Friday, August 17, 2018

Georgia in Costa Rica!

¡Hola!  ¿Qué pasa?
My name is Georgia Ritz and I am a junior majoring in nursing with a minor in Spanish.  Last month, I had the incredible opportunity to travel to Costa Rica with UNCG’s LLC Summer Program focusing on Spanish language immersion and community service.  I have been home for about two weeks now and am settling back into life in the States as I prepare for the upcoming semester.
Costa Rica was an astonishingly beautiful country and I was able to see a lot of it over the course of the month there.  Of course, this meant many long hours on the bus, and my dragon came along for the ride.  His name is Aubrey, named after Aubrey Lloyd, who along with his wife, Georgia Lloyd, are the namesakes for the Lloyd International Honors College.
Aubrey and I in the RDU Airport

Aubrey in Monteverde
Our first week was spent in Monteverde, a small town high in the mountains and cloud forest.  Here, we toured Trapiche, a typical farm that produces coffee, sugar, chocolate, and bananas, hiked through the rainforest, and went ziplining, in addition to four hours every day in class.  My host family was a mom, dad, and their eight-month-old son.  They were so sweet, but I really struggled to communicate as I was not at all confident yet in my ability to speak Spanish.  Thankfully, they were extremely patient and by the end of the first week, I had already made great strides in my spoken language abilities.
Our guide at Trapiche Farm showing us a step of coffee processing.

For the second week, we traveled to Flamingo, a beach town on the west coast of Costa Rica.  My host family, a mom, dad, and their 16-year-old son, lived in a small town about twenty minutes outside of Flamingo called El Llano.  Class continued daily, but we also had plenty of time on the beach.  Halfway through the week, we took a cruise to go snorkeling and see the sunset.  While here, we also did our first community service projects.  Early in the week, we visited CEPIA, an organization in a town called Huacas outside Flamingo that provides daycare and schooling for children from impoverished families, as well as job training and GED classes for adults.  I spent a couple of hours playing with children who were about three or four years old and was reminded of the importance of immersion to learn a language.  The reason living with host families and speaking Spanish for hours every day in class works is because we learned our first language as babies in the same way.

My Flamingo host mom, Shirley, and I at a restaurant for dinner.

Sunset Cruise
Our other service project was with Siempre Amigos, a group that repairs and improves houses for families living in poverty, similar to Habitat for Humanity.  I painted sheets of tin for the roof and walls in the house, sanded down doors and the wooden frame that would become the bathroom wall, and moved rocks, and as others worked on their components of the project, it slowly came together to a beautiful end.  The family we helped had not previously had a bathroom (they had been walking to the neighbors for the toilet and shower), and all nine of them had been sleeping in one room.  Along with other volunteers, we expanded their home and gave them a bathroom of their own.
The home we worked on, in progress.
Our final two weeks were spent in Heredia, a town outside the capital city of San Jose.  My third host family was a mom and her three sons.  Here, for our service projects, we worked with the Humanitarian Foundation of Costa Rica in La Carpio, a slum outside of San Jose.  La Carpio is located right next to the dump where all of San Jose’s garbage ends up, and all day long trucks drive in and out of the town along the narrow road that is the only way in and the only way out.  The waste system is poorly managed, and so the streets are full of trash and the rivers run full of waste, polluted beyond belief.  The people live in homes made of whatever material is available, mostly cardboard, tin, and plastic.  I have never seen such poverty before, and it was a truly humbling experience.  Although I have previously seen pictures of places similar to La Carpio, to walk the streets, breathe the air, and smell the sewage was a powerful, and at times overwhelming, experience.  However, I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to serve there, if only briefly.
This is the door to the school where we spent a couple of hours drawing and painting with the kids. The saying translates to, "Children are the future of peace."
During the final week in Costa Rica, we visited the Irazú Volcano, and finalized our classes and presentations about our service learning projects.  Culture shock was difficult, and reverse culture shock was even harder, but I would not trade the experience I had for the world.  My Spanish has improved significantly, as well as my understanding of other cultures and customs.  I recommend study abroad to anybody who wants to learn about other cultures and languages, and I truly believe there is nothing more life-changing than stepping outside your comfort zone to visit a very different part of the world.

A lake at the Irazú Volcano. 

Amigos (friends) from my UNCG group.