Friday, July 24, 2009

One Day More – Coming home

July 24, 2009

Today is the last day of classes. Tomorrow is my last full day in Costa Rica. Sunday...I will be home.

It is strange how much and how little I have become accustom to this place over the last ten weeks. I’ve learned the restaurants, the roads, the stores, the bus routes. I’ve learned how to avoid the rain and how to escape the heat. I’ve even somehow managed to pick up a little of the language. I look at the new students; see how they gaze wide-eyed at the tour guides, chat excitedly about new restaurants they’ve discovered, and even try to fit their own habits and customs, however awkwardly, in this strange, new world. I cannot help but smile inwardly when I watch them. They will soon transform from the “idealistic freshmen” to the “veteran” sophomores. They will become accustomed to this place and move on.

I have had the slightly unusual opportunity to spend my entire time at CPI studying in the same town throughout my entire time here. Most students here study for much less time and almost no one chooses to spend all their time in only one of CPI’s three campuses. In that sense, I have had a somewhat unique ability to come in as a student and not just travel around, but to live here for ten weeks. At the same time, though I have been living in this place, I haven't lived here. It has been only an extended visit – a journey to finish, not a destination or place of rest.

This idea stirred the question in my mind: What is a home? What makes a place that you go back to rather than just come back to? Obviously spending a mere seventy days in a foreign country is unlikely to replace the roots and ties a person has to the place he has been living his entire life. But what would be enough to make that change? Is it merely a matter of time? If so how can so many of the students at Patrick Henry, after spending a few short weeks on campus, a semester length in the decades of a lifetime, consider the school their home? Does it depend on the people you are with? If so, how are new homes ever established? How did the pioneers leave their families to stake out new homesteads in the frontier? How do grown, single sons and daughters leave their parents and make homes for themselves miles away from the family that raised them?

Maybe “home” is just a preference. “Home is where your heart is” and thus wherever you feel most comfortable, that is your home. But I think that is a dangerous idea because I believe that “home” is an objective, not subjective idea. We can choose to be comfortable in many places. It is even easier to choose to be uncomfortable in many places. I have seen both here. I have seen how a more tranquil lifestyle, a lifestyle that makes time for just hanging out with other people with nothing in particular to do, is restful, comfortable, and important. I have also seen how hours, afternoons, and dare I say even lifetimes can be wasted lounging “comfortably” in your bed, mindlessly watching television all day; how when the very real responsibilities of exerting energy to some higher purpose, of living for other people and not just working for them, become uncomfortable, they remain ignored responsibilities.

I believe and hope that I have learned many things here in Costa Rica. I have learned to value a more tranquil lifestyle. I have learned just how little I actually “need” to use the internet. How blessed we are to live in a world where doctors and medicines are available, where consumer products and department stores exist, where food is readily available and is stacked in piles. I’ve gained an increased appreciation for the unique and rare opportunity to spend time simply learning and educating oneself – a luxury that for most of history was reserved for kings and nobles. I have seen patience, kindness, and boundless hospitality displayed by my tico family whose generosity has humbled me and made my ask myself if I would be as selfless as they. There are many lessons I hope to take home with me, but that again raises the question: What is home?

Home, is the idea of permanence. It is an objective concept in the sense that you should match your subjective expectations to the objective realities, but we view “home” to be the place we expect to be our permanent shelter and refuge. This is why you cannot truly feel at home when you know you are leaving in ten weeks, or even ten years. This is why people are so devastated when that idea of permanence is shattered by losing their homes, even how an entire civilization can be gone with the wind. For us, home is the place where we understand our shelter ultimately is, our journey ultimately ends, and our responsibilities ultimately lie.

Where is that, I wonder? And am I living knowing, not just understanding mentally, that place might not be exactly where most people would consider it to be?


One day more. Another day, another destiny. This is my final day of studying Spanish at CPI. This is also my final blog post.

In a way, this post is the essay I wanted to write for my final Spanish project. The ideas that I can but express in my mother tongue alone. Only this time, I write in a matter of hours rather than weeks. It is an essay with much less revision than the one I submitted this morning, but hopefully one that conveys what I really mean.

I am incredibly excited and looking forward to be returning home. I will truly miss Costa Rica. But I yearn for someplace else. I miss my family, my friends, my home...and yet I also know that deep inside, I yearn for Home.

Thank you for reading.

This is Tico Adventure, signing off.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Dia Sesenta y Seis y Dia Sesenta y Siete – Casi hecho

July 22-23, 2009

So, for today I am (kinda) breaking my usual habit of posting a day later. (i.e. instead of posting my Wednesday post on Thursday, today I am posting my Wednesday, July 22 post AND my Thursday, July 23 post.)

Yesterday, (Wednesday), we have a very interesting class. Because I am now in Book 2, and Book 2 is mostly review of Book 1 concepts with some nuances added, I asked if we could cover some of the topics of Book 2 that were not in Book 1 at all (namely the subjunctive tenses). So first, I think she tested me to see if I really knew the stuff we were covering now. We went over twice the number of concepts we would usually go over in one day (and thus, I have twice the usual number of pages of homework). But apparently I did sufficiently well for her to agree to teach me the present subjective tense today. It was an “official” lesson because we are technically supposed to go in the order of the book, but since I this was my last week here and it was a topic that we haven’t covered, she first taught the “official” lesson on participles and gerunds and afterwards taught the unofficial lesson on present subjective. (Unfortunatelly, we will not have time to cover the other subjunctive tenses so I will just have to study those back in the States.)

