Wednesday, April 28, 2010


I am currently sitting in an air conditioned hotel room on a busy strip in Miami. Where am I? It's hard to believe that yesterday morning I woke up in San Jose, Costa Rica, and the morning before in Havana, Cuba. The morning before on a beautiful beach in Veradero, Cuba.

But one thing I can say:

I love my life.

I have had a wonderful semester. It really all came together at the end with the Cuba trip. I absolutely, positively loved Cuba. Most fantastic place I have ever been. The people, culture, foods, and political system there were different from any other place I have been. The impact of the USA there is also devastating... something that still continues today. More on this later.

But as for the next day and a half, I will be in Miami debriefing the trip with the whole group. Last night after we flew in, my friends and I went to a Cuban cafe across the street from the hotel and were thrilled to still be speaking Spanish in the USA. Our waitress was from Nicaragua and spoke perfect English, but let us talk to her in Spanish for our sakes. :-) It is great to be back in the US, but still in Spanish speaking land. Apparently, they call Miami the capital of Latin America. So I am not too far from a place I have grown to love.

Anyway. I am so excited to come home tomorrow. I have never been this excited to come home in my life. I can't wait to run into the arms of friends and family and really feel like I am home.

Beloved family and friends, thanks for being part of this journey with me. At times I didn't think I would come out of it alive, so thank you for bearing with me! :-)

Thursday, April 15, 2010


TOMORROW TOMORROW TOMORROW I AM GOING TO CUBA! At 6:15 am I will say goodbye to my San Jose family and fly to Cuba. I honestly think that one of the things that makes me most excited about this trip is the fact that it is nearly impossible for Americans to go. I feel like I am sneaking into this forbidden communist territory, defying the US embargo. (I am actually not doing this... I do have a visa to go. But not without months of work from our professors with the US government.)

Anyway. A few things that are really interesting from our orientation today.

1. We are staying with host families the whole times, but in groups. We will only be at our homes during the evenings. But this is the first time EVER that there are host families, so it is a huge honor!

2. We can not eat with our families- we have all of our meals outside of the home, because it is not economically possible. Each family is given the amount of food that they themselves need, so they do not have enough for a guest.

3. We can not use any of the family's soap or toilet paper. Toilet paper is a luxary. (One time there was a shortage of toilet paper on the island, and people were using newspapers and other things as substitutes.)

4. Hence, we are bringing all of that with us. And a huge bag of gifts/necessities for the family, which includes toilet paper, toothpaste, soap, and other very basic things that are difficult to obtain on the island.

5. There are two currencies in Cuba. One of citizens and one for foreigners.

6. Even though Cuba is 90 miles from Miami, we can not fly back to the US. Instead, we must fly 2 or so hours back to Costa Rica, stay in a hostel for one night, and the next day fly 2 and a half hours to Miami. There are no flights to and from Cuba from the US.

7. One day we have a discussion with Fidel Castro about communism. JUST KIDDING. But we will get to talk to some really interesting people who have been involved in the revolution as well as Cuba's affairs in Angola.

Well that's all I know! When I come back from the other side, I will let you all know how it went!

Just some quick photos

Just wanted to quickly show you all where I have been living the past month. Really beautiful town in the mountains of Cartago. I honestly felt like I was living in Switzerland or something.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

I am alive!

Hello friends!

I am back in San Jose after a wonderful month in San Cristobal! I will be sure to post pictures and stories very soon. Currently I am recovering from a horrible sinus infection and also working on a little five page paper due tomorrow! Love homework.

Today was a very affirming day...I felt very competent and independent going throughout the day. I took two buses and a taxi back from the farm and was able to ask people on the street for directions and information about the buses. Then, I took a taxi alone to the doctor and was able to explain my symptoms and buy all the medications I needed at a pharmacy. It was really nice to be able to confidently maneuver my way through the country.

I feel like I "home" in San Jose. It was so great to see my mom and be back in my room again. I have missed this place and really feel like I am one step closer to being home. My mom made pancakes for me for dinner (actually that was the appetizer... I ate my usual massive portion of rice and lentils and salad afterwards!)

I hope that you all are well! I miss you all very much and can't wait to be home in a few weeks. But there is still another adventure to be had: in a few days I will head off to Cuba! After several months of working with the US government to acquire permission to go, we are all cleared and will be in Havana in just a few nights. I think Cuba really will be one of the most unusual places I have ever traveled to. :-) So excited.

Love you all! More later!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Off to the farm

So tomorrow morning, at 5 am, I will leave my comfy home in San Jose and head off to San Cristobal, Costa Rica, where I will live and farm with a family for ONE MONTH! Part of me feels completely ready to go- I am excited to invest myself in the work there, get to know a new area and new family, and learn more Spanish and more about life in Costa Rica.

At the same time, I feel completely unprepared. First of all, the last few weeks have really worn me down... a combination of family parties, outings with friends, lots of papers and assignments, and just preparation for this trip has really exhausted me. I have a cough and a slight cold, and am wondering how the heck I am going to wake up, EARLY, every day and head off to farm. I really pray that God just gives me the strength to fully invest myself there and enjoy all the work ahead.

Tomorrow morning this is the plan: take a taxi at 5 am with one other girl to San Jose. At 5:45 am, I will board a bus that goes to Cartago. We should arrive within an hour, and then at 7:00 am, I will board a second bus to San Cristobal Norte. From there, I will meet my new mom and head off to my new home. Even though that other student lives in the same town as me, I do not think we will be spending much time together. It's possible none at all.

Another thing: I will have no internet at my house there. So I will be minimally in contact during the next month.

But you will all be in my thoughts and prayers... everyday, as i wake up early to go pick tomatoes and onions and who knows what! Love you guys!

