Thursday, August 18, 2011

Back in Black, or New Jersey.

It’s been awhile right? Yes it has. I’ve been busy and completely free for a while now. I finished my Peace Corps service in the midst of parties, tears, and projects nearly not coming to fruition. As I said my last goodbyes I gathered up my final paperwork and retired my official Peace Corps passport. I would no longer be able to exit Costa Rica without paying their fees. Upon my return to the United States, I could feel a change within me that hadn’t been apparent while living in Costa Rica.

While my parents complained about barking dogs and the sidewalks seemed eerily quiet, I enjoyed being in the presence of people. I wanted to say hi to everyone I met walking outside. The barking dogs were slightly endearing. I felt guilt buying shoes, trying to convince myself that my one pair could be dressed up or down, right? I would listen to Minnesota’s only Latino radio station, but still long for merengue, bachata, and cumbia.

My life was made easier by having internet access 24/7 and the ability to call US numbers with my phone. But relocating wasn’t easy either. I missed Costa Rica. I missed the pace. I missed having coffee with neighbors. I missed my family and friends there. I wanted the days I would get trapped inside someone’s house due to the rain having to stay for lunch as well as cafecito. I wanted my free healthcare provided by the best Medical Officers in Peace Corps history. I didn’t want to think about driving a car and having accidents because of bad weather or bad drivers. I didn’t want to think about trying to buy insurance for my car or my health. I still don’t.

I felt distanced from my friends and family. People asked how it was, but how could I explain all the bad times and the good times without be reductive. How could I explain that sometimes I failed miserably at my job, but it always was important and necessary? How could I explain all my successes and make sure they understood how important they were to my community and me? And most importantly, how could I do all this without sounding self-important. After the 10th time of explaining the same sound bite or detail about my life in Costa Rica, especially to the same person, I got exhausted and sometimes would ask myself if they really cared. But when no one would ask questions or bring up my life for those 2 years I would feel hurt. Like what I did wasn’t important. Like it was something that everyone does, similar to going to school or traveling abroad. I hated to explain the difference between a Peace Corps volunteer and someone who loves world travel. I don’t want to explain that I’m a little jaded right now of volunteer services and organizations, or general do-gooders. And I’m terrified to let people know this.

Fortunately, I was able to go back to Costa Rica and be a part of a community that I missed. But that turned out more different than I had expected as well. I was glad to be back, but I had morphed into a different person within the first month of returning to the States. I had concerns that were based in the US and needed my attention there. The freedom and independence in the US has scared me, but the isolation in the mountain and lack of access felt confining. I had another culture shock moment. I was fairly inconsolable. I didn’t want to let down the people of my town, and felt like I had to visit them, but I also needed time for myself to process everything I was feeling. I hadn’t even started to process my feelings about returning home yet. And there I was, sitting in a house, alone, stressed, worrying about hurting people’s feelings, and wondering why I had done what I did.

I eventually did cut my trip short by 2 weeks, spending only a month there. I did accomplish things there that I wanted to for my two years in the Peace Corps, including riding a horse into the mountains. I was glad I had that time to fully process what I felt and what I did. I still am process it all and trying to sort out who I am now that I’ve been back. Mostly I wanted to get back to the States because it allowed me time to visit the people who I care about there, family and friends included.

I was able to spend a whole week with my uncles, their respective families and my grandmother. I sometimes feel as if I am not able to spend as much time with these people who are so important to me. They are one a connection to my father that I will never be able to having personally anymore, and they have tried to care for me the best they could throughout the years. I am eternally grateful the way they have allowed me to become more than just their niece.

I wish I had more time in Minnesota, but time doesn’t stop here in States like it sometimes seemed to do in Costa Rica. It has its good points, everything is always changing and challenging me in new ways, and its bad points, I can’t have more time to spend with the people and things that I care about. I am now in New Jersey with new concerns, including finding a job and figuring out the bus system. I am prepared and excited to start researching and attending classes. That is probably the least scary aspect of my life. If I could study and write papers without the concerns of transporting myself, money, and work, I would be the happiest girl in the world. I know the easy going nature of Costa Rica, the ability to stop and reflect and take time to think about every single option out there, isn’t going to be available here in New Jersey, but I hope I can teach someone here that it’s still okay to watch the rain instead of bemoaning it.

