Monday, March 20, 2017

The Bubble Has Been Popped!


By Victoria Baker (Malone University), from her Nicaragua Journal

I have been thinking a lot about when we were on the remains of the old presidential palace. On one side of the view, you could see the “rich,” “new” Nicaragua. On the other side, you could see the old, poor side of Nicaragua. That didn’t really mean anything until I realized that those images summed up my life, and my experience now.

It was as if I was looking at my own life from above. Here I was, standing on the remains of an old presidential palace, with a “Tree of Life” that shines brighter than hope. I then compared that to my life. Up until now I had this beautiful bubble that I lived in that had no struggles. People would look at the bubble in awe of its beauty, until one day that bubble was popped. The remains are no longer the same and never well be. When I came to Costa Rica is when my bubble was popped. People no longer saw me the same way, because I WASN’T. I stood on these remains and thought about how my world has been flipped upside down. As I stared at the Tree of Life and the statue of Sandino, I realized their meanings. One was big and beautiful, pleasing to the eye, but its meaning was no freedom, less help and no hope. On the other hand, there was a non-appealing, plain statue, but its meaning was one of HOPE! I began to think. When people look at me and try to see the remains of my bubble, will they see a fake but beautiful representation with a hidden meaning, or will they see something dull, and search to see the hope behind it?

I want to be an example of hope to those around me, but for that to happen, I must stand tall against the opposing message that I fight with. The other part of this trip was viewing the two sides of Nicaragua and all I could see was myself. One side had me in my privilege with “Trees of Life” or fake messages everywhere. The other side was me where I am now. This side used to be one of the most beautiful parts of Nicaragua until an earthquake came and took that away. I saw me there. When I first got to Costa Rica, I had only good thoughts about the U.S. and their influence in the world, but once I got deeper into this experience, an “earthquake” hit. All of my thoughts were shaken and some destroyed. I am now in the process of rebuilding my thoughts, but I look as the poor side of Nicaragua did. Less beautiful or full as I was, but stronger now than ever.


This earthquake may have taken away the beauty on the outside or this side of Nicaragua, but the people on the inside have really come out stronger. The only reason that I can say that for sure is because I am now on this side of Nicaragua. I am living with the poor and they are teaching me how to be strong. They are the strongest people I have ever met. So, from that palace visit, I realized that by stepping out of my privilege and onto the side of the “poor,” I can begin to rebuild my bubble with the vision of HOPE and continual knowledge. I am very appreciative that I can stand back and see where I was in life, to where I’m at now. This will aid in the process of rebuilding a new hope. 


Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Our new Spring 2017 cohort of students has arrived and we are three weeks into our semester activities! Here is a blog post by Alanna Paris, from Houghton College, on our recent trip to the Limón province:


I was looking for dinner on a balmy Friday night in Limón, Costa Rica. I wanted something different, something I couldn’t get in San José. I walked down a line of food and souvenir stands. The air smelled of salt water and chicken cooking and reggae music filled the streets with its lively beats and rhythms. I was walking with some friends when we decided on a stand that offered a meal of tacos and a coke. Perfect after a long day of travel, interviews with locals, and lectures about the region. The special was four tacos and one coke for 1200 colones. I went up and confidently ordered just that, cuatro tacos con una coca. The man at the counter looked mildly horrified after I ordered and asked me for 5,000 colones. Figuring I was getting ripped off because I was a gringa tourist, I accepted and paid. I sat and waited for my food as the man at the counter informed everyone that they were out of tacos at the stand.
I waited and waited until finally the man, who I now realized actually spoke English because of his Jamaican heritage, informed me my last meal was not going to be tacos because they ran out and so I was getting a hamburger. I looked down at the counter to see four cokes sitting and waiting for me. Horrified and incredibly embarrassed I realized what I had done. I had ordered four meals of four tacos. I bought sixteen tacos supposedly for myself. I stood there as taco after taco was handed to me. My fellow students cracked up laughing as I handed them excess tacos to enjoy. After finishing my meal we all left together with a story to muse over and lots of laughs (and tacos) shared.
 While this story is very funny, it has a deeper meaning on my whole experience in Limón and in Costa Rica in general. I failed, big time, ordering those tacos. It’s not the first time I’ve failed either. My life, since I landed in Alajuela, has been a series of failures, some comical, some not so much. The thing is, that’s okay. It’s okay that I accidentally asked if there were rules under the Christmas tree instead of presents, it’s okay that I didn’t realize it’s okay, actually preferred, that I hang out in my siblings room, and it’s okay I didn’t realize that you don’t eat pork with a fork and knife here. While these are all failures, they’ve taught me something. They have taught me how human I am, how much I need to learn, and how much I need God and those he placed in my life.
Going to Limón smacked me in the face with that reality. I needed to fail, because failure is good. There are tons of people in Limón who know so much that I do not because they’ve experienced different realities than I. I am beyond thankful I got to hear the handful of stories and perspectives I did while I was there. Limón, with its ups and downs, was something I needed to experience because it showed me that even in the age where information is at my fingertips, I only know a handful of perspectives and ideas. Limón broadened my horizon and that is invaluable. 

