Life is never what you expect (but it’s usually better)

Wednesday was a day I will never forget. We started out getting breakfast before a second day of orientation. The cafe three doors down from us is affordable, the people are super nice – it has become our breakfast place. I just had a cappuccino (cold again, but this time it was my choice and they put whipped cream on top). Orientation was nothing to write home about. Then we had a two and a half hour break before we were due to meet up again as a group for a tour. We decided to stay in the neighborhood of the American University of Rome and explore.

We went to a sandwich shop that we heard was a regular hangout for AUR students and it did not disappoint. I got a zucchini and cheese (swiss, maybe?) panini and a homemade lemon iced tea. It tasted like an Arnold Palmer! The guy asked me if I wanted dressing for my panini and I said, “Yes?” and he said “Mustard?” and I said “Sure!” I was super skeptical but it was actually delicious. It was a great experience.

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My adorable roommate Andrea.

My adorable roommate Andrea.

 

Then we went and just walked up and down the streets and went in some shops and drooled over all the pastries. We also found a beautiful church in the area and took a peek in – those of us with our knees and shoulders covered, of course. It was a calming experience to just sit in the pews and take in the stained glass windows and murals

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At three we met for our bus tour and the skies were darkening. Rain was apparently in the forecast but no one on the bus except the ISA staff had thought to check ahead. Our bus tour started along with the rain. We drove to the area of Rome that has a lot of ancient architecture and ruins. We saw a pyramid (apparently they aren’t just in Egypt??) that is a tomb for a really important dude, I’m sure. We also drove along the ancient wall that used to contain Rome. It seriously blows my mind that everything we saw today is still standing. Then we saw the Baths of Caracalla which are HUGE even though they’re ruins now. You can just tell that it was massive when it was in its hay day.

Then was our time to see the Colosseum. We got out of the bus to see it and it was still sprinkling. We got out of the bus and immediately there was twenty men trying to sell us ponchos or umbrellas. The street sellers (I don’t know if that’s their real name but it’s the closest thing I can think of) can be really annoying but you have to give them credit for being smart and having umbrellas and ponchos at the blink of an eye. I was going to brave the rain but it was picking up and I didn’t have a jacket and I was getting chilly so I figured I should buy a poncho. A guy approached me and said “Five euro.” And I said “One.” And he said “Four” and I said “One” and he said “Three” and I said “One” and he said “Three” and I said “Two” and he said deal. So that was fun.

We loitered around the outside of the Colosseum for a long time waiting for headsets so we could hear our guide, and it was pouring. I honestly was having the time of my life. I mean, it was not ideal, but there are much worse things that could have happened and I was looking at the Colosseum! Not everyone was having as much fun as I was and that was disappointing but I was loving it. People always want to get kissed in the rain but I got to see the Colosseum in the rain and that was equally as cool.

Loving life!

Loving life!

Selfies for days.

The holes in the columns and walls are because they were originally held together with iron clamps and people came and clawed them out to sell them. Also, the original seats were marble and those were stolen too. 

 

We eventually went inside and that was a little eerie. Because we were in the same hallways that gladiators, wild animals, and men condemned to death had walked in and waited in. The sense of history was insanely overwhelming. It was built in 80 AD. EIGHTY. I’m not sure I can even truly recognize what that means. It was amazing.

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You can see the rain dripping off my nose. :)

You can see the rain dripping off my nose. :)

We were supposed to see the Roman Forum too but the rain had flooded it and a lot of people were very over the situation so they cut it short. We all headed back to the apartment to put on dry clothes and warm up. I was seriously worn out and it felt really good to put on sweats. But wow. I still am really happy with how this day went, even though it wasn’t a sunny gorgeous day. It was a challenge, but I knew I would experience more than a few of those. Nevertheless, I am LOVING Rome!

The Tourist Life Isn’t So Bad

Tuesday was absolutely incredible. In the morning we started out with a quick stop at a café near our apartment. I got a cappuccino (cold, because our whole block lost power like 15 minutes before we left, but still delicious) and a blueberry cornetto (croissant).         IMG_3531 (480x640)

 

We then adventured to the American University of Rome for orientation. We braved public transportation for the first time (WITHOUT GOOGLE MAPS MIGHT I ADD) and while it was daunting, it eventually worked! We showed up to orientation about 10 minutes late but we don’t think anyone else took a bus so we felt extra proud of ourselves for figuring it out. After orientation we had some plans but got lost and so just wandered back to our apartment to find lunch and freshen up. We got lunch at a place near our apartment and I got two suppli – a rice, cheese, and beef ball that is fried.

The arches that lead to the American University of Rome.

The arches that lead to the American University of Rome.

Our apartment is on Viale de Trastevere. Love the statues embedded in the walls!

