She Was An American Girl

I had more than a few warnings that choosing to spend a semester in another country would result in me being asked some tough questions about my own. In all honesty, most questions here are tough for me because they’re in Spanish. Anyway, I’ve decided to share a list of some of the questions I’ve been asked by my new tico friends and family. They have been translated into English by the best of my memory and ability for the benefit of my target audience (Mom and Dad).

Are you French? - Ok, so this only happened once, but it was cool. I was excited to think that my looks could be ambiguous, but on second thought, maybe I just have a weirdly French tone to my Spanish accent…

Aren’t you cold? - This is a totally normal question, but seeing as it hasn’t dropped below 60° Fahrenheit (15ish° Celsius) while I’ve been here, the part of my brain that contains memories of past Maryville blizzards just thinks LOL.

Do you speak Spanish? - This might seem like an obvious one since my skin is the color of milk and hiking sandals are my most common choice of footwear, but it’s interesting to me because I would never think to ask someone what language they speak at home. I have always assumed that all people who come to the US speak English. Whether that assumption is good or bad, I’m not quite sure.

Why aren’t there more language classes in US schools?/Why don’t people there learn a second language? - Obviously, I’m studying Spanish, and I want to be a language teacher, meaning that language classes and the encouragement of bilingualism have and will continue to be a huge part of my life. It’s hard for me to express my passion for this subject in my second language, but I try! However, I usually try to practically explain that speaking a second language seems unnecessary to most people in the US because there are so many English speakers throughout the world, and the opportunities for bilingual people (although there are many) are not quite as numerous or in-demand as they are in Costa Rica.

Oh, Missouri. That’s in the south, right? - It’s not that I expect everyone to know the exact location of my home, but I have just been surprised that so many people associate it with the southern region of the US.  It could just be that living in the northern part of the state makes me identify more with my northern neighbors.

How do you say (insert word here) in English? - I love being asked this because it gives me a chance to be an expert on something, which doesn’t happen much when you’re on the wrong side of the language barrier.

Do “Americans” (see next question) like President Obama?/What do they think of Obamacare?  – I almost want to laugh when I am asked these questions, not because I don’t appreciate the interest in ongoings in my home country, but because it’s impossible to answer. There are so many aspects that can be criticized or praised for every politician and each of their policies. I can barely answer these questions for myself, let alone the entire nation.

Why do you people call yourselves “Americans?” - I should preface this comment by saying that the use of “you people” may have been less intentionally blunt and more a result of the fact that a friend chose to ask it in English, her second language. Regardless, this question made my heart drop. Although the term americana (American) is used here in some contexts, I do not feel right using it. My other choices are: estadounidense (United Statesian, if you will), which is overly formal, gringa (yankee, but with slightly offensive undertones), which is overly informal, or norteamericana (North American), which isn’t specific enough. I usually choose to say, “Soy de los estados.” (I am from the US.) because it’s the easiest. So, I had no suitable answer to my friend’s question. Is it consoling for her to hear that there is no word in English other than an exclusive term that should include both of us and people from many other countries as well? Probably not.

One final question: What is a blog post without a few photos?

My aunt, uncle, and cousins visited during their spring break. Even though I only got to see them for a few days, I was excited to have some Iowans in Costa Rica!

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View of Volcán Arenal

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Climbing around in the La Fortuna waterfall… it was strong!!!

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My amigos and I after a long, steep hike at Monte de la Cruz.

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The alphabet sidewalk at the Museo de los Niños (Children’s Museum) in San José

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Pura vida!

Tori :)

P.S. Credits to Tom Petty (and the Heartbreakers, I suppose) for this post’s title.

Upside Down

OMG, I’ve been here for a month! That is unbelievable! Before leaving a lot of people told me that culture shock and assimilation to my new country would be like a roller coaster. With four weeks of expertise (or something like that), I would have to say that I agree with the analogy. Here’s some insight into the experience I’ve been having so far.

