fruit.

That's right, get excited.

And that's all I've got for now!


Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Start of a Four Month Adventure

Here’s a scenario: Imagine a small arrival area situated outside of the San Jose airport. It’s overflowed with local taxi drivers, yelling to get the attention of tourists, creating a paparazzi feel. With the blazing sun, cool breeze, and moderate humidity, the temperature is just above uncomfortable.
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This was the environment I was stuck in for a good 5+ hours while I waited for the other Elon abroad-ers to finally arrive! 
Eventually… or should I say finally, ISA, the study abroad program I am with, decided that it would be best to drop me off to my new home.

On the bus ride over, I was hoping, from the outside, that I looked super calm and collected. However, unbeknownst to ISA, I was completely freaking out! 
My roommates hadn't arrived yet which meant that I was going to meet my host family all by myself. *Cue the Celine Dion song*

When we arrived at my host family’s neighborhood, Barrio Cordoba, I stepped out to see a couple waiting for me. 
They immediately rushed over, gave me warm hugs, told me to call them “mama tica and papa tico”, and took my things.

I could tell that I was going to love them already.

But here’s the kicker…
They then proceeded to tell me “oh, no hablamos ingles” and “hablas espanol, s√≠?

Wait, what?
You don’t speak any English?!

All I thought was, "well, at least this will be great practice for me".
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Since that day, my Spanish has slightly improved. I understand most of what they are saying and they patiently give me time to process and respond (usually in broken Spanish but hey, what can ya do, I’m just a beginner).

Also, my roommates did end up arriving! (Although some of them arrived around 4 AM, which was not a pleasant experience, from what I heard.) 

As of my feelings of them so far, here is the good and the not so bad: 
The good: all four of us get along really easily, we're all in love with our host fam, we have similar eating habits/sleeping schedules, and, surprisingly, none of them mind (or have commented) when I play my random mix of music in our living area. 
The not so bad: even while being the great new roommates that they are, my time with them makes me think of and partly compare them with my suitemates back at Elon. You could say I'm really missing my "Alpha Pack/Girls of danK" a lot these days. 

On the bright side, when I do finally get to see my old suitemates again next fall, i'll now have another group of awesome people (my CR roomies) to add to the Elon mix.
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A week has already gone by and I have plenty of stories to tell...
But I’ll save them for the next blog post!