Our apartment is on Viale di Trastevere. Love the statues embedded in the walls!

Then we went back to AUR and met up for our walking tour. I was super pumped for this. As I should have been. We walked for a solid 2 and a half hours but we saw SO MUCH I COULDN’T EVEN FATHOM IT. The first amazing thing we saw was a beautiful fountain across from a picturesque view of Rome. AUR sits atop a giant hill so all of Rome was splayed out below us. A million pictures were taken. I got goosebumps when I first saw it. This would be a common theme for the day.

My roommates and I in front of the crazy amazing view of Rome!

My roommates and I in front of the crazy amazing view of Rome!

After this we started walking towards the center of Rome. I’m going to do the rest of this post through mainly pictures because I think that will better convey the beauty and rich history I got to experience.

Crossing the Tiber River. Note the dome of St. Peter's Basilica peeking out over the trees! There is a law in Rome that no building can be taller than it.

Crossing the Tiber River. Note the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica peeking out over the trees! There is a law in Rome that no building can be taller than it.

The small cars never fail to crack me up.

The small cars never fail to crack me up.

Oh hey there, Jesus.

Oh hey there, Jesus. Lookin majestic. 

Piazza Navona.

Piazza Navona. The piazza is long, narrow, and rounded at the end. This is because it was built on the site of a stadium in Ancient Rome where people could come watch the games and competitions. 

I will never get over how overwhelmingly beautiful and meaningful the Pantheon was.

I will never get over how overwhelmingly beautiful and meaningful the Pantheon was.

The Pantheon holds a church. Stunning.

The Pantheon holds a church. Stunning.

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The mid to late 1800s were marked by enormous flooding in Rome. This marker shows where the water level was in 1870!

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Rome is a city built on its own ruins. This was a cool area where we could see where the original street level was when this building was built.

We wandered around after the tour and got dinner. This is a gorgeous shot of Piazza Navona by night.

We wandered around after the tour and got dinner. This is a gorgeous shot of Piazza Navona by night.

Obligatory Food-Centric Post

Sunday night we had a welcome dinner courtesy of ISA at a place called Ai Spaghettari and, yeah. I don’t even know where to start. We walked in – there was probably at least 50 of us – into this tiny restaurant and there was a guy tossing pizza dough into the air and then turning around and getting bread out of a serious brick oven. At that moment I knew I was in Roma.

We sat down to a table already stocked with bread, balls of the freshest, most delicious mozerella, prosciutto, a bottle of sparkling water, and a bottle of still water. We had barely started eating when a server brought a platter of bruschetta. I am already a huge fan of bruschetta so it didn’t have to do much work, but man. The tomatoes were so fresh and the sauce was light but delicious. The minute we finished that a pizza was set on our table. It was basically just the crust and meat. The meat looked like ham but with spots of white and grey….I don’t know what it was but it was surprisingly delicious. It was salty and the crust was to die for. Then a mystery dish was brought. We had no idea what it could be. It just looked like little fried balls. AKA the most delicious fried balls ever. It was rice, beef (?), and cheese. Fried. We found out later they are called “suppli” and I remembered hearing about how delicious they are before coming over here.

Bruschetta (the correct pronunciation is broo-ske-ta!)

Bruschetta (the correct pronunciation is broo-skeh-ta!)

Still don't know what the meat was. Still delicious.

Still don’t know what the meat was. Still delicious.

Suppli! All these pictures are of the food half-eaten because I didn't want to wait to take a picture before eating it.

Suppli! All these pictures are of the food half-eaten because I didn’t want to wait to take a picture before eating it.

At this point we thought our meal was over. But no. Then the pastas came. The first was a pasta called calamari rings (I think?) in basically a butter sauce and seasoning. I could only eat a few but it was fantastic. Then another pasta! This one was ziti with red sauce and a mystery meat that I stayed away from (my vegetarian tendencies are deeply engrained) but it was equally delicious. At this point we were about to burst. Was it over? No! The next dish – SO WEIRD AND YOU WOULD NEVER GUESS BECAUSE IT’S A WEIRD ORDER OF COURSES – was potatoes. God personally created those potatoes I swear. They were kind of cubed, but not that exact, and they melted in my mouth. I’m sure they were slathered in butter, so super healthy, but who cares. I will never forget those potatoes. Thank you for those potatoes, Roma.

The best potatoes I will ever eat.

The best potatoes I will ever eat.

Next was what I had been trying not to get my hopes up for because I had no idea what we would be getting out of this free meal (although at this point all my expectations had been blown away). Next was dessert. I made sure to ask the server what the name of it was because it was so good. It is called mimosa cake. I’m not exactly sure of these exact ingredients, but I’m pretty sure it had chocolate and vanilla custard layered with a super light sponge cake and whipped cream. It was incredible and the perfect ending to this insane meal.