Also, I will try to continue this blog in regards to my Grad School life. Hopefully, I'll keep it up better than I did in Costa Rica. I guess, Si Dios Quiere, right??

Friday, December 31, 2010

Applying for Grad School:

Edit: I've removed a witty subtitle because someone, somewhere could take offense to it. Lame.

The title of my blog never sounded very Peace Corpsy or Costa Rican. It has none of the Pura Vida’s of my counterparts or the lost in the jungle/saving the world of countless volunteers across the world. The title, itself means a lot more than just my service here in Costa Rica, it is my journey from college student to adult, because I’m sure we can all admit when you’re in college you still aren’t quite an adult yet. Another struggle I want to make clear is the difference that one has when they can peer into a computer and have everything they could possibly want at their fingertips, sometimes even searching for more distractions as the task at hand can be completed within minutes and then forgotten. This is not a luxury I have living in a town with limited cell phone service and even more limited internet access. My internet access comes usually once a week on a particular day if I don’t want to walk 3 km downhill and then returning uphill the same 3 km. On these days I usually spend a minimum of roughly $20 for use of internet, food, and transportation, these costs rise if I have to buy food that can’t be found in the small local pulperia (a small store that provides basic food and snacks along with other household goods: light bulbs, cleaning supplies, some office supplies), make copies, send faxes, and get other supplies that again can’t be found in my town either. Now, I’ll admit my life is a lot easier than many Peace Corps volunteers. I have no boats to ride, no long walks in the sun (most of my way is shaded by trees), and most of the dogs I pass are friendly or at least lazy. But having internet for a limited amount of time makes you go crazy.

The past five months, maybe six, I have been applying to graduate school. This has meant signing up for, studying, and taking the GRE, finding out information about the schools I want to attend (and whether they have scholarships and fellowships for Peace Corps volunteers), getting deadlines correct, making sure I have everything they specifically want, sending in information or requesting that outside sources send in this information, contacting old professors for recommendations, and trying to think about why I would be the perfect candidate for their program all the while trying to move along projects here in Costa Rica.

A little metaphor for my brain every Friday I come into work on this would be a 1,000 piece puzzle that you dump out on the table. When you first look at it, it’s just a mess of some colored pieces and some brown pieces. Here and there you may recognize a feature on the box, but most of it is just a mess of blues, greens, and browns. You must sit down and flip over all the pieces, or you may first (as I always do) separate the outside pieces from the middle, chucking all the middle pieces back into the box to be looked at later. Arranging the outside is like getting all the facts together for applying to grad school. When to apply, what documents you need, who you need to contact, what exactly are you applying for. You slowly put together the puzzle, but oh dear what do we have here, some missing pieces. Are they on the floor? Did they get lost with the middle pieces? You search the floor; you dump out the box again and slowly go through each piece checking for that straight edge. Of course, I usually don’t notice the missing piece until I get back home and cannot do anything about it for another week. So I will make a little note in some notebook that is filled with other little notes that will probably get lost amid that confusion or left at home when I go to the bus stop. Also, since I have other things going on in my life, work and distractions to keep myself from going crazy such as news and music, it’s like having multiple puzzles going on at one time. I’m going back and forth between gathering information for an English class, pulling together different aspects of a grant, and trying to find out whose being elected where and why it matters. My brain is a Jackson Pollock painting, but there is no organic chaos happening; It is just chaos.

When I have the entire outside complete and ready or at least have given up trying to find the missing pieces, they’ll show up eventually or I can’t waste my time anymore searching for them, I set off to do the bulk of the work. Slowly, I find the same colors and start putting them together. I start gathering up all my transcripts and resumes, my scores and grades and I send them in. I contact my recommenders and get a different username and password for each application which can only be completed online. The one thing I can do offline is write the Personal and Aspirational Statements, but these are not without catches. Each ask a different thing from the prospective student, whether it is to focus on your past or your future or the amount of words you can use. Some ask for the miniscule 250 words only (I don’t remember the last time I wrote so little), or give you the generous 1,000 words to sum up your entire life: past, present, and future (not to mention why their school is superior to all others, even though you have 4 or 5 other schools that would do just as well).