Monday, November 28, 2016

The Beginning of the End

This is a blog post shared by Lindsey Broek, from Northwestern University. 

Two weeks ago the goodbyes began. I said goodbye to my San Jose family and moved in with my new host family in San Pedro, the place I am calling home for my last couple weeks in Costa Rica. This semester has been such a whirlwind of new things, new experiences, and new people. Sometimes I’ve been in awe and excitement of all of the “new.” Other times I haven’t been quite sure what to think. Still other times I was wishing I could just be at home again in my comfort zone (but then I remember how cold it is in Iowa and that feeling usually goes away). I felt so at home with my family in San Jose and so it was difficult to have to say goodbye, not knowing if it would be goodbye for a year, or goodbye forever. My nephew Matias did say he was going to ride in my suitcase and go back to the US with me, so I should be seeing him again in about a week or so.😉

In my new immersion, I am living with a host family in San Pedro, with a mom, dad, and 9 year old sister, Maria Lucia. They have been so welcoming to me since I arrived, and have treated me as one of their own. I definitely feel like I am never grateful enough for everything they do for me, be it taking time out of their day to show me around town, or just buying me a coke because they know how much I like it. Last week my dad was showing me various English songs on YouTube; he loves to listen to American music from the 60s and 70s, and he wanted to see if I knew the songs (I did know most of them, surprisingly). We also ended up watching almost 2 hours-worth of his favorite singing videos from shows like “America’s Got Talent.” We laughed; we cried; it was a good time. Really though, we laughed, and, well, I didn’t cry but I’m pretty sure my dad started tearing up at one point.

I am also currently volunteering at a children’s shelter, hanging out and playing games with the kids. These kids at this shelter have some of the biggest hearts I’ve ever seen. Some of them I’m sure have been through a lot, and still they are so full of joy and love. Almost every day that I’ve gone I’ve received a gift from one of the kids, something like a bracelet, a picture, or various paintings of trees (that seems to be the popular painting of choice lately). Each day I’m welcomed with smiling hellos and hugs, and when I leave I get frantic goodbyes (there’s a little girl who will run after me, yell “adio!”and blow kisses until I walk out the door). Magic card tricks are super popular with the boys there, and most of them have shown me a card trick, which usually involves quickly shoving cards underneath their legs when they think I’m not looking to show that they “magically” disappeared, or asking me to pick a card and put it on the bottom, so they can “magically” whip out the card from the bottom. It’s good stuff. But this volunteering has been one of my favorite parts of the semester, even if one of the kids thought my name was “Gypsy” last week.🙂 I can truly feel the love of Jesus in that building, and I really, really hope the kids feel that love, and know that they are loved, no matter what their backgrounds may be.