Host Family Life:

Down: Not being in complete control of what I can eat or what I can wear on a given day has contributed to my feelings of dependency. This has been a big change from living on my own in Maryville. Up: Am I complaining about the fact that my host mom does my laundry and serves me delicious meals? Certainly not! She is awesome, and I only wish she would let me help out more.

Learning Spanish:

Down: Not always being able to express my thoughts/emotions in Spanish is more frustrating than I would have guessed. It’s very difficult to participate in intelligent conversations or to have a personality in a second language. Up: I have had a lot of chances to work on speaking and listening. I am so happy that people are willing to work with me, and I have no doubt that I’m improving.


Down: I really really miss my family, friends, and boyfriend. And my house. And my car. And my job. And abundant water fountains. Up: I’m definitely not without support from my loved ones, even from afar, and learning that I can do things without the comforts that I’ve always known is kind of an awesome experience!

The Tropical Climate:

Down: Sunburns, bug bites, and sweat. Up: I’m kind of ok with not being frozen at home.


And… here are some pictures of the latest adventures I’ve had in local towns.

The view from the coffee plantation we visited in Naranjo.

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Painting oxcart wheels in Sarchí.

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And one of the Los Chorros waterfalls in Grecia!

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Pura vida!

Tori :)

Heredia por media calle :)

Here are some of the things I’ve been up to this week. I’ve been very lucky to meet some wonderful ticos and ticas who have helped me learn about my new city, Heredia. The title of this post is a saying that a new tica friend taught me. It refers to the fact that Heredianos are known for not quite following traffic laws, which is definitely something I’ve observed. :)

My first fútbol game. Vamos Heredia! It was a beautiful day for a game, and a win for Club Sport Herediano!

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After the game, some friends and I explored Heredia’s central park (El Parque Central). It is always lit up at night!

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We went on a mini field trip around the city for my Costa Rican culture class. We got to explore Heredia’s oldest church, La Iglesia de la Inmaculada Concepción.

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One of my favorite buildings in Heredia is the post office. It’s much more historical looking than most of the post offices that I’ve seen in the Midwest!

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We visited a few other cultural sights, my favorite being El Fortín. It is a tall tower in the center of Heredia. We had to climb a lot of twirly steps, but it offered awesome views at the top. We also got to meet the mayor (el alcalde)!

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After a long week of learning about Heredia, we decided to reward ourselves with the biggest pizza we could find! It was as delicious as it looks!

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I hope you enjoyed your tour of Heredia! Now I just need visitors to come see me and experience all of it firsthand!

Pura vida!

Tori :)

L2 and a View

The first week of classes is over… and we all survived!

After a night class, a few of my US friends and I climbed to the top of one of our school buildings to get some shots of the city at night. All the red cars lined up are the taxis, and if you look closely, you can see the neon Burger King sign to the left.

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I’m already getting a lot of practice with my Spanish with my host family, ordering things at restaurants and stores, and a few homework assignments. In one of my classes, I’m learning about the process that students here use to learn English, which is really interesting!

I was very confused when I first arrived because street signs and names are seldom used here. However, I am getting more acquainted with my route to school and some of the other places in town. If you visit, I can show you the landmarks I use to find my way around, including cemeteries, parks, churches, and “the house with the zig-zag bricks.” Here’s a view of my street!

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My host family has been wonderful, letting me tag along to the houses of other family members, the grocery store, museums, and the mall! I also love just spending time at my host home, doing homework or reading and enjoying the breeze. Our front patio is my favorite!

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Even though culture shock and homesickness are present, I am working on my routines and settling in to my temporary (but lovely) home. :)

Pura vida!


Indigenous Floss

More about orientation week!

Our third day of orientation began our excursions. We started at La Sabana Metropolitan Park in San Jose. Here’s our first group picture!

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We went to a natural history museum that had really interesting displays with shells, fossils, rocks, and animals.

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It was back to San Jose for day 4, starting with walking around the city and finding this beautiful church. It was very open, like many of the buildings here.