Friday, March 12, 2010


So this was my last week in San Jose! It is really sad.... Today we finished our language class and had our graduation. That class has been every day, for 3 hours, for the past 6 weeks. It was really beautiful to take classes in a garden and get to know the different Spanish professors. I actually had a ton of fun in class with the three other girls in my class and a new professor each week. Probably two of favorite parts of Spanish class were the walks there and the 30 minute break during class. (The academic part of it was fun too... of course.) Everyday, a group of between 5-10 of us would walk to the class together. It was 45 minutes each way... and some days, VERY HOT. But in between stopping for ice cream/gatorade/cinnamon rolls, discussing our faiths, dreams, awkward cultural exchanges, and hundreds of other topics, and some days getting some very interesting comments or cat calls from Costa Rican men, I became very close to the other students. Also, everyday during class, we had a 30 minute break, where everyone would drink delicious Costa Rican coffee, buy sweet bread or cake, and sit out in the garden and chat. It was so relaxing and beautiful, and a good chance to see everyone at once. I'll really miss that.

Here are some pics from the last day. Brady lady, Anthony/Wally/Antwone/Antonio and I took a photo shoot just for you. It was pretty hilarious. Hope you enjoy the pics. :-)

This is my last weekend with my family in San Jose. On Tuesday morning, I will leave to go and live on a farm for one month. I have no idea what my life will be like there. It is also possible that I will not have my computer and not be able to update frequently about my life. I return on April 13th, and am home here for three days, before (hopefully... fingers crossed...) I HEAD OFF TO CUBA! More details on that when it gets closer, but it sounds like it is going to be fascinating. There is another group of students going this Monday from our program, and their orientation for the trip was so interesting. I think Cuba will be one of the most unusual places I will ever go.

Anyway. So the rest of this weekend is R & R (I have actually come down with a cold due to all the business of the past week...) and a few family parties again!

Keep me in your prayers. I am very nervous about this whole month in the farm thing. I will not see the other students the whole time and just feel a little insecure about this whole thing. I KNOW it will be great... for many people it is the most powerful part of the program. So I'm sure it will be fabulous and incredible and everything. Just keep me in your prayers!

Love you guys!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

A Note about Language

It is so fascinating to think about how a different language offers a whole new perspective. A different language is not just a word by word translation- it is an entirely new way of thinking as well. I think about this when my brother and his wife communicate- there are probably some things that make more sense to say in English, and others to say in Spanish. And depending on which language you use, it communicates something entirely differently.

The other day in class we were telling my teacher that we all had procrastination issues. She didn't understand procrastination, so we looked it up in our dictionary, only to find that there is no noun for procrastination in Spanish! The verb procrastinate is translated as "dejar para mas tarde-" to leave for much later. That doesn't really communicate the connotation we associate with procrastination. In English, and in American culture, we are very familiar with the concept and flaw of procrastination. We need to be efficient and productive and get things done, and thus view procrastination as a weakness or flaw. However, in Spanish, there really is no word for it. Maybe I am overanalyzing that, but I'm curious as to whether it has some cultural explantation. In Latin culture, time is viewed much differently than in American culture. It is not strange or rude to arrive late to something (with some exceptions) since people here are more relaxed about time.

I have also been thinking about ways we describe ourselves, our feelings, and our current states of mind. In English, we pretty much just say "I am..." I am Hannah. I am from New Jersey. I am a student. I am her sister. I am tall. I am hungry. I am tired. I am nervous. I am jealous. Etc. However, in Spanish, there are three categories in which those statements fall under. There is one, the verb "ser," which describes permanent things. Your name, your nationality, your physical characteristics, your occupation, and your relationships to others is in this category. Then there is another verb, "estar," which describes temporary emotional and physical states. I am sick, I am tired, I am frustrated, and others like that would fall under this category. The third one is my favorite. The verb "tener," meaning to have or hold, is used in certain expressions. For instance, rather than saying "I am jealous," you would say "I have jealousy." Rather than "I am afraid," it is "I have fear." Rather than "I am 20 years old," I would say "I have 20 years." It is interesting to think about jealousy, fear, and age not as something you are, but as something which you hold, temporarily. It is not a permanent characteristic, but rather something that you are holding within you.

I just think that is so fascinating! Sorry to bore you with a language lesson, but if you dissect the way we say things in English, it reveals a lot about ourselves and our culture. And the way we say things is unique to our language and the way in which we view the world.

Hope you all are enjoying this Sunday morning. :-) Miss you.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Gringos, Chinos, y Ticos

Last night, my brother and his wife came in from the United States. My two older sisters, their spouses, my nephew, and my other sister's boyfriend came over. All together there were 12 of us and it was a night with lots of laughter and reunioning after a three month absence. When we sat down to eat hamburgers (my brother's favorite...) my father made a comment about the gringos, chinos, and ticos (local word for Costa Ricans) sitting down together as a family. I just loved that. It really is so neat that we can be from different backgrounds (my dad was born in China and immigrated here as a child, my brother's wife I are from the States, and the rest of my family is born and raised here...) but we can sit down and enjoy each other company and share a meal. Plus just the fact that all of our paths are here right now in Costa Rica is really beautiful.

I love watching my brother and his wife interact. She is from San Diego originally (mom and Bot... yet another reminder of this place that is so amazing and wonderful and that I must visit!!!) and studied here five years ago with my program. She lived with another family but met my brother and they kept in touch when she went home. After many years of visiting back and forth, my brother studying in the US, and lots of writing, emailing, and skyping, THEY ARE MARRIED! By now they are both bi-lingual (in the beginning they were not...) and they speak both languages to each other. It's really cool. I always wonder how they pick which one to use. Obviously around my family and around me they speak mostly in Spanish, and I only talk to them in Spanish as well. (It is so tempting to speak English to Laura, but I only speak in Spanish.) But they have a fun dynamic and Laura really fits in well with them family. She chases Diego around and teases my other siblings in a fun and comfortable way.

Anyway, this week is FIESTA FIESTA! Today we are having a family BBQ with my immediate family and tomorrow the entire family- chinos and ticos- are coming over. It's going to be CRAZY! But I'm excited about it.