Amid all this chaos, you’ve realized you’ve sent your GRE scores to the wrong school, used the wrong deadline for your recommenders, you forgot, or they never told you, that to get the application fee waiver, you needed to send in a special letter signed by the Peace Corps director stated that yes you are a Peace Corps volunteer a month before started your application, the universities still haven’t received your transcripts you asked to have sent two months ago (it didn’t say you had to pay, but knowing the system you probably have to go back to your alma matar sign five different forms, promise your first born, and go back the next week asking to talk to the Wizard of Oz, who turns out to be a computer that just asks you to push a little button with “Send” written neatly in white Arial Black font. “It’s really not that complicated” the lady behind the glass, bulletproof wall tells you), and you remember that personal statement you wrote last week, well now you’re having doubts about it being your best work, the thing that will really make you stand out, make it impossible for them to say no. Now you think “Shit, a five year old could have written this”. Important emails requesting information you should have had two weeks ago will not be answered until 3 p.m. when you have already boarded your bus and won’t have a chance to find until next week, in which you’ll have to send another clarifying email, or make a phone call on Skype that may or may not work because your microphone is picking up too much background noise, or somehow doesn’t work when making an outside call to an actual phone.

The conversation will be mostly like this: “Hello.” “Hello?” “Hello?” “Hello, can you hear me?” “Hello?” Click. Then, you will write an email explaining you are a Peace Corps volunteer and phone calls to the States are practically impossible, so anyway you can do this through email would be terrific, thanks for being so kind and understanding to someone serving the country, blah blah blah. Don’t worry all that grandiose self-pity wears on my nerves too (oh wait, this whole blog entry is a grandiose self-pity fest, ok I give up, feed my ego and pat my head saying how much you admire me, thanks.)

Anyways, long story short, just applying for grad school has been difficult. I still worry about whether or not I’ll make the January 15th deadline for those looking for scholarships and fellowship, and sometimes I want to write a letter to the board of admissions, maybe attaching this very blog entry to it, explaining that I must really want to go to their school after putting all this effort into applying to their school which may or may not even get me my dream job after all is said and done. And maybe that third year serving your country won’t be so bad. I mean, after this a room full of out of control children that smell your lack of classroom management skills and trying to sound like a nine year old instead of a two year old to a group of 40-50 years olds who in reality have a lot more experience then you do is a piece of cake.

Friday, October 15, 2010


Here in the Peace Corps I have realized I have an immense passion for 4 things. Well, realized is probably the wrong word since I’ve always enjoyed them, but now I’ve explored them on different levels. Anyways, I have digressed. Those 4 things are cooking, reading, writing, and painting. You could also include watching movies and listening to music, but I’m pretty sure everyone enjoys both of those things to some extent. Except my brother, who I remember him saying he can’t watch the last parts of movies cause he gets so bored and agitated and has to do something else. He says he always has to be doing something, although I’m sure I’ve caught him doing nothing for periods of time while I’ve been doing nothing except, apparently, not minding my own business. Again, I digress (apparently getting distracted runs in the family). So movies and music are out because they are tired cliques that don’t mean much anyways, not that the other 4 mean much either, but it’s hard to take up cave exploration or space discovery here in the campo.

As far as cooking goes, I could see myself being a housewife if only to cook all day making elaborate meals. And I do do that here in Costa Rica, when I have more than 10,000 colones to support myself for the month, for those months I have to be satisfied with making elaborate rice sculptures (note to Sam and Kristi: if you were thinking ice sculpture for your wedding I hear rice is more en vogue). I love having a finished product, which if you knew my writing or art you’d know that that rarely happens. But maybe the best part of cooking is the process. There’s a sort of love that must go into every dish before it can taste good, although I’m sure plenty of tasty things have come from salty people. Even cutting onions has become pleasurable if only to have a good cry, especially if The Notebook or Atonement are playing on my computer simultaneously. Most of the time I’ve been tasting the dish so much that by the time dinner is ready, I’m full. Those are the times I wish I had someone to share it with. Of course, like my art and writing, I’m shy about the things I’ve put my heart into, and would hate to get my feelings hurt if it really did, well, suck.