In total: seven courses – not counting the bread, mozzarella, and prosciutto that already was on our tables. It was the perfect welcome dinner to Roma. Thank you ISA!

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La Guía Turística

I have been looking forward to having visitors since I got to Costa Rica, and I am so happy that I finally got the chance to share my experiences with some of my favorite gringos!

My boyfriend came to visit a few weeks ago, and I was so happy to have him here, like a piece of home that I could bring everywhere with me. Helping him get to know Heredia and Costa Rica was like experiencing my first week here all over again, except this time I was helping calm someone else’s culture shock instead of feeling the upheaval of my own.

P1010185 (2) (640x480) (500x375)There were some difficult parts of having a visitor that I didn’t expect, like balancing class time and host family time with tour guide (guía turística) time. I also had strong emotions that came with seeing someone that I had been missing for a long time, which was wonderful, but also a bit overwhelming at times.

13429_10153328353519940_4165219103634213183_n (500x333)Overall, showing him around was an amazing experience. I was so happy to have someone from home that would be able to understand why this temporary home has become so special to me.

P1010247 (500x375)My mom, aunt, and cousin also made the trip south to see my Costa Rican home. I wasn’t sure if they were going to be able to come, so getting the trip set in motion was fast-paced. Being a tour guide to three instead of one proved its difficulties, but they trusted me, and we had a lot of fun!

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Four country girls exploring the city and the Caribbean was kind of like a big rollercoaster with its ups and downs (and squeaky bus breaks and giant beetles), but I am so happy that they took chances and had once in a lifetime experiences with me in a new place.

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One of my favorite parts of their visit was introducing my mom and my mamá tica. Translating for them was hard for me, but it also made me realize how far I’ve come. They are two awesome women, and I am so happy that they got to meet!

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I am so so lucky to have had such wonderful experiences in Costa Rica so far, and now I feel even luckier that I’ve been able to share them with people I love.

Pura Vida!

Tori :)

Ciao, Rome!

Well, I made it – I’m officially in Roma!

This has been probably the longest day (days?) of my life but it has also been one of the best. I left my home in Omaha at 2:30pm and arrived at my new home at 10:30am the next day. I have yet to get one ounce of sleep since waking up at 9am yesterday – yikes – but it has been one giant, amazing adventure.

After arriving at Fiumicino, the airport in Rome I flew into, I met up with the ISA (International Studies Abroad) group. We unfortunately ended up waiting at the airport for almost two hours waiting for more people and buses. But a group of us went to the little cafe upstairs and there I bought my first real Italian cappuccino! I’ve never been much of a coffee drinker but I figured….when in Rome…. Some other people got espressos and they came in doll-sized cups. Too cute.

When I finally got to my apartment, I was pleasantly surprised! It is really cute and spacious. I’m rooming with 5 other girls who all are very kind and awesome – I’m looking forward to getting to know them more. There are three rooms and two bathrooms. It’s all very open and the sounds of the street are a little noisy, but cool. After settling in, we decided to go explore our new neighborhood.

Our neighborhood is called Trastevere and wow. It is beautiful. The architecture of every building is unique and stunning. And the stores! And cafes! On our block alone there are so many little shops – one that has fresh fruit and veggies, one that has bread and wine, and one that is more like a cafe… I’m hoping to make that my breakfast stop. We walked up and down the streets just taking it all in. We kept saying, “We’re in Rome! We live here!” It is starting to sink in, but I’m sure tomorrow when I wake up I will momentarily believe I’m still in Omaha.

Can you spot the kitty?

Kitty in the window

Tonight we are all going to dinner as a giant ISA group and I am looking forward to my first big Italian meal. Tomorrow, we’ll tour the city and go through orientation for the university. In the meantime, I am trying to stay awake. I’ll be sure to post more, so check back whenever!

Home-Away-From-Home-Sick

Sometimes when people check in with me (which I really appreciate, by the way!), they ask if I will be ready to come home from my five month vacation. There is no doubt that I have been lucky to have this opportunity, or that I have been a tourist a time or two. However, a part of me still wants to reply with, “I’m not on vacation. I live here.”

Even though I run off to a volcano now and then, I spend most of my time doing the things I would be doing in the US in an average week. I spend time with my (host) family, go to school, talk to my boyfriend (on Skype), do homework, go out to eat with my friends, go to the bank, pet my dog, and scroll though a plethora of “OMG!”-worthy posts on facebook.

The acclimation process was difficult for me, and I worried I would never feel comfortable living in Costa Rica, let alone come to love it. And yet, I have reached a point where I’m excited to go home and see everyone I miss, but simultaneously heartbroken to think about leaving behind the life that I have established here in my home-away-from-home.