Also today, I learned the Spanish word for “like” or “um.” We were doing an activity where I had to make up a story based on some pictures and my profesora kept noticing that I was using “uh” y “um” while I was thinking. When she pointed it out, I asked if there were similar words in Spanish. In Spanish, you use “este” or “entonces” as your filler words. Now that I know that, I have all I need to know to speak Spanish. ;-)

I have been keeping a to do list of everything that I need to do before I leave...but the list keeps getting bigger! I finish one thing just before remembering two other things I need to/would like to do. :-P And half the time, all I really want to do is sleep. Costa Rica is hot and humid and you get tired more easily here. I calculate that I walk an average of three miles a day with my bag, which isn’t all that much, but here it feels like double. Anyway, I can’t wait to exchange this hot, sticky Costa Rican summer for the hot, sticky summer of Virginia :-)

I am finishing up my essay today, it is on draft four and I still don’t like it much. It’s the kind of thing I want to do and then bury forever under six feet of earth. Maybe I am just being too proud and haughty – sticking my nose up at substandard writing – but I really am not excited about this essay. It is technically fine. Grammatically, structurally, etc. But for me, it is formulaic. It lacks spark or imagination. It lacks passion. I like to care about what I write or what I speak on, and I do care about my trip and experiences here in Costa Rica. I just can’t seem to care about this essay’s message and I am worried it may end up like a cliched Disney movie.

Oh well, I ready to be done. Tomorrow is the last day of classes. Casi hecho.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Dia Sesenta y Cinco – Not Much to Read

July 21, 2009

I have a lot to do today and a ton of homework, so I am being lame and this is all I have for my blog.

Have a great day!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Dia Sesenta y Cuatro – It's continuing mission to explore strange new worlds...

July 20, 2009

Forty years ago today. Forty years ago today the culmination of humanity’s first venture to explore the universe beyond our planet earth was realized by the astronauts that landed on the lunar surface. Forty years ago today, that one small step ushered in a new era in humanity’s mission to explore the vast and beautiful creation of an amazing God. But was that giant leap worth it? Billions of dollars, millions of man-hours, and even the cost of men’s lives were the price we paid for that endeavor. What makes space exploration worthwhile when we have so many problems here on earth with real people involved? Doesn’t God’s dominion mandate specifically say “fill the earth and subdue it?”

I have to admit right up front that I have always had a soft spot for space travel. Space is the final frontier and it never ceases to fill me with awe and wonder. Ever since I can remember I’ve been a self-proclaimed “Trekkie” and had a deep interest in space exploration. One of my biggest regrets and one that my goal is to rectify someday soon is that I never really studied the history of space travel as much as I wish I would have. I never studied star constellations as much as I now looking back would have liked. (There is still time for me :-) I have this all on my to-do list.) So understand that when I say this there may be a hint of boyish idealism - space travel has never failed to spark my imagination.

I believe that space exploration has brought about some of our nation’s proudest moments and should be a national priority. Politicians don’t talk about space exploration much (and my libertarian friends may not talk to me soon after this post :-P) – it really is not a national issue, the people don’t care, the politicians don’t care, NASA has been relegated to just another one of those everlasting government agencies (Reagan: The closest thing to eternal life on earth is a government agency) with no real mission other than to simply exist. Some people see this as a reason to get rid of NASA and the American space program; to discard it as the government waste spending they see it as. I agree that there is a problem with the American space program, but to me, the solution is not to quietly shut it down, but to open the gates, sound the trumpets and set out on a grand new adventure to the stars.

I first started writing this post about two weeks ago. The month had just turned and I was watching Apollo 13 when I realized, “Hey this is July, and it is exactly 40 years since 1969. I am going to be in Costa Rica for the anniversary of the moon landing!” To be completely up front, I usually don’t remember to mark the moon landing every July. While I love the history of space travel, I have to admit it usually isn’t on my radar. This year, I started thinking about it ahead of time by happenstance. As I was planning this blog post during these last two weeks, I suddenly started seeing a swarm of articles on the US space program about a week ago leading up to today. As I started reading the various articles, it was for me it was an affirmation. I have not done a tremendous amount of research so I am not in a place to comment on particular policy proposals, but the articles (both those I agreed with and those I disagreed with) strengthed this belief that I view as fundamentally true:

And God saw every thing that He had made, and, behold, it was very good.” God created a universe worth exploring. He gave mankind a sense of wonder over His creation. Exploration is not always profitable for bottom lines, but it is profitable for inspiring minds. Inspiring minds with the awesomeness of God’s creation and the incredible universe He has given us. Should we go to Mars? Return to the Moon? What should be the government’s role and how much should we leave to the private sector? These questions are for another day, and frankly I have not done enough research to give an answer I could confidently stand on. What I do believe though, is that space exploration is important. We have problems on earth. We have issues to confront. But we also have a universe outside. A universe that is unfathomably huge and yet still less than a grain of sand in the hands of our Creator. If we fail to explore it – if we ignore it – all I can say is, (to slightly alter a phrase) it seems we are wasting an awfully big space.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Dia Sesenta y Uno hasta Sesenta y Tres – The Last Weekend

July 17-19, 2009

This weekend was my last full weekend in Costa Rica. This time next week, I will be in the United States, in the Great Commonwealth of Virginia.