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Unfortunately, I began to feel sick that day. I know it’s common for bodies to rebel when they’re under the stress of getting accustomed to a new place, but I was frustrated that I had to go home and rest instead of spending more time in the city. Feeling sick in a new place definitely made me miss the comforts of home more, also. However, my host mom took me to the clinic, and she has been wonderful in helping me to feel better! I was nervous about holding up during our last day of orientation because I knew it would be a long one, but I’m so glad I decided to go!

We left early so we could drive a few hours to get to the rain forest. We started our day with a banana plantation tour. We learned all about banana plants and how they go from the rain forest to our tables with their little Dole stickers. Unfortunately I don’t have any pictures because we got a lot of rain during the tour.

During lunch, we visited a jungle lodge and did some exploring. That’s where we came up with Indigenous Floss (both a prediction of the use of a certain rain forest plant as well as an excellent band name to use in the future).

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After lunch, we went to another part of the rainforest to learn how chocolate was made back in the good ol’ days. The tour started with a walk across one of the longest suspension bridges in Costa Rica (about 800 feet long!) It was scary, but a really neat experience.

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We got home late because a landslide closed the road we had taken in the morning. Our road home was very curvy, but the views were beautiful. I guess it was just a reminder that you can always find something good when things seem bad. I’ll need to keep that in mind as we start classes soon! :)

Pura vida!


Roto el hielo :)

Observations during this orientation week have been so numerous that I’m going to have to make more than one post about it!

The weather here is BEAUTIFUL. There are almost constant breezes that make drying clothes outside the ideal option. See below, the patio and clotheslines behind my host home.

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I haven’t mastered the ATM/bank situation just yet, but I am slowly figuring it out. Look how pretty Costa Rican colones are! I think it’s good for my budget because they’re so pretty that I don’t want to spend them.

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This is my host dog, Lulu! If she looks sad, it’s probably because I had to steal an oreo wrapper from her. But I’m sure she’ll forgive me when she realizes it was for her own good.

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It’s strange to me how quickly my confidence in speaking can shift. Sometimes at school I can’t even form basic sentences, but then I can come home and tell my host mom everything I did that day. Then the next day will be the exact opposite! Here’s the first picture I’ve taken of my school.

P1000348 (600x800)Orientation has been stressful, but it’s also been really good. Having something to do is much better than spending all my time at my host home missing my US home. I am SO happy to have met the other students in the exchange program (a.k.a. mis amigos gringos).

More to come soon! Pura vida!


P.S. The title loosely translates to “breaking the ice,” something my host brother, Victor, taught me. :)

¡Bienvenidos a Costa Rica!

Well, I made it! Here’s a recap of my first day in Costa Rica:

I traveled with my friend Meagan from Nebraska. Here’s our slightly teary picture before leaving the airport in Omaha.

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My first impression was muy incómodo (very awkward). My host family didn’t recognize me because my clothes and hair were different than my picture, so I kind of had to sneak up on them. And the welcome hugs/kisses on the cheek that I had tried to prepare for were much more difficult because I’m quite a bit taller than them and had a lot of luggage. Not to mention that I said “Nice to meet you,” in English. I didn’t quite have my Spanish brain on yet.

Eventually I said a few things correctly so they figured out that I can at least speak some Spanish, but I also had to ask them to speak more slowly and/or repeat nearly everything they said on the way to our house. I looked out the windows the whole way home and already noticed a TON of things that are different from home or that I’d never even seen before!

Everything is very close together here. Most of the cars seem smaller, but the roads are also. This doesn’t keep people from driving very fast. I would tell you how fast, but my kilometer to mile equations are not very accurate yet…

Most of the houses are connected. My room is small, but it’s the perfect size for what I brought from home. My window looks like a glass blind, which means my room is very loud, but it also has a wonderful breeze!

We had coffee and cake in the afternoon, which seems to be something that is typical here. I gave my host family some cherry mash as a gift from my hometown, and my host mom said she liked them!