Much love to everyone. Thanks for your prayers and thoughts during this time. It's been a weird week of emotions and events but I am loving it and learning so much.


Friday, March 5, 2010


Tonight I felt the stronger temblor yet in Costa Rica. Since I have been here, I have felt three tremors (not an earthquake, but a definite shaking of the earth...) including tonight's. The other ones were fairly weak and actually kind of fun. Each time my family got a kick out of it and laughed and joked about it. This time however, it was much stronger and actually pretty scary. The world has seen some of the craziest weather patterns and natural disasters this year- I think that that made my family even more alert when the temblor started.

Basically we were all just sitting in the family room talking after a very exciting night. (My brother and his wife from the USA are here- I love them! The whole family came over my house tonight and we celebrated their arrival and my sister's birthday.) Anyway, all of the sudden there is a very stronger tremor. It was much stronger than before and there was even a clattering noise outside in the street. My mom ran underneath the door frame and started praying out loud to God. All I heard was "Dios, Dios..." Then my dad, who is very quiet and reserved, put his hands in the air and started saying a prayer and call out to God as well. My brother ran over to comfort my mom, and then it ended. My mom looked like she was going to burst into tears, and was very shaken up about it for probably 10 minutes. She kept saying how scared she was that it would be like Chile's earthquake last week.

A few minutes later we watched the news and they said that it was measured 3.5. That is relatively weak comparatively, but strong enough to definitely feel it and get a scare.

My Crazy Tica Spring Break

Right after Nicaragua ended, we had a four day spring break. I travelled about an hour and a half south of San Jose with a few friends to an area called Los Santos. Our professor connected us to a very small company that is committed to providing tours in a environmentally and culturally sensitive way. This guy, Jonathan, created this company to show tourists and students the beautiful area of Los Santos while also involving local farmers, restaurants, and people in the process. It is less focused on making a profit and more focused on involving the community and educating people about the culture and environment of Costa Rica.

The trip was CRAZY! The first day we did a bunch of canopy type stuff... I jumped out of a 90 foot tree on a Tarzan type swing and even got to climb up another 90 foot tree on the inside. It was crazy. Here are some pics are that day.

Probably the most fun part of that entire day was the ride home from dinner. Basically, in order to get out of the mountains and rainforest, we had to drive on these crazy bumpy roads. We had about an hour drive at the end of the day to get to our hostel. We are all in this 15 passenger van driving in the dark on these narrow mountain roads. All of the sudden the car was unable to go any further- the tires were spinning and we had no traction. The roads were pretty wet from rain earlier in the day, and the car simply would not go any further. Apparently we had about a km until we got out of the national park.

Our tour guides told us to hop out and start pushing the car. We were all laughing so hard at the situation but nevertheless tried to push this van up the mountain. It would not budge, so the driver backed the car down the mountain about 100 feet (meanwhile there is a sheer dropoff just behind us...) and told us to all get in the back of the car and just jump. This caused us to laugh even harder, but we did as our tour guides told us. Another failed attempt to move the car anywhere.

We decided to take another route, which was just as bumpy and crazy. At one point we heard this horrible noise coming from the bottom of the car- we looked out the back and saw that we lost a spare tire! The drivers stopped and went chasing after this tire as once again, the silly gringos tried to hold in their laughter at the hilarity of the situation. Luckily our guides had the best sense of humor and found the whole thing completely comedic as well.

After a one hour ride turned into three hours, we arrived at our hostel, only the find out that the lady who owns the hostel was not there! Ah! So we went down the road to a pretty nice hotel and I had my first hot shower and good night's sleep in a while. Sigh. Bliss.

The next day we followed a man with a machete through the rainforest the get to this hidden waterfall. It was so gorgeous. Not many people know about this waterfall... we went with a local who knew about it, but he refuses to tell huge tours companies about it so that the beauty of this place will not be ruined by tourists and cars and paths. So beautiful though.

I tell people I spent my spring jumping out of trees, pushing a fifteen passenger van up a mountain, and following a man with a machete through the rainforest.

And that's not far from the truth. In fact, it is the truth.

Thursday, March 4, 2010


The past week or so has been the most up and down week of the semester for me. I don't know why... maybe it is just a weird transitional point in the semester. We are almost done with life in San Jose, and will soon split up for the remainder of the time to live and work in different areas. There are moments of everyday where I feel like I am on Cloud Nine, and feel like I could live here forever. But then there are other moments where I feel so discouraged and upset, and don't think I'll make it until the end of the semester.

It has been a weird week. One of the students who was a good friend of mine had to go home because of some family and personal issues. It was really really sad to see her go last night. But anyway. I am still learning and experiencing a lot of new things.

This weekend should be fun and crazy... my brother and his American wife are coming tomorrow from the US. It is also my sister and mom's birthdays this weekend, so we are having fiestas on Saturday and Sunday! Sunday will be the WHOLE extended family, which is slightly overwhelming to me, but I know it will be fun too. :-)

Love you guys and miss you a lot. Thanks for keeping up with my blog and encouraging me along the way. It has been quite the journey... this entire year. One which I could not complete without such a supportive group of friends and family at home.


Monday, March 1, 2010

Nicaragua: Granada

So the final few days in Nicaragua were spent in the beautiful colonial city of Granada. It is the oldest city in the Americas, dating back to the 1500s. It is gorgeous and has recently gone through a lot of renovation. We had a lot of down time just to relax after the busy week and catch up with each other. I had the greatest pancakes and smoothies of my life. And pizza too. I know... pizza is not authentic Nicaraguan food. But I can tell you that some of the greatest pizza I have ever had in my life has been in foreign places. Not exactly sure why, but that has been the case.

On the last day, we had a surprise carriage ride and boat tour of Lake Nicaragua. There are tons of islands in Lake Nicaragua, many of which are owned by rich families from Nicaragua or even the US. It boat tour was so beautiful. We even had some monkeys jump onto our boat, which was very entertaining.