This weekend I successfully completed a challenge, I hung out with my tico family’s family, and I analyzed the content of my milkshake.

Just before Benjamin left a few weeks ago, he (out of either the goodness or maliciousness of his heart...I can’t tell which ;-) ) gave me free money. Only this money wasn’t exactly the kind of money you’d want. All the small change that he had aggregated and didn’t want to carry with him to Monteverde he graciously bestowed upon me. Dozens of coins worth anywhere from 4/5 of a penny to a whole 3 cents! Wonderful. Just what I needed.

Well, I am happy to say that I have successfully spent and used all those small coins. It took me three weeks, but the job is done. No more do I have a bulging coin purse filled with 5 colon coins. No more do I pay for everything in exact change. I am free, and I successfully completed this daunting challenge. I am also very proud of the humility I am showing here ;-)

On Satuday, my family went to visit the brother of my mama tica. It was like a mini-family reunion with about three or four whole families there. We ate some absolutely delicious “ChicharrĂ³n de chancho.” (Pork...from what I think is the hoof/around the leg, not sure). I played hide-and-seek with Sofia, Ricardo, and Alan (the grandson of the brother of my mama tica...or the first cousin once removed of the kids in my family. Confused yet? :-) ). We also played tag and ninja fighting. I didn’t beat them up too much. ;-)

On Sunday, I went to the Fresas resturaunt for a milkshake. Fresas has an amazing milkshake and I wanted to have one before I left. As I was enjoying my milkshake, I started to wonder what about it made it so good. As I thought about this, I had a few thoughts on ice cream in general.

Now, as a disclaimer, I am not an ice cream afficianado, I have never studied or read books on ice cream but I am an lover of ice cream who enjoys eating it a lot. That said, you know how certain ice cream flavors have different consistencies and textures? I guess that is super obvious, but you know how mint chocolate chip ice cream melts faster than simply vanilla chocolate chip? You know how fruit based ice creams tend to scoop out in half-balls and you never quite can get that full rounded affect from the ice cream scooper as easily? You know how chocolate, after its been in the freezer for a couple days, is not quite as hard to scoop as vanilla if neither one of them don’t have other ingredients (like peanuts/cookie dough/etc.)? Well, anyway, as I am sure you know, there are those little subtle differences in ice cream that make each flavor unique in a way other than the taste. So anyway, I was trying to analyze exactly what ice cream was in the milkshake. It obviously (por supuesto) had ice cream, chocolate syrup (it was chococlate), and milk. But the milk to ice cream ratio was a bit odd. It was a type of soft vanilla ice cream that was mixed with with syrup to make it chocolate. The vanilla flavor wasn’t strong but it was definitely there. The chocolate syrup masked it mostly, but it was a definite factor. In the end, I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but there was something in the ice cream that was abnormal that made the milkshake both different and scrumptious. I failed, however, to divine exactly what it was. :-/

This was my final full weekend in Costa Rica. Twas fun :-)

(P.S. I just realized that facebook was not automatically updating from my blogspot blog. :-P Sorry about that.)

Friday, July 17, 2009

Dia Sesenta – I Love Writing

July 16, 2009

Essay writing is hard enough in English. In Spanish it’s...even more interesting. It’s hard to write “well” with a limited vocabulary and almost impossible when you have no idea of connotations of words. Why use this synonym versus that one? In English, it’s a matter of closing your eyes and “feeling” it (In an un-Star-Wars-use-the-force way). Instead I am forced to write in overarching ideas. For a writer that loves polishing and turn of phrase, it is maddening. Big ideas are fun, and need to be coherent, but I just can’t get into writing the same way without agonizing whether to use “agonizing” or “wrestling with.” In Spanish, you have no such choice. Even when there are two ways of expressing an idea, I have no clue what the subtle differences are. I hate writing like this.

As a side note, Spanish subtitles in movies are uninventive. They just don’t do justice to the actual English lines. Spanish has nuances of its own that give it special life, but you can’t translate great English writing into Spanish (and I am sure the reverse is true too). The great books that have been translated into English from other languages, are all classics in English because of the great stories – those big ideas and plot points that make it exciting to read. But those great stories never quite come out showing great writing. Translation can only do so much. So, for me, I am writing an English essay in Spanish...and wringing my hands with despair.

P.S. Toby Ziegler and Sam Seaborn are my fictional writing heros ;-)

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Dia Cincuenta y Nueve – Essaying

July 15, 2009

I’m working on my essay today.

‘nuff said.


(Wow. That came out a lot more random than I thought it would.)