Before I even finished unpacking, we were off to meet more family members. Everyone has been very patient with me, which I appreciate more than I know how to express to them. My host brother, Victor, showed me pictures he had taken of Costa Rica, and he told me that he wants me to like his country. I think I will. :)

Sleeping was hard because it is so much louder than my house in the country at home, and it was the first time I’d been able to really think about how much I already miss my family, but I survived the first day!

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This is the first sign I saw at the airport! I had to be a tourist and take a picture. :)

Pura Vida!


Why Am I Doing This?

That is an excellent question. Why in the world would I leave my wonderful family, friends, and boyfriend to live in another country by myself (well, with a host family) for almost five months? I’ve been asking myself that pretty much every day lately.

Here’s what I’ve come up with:

  • Costa Ricans (ticos) as a whole are relaxed and happy with life the way it is. As a constant planner, I could use a dose of pura vida! (literally meaning “pure life,” but used as a greeting, farewell, an expression that things are going well, and/or saying good luck and with connotations of living well in general) Blog1


  • I get to try a whole bunch of new foods! From traditional Costa Rican food I’ve only read about (pinto gallo, fried plantains) to things I know, only fresher (coffee, chocolate, fruit); I can’t wait for this part!



  • My Spanish needs mucha ayuda! For the English speakers reading this (Mom and Dad), that means “a lot of help!” If I want to teach other people Spanish, I know there is no better way to take in the language than by dropping myself into one of its natural habitats, even if it is really terrifying.



  • Costa Rica is ridiculously beautiful. Even though I’m not there yet, the pictures I’ve seen are telling me that I’m making an excellent choice to spend my time surrounded by some of the most amazing scenery in the world.



  • Meeting new people, extending my comfort zone, being enlightened, etc. :)



  • Honestly, the idea of leaving tomorrow is BEYOND scary, but I want to push myself to do something I once thought was only a picture on my Pinterest bucket list (see below). Here’s to being able to put a big “DONE” underneath it come June!



Pura vida!


First Stop: Italy

My love for Italy grows each time I get the opportunity to visit. The people are kind, the food is delicious, and the history is abundant. The first two stops of my Easter break included Rome and Florence.

In Rome we stayed in a nice little hostel, Starlight, close to the city center. We were in the Italian capital for a total of two nights and three days, but we checked almost everything off of our to-see list!

Starting with a necessary pizza stop!
And then some night time sight-seeing.
Making a wish in Trevi Fountain.
 Touring the Colosseum.
Lots and lots of gelato stops…
Our time in Rome was short, but it was so much fun. We weren’t quite ready to say goodbye to pizza and gelato, so thankfully our next stop was the Italian city of Florence.
Lots of sleepy travelers!
 Fish & chips & locally brewed beer. Yummm.
 This building is covered from top to bottom with fake dollar bills. Makes me cringe thinking about my very “college student” budget…
 The inside of the Brunelleschi’s Duomo. Incredibly detailed and well preserved.
The 414 steps to the top of the bell tower proved to be very worth it!
Everyone was right when saying that Italian men are sharp. Just look at this handsome guy.
 And this is the result of five people fitting into one very small photo booth.
I feel very lucky to have been able to see so much of Italy. Our next stop: France! Paris, France to be exact. That post will be coming shortly :)

The Island Life

The Island Life

     A little taste of the Island life was just what I needed before my classes began to pick up speed. Two weeks ago I visited the island of Mykonos and last weekend I visited the island of Hydra. The season for tourism on the islands is just beginning to heat up. More of the tavernas and shops are open which made these two islands very enjoyable. A lot of the activities on the island consist of relaxing, eating, and exploring; a few of my favorites!

Here are some pictures from Mykonos…

And onto Hydra!
Trying to be a mermaid…
This past week has been full of studying, writing, and tests, but today I will set off on my two week Easter break! Today we fly to Rome and from there we will see Florence, Paris, and Berlin. I look forward to all of the adventures ahead as I near the end of my time abroad :)