Overall, as I think about how I’m in the last 2 weeks of the semester, I feel mixed emotions. Having to meet a whole new family and start a “new” life again felt a little bit like the beginning of the semester, and so that was frustrating for me, after becoming super comfortable in my San Jose home. I’ve also been preparing for the next semester, figuring out student teaching, graduation info, etc. And just the fact that there’s only two weeks left has made it a tad difficult to fully be here. However, I realize I’m still in Costa Rica. I need to be here, not just physically, but mentally. I have a wonderful host family who wants to get to know me and include me as one of their own.  One of the favorite words of Costa Ricans (and has become one of mine) is “tranquila,”  which essentially means “relax.” Life doesn’t need to be rushed. I don’t need to worry about things that aren’t happening for a few weeks; I can relax and worry about those things when the time comes. Life is going to move so fast when I go back to the US, so I want to cherish the time I have left here. I’ve got two more weeks to continue making some of the best memories of my life, with some of the coolest people🙂



Friday, November 11, 2016

Students Are Finishing Up their Concentration Classes.

Upon returning form our Nicaragua study trip, students divided up into their classes, based on the concentration of their choice: International Business, Advanced Language and Literature, and Latin American Studies. This a reflection shared from one of our business students, Vanessa Herrera, from Northwest University. Students will leave on Monday for their Community Immersion Experiences. 

Wrestling with the issue of poverty is a very new practice for me. I grew up in a small-town of 1,000 people in eastern Oregon. My family did not start out middle-class, but they worked their way up long enough to have what we have now. Ive seen so many people, including my parents, increase their quality of life by working hard. I assumed everyone could do the same. Then, to also think that the processes and systems I am studying are the causes of so much poverty around the world is another thing to wrestle with, as well. The readings in the International Business Concentration have brought me out of the ignorance I was in before, which is always uncomfortable. This was no exception. However, I have learned to take these kinds of experiences as opportunities to think differently about the world and my impact on it.
                I used to romanticize the idea of ending poverty as just giving them a few key resources and letting them take care of the rest. People have all these theories on why these countries are as poor as they are, without any admittance that some of them just are not, or were not, as lucky. Some of these people are simply facing the negative consequences of their countrys history and living in areas that are perfect for a lot of bad things. One article that I read gave the example of some sub-Saharan African countries suffering for malaria because they are the perfect environment for malaria-infested mosquitoes. They do not have the resources to fight against the bad luck they were born with.
                I am the consequence of some luck too. I am living with the consequences of my countrys history, which came at the expense of these other countries' suffering. I got a hand of good luck, just like most of the poor got their hand of bad luck. As a Christian, I do not think this is for nothing. I cannot help that I was born where I was, when I was; but, I can help people who cannot help themselves just because they were born where they were, at the time that they were. I especially believe that business can play such a vital role in this effect.
                Business sustains. Business brings people to people. Business can play the role of networking people with resources, like me, to people with a lack of resources in a practical manner. The reality for most people is that the more distance there is between people and social issues, the less they care. The reason I never gave a second thought to poverty was because I had never seen the reality of it, and it did not pertain to me directly.  I am thinking of poverty and development differently, and I can bring these new ways of thinking of success into whatever career I choose. People get so caught up in their career and being successful in the way the market defines success that they lose who they are in the process. They lose their sense of humanity. Its important to be people of character, through our words and actions. I am going to be that person in all aspects of my personal and professional life- business, school, church- with this new perspective in hopes of bringing other people to re-evaluate these so-called truths we have been taught.


                

Friday, October 28, 2016

Poems of Nicaragua

In order to reflect on their time in their rural community immersions in Nicaragua, students share a poem about an individual in their communities that impacted their lives and taught them lessons they will never forget. Here are some of our students’ poems...


It’s risky to see people.
Take a look.
Clean that dust from your glasses,
And look again.
You can’t stop knowing.
That’s the price you pay,
That you can’t unsee.
The first time I saw you I was intimidated.
Your face was still as the heavy air.
Your voice a breeze.
And at first you intimidated me.
Dressed in a red blouse covered in white lace,
And I was intimidated.

But here is what I know.
Here is what I saw.