A trip to Nicaragua caused me to realize just how much I feel connected to my Heredia home. I had previously made incorrect assumptions about the similarities of the countries of Latin America. Seeing instant differences in the looks, language, and habits of the people as we crossed into Nicaragua showed me how wrong I had been.

Our first stop was the beautiful beach town of San Juan del Sur. Although it is a tourist destination, it was more quaint and beautiful than I had expected.

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San Juan del Sur is also home to the 2nd largest Jesus statue in the world!

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From San Juan del Sur, we went north to Granada. I wasn’t feeling well, but I knew that I would regret staying in the hostel while my friends viewed the colorful colonial town. I was right. I don’t like to choose favorites, but Granada really tried to change that!

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We explored museums, climbed a bell tower for a view of the town (pictured below), and bought some cheap, but lovely souvenirs.

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On what could easily be called the most jam-packed weekend of my life, we headed next to the capital city of Managua. Here, we were so lucky to meet and stay with an ISEP coordinator, who gave us background about the country, insight on what it’s like to be a blonde living in Latin America, and a really great experience in a city that’s often not thought to be worth visiting. Pictured below is the view from the pier at Lake Managua.

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Managua was rich with history, cultural landmarks, and friendly people willing to discuss the past and the present state of the country. We were also lucky enough to stumble upon some young people performing traditional dances, and they were so cool!

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I had been warned that the infrastructure of Nicaragua is not as established as in Costa Rica, that poverty is more prevalent, and not to drink the water. I did get really sick, so someone might have been on point with that last bit. Regardless of the rough parts of the weekend, I will remember it fondly for a long time!

Below is a picture of me with the flags of all the Central American countries. Although I’m holding tightly to my “home” country of Costa Rica, I am excited that I was able to briefly experience Nicaragua and expand my cultural knowledge.

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Pura Vida!

Tori :)

I Have Class, And You Don’t!

As my Northwest friends finish up their classes, I have a little over a month before I can say the same. I don’t really have room to be bitter seeing as I’ve also been filling my time with amazing experiences in my new home. However, thinking about all of this has led me to make a list of things that I have noticed about my classes here in Costa Rica.

The students studying English speak much better than I speak Spanish. Although this is sometimes embarrassing, it only confirms what I already knew. Students here start learning English early, and have no trouble keeping up with native speakers by the time they’re certified to be teachers. I only wish I could say the same about myself!

Almost all of the chairs on campus are reclined. This may not technically be about classes, but it is a noticeable difference. At first I thought was cool and relaxing, but it actually is kind of a hindrance when I need to sit up to focus and write.

Students don’t seem to have a problem telling professors they haven’t finished their homework. At home, there may be that one brave soul that mentions aloud that there was too much going on or that they just didn’t get around to doing the homework, but usually anyone who missed out tries to remain unnoticed. In my classes here, when the professor asks “Did everyone finish the homework?” a lot more straight up “no”s come back in reply.

It’s not common to use computers in class. I think I may be a little biased on this one because I come from a university where laptops are checked out to you, giving every student easy access to their own computer. However, I think that home computers and computer labs are more widely used here because of the way that students travel to and from school (which I will discuss shortly).

SO MANY group projects. I guess I never realized how much of an “independent” endeavor higher education in the US really is until I left it for a while. I have had classes at home with the typical one to two group projects in a semester or small pair or group work throughout, but all of my classes here have three to six on the syllabus with more sprinkled into classwork.

Classes are scheduled into longer blocks. Because very few students live on campus and most take the bus from surrounding towns, class schedules are planned accordingly. Most classes are held one or two times a week for two to three hours so that students don’t have to make so many trips to the campus. Students that live in apartments during the week almost always go home on the weekends, so many of them plan schedules without Monday or Friday classes if possible.

Professors don’t really have office hours. Although they are very helpful before and after classes, it is a bit more difficult to sit down and have a long conversation because the professors don’t seem to readily use offices.

There are copy/printing shops galore! Instead of having textbooks, teachers put together anthologies of sorts that are picked up by students at one of these local shops for a small (my most expensive “book” was $7!) fee. They are also used for any printing needs that come up for both students and teachers.

If you made it through the wordy part of this post, you shall be rewarded with photos of my latest adventures:

Exploring Barrio China (China Town) in San Jose. In reality, there wasn’t much to explore after passing through the pretty entrance.

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There is, however, a statue of John Lennon in China Town. I have no idea why.

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Visiting la Basilica Nuestra Señora de Los Angeles in Cartago.

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A muddy, but beautiful day of hiking at Monte de la Cruz.

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Pura vida!

Tori :)