P.S. Westmont kids: Antonio, aka Anthony/Wally is in that final pic. But that up just for you guys. :-)

Mi Familia en Nicaragua

So the most valuable part of the Nicaraguan trip is the home stay experience. I was VERY NERVOUS about this part. Basically what happens is everyone gets broken up into groups of 4-5 and sent off to cities or towns all over the country. For those five days, you are invited to "just be." Not to really do anything, but just to be with your family and experience the NIcaraguan reality more intimately.

I had heard from some former LASP students that this was the loneliest part of the trip for them. I knew it would involve a lot of down time and just hours to sit with the family. I was super nervous and really dreading it.

The night before the home stay, our professor invited the pastor/bishop who is in charge of all these Brethren of Christ churches to come speak to our group. The pastor expressed how happy all the churches would be to receive us and that we could really expect anything. Our professor added that we might be asked to preach, sing in front of the church, or really anything. Oh boy. Super nervous.

I ended up going to a small town called "Santo Domingo" about thirty minutes outside of Managua. My professor told me that the town was very beautiful and that the church was also very warm and welcoming- they were the only church in our group that had a female pastor.

The next morning was crazy. We woke up early and one by one the pastors began to arrive to take the students to their respective towns. Some people would be traveling almost five hours north to towns along the Honduran border. Others would be going to small fishing villages along the Pacific. Really people could expect to go anywhere. My pastor arrived and we were gone in about five minutes. We were allowed to take several items, like medicine, mosquito nets, soap, and water. I grabbed a one gallon of water, but at the last minute decided to leave it behind and risk it. Our prof had said that some of the towns would be totally fine in terms of water. I decided to risk it.

Of course, I am immediately regretting this decision and panicking that I would not be able to drink water for a week. So that was my first fear: not being able to drink water for a week.

I arrived to the town and was dropped off at my new home. I met my mother, who is a widow of the last sixteen years with two older sons. Her sons are 21 and 24 live at the home, but go to university during the day. Her home was actually quite comfortable- we had running water, indoor plumbing, electricity, and an indoor kitchen. I soon found out that the water was completely fine to drink.

The next five days were great. Everyday I woke up and helped my mom with household chores for about three hours. We swept, mopped, cleaned clothes, watered the garden, cooked lunch, and other things. We normally worked in silence, since it is really hard for me to multitask and speak Spanish, but I definitely felt very close to my mom. Nicaraguans do not express their affection like Costa Ricans do, so she never hugged me or anything, but she would tell me how glad she was to have me there, since she is alone almost all the time during the day.

The other students lived closeby, and one of them was actually my cousin, since her mom was my mom's sister. We would visit frequently and attend church together every other night. One day, the pastor took all the students to this volcano nearby and another beautiful town. I really felt so lucky to be where I was- I was with wonderful people and was very well taken care of.

The food was spectacular- best food I have had since being in Latin America. My mom grew plantains and avocados in the backyard, so we had those at almost every meal. I also had freshly squeezed orange juice or other fruit juices. The only thing hard to eat was the cheese... but other than that, I ate very well. Very little... it was a huge difference from CR, where I seriously eat 3 or 4 times more than I normally would. And past the point of full. There, I had really small portions, and some nights I was still a little hungry, but it was perfect.

I spent my free time during the day asking my mom and brothers about their lives in Nicaragua. That part was really cool- I felt very competent with my Spanish and able to talk about politics, issues of employment, education, and safety within the country, the Somozan dynasty, the civil war, the United States, and so many other topics. I also got close to my brothers and got to hear a little about Nicaraguan youth.

One thing I also wanted to say: before we went to Granada to meet up with all the groups, I was feeling a little guilty that my experience in Nicaragua had been so easy. Some students really were roughing it for the week and were living in much lower living standards than I was. The point of the trip was not to rough it or to live in poverty- the point was to create relations with Nicaraguans. And I definitely became very close to my mom and siblings. And the day before I left, my mom thanked me for being her companion for the week, since she is often alone. Again, because Nicaraguans are not super affectionate and lovey dovey, she just said it very matter of factly, but it meant a lot to both of us. I miss her a lot and hope one day I can go back and visit her.

Here are some pics. Thank you so much for your prayers. Really, the week was wonderful. Could not have gone better. I feel so lucky and blessed.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

our baby kitty

We have some sad news in my house: our beloved kitty, Luna, has gone missing! My parents think that yesterday when they left the house and no one else was here she must have followed them outside and been in the garage. They didn't notice her, and it's possible she either escaped or someone came by and beckoned her to come out. :-( My sister just made a bunch of flyers but our dear dear kitty is missing!

Nicaragua: Managua

I don't even know where to begin... my trip to Nicaragua couldn't have been more perfect. God really blessed me with an incredible family there and fascinating insight into a new part of the world.

We spent the first few days in Managua, learning more about the political and historical background of this country. Probably my favorite part of Managua were all the graffiti for Daniel Ortega and the FSLN. Daniel Ortega is the current president of the country, and is part of the Sandinista (FSLN) party. The FSLN overthrew the Somoza dynasty in 1979, fought against a US backed army during the 1980s, and after fifteen years of right wing presidents, Daniel Ortega became president again. He does not enjoy support from the US, but rather enjoys support from Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. Recently Ortega has changed the Constituional law that presidents can only serve two nonconsecutive terms and plans to run again in 2011.

Anyway... I read an article that talked about how Ortega sent the Sandinista Youth out into Managua to graffiti pro-Ortega/FSLN messages. They are EVERYWHERE. This was my favorite.

