Dear Ally,

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Let the World Be Your Classroom

 arenalArenal Volcano

Dear Ally,

As you probably know I took a two week hiatus from writing because your uncle, some friends, and I went to Costa Rica for about a week. It was one of the most interesting and adventurous trips we’ve ever been on.

The trip confirmed there is no substitute for experienced-based learning. I took Spanish in high school and college, but hadn’t used it since and forgot much of what I’d learned, but there are several words and phrases I’ll never forget.  The first morning, Adam and I ordered the typical Costa Rican breakfast and our friend, Tony, ordered continental breakfast, including yogurt. Two plates of food and a bowl of an off-white substance, which we assumed was Tony’s yogurt, were brought to our table. Tony remarked how it was the strangest yogurt when the waiter came back and said it wasn’t yogurt, it was natilla, trying not to laugh as Adam and I cracked up. As it turns out, it was custard to put on our fried plantains. Later in the week, our navigator, Karen, was trying to figure out why the GPS was telling us to turn. I read a sign aloud that said, “No hay paso,” just as Karen realized we’re going the wrong way down a one-way street. The sign I saw was the equivalent of a “Do not enter” sign.

Another Spanish word I’ll never forget is “mondongo.” My college roommate and I went on a mission trip to Honduras our junior year and one of the more memorable meals was a dinner buffet. The dishes were labeled in Spanish only. We sampled the mondongo and discussed how it tasted pretty good, kind of like chicken. It turned out to be tripe, which is definitely not chicken.

agouti

Agouti

Besides the language and cultural experiences, we also had the opportunity to observe the flora and fauna of the rain and cloud forests of Costa Rica. I saw an agouti (picture above), an animal I didn’t know existed. A white-nosed coati sauntered through our resort. On a guided hanging bridge tour, we saw an eyelash viper, one of many native venomous snakes. In the weeks leading up to the trip, being a bird nerd, I studied the common birds that we were most likely to encounter. I ended up adding over 100 new species (birders call them “life birds” or “lifers”) to my life list. Looking at pictures or seeing them in a zoo does not compare to observing birds like the Scarlet Macaw or Roseate Spoonbill in their natural habitat.

mott mottBlue-crowned Mott Mott

While my traveling companions were all asleep by the pool, I had an interesting conversation with a young man from the area where we were staying. He asked me, where I’m from, if we had any summer at all. He is fascinated by American culture, especially television and music. He said I was like Phoebe from “Friends” and was so lucky to live in the home of Rock N Roll and, when I told him I’d seen REO Speedwagon, Journey, and Styx together in the same concert, exclaimed, “Increible!” (which he told me was their equivalent to “Awesome”). It’s a perspective I’ll have to keep in mind this winter.

My advice this week is to take advantage of any opportunity you have to learn about other cultures and places. Make friends with someone who is different from you. Participate in a conversation partner program where you can be paired with an international student. Go on a mission trip to another area of this country or another country altogether. Study abroad for a week or a semester. You will not regret it and will probably never forget it.

Hope you have a great week!

Aunt Sarah

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