That your daughter gave up her bed for me.
A bed in a room with pictures
of a quiceñera,
And of you.
In a red blouse covered in lace.
That you left young to escape one man.
And now you work for another.

That I liked the art on your wall,
Color on a concrete wall.
That the next day you bought me jewelry,
Color on concrete skin.
That you braided my hair every morning.
You said it looked like gold.
But I swear, mamá, any gold you found was woven there by your fingers, soft as paintbrushes.

And that I know, the way I know that there are still sunsets on rainy days, that no more days will pass that you don’t pray for me.
That you were praying already before we met.

And when you spoke English
You laughed.
And when I left you cried.
And your face rippled.
Your voice cracked.

And I see you mamá.
And I will not unsee you.
Savannah Hadley, Seattle Pacific University


Humans aren’t the only ones
Who face a different reality.
When there isn’t enough
There is a multitude of hungry mouths waiting
Under the table.
Their eyes follow every hand movement
Hoping that it will be careless
And something will fall.
Among the dogs and chickens
Is a tiny black cat
Practically a bag of fur and bones,
Darting after every scrap,
Asking for more,
And then kicked aside when he is too loud.
I asked what his name was
But he doesn’t have one.
“meow,” or “negro,” maybe
But they don’t talk about him
Except to complain about the meows,
And don’t need to call him
Because they don’t feed him.
So why is he there?
I have no idea.
He is not used for comfort or love
And does not seem to have a job.
When he is not begging for food
He sits in the sun
Soaking in the warmth.
That, he doesn’t get from people.
One time,
He sat near my sister as she played on her phone,
Some game where she had to take care
Of a cat:
Feed it,
Bathe it,
Play with it.
And I looked at the hungry, dirty, lonely kitten at her feet
And tried to understand.
Some things are easier to fix on a screen,
In a game,
Because the real world has problems we don’t want to face.
Stephanie Cooper, Trinity Western University



Mujer Callada
Tu mundo es silencio.
Contra cada mandado
Aceptas tu papel,
Como la menor.

Como la mujer de la cocina
Preparas cada comida
Sin objeciones

Como la ama de casa
Lavas y limpias todo
Como si fuera tu deber.

Y en cada situación
No respondes con enojo.
No respondes con actitud.
Simplemente haces.

¿Porque haces todo esto?
¿Porque no rechazas tu papel?

Porque no conoces mi mundo.
No conoces otra vida
Afuera de la tuya.

Entonces cumples con tu papel.
Pero, lo haces con amor,
Con cariño, con paciencia, con respeto.
Como si fueran tus deberes cristianos.

Por eso, no “das comida” a tu familia.
La nutres.
No “lavas y limpias” tu casa.
Les cuidas.

Y todo esto con una sonrisa y con risas,
Con una fe fuerte en Dios.
Como la esposa del pastor, muestras tu fe,
En acción. En canción.
Simplemente en como manejas tu vida.

Pero todavía eres callada.
Aunque estás embarazada.
Aunque eres diabética.
Aunque tienes mucho que decir.
Eres silenciosa.

Porque no es tu papel hablar.
 Y lo aceptas con humildad.
Porque puedes hablar sin palabras.
Joel Kostelyk, Dordt College


Mamá Julia 
Framed by your dark, stern face,
Eyes that exceed such pain.
Hands so wrought and warn
To avoid all other’s scorn.
Strength for all to see
For weak you musn’t be.

Unable to write your very name,
Your daughter destined for the same.
The free will we celebrate
You never could appreciate.
Living in this slave state…
Of motherhood, wifehood, womanhood.

These words, these identities, these labels
Necessitate the imposition of societal chains.
Expecting you to tend, but not to mend, the tables.
Requiring you to disregard your brains.

Inadequate to search for knowledge that enables.
So what is it that remains?

Well, there is another side
That has a different tale.
Hidden under your iron veil.
A smile you could not hide
Caused by love, of family, of friends
Yet most importantly, of God.