We also got to visit this village of people who have serious health defects because of a chemical called Nemagon. It is very controversial, because in the 1980s ish, US fruit companies like Dole and Chichita, had workers in Nicaragua and other countries use this pesticide on bananas and other crops. The chemical, which was known to cause serious health problems, was banned in the United States, but not abroad. So even though these fruit companies knew that the chemical was hazardous, they still had these foreign workers use them. The workers were oblivious and unaware of the effects, until years later when they started noticing many health problems. They put it together and realized that they were tricked by US companies. As many of 7000 Nicaraguans have been affected, and over 2500 people have died. Many of the survivors are sterile or have serious diseases, like skin cancer. It is so devastating.

For the last 17 years this group of workers has been trying to lobby to the fruit companies to give them some type of health support or housing. They have heard nothing back from these companies. They were also working with a US lawyer, who ended up taking their money but not helping them at all. They have all moved from the north of Nicaragua to Managua, and have a camp set up across the street from the corporate buildings to protest.

Much more happened in Managua... it was a pretty intense introduction to Nicaraguan reality and issues. More later on my home stay and Granada.

Friday, February 26, 2010


Hello friends!

I am back in San Jose after an amazing week and a half in Nicaragua. I am actually off again for two days to a rainforest area south of here for some canopying and waterfall hiking and such. But wanted to say thank you all for your prayers and thoughts during the Nicaragua trip. It honestly went perfectly- I couldn't have lucked out more with my family or experience there. I was totally healthy the whole time- ironically healthier than I have been in Costa Rica- and had a great family, beautiful town, interesting insights into American and Latin culture, and the chance to meet the former president's son in law, Antonio LaCayo, who is a pretty high up figure and may run for Nicaraguan president next year!

More updates later. And pictures. But wanted to say Hi and I love you all!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Framework I Needed

I just wanted to quickly comment how studying and living in Costa Rica has given me such a hunger and excitement for knowledge. I can't explain it, but I am just loving learning and really pressing into the issues and topics around me.

I want to really understand international politics and economics, and how the United States affects those.

I want to master the Spanish language.

I want to learn about different cultures and get a glimpse of the world through others' eyes.

I want to see what Christianity looks like around the globe, and broaden my own perspective of God, His people, and His plan for the world.

There are so many things I want to learn... I really could just spend a lifetime reading, questioning, and experiencing all these different issues.

I think I really needed to come to Costa Rica to get a framework for all of these issues. Now, when I go back to school, so much of what I study and learn will make sense, because I can apply it to this context. Does that make sense? When I read about neoliberalism, it will not just be a term to me: it will be something which drastically changed the Costa Rican economy and welfare of the people here. When I read about American intervention abroad, I will view it more critically, because I know how much our actions affected the NIcaraguan people and country. When I see a Latin American immigrant in the United States, or hear about immigration, I will understand just a little bit more where they are coming from, and what type of political/economic structure and system they may be fleeing from.

I can't explain it, but I just feel so excited and happy to be back at Gordon next year. The first two years of college were weird for me- I just had a hard time seeing the point of sitting in a classroom and learning about lots of subjects. I didn't always see the relevance or long term point of things. However, being here has completely changed all that. Next year, when I take Developmental Economics, Theories of International Affairs, Global Political Economy, New Testament, and lots of other classes, I will be committed to them because of what I have seen and experienced here.


Hiper Mas

Almost every week I go to Hiper Mas, which is the Walmart of Latin America. Literally. It is owned or sponsored by Walmart. It feels so out of place here in Costa Rica. I went there today with two friends to buy some last minute things for Nicaragua, and we all remarked that we felt strangely comforted by this Walmart type store in Costa Rica. Comforted, yet also somewhat disturbed by that comfort. High ceilings, bright lights, rows and rows of cheap, Hannah Montana and Jonas Brothers merchandise, dozens of cashiers, nail saloon places, tons of families and people scurrying around... why is there a strange comfort to that? I would much prefer to go to the farmacia or ferria around the corner. I would much prefer (and my family prefers as well) to buy their fruit from the outside market (ferria) each Saturday, when organic farmers from the San Jose area come to sell their weeks work.

There was a coffee shop in Hiper Mas, and I bought two lattes. (Brady lady, I wish you were here with me so that we could coffee shop hop every day...) One of my friends went to buy lunch, and had trouble finding a seat. This one woman, who was sitting with her son, invited my friend to eat with her and they engaged in conversation about Costa Rica and our experiences so far. I came over at the tail end of the conversation, and was able to interact with this woman and her son, and tell them about some things in Costa Rica that I really appreciate and enjoy. I love the openness of strangers.

I found a book in Hiper Mas, in Spanish, about the repressed lives of homosexuals. After having lived in San Francisco and interacted a little bit with the homosexual community, I am very interested to learn more and allow myself to be stretched and challenged by the questions. The book is a little above my reading level, but I bought it for a good challenge. It isn't too long, and I think I will be able to understand it with the help of my handy Spanish dictionary. (My new best friend in Costa Rica.) Being in the book aisle made me want to learn and master Spanish! I can't wait until I am able to read books written by Latin American and Spanish authors and poets. So many people here have a very poetic and beautiful way of speaking. I can't wait until I can really understand and interact with them.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Last minute preparations for Nica

Weather Today in Nicaragua: 91 degrees F, feeling like 100 degrees.

The next two weeks look about the same.

Nicaragua: Here I come.

Friday, February 12, 2010

final exams and other things

I have been in Costa Rica one month from today! It is so crazy to think about boarding the plane in Miami a month ago from today, not knowing anyone, never having met my Costa Rican family, and arriving on a rainy, but warm night. That was a month ago. In some ways it feels like yesterday... I can't believe that I am almost a third of the way through my program. But at the same time it feels like years since I have been in the United States. I forget about certain things that seem and feel so normal at home, but that I have not experienced here. Hearing English all the time, walking around outside after dark, driving on highways, seeing SNOW and having snow days!, eating cereal for breakfast, lots of things. It's not that I need those things. I definitely do not miss snow and cold weather. But that all seems so far away and so long ago that those things were part of my daily routine. Time is weird: I feel like I have been here forever, but then at the same time I feel like time is flying by and escaping from me.

