Monday, November 3, 2014

Nicaragua: A Brief Recap

We have returned safe and sound from our 10-day study trip to Nicaragua. Students are enjoying a few extra days off to reflect and process on all the experience meant for them, and what it will signify for their future as well. Here is a short recap of our trip, look for more to come!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Last update of Core Seminar

Here is our third and last update from Core Seminar Fall 2014! On Monday we'll head to Managua, the capital city of Nicaragua. We'll be on a study trip for 10 days, living with host families for part of our time and spending many hours engaging local leaders who will give us a better sense of the history and current situation present in Nicaragua. Look for an update upon our return, and have a blessed couple of weeks.  
Dios te bendiga.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Semester Update Number Two!!

Opa, looks like we've fallen a bit behind in our posts! To catch you up, here's our second semester update we mailed out on October 3rd. 

If you didn't get this update and you'd like to, please email us at and we'll add you to our mailing list!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Settling In

This week's post is an excerpt from Fall 2014 student Caroline Wells' blog "Always Blooming." Caroline is a junior at William Jewell College, studying Nonprofit Leadership.

Caroline takes a break in Monteverde
   As I continue to live in my new home with the Garita family, and learn from them, make silly mistakes and laugh at myself, I have come to think more and more about the importance of each and every human being that exists on this earth. (I know this sounds like some amateur attempt at a grandiose and inspiring analysis of humanity, but it’s not. Hear me out.)
   Every day we pass hundreds of people and see hundreds of faces on the street, in stores, at coffee shops, etc. If I were walking down the streets of San Jose, simply observing or on a mission to locate a certain tienda, I might pass faces that look similar to those of my host family. I wouldn’t think twice about it. But when you think about it, that person has an entire story, an entire life with passions and dreams and things that they are working hard to achieve.
   My host brother studies so much and is such a hard worker, and he has lots of funny quirks, he loves a lot of pop culture, and he is also so kind and desires to make me feel at home. I wouldn’t know this just by passing him by on the street.
   My host sister is incredibly patient and easy to talk to (in Spanish, which is a stretch for me sometimes), and she is a very talented interior designer, though you wouldn’t know because she doesn’t ever brag about it. She loves for everything around her to be neat and orderly, but wants me to be sure that it doesn’t bother her when my clothes aren’t stacked as neatly as hers. 
    I don’t know exactly where I am going with this, I just know that as I’m settling in, I see the value of living with a family and being invited into their lives. Although at times difficult and challenging, it is a very beautiful experience to be able to jump into the culture and experience true Costa Rican hospitality in this way.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Life in San José – Poverty and prosperity at the hands of globalization

This week's blog post comes to us from Fall 2014 LASP'er Jason Jensen. Jason is purusing a degree in Economic Development and Spanish at Eastern University. You can see more of his posts at:

A poster in the LASP building; “Indifference is the worst evil”
     But now it has been a full week that I’ve lived here, and I wonder how anyone could have ever doubted San José. I drink the water right from the tap, and use the WiFi connection in my personal bedroom with full bath attached. 
     For breakfast I nibble on toast with rice and eggs, and for dinner I gorge myself with grilled salmon or filet mignon. Even in the gritty downtown, stepping over the litter, I feel safe and not far removed from the lifestyle in the United States.
     While this surprising pace of life may make my mom happy, to me it is a somber reminder of the inequality that exists in the world. When I talk to my fellow students in the program, I discover glimpses of the reality I was expecting: eating bean soup with an egg for dinner, or sharing a small space with several other siblings. I find that I am the “lucky one” who got a house with a warm shower. But even these things are superfluous, only hinting at the depths of disparity.
     Poverty in Costa Rica is indiscreet, but can be easily found if your eyes are peeled. It nestles itself under tin roofs tucked into a green valley. It hides behind the immaculate personal appearance all Costa Ricans value. Obscured by blankets of newspaper and trash, it sleeps behind park benches in the sun and the rain. In living metaphor, it illustrates the fissure of inequality by juxtaposing the grand bank building with the beggar sitting on the steps.
     We are told in our class that it was not always this way. Ignored by the Spanish crown for its lack of gold, the fertile mountain valley of Costa Rica was left as a humble frontier. Since they were almost as poor as the slaves they owned, settlers treated them well, beginning a tradition of equality. After a civil war in 1948, the egalitarian movement reached its peak, abolishing the military and instead investing in education so that all would have opportunity. The rich learned alongside the poor, and those abjectly in poverty numbered only 6% to 8%.
     After the global economic crisis of the early 1980′s, however, Costa Rica was forced to privatize and globalize in order to secure foreign loans. The lower classes, no longer supported by social programs and public education, slid down the income ladder so that now 18% to 22% are abjectly poor. At the same time, those who caught the rising tide increased in prosperity, so that now 80% of Costa Ricans have a washing machine, refrigerator, and color TV.
     It is in the middle of this new era that I write this post. The debate over opening the borders still rages, in Costa Rica as well as in the United States. Luckily for them, the Costa Ricans must live beside the poor while they deliberate. In the US, the marginalized have been red-lined, policed, and protested into back corners of the country. Like the parable of the Samaritan, we intentionally keep our distance so as not to be caught up in their problems.
     More than the material prosperity of the country, the sensitivity to the poor is what Costa Rica really stands to lose. An introductory article to this program read, “A typical American reaction to poverty is to first pity the people living in poverty, and then be annoyed because it inconveniences them.” Nothing I have ever read has rung so true, and stung so much. The rawness of poverty is odious to us, and so we keep it behind a sad face in a charity campaign. But as long as we keep the poor behind border fences and within inner-city limits so that our American Dream might not be disturbed, have we not won the world but also lost our souls?
     To redeem ourselves does not take much. It costs less than a guilt-induced donation to World Vision, but takes much more time than sharing a link on Facebook.
In the words of Oscar Romero, we must simply walk with the people.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Hitting Our Stride in Week 2