You loved me with His love.
You looked at me without judgement.
You did not show me anger.
You cared for me while I was sick.
You served me while I was well.
You showed me the undeserved love of the Lord.
Garrett Mullett, Seattle Pacific University



Friday, September 30, 2016

Limón Trip

 Sunrise, Isla Uvita 
One of the highlights of our program each semester is a study trip to the Limón Province. This is an excellent opportunity for students to take their learning to the streets (and to the pineapple fields) and make Costa Rica their learning laboratory! Limón is Costa Rica’s most diverse province, but it is rife with social and economic challenges. Here are a couple of student reflections from our trip to Limón two weeks ago:

“We are never meant to feel comfortable in this world because this world is not our home” (Pastor of Limón Methodist Temple, personal communication, September 8, 2016). This semester thus far, especially the Limón trip, has made me so uncomfortable in a world that I’ve always called my home. My beliefs about this place I’ve called home have been challenged in almost every way possible. Looking back on my life prior to this trip I feel ashamed of my ignorance and of the lack of effort I made in getting to know the faces behind the statistics.
Our weekend spent in Limón opened my eyes to some of the discrimination and injustices that are present there today. By looking at the history of Limón and conducting interviews with a wide variety of people, one is able to find that the main problems Limón faces today are lack of employment and drugs caused by prejudices and lack of government involvement. There is not necessarily one correct solution because of the complexity of these problems, but by following Christ’s example and having an increase in good government involvement, these problems would rapidly diminish.
Emma, Bethel College 


The streets of Limón Centro 
A small, young family made up my second interview. A father and mother with their young son also said that drugs were the greatest problem of Limón. They were able to further explain their beliefs as this problem being a consequence of the lack of employment. Another man in his late-40’s believed that the greatest problem was unemployment. The cause of this, as he stated, was due to lack of business and investment in the city; therefore, creating a scarcity of jobs. Everyone was also asked about the recent investment of the Holland APM Terminal, which seems to be the light of the future for Limón. Every person said it would benefit Limón by bringing in more jobs. Not one had taken into account the possibility of this new investment increasing the inequality gap between locals and investors of new business. No critical examination was taken into consideration.
Proper awareness and understanding of Limón’s history, commerce, economic activity, and social issues will provide the people with the ability to assess their current situation. Awareness and understanding of the past and present will make it possible for them to understand where they want to go and their current direction.
Vanessa Northwest University 


Class with an indigenous leader, Gloria
It is sad that Límón is the perfect example of a workers’ paradox where there are many people willing to work, but no jobs to be had, because the jobs that could be had are in suspension due to poor management and fragmented government agencies.  But it is a reality of which many people live; like Erin Granados, an unemployed limonense living in Limón Centro.
Originally from the town of Barra del Parismina in northern Limón, Erin Granados of whom the average person would see as a poor old homeless man, told us in an interview, that “[he had] … worked for many years on the banana plantations, but now there is no more work to be had [referring to his old age and the increased competitiveness of the low wage plantation jobs with other Costa Ricans and immigrants]” (Erin Granados, 09/17/2016). 
Drew Milligan College 


The Port of Limón 
“Dejé la escuela en quinto grado. Tengo dieciséis años. No necesito la educación para trabajar.” Estas son las palabras de Luis, un muchacho que le conocimos durante nuestro viaje a Limón. Él se sentaba en su tricíclica en una esquina de un área muy ocupada. Luis estaba vendiendo el agua de coco por 350 mil colones. Dieciséis años.
Nosotros leímos sobre las circunstancias de Limón en cuanto a los problemas económicos y sociales. Habíamos escuchado una charla que describió las percepciones falsas de la provincia. Pensé que yo sabía lo que anticipar. Pero ninguna cantidad de educación de aula puede prepararse para experimentar la emoción profunda de conocer una persona que ha sufrido de los efectos de los hechos estudiados de nuestro texto.
Alexa Wheaton College 