Reading is the next pleasure that comes to mind, especially on the rainy days that we’ve been having lately. I’ve read more books than I think I ever had, especially if you never counted those Babysitter Club books or the Boxcar Kids. The thing is I love reading. And this is going to be really corny and/or cheesy (I know there’s a difference between the two, but can’t quite put my finger on it), but when I read I get to be a different person, live in a different world, have a different life. Reading is an escape, plus it helps me learn new words for the GRE and keep my English from completely abandoning me. If I’m feeling lonely or unloved I pick up a good romance, adventure, well just read a little Hemmingway, or if I think the world just sucks, Russian lit is the way to go. If I really try, and sometimes it’s not as hard as it may seem, I can read a whole book (500 pages plus) in one sitting. I even prefer it to movies. For one, I don’t have Kiera Knightly telling me what a British, upper class, period woman is like. Reading, like for most volunteers, has become a part of my life. It is no longer just a hobby, but part of the lifestyle, just like drinking champagne on a yacht off Martha’s Vineyard is for the Kennedys.

So what do I do when I’m not reading or cooking (I guess you can throw in working as well, but working and Peace Corps is about as vague as the day you were conceived, you know it happened you just don’t know how or in what context and prefer not to know for that matter)? I am either writing the next great novel or becoming Georgia O’Keefe. Ok, so that will never happen, but why have a blog and not think of yourself in some sort of grandeur. So I paint, with watercolors if you were curious, and I write, mostly really short (painfully short sometimes) stories and poetry. None of this will any of you see or read probably, unless I die and you have an exhibition of it all and embarrass me post mortem. I write and paint various things; whatever seems to catch my fancy, blogging seems to not catch my fancy at all, luckily or unluckily for you all. There’s really not much to say about it, only that it helps me get rid of all my excess thoughts, reorganize my brain, and focus myself on something (again with the family trait of a short attention span).

So, these are the things that I do when I’m not working, maybe soon I’ll have another blog entry with an update on my actual work although it’s mostly the same: water project, English for adults and kids, and a few surprises here and there that I won’t reveal because I don’t want to jinx them. I did move into a new house and below are some pictures of the place. Enjoy.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Finally an Update

What better time to write a blog when you are sitting in a hotel room thinking about what to do next. That's right, I'm in a hotel room. Why so posh? you might ask. Well, it because this week is All Volunteer Conference, which is a 3 day get together with all the other volunteers to get together, have a bit of fun, and also do some project updates/information sessions. It also means that volunteers come a little before and after to hang out and enjoy each other's company.

So what else have I been doing besides enjoying the capital. Well, I am still teaching English to adults and kids. My adult class has dwindled down to 4 students, which has its ups and downs. Most of my former students have left for bigger (or at least for different things) such as employment opportunities or college. And while its sad to see them go, I am really glad that they are finding bigger and better things for themselves. The students I do have are great. We have a lot of fun and its nice being able to basically be a private tutor. I think they get more out of the class and its more intimate. Although, I should be requiring more English only, but I'm a pushover sometimes.

My little kids are also going well. Every day with them is a challenge, because again I'm a giant pushover so have little classroom management skills. But they are fun and I can tell that at least most of them at least enjoy seeing my face, whether or not they enjoy learning. And some of them are just so darn cute, its hard to not love them to pieces. Right now we are learning about family, and going on to clothing. I've really started to incorporate art into ever lesson, or every "unit". I think this is incredibly important since they don't have a "art" class. I know that art was one of my favorite things to do, and I can see that art or even having to think creatively and/or uniquely is something that kids here don't do because of the lack of resources (teachers, materials, time to name a few).

My big projects (or project) is getting the aqueduct system put in. We just had a man from AyA (the water company) come in to check the natural springs that would feed our aqueducts. He was really positive about putting them in and we are moving on that side of the table. Now we just have to come up with a solution for managing all this. Which means we need to somehow create an ASADA. Now that wouldn't be challenging, but AyA wants us to work with other communities, but my town wants to have full control of their water (understandable, I think). Compromise is going to have to come, and maybe I'll have to start using my negotiation skills.

Some smaller things that are going on are that we are starting to plan for the town fiestas. They should be great this year, with a mountain bike race, a cabalgata, and of course dancing and eating. I'm going to be helping out a lot, asking for donations, cooking, and general set-up/take-down. But it should be fun and I want to make the most of it since it will be my last one.

Also, we just had a Grandparents' Day party. It turned out great, most of the older people came and we even had Channel 13 there filming the whole thing. And we're looking to get bigger. Next year, we want to take all 30 of them (about) to the Nicoya Peninsula. Most haven't left Herradura, or least not the Perez Zeledon region. This would be a great chance for them to see the country and get out of their homes for a while. A lot of planning and fundraising is going to have to happen to accomplish this, but I have hope. I may even write to Oprah, no I will write to Oprah (can't hurt).