     We have hit the ground running here with the Latin American Studies Program! All our students arrived to San Jose with no issues on Tuesday September 2nd and took off to live with their families (and test out their Spanish) less than 24 hours after their arrival! We really desire for students to form deep connections with their host families and to see them as their primary source for support and cultural understanding.
     Our first week consisted primarily of orientation activities. Students spent the day on Thursday the 4th learning their way through downtown San Jose. This included exploring the bus system, public telephones, finding the market, trying an unknown fruit and much more! A lot of these activities can be very empowering for students when they successfully figure out how to manage something that would be easy to do at home but becomes challenging in a foreign environment with a different language.
     After spending a weekend with host families, we jumped into classes with our first sessions of Core Seminar. This six-week seminar is designed to expose students to key topics that characterize Latin America and to encourage students to reflect critically on these issues through interactions with numerous guest speakers. We began Monday by focusing on colonialism and neocolonialism, and on Tuesday we discussed history and contemporary issues in Latin America. The objective of these classes was to give students the necessary background on our context in Latin America to allow them to better understand all of our seminar themes that are to follow. This can be challenging for students as we lead them to view these points from a Latin American perspective.
     Our class on Thursday featured our first guest speaker, our good friend Elmer Rodriguez. Students were very impacted by his story of growing up in extreme poverty alongside a garbage dump in San Salvador. We were all challenged to engage with poverty not in terms of statistics or strategies but by meeting a flesh and bone representative of real poverty. It is important to us that the subject of poverty does not remain an abstract, distant issue, but that it becomes a familiar face, a personal story.

     We are looking forward to having our first opportunity to interact with local University students who are learning English this Friday with the Universidad Metropolitana Castro Carazo. We will also have the opportunity to engage in the unique Independence Day activities of Costa Rica this coming Monday. We are thankful for student health and safety during our first two weeks of the semester and are looking forward to many more exciting and challenging weeks to come! 
 Students viewing Elmer's beautiful paintings after class 
Students enjoying lunch time in the LASP backyard 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Welcome Fall 2014!

Well, here it is; that moment just before the beginning of the semester and (as we call it) "la locura". I'm anxiously typing our first blog post EVER, waiting to head out in a few hours and meet a few of the 24 students who will be calling LASP and Costa Rica home for the next three and a half months.

I was a student at LASP six years ago, back in the Fall semester of 2008. I can still recall the nervousness and excitement as I boarded the plane for my longest stint away from Ohio and my family & friends. There's no forgetting that first breakfast of gallo pinto, when one wonders how you could possibly eat rice & beans for breakfast (quite easily, in fact). I fell in love with that painted rooster the very first day.

Advice from LASP Alumni
Then there are all the unexpected moments, the uncertainty of meeting your "new family" and venturing into the great unknown that is life in a foreign country. I never would've imagined all the struggles and rewards that would come from such a short time in Costa Rica.

Now, after returning to Costa Rica every year since then, sometimes just for vacation and other times for a year at a time to work at LASP, I am focusing on remembering those first moments in order to connect with our students on their level. I can't wait to see the expressions and hear the stories of their travels and their "other lives" outside of this experience. I am praying for a most positive semester for our staff and students, filled with growth, wonderment and new exploration of ourselves and our place in creating a global community. Bendiciones y paz para todos.