In the banana fields
The conditions of blacks leading up to the 21st century has led to the current state of Limón as a disadvantaged province. Previous and current acts of seclusion have created an environment of underdevelopment and limited job opportunity for Limonenses.  As mentioned by most inland Ticos, “drugas” and “trabajo” are the greatest problems for Limonenses (Host family & Pipasa Store owner, personal communication). However, they fail to acknowledge the historical context of which the province is coming from.  On the other hand, Limonenses and those who are more informed about the province acknowledge the racialized history and previous categorization of the people as some distant other. The overt discrimination in the locality and in job opportunities has kept blacks from excelling, but now extends to the region as a whole. It is undeniable that drugs and its trafficking has crippled this community, but both Limonenses and other Costaricenses agree that this problem is rooted in unemployment (personal communication). With the scarcity of jobs, the drug market is presented as the only option. As it was in the past where job options for blacks were confined to education and health care for discriminatory reasons, it appears that today people feel dependent on industry for job security. Yet, there are limited industry jobs. Marvin, a black older gentleman, complained that they need more factories so that his sons and grandson’s would have work. He elaborated, saying that technology is taking over the factory jobs that they once had. Then, he gave the example of one port factory that downsized from 2700 to 400 workers: all because of technological advances (Marvin, personal communication, September, 16, 2016). 
MaLaysia Wheaton College 


White faced Capuchin at the beach 
We are so proud of our students critically engaging the people in Limón with open and loving hearts to learn about the people and their experience of the region. We rewarded ourselves by taking some time to relax and enjoy the beach and the beautiful wildlife!


Monday, September 5, 2016

First Semester Blog, Fall 2016, by Hannah Gross

Latin American Studies Program, Fall 2016

I have arrived and am now enjoying what will become the new normal for me here in Costa Rica. The Latin America Studies Program students all met together for the first time Tuesday night. Wednesday we had orientation and moved in with our host families!

My family is absolutely wonderful and they’ve adopted me in without any hesitation. Just like in the US I have two sisters here – Andrea and Victoria – as well as my Papa Tico, Marvin, and my Mama Tica, Xinia. The first night we went around the neighborhood meeting their family and at the end of the evening my Mama looked at me and said, “Eres Hannah Montero Barboza.”
Hearing her last name with my name has been so symbolic of my experience with my family thus far – I’m part of the family. Between the family meals, cafecitos, walks around the neighborhood, and evenings by the TV they’ve given me more than I can ask for. I’m learning what “Montero Barboza’s do,” like whistle loudly as you approach the house to be let in or link arms as you walk down the street because her family is always known for being together. I feel so special to be included in such a joyful, loving home.

Now simply because my family is wonderful has not meant a perfectly smooth transition by any means. Costa Rica is different from any place I’ve been before. I love difference theoretically but sitting in it takes some getting used to. Here’s my favorite story that epitomizes my attempts and failures, yet joy in being here:

It was Thursday afternoon. I was feeling a little bit overwhelmed and my go-to stress relief is running, so Victoria and I dressed and headed out to the neighborhood. Contrary to the popular notion that Costa Rica is sunny 24/7, it actually rains every afternoon/evening here; but the rain had already stopped. As we started running it began to sprinkle a little bit, and then a little harder, but we figured it was just a passing drizzle. It poured. It started raining so hard that we couldn’t run without falling and our 30-minute run turned into an hour-long walk in a torrential downpour. Victoria and I returned sopping wet with puddles in our shoes to my Mama Tica waiting at the door smiling with towels but quickly shooing us directly to the shower. We still get quite a number of laughs from this story, but it’s so characteristic of me. I try to do life exactly how I’ve always known, but here in San Jose, and it just doesn’t work out. But hey, now I understand the golden rule: “Siempre tenga una sombrilla.” Translation: Always carry an umbrella.

I’m sure as the days unfold I’ll have even more stories of blunders I make, Spanish words I butcher, and cultural practices I misunderstand, but I want to believe trying and failing is much better than never having stepped outside my realm of comfort. It also helps that I live with four patient teachers that never seem wearied from my questions or bizarre habits.

 Hannah Gross, Wheaton College