On a more personal note, I am applying to graduate school. I am really excited but also absolutely terrified. I have to take the GREs, ask for recommendations, and fill out really tedious applications. But, hopefully in a year, it will be all worth it when I am attending one of the schools I am applying for. So wish me luck and any advice would be a godsend.

Take care wherever you might be. Ciao for now.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

I Fail

So, I apparently can't keep up with blogging, no matter what tricks I use. I'm sorry, but I promise (cross my heart) to update my blog sometime this week since I'll have internet all week. Its All Volunteer Conference time so hopefully (no definitely) I will fill you in on all my going-ons.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Final Jeopardy

I finally got the Final Jeopardy right! Well, to be fair it was Teen Jeopardy, but still one step at a time right? The question was basically which Bible character refused the King of Israel's sword and stuff in a battle. It was David. Thank you Sunday School.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Happy Thoughts

As you all probably know, I’m pretty bad at keeping up a blog. Which means my dreams of making millions off a blog featuring crazy cat photos with equally crazy captions is out the window. Anyways, I need inspiration to write, or at least to write about things I don’t mind you and the general public reading. The Peace Corps office has a resource lounge, where you can usually find at least one volunteer wasting time and sitting around (but not talking about whether or not it’s going to rain or how hot it is, because that’s what we do in our sites). Also there are shelves of books for us to borrow and hopefully not getting them stolen on the bus (don’t worry we all make fun of the thief later because really no one but us wants a badly used copy of “War and Peace”). Part of our wasting time also consists of perusing this wide selection of books. I’ve gone through most of them, or at least the ones I’ve really been dying to read, so the self-help section was my last frontier. Here, I found a little book, “Happy Thoughts”. This book gives you 333 different scenarios that will make your day a little brighter. They range from everyday (iced tea on a hot day) to more extraordinary (winning 2 million in the state lottery). Not only does this provide me with great material for my blog (I mean, do you really want to hear how the kids in my classes hassled me until I let them play soccer again, or how I walked home in the rain again without an umbrella), it also gives me something do keep my spirits up because as much fun as the Peace Corps has been and continues to be, it still can be lonely and disappointing at times.

So here you go, the things that made me smile this week:

1. Catching a train just as it’s about to pull out: Well it was a bus. The bus from my town gets into the bigger town (San Isidro) around 8:20-30 a.m. If I want to go to San Jose, usually I can only make the 9:30 bus. Waiting around is fine, but it usually means you have to go to a restaurant and pay for a cup of coffee and pray their wireless is working, or walk around aimlessly trying not to get too sweaty. But this day was different. The bus pulled into the station at 8:15, I knew if I ran (well, run is an exaggeration, walk quickly with style is more accurate) I’d make it there at least by 8:23ish. Although, that wouldn’t guarantee there would be tickets left either. I just had to pray that I could make the 8:30 bus and that there would be a seat available for me. And as you can guess, I was in luck. Not only in luck for making the 8:30 bus, but in luck because I got a seat all to myself, something that wouldn’t have happened if I had bought a ticket ahead of time. I made it to San Jose before noon and actually had time to get to my hotel before running my errands which is pretty much unheard of any other time.

2. A hug when you really need one- So, I didn’t really need a hug, but it was still really sweet. I was playing an “English” game with my little kids. Basically, they are on teams, one team starts with the ball and has to try to make a goal, while the other team defends the goal. Each kid goes one at a time and if they make the goal the “goalie” has to say a vocabulary word (this week parts of the body), and if they don’t make a goal the “kicker” has to say a vocabulary word. We were playing and all of a sudden one of my newest students comes up to me, looks up and gives me a big hug. Something unexpected like that is really wonderful. What’s especially great is that you’ve already made a connection with a kid and hopefully you being there makes them feel just as great.

3. Playing with puppies- One of my neighbors and a lady that I’m close with, just got a new puppy. We were waiting for a meeting to start and she had said puppy with her. The dog was just so cute it’s hard not to smile. Deep inside I wanted a puppy too, because really it would be a great motivator to go out walking every day, and a way to put a smile on my face whenever I’m having a bad day. But then I thought of one word and decided the neighbors can have their dogs, I’ll just play with them: Fleas.

My favorite is getting the final Jeopardy question right, I'm still waiting.