So today my first class ended- it was an extremely compressed class, but demanding in terms of time and work. It was 8 hours a week, plus a weekend trip to Limon, plus two papers. But... today we had the final exam, and it was actually the most interesting final exam I have ever had. We were in groups of 6-8 people, and given instructions to confront one of Costa Rica's problems and solve it with certain resources. Each group was given $500 of real money and two and half hours to come up with an action plan. At first I thought that the money was theoretical, but we actually did have five crisp five one hundred dollar bills! Pretty cool. My group decided that we wanted to create a means for people to grow their own food, organically and sustainably, like we saw on this farm last week. We contacted the farmer, and he is amenable to giving classes to poorer families in his church. We are going to subsidize the classes with the money we were given, and hopefully connect some of those families to him so they can learn about how they can grow some of their own food with limited land and resources.

I am actually getting excited about Nicaragua. I kind of like how so much of it is completely ambiguous. I am getting in a bus Monday morning, and will drive 10-12 hours in Nicaragua. From there, the details are pretty fuzzy. Later that week I will drive out (hopefully into the country) with a pastor and two other students and be placed with a family. I have no idea what each day will hold, but I am excited to see what God shows me and teaches me through all of this.

I miss you all. I really do. You will be in my thoughts and prayer while I journey around Nicaragua!

Thursday, February 11, 2010


I am coming to the end of a very, very long week and feel beyond exhausted. More tired than I have felt in a long time. It's a combination of having very little sleep the past four nights, plus the feeling of just overstimulation. Being here definitely keeps me on my toes: when I go out into the streets, I have to be aware of my surroundings, keep an eye on my bag, and try to ignore all the cars and people that comment or honk at the gringo girl walking down the street. When I am in class, I am also very engaged, listening to controversial speakers and ideas, or speaking in Spanish. At home, I am either with my host family, talking, and more often listening. There is so much around me to be stimulated by: new sounds, a new language, new ideas, new cultural customs, and new relationships. Another thing is, I do not really get alone time here, which normally I just take for granted. I am never alone here. Maybe my five minute walk in the morning to LASP, but other than that I am always with people and having to be completely engaged. I miss just time to be alone and think. I feel a little overwhelmed, especially thinking about the next step of this journey: Nicaragua.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


So I just wanted to make a few comments about my experience so far being immersed in a Spanish speaking country and desperately trying to learn the language.

1. It has given me such an appreciation for people who immigrate to the United States and are not able to speak the language. I can not imagine. Thinking of that makes me so motivated to really learn Spanish, so that one day when I am a nurse somewhere, I can communicate with Latino patients who feel overwhelmed and out of place in the US.

2. I think the Spanish is definitely coming along, but there are days when I wake up and honestly feel like a five year old. No, younger than that. Three year old. I feel like I am at the same speaking level of my four year old cousin, except that I am trapped in a twenty year old body. The most frustrating feeling in the world is wanting so badly to understand, but being physically unable to do so. There are times when I feel like I have a blanket over my mind, and there is this disconnect between hearing and understanding. I understand more than if I were hearing Chinese, but there are so many details and things that I am not getting. Frustrating.

3. Our family has a new cat. This has completely changed my perspective of speaking to animals. My family is always talking to the cat, and telling it things that even I do not understand. They will say, "No Luna, you can't sit on the chair, you must sit and the ground... Are you hungry? You just ate an hour ago! Luna, where are you? Come out from under there! That is dirty- don't eat it!" And I just smile to myself because I can barely understand what they are saying, and of course this poor cat has no idea! She is more lost than I am in this world of foreign words and sounds. What is also funny is that I feel weird talking to the cat in English. But I could just make up jibberish and it would be all the same to this cat. Spanish. English. Jibberish. No difference at all.

4. Probably one of my proudest moments so far on the trip has been explaining my symptoms to the doctor at the clinic in Spanish. The times when I have really needed to use my Spanish, in real life situations, has been so rewarding to me. I can't wait to continue that, and hopefully in the future, be able to use Spanish with my patients wherever I work as a nurse.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


I need a distraction from my paper. And I just spent the last half hour looking up random statistics on random cities and countries in the world. For instance, did you know that San Marino, CA has the world's safest roads, or that South Korea has the World's Best Airport (Jae!), or that Overland Park, KS (this one is for you, Lace) is ranked 3rd for least stressed people? Anyway. Enough of that.

So, I will tell you about what I will be doing next week! I just found all this out today. (Everything here is very last minute, and intentionally so. We never really know what is going on until right before it happens, which is partially to keep us in the moment, but partially because that is the way things operate in Latin America...) On Monday, our entire group will travel to Managua, Nicaragua. It is about a 10-12 hour bus ride to get there! Woohoo! Luckily we will be on a private bus that our program uses. We will spend three days in Managua learning about US-Nicaragua relations and seeing some famous sites. Then, we will all be split up and will go to all different areas of the country! There were two choices: urban area or small town. The only details they gave were that the urban homes would likely have indoor plumbing and the small towns would not. I checked off small town, and surprisingly, almost everyone in the group did! We have all been living in the city here, and I think most people want a change. Plus, the small town feels like a more realistic Nicaraguan experience.

Then we will split into groups of 3-5 and go with a pastor to some area of the country. Each person will live with their own host family, but there will be a few other students in the area who likely go to the same church. That is somewhat reassuring to me. And for that week, we will pretty much just "be," as our professor told us. I am a little nervous about that, especially since this guy I know who went last year told me that Nicaragua was the only part of the trip that he really cried from loneliness and isolation. Ah. And I am very prone to that, and very prone to crying when I feel like that, so I am a little nervous that that will happen. Who knows? It could be the greatest week of my life. But I know that it will be difficult. It will definitely be a different standard of living than San Jose, and also, I know that people almost universally get sick there. But I also know that it will be an incredible experience and one that I probably won't have again. So I need to embrace it for all it is, and know that it will show me a new side of life and the world that I have not seen before.

So that is next week, and then when we get back, we have spring break! It is so hard to believe that already four weeks has gone by.

Ok. It's after midnight now. I should get back to my paper! Missing you all down here in Costa Rica!

taking a step back

Do you ever have those moments where you just step back and look at where you are, and are just in disbelief at the current scene of you life? I remember once in India I was in a rural village at nighttime, watching people perform rituals to the Hindu gods, and I just paused for a second to ask myself, "Am I really here? Out of everywhere I could possibly be in the world, what are the chances that I am here?" It is the coolest feeling just to step back for a moment and realize how bizarre and amazing it is that you are in the exact place you are just happening to cross paths with some people who you probably never in your life would have been able to. I can't explain the feeling, and it really could happen anywhere- not just in a foreign country- but it is just so surreal.

Well, I had one of those moments today.

As you know I am writing (or I need to start tonight!) a paper on US relations with Nicaragua. This has been such a fascinating topic to explore, especially since I feel like it is one of America's best kept secrets. Our relationship with Nicaragua, especially during the Cold War, is extremely controversial. Just a quick history lesson (and I need to prep for my 7-10 page paper due in less than 36 hours which I have yet to start!): skip this part if you just want my cool story of the day. From 1936-1979, the Somoza family oppressively ruled Nicaragua. Unfortunately, they had the support of the US during most of this time. They controlled almost all of the major industries in Nicaragua, and were worth about 1 billion dollars at the peak of their power. While they were not democratic per se in the way that we view democracy as being linked with human rights, they were not communist, thus enjoying our support. After the success of the Cuban revolution, a Marxist group called the Sandinistas formed in Nicaragua. They overthrew the government in 1979 (after several years of horrific retaliation by the Somozas and by the military which they controlled. During this retaliation, the National Guard (controlled by Somoza) ruthlessly bombed villages, killed innocent people, and tortured and killed those who challenged their authority.) However, in 1979, the Sandinistas overthrew the Somoza government and declared themselves leaders of the country. They were idealistic and hopeful that they could bring about the Nicaragua that had been taken from them for many years. Unfortunately, as often happens, the Sandinistas were very disorganized, inexperienced, ideologically diverse from one another, and thus unable to bring about many of the changes that they hoped for their country. There were intense food shortages after redistribution/government control of farmland, among other issues.

Anyway. The most important part of the story is this. The US funded a counter-revolutionary group called the Contras to go into Nicaragua and initiate a civil war. These contras were Nicaraguans who had fled the country (many of them had been in Somoza's National Guard) and wanted to fight against the Marxist government. The US secretly funded these contras, since Congress forbade support via the Boland Amendment. Even though the contras had no chance of winning against the Sandinistas, the hope was that the conflict would eventually require intervention by the US, which would allow us to install a pro-US/democracy leader. Over the course of 8 years, this war cost the US $350 million dollars, and cost Nicaragua $15 billion dollars and 30,000 lives. However, the US supported and funded this war in the name of democracy and the elimination of Marxism in the Western Hemisphere.

Ok. So that wasn't brief. Sorry! But that got me all fired up to write my paper.

So... my professor put me in touch with a Sandinista who lives right down the road from me. She is almost always a host mother for LASP, but this semester does not have a student. Two other students and I had the chance to go over to her house tonight and speak with her about her experience growing up in Nicaragua. She was somewhat emotional while speaking about her past there, and even about the situation today. Her father was imprisoned by the Somozas and tortured. They would go and visit him every 3 months and see him stripped naked and bleeding from tortures and beatings. As you can imagine, it had a huge effect on her sister and her, as they were only 5-6 years old. I am a little bit unclear about how she worked with the Sandinistas (all of this was in Spanish, so I only comprehended some... but I will get details tomorrow from the other two students.) However, she spoke a lot about the tragedy of the Somozas taking so much for themselves and the few in their family, and leaving the millions of Nicaraguans completely poor and helpless. She also spoke about the war on ideologies- the Sandinistas were communist, yet they were also people who wanted to bring about change to their country. It was a wonderful opportunity, she emphasized, yet in many ways it was stolen from them by the US who launched a war via the contras at the beginning of Sandinista rule. Some Sandinistas believe that the Marxist government could have prospered had it been left alone; some are not as hopeful. She also spoke about the situation today, where many Nicaraguans emigrate to Costa Rica in order to find jobs and make a better life. However, they are discriminated against here and very much looked down upon by Costa Ricans. (Much in the same way that many Americans look down on immigrants in the US...)

**There are many many other things she said. Some of which I got, and many of which I didn't, but one thing that just completely struck me the whole time was her openness and hospitality to a group of American, AMERICAN, students. Students from a country that supported an oppressive dictator and funded the war that killed many of her friends and fellow country men. A war where she fought on the other side of the US and democracy. It was just amazing for me to take a step back and see what was happening: this beautiful woman, welcoming us into her home, giving us tea and cake, and sharing, tearfully, the story of her country and her people.

Out of all the places I could have been this afternoon for two hours. Wow. That is all I have to say.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Election Day!

Yesterday was the Costa Rican presidential elections, and it would have been worth coming here just to see how enthusiastic and passionate this country is about democracy and about voting. Seriously. I already wrote about how before the elections, I would see tons of cars and flags and rallies going on in the parks and streets. Well, yesterday was all of that taken to a whole new level.

Yesterday I woke up and my family just had such a gorgeous breakfast together. Papaya, cantalope, watermellon, hot dogs, ham sandwiches, COFFEE, and freshly squeezed orange juice (this is one of my favorite things about Costa Rica... a few times a week my mom gives me freshly squeezed orange juice.... just the juice from about eight oranges or so. most delicious thing in the world. If I don't have that, sometimes I have a strawberry and milk smoothie or a papaya milkshake. Mmmmmmm.) My mom prayed for the elections, and that God would guide the voters and the future president. This is another thing I really appreciate about my family and just about the culture in general. People really trust God with decisions like these.

After breakfast, my two older sisters came over to the house with their husbands and my one nephew. Some of them were wearing the colors of their preferred candidate and national party. Everyone in my family was voting for Otton Solis.

We got into two cars and drove across town to the polls. It was crazy! As we got closer and closer to the polls, there were more and more cars and demonstrators. It was all very peaceful and good natured though. Whenever we would see people with Otton's flag or colors, we would honk the horn loudly and cheer and wave out the window. It was crazy!

We went to vote, which is all done by written ballot. I tried to go in with my mom to vote, but they forced me to leave. :-( But I still got to see the setup. All the people who live in my town voted at one school. Outside of the school there were tons of tables set up for each candidate. I read in the paper that 300,000 volunteers gave their time around the country yesterday for the election. That number seems fairly large, but that is what I read in the paper.

Anyway. After we voted we came home and decided to walk downtown to see all the cars and people there. This was probably the craziest part of the whole day. We went to el Parque de Guadelupe, and there were hundreds of people standing along the road waving flags at all the cars and buses on the busy street. It was a fiesta!

Some people wore masks, including one of Ronald Reagan!

Another thing I loved: my older sister and her husband brought their dog, Argus, with them on the walk, and he sported the colors for Otton. Tons of kids and people on the streets got a huge kick out of that, and came over to socialize and show their support for Otton as well.

After finishing our walk, we went to my older sister Beij-Hiu's house, and ate lots of bread, fried plantains with refried beans and guacamole (also the greatest food in the world... panacotes as they are called- basically a smashed plantain fried twice.) We also took part in the great American tradition of watching the Superbowl. Woohoo. I am way more clueless about the NFL than my Costa Rican family. Haha.

When we came home, we tuned into the results, and at about 8:30pm, it was announced that Laura Chinchilla won the election with about 46%. Otto and Otton both took about 20-25%, and the other four candidates split the rest. My family was disappointed in the results, but it is kind of cool that Costa Rica has their first female president! And I got to be here while it all happened!

Saturday, February 6, 2010


One really unique thing that is happening during my semester are the elections in Costa Rica! It is so exciting to be here during the campaign process and on election day, which is tomorrow.

Right now there are four main candidates for president, including one woman- Laura Chinchilla, who is the current vice president for President Oscar Arias. She is predicted to win the election tomorrow, and become Costa Rica's first woman president. (It is amazing to me that the US has never had a female president while many countries around the world have.) There are definitely some Laura fanatics in the country, but many people who feel that she will just be a puppet of the current administration. My family supports Otton Solis, who will probably take 3rd place tomorrow.

One thing that is really cool is how passionate the country gets about the elections. For the last few weeks, I have seen tons of cars waving flags for their political party out the window. There are also lots of demonstrations on the streets and in the parks for different candidates. Today, when my mom, sister and I drove home from the movies, there were cars everywhere waving flags, and people on the street and in other cars honking and cheering out the window. It was pretty much a constant stream of honking and cheering on the way home today. In the US, you see a lot of people with signs in their windows and yards, which doesn't happen here. But the car thing and passion on the street is a new thing.

It is also encouraging because voter turnout is fairly high here and people are always talking and debating about politics. I come from a family that takes the civic responsibility to vote very seriously. (Since I have turned 18, I have voted in every single local, state, and national election there is... including elections for town council, school board, town mayor, etc. I probably would have missed the local elections had it not been for my parents who arrange for absentee ballots to arrive in my mail at Gordon. Which I appreciate, Dad! :-)) Anyway, it is refreshing to be in a place where people take the future of their country seriously.

I am excited about tomorrow. My mom said that it is a fiesta all day long. When I asked if I could come with them to vote, my mom was like, "Well, OF COURSE you are coming! You must! It is the most exciting and beautiful day!" Haha. I didn't even have to ask- they assumed that of course I would come with them to vote and take part in the democratic traditions that this country proudly upholds.

Tacos Chinos

Every once in a while, my parents make "tacos chinos"- Chinese tacos. My father is Chinese and every once in a while our Costa Rican food has a little bit of Chinese influence. Case in point: when we had spaghetti the other night, all of us had spaghetti with meat sauce and parmesan, except for my dad, who had plain spaghetti with soy sauce.

My family started talking about the tacos chinos a few days in advance. They said that it took a lot of time and preparation, but that it was very delicious. I didn't really know what they meant, and thought we would just make tacos with some different ingredients. However, we ended up making homemade spring rolls! They were so wonderful, and the process was a great family bonding activity as well.

Basically, it takes about three hours to make. And we made 50 of them! First my dad prepared the dough, and then spread a very very thin layer on a frying pan.

He made dozens of very thin, almost pancake type, tortillas. Then, my mom, sister, and I placed inside some chopped cabbage, carrots, and pork. They showed me how to roll it up very tight and seal it with some pasty dough.

Then, my dad fried them all, and after my older sister and her husband arrived, we all feasted on tacos chinos at 10 pm (after having a huge spaghetti dinner!)

I never really cared much for spring rolls, but I definitely have a huge appreciation now for the work and time they require! And they actually were very delicious.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

My family!!!

Here are a few pictures of my family. You can see my parents, my older sister Biej-Cheng, her son Diego, and the newest addition to our family: Luna! A little kitten. Luna has only been in the house for a few days, but we all love her. She is so tiny and just sleeps all day long, but she is so cute and hilarious. I need to post pictures of my other sisters later. But you can see my wonderful parents and sister and nephew. One thing that is neat is how close the families are here. My nephew comes over the house every single morning, and sometimes in the afternoon as well. My two older sisters, who are both married and in their 30s, come over the house as well almost every day. Diego, my nephew, has so many parent figures in his life with his grandparents and aunts and uncle who are all very involved. Anyway. Just a side note. :-)