Roger Thayer Stone Center For Latin American Studies

Tulane University

"Living Latina" written by Currin Wallis

By Annie Gibson

I am handing over my blog on the CIAPA Experience to the students participating in the program. This way you all can have a better idea of what life is like for a student at CIAPA. This blog entry is written by Currin Wallis. She is a freshman student who has begun her first semester of Tulane at CIAPA in Costa Rica 2012. Pura Vida, Professor Gibson

Currin’s Blog:

The Latin American bug has bitten me bad. And I think it must be a
carrier of Latin Fever.

I became a victim during family vacations to Puerto Rico with my
grandparents when I was little, followed by trips to the Dominican
Republic and Mexico, living in El Salvador for five months and now I
find myself spending my first college semester abroad in Costa Rica.

I have always had a taste of traveling, something to do with genetics
I guess, and I take any opportunity to explore a new place. Growing up
with two parents well versed in global travels, I was exposed to the
thrill of looking around and not recognizing anything from a very
young age. That love of different cultures and customs has only
strengthened as I have gotten older and searched for independence. I
have always known that I would do a foreign exchange during college,
so why not start right off the bat? The early study abroad experience,
Tulane at CIAPA program was a perfect match- studying topics I am
interested in, within the context of Costa Rica.

My early brushes with Latin American countries influenced my decision
to start learning Spanish in the hopes of becoming fluent. I knew that
language was a unifier, and the ability to communicate with local
people makes the connections to those cultures all the more
meaningful. Now, I am not only practicing and improving my Spanish,
but by consequence of speaking, learning more about Ticos and creating
relationships. One of my favorite parts of the program so far has been
using my Spanish, even just joking around with the cooks, saying hello
to bus drivers or buying fruit at the market. The best way to take on
a language is to truly dive into the community, and force yourself to
talk, write and think in the local tongue. Living in Costa Rica gives
me the opportunity of immersion, into the language and into the
culture. I love walking around San José, listening to Spanish banter
on the streets, watching clown performances, passing through modern
art exhibits, sipping fresh coffee at a café, meandering around used
book shops and obsessing over the walls of graffiti all over the
streets. The city is a bustling hubbub of lots of interesting
characters and great cultural events. Having lived in a suburb for
eighteen years, this new lifestyle of going to the theater, film
festivals and museums is amazing. As an art kid, having all these
options at my fingertips is like putting a fiver-year-old in a candy
store, I just canâ’‘¬’“¢t get enough.

Some other highlights from the trip so far have been our weekend
excursions to other parts of the country. We have seen Volcán Poas,
Monteverde and Rara Avis. The volcano was extraordinary of course,
with the sulfuric blue pool at the top of the smoking mouth. Both
research centers are out in remote areas, Monteverde in the cloud
forests, and Rara Avis in the rain forrest far away from civilization.
We went on walking tours to see some wildlife, checking out the
caterpillars, butterflies, hummingbirds, beetles, birds, beautiful
ferns and palms, and we even ran into a couple monkeys. The natural
habitats were absolutely breath taking; walking through the dense
forests and all the tangling vines, it felt like a movie. Rara Avis
was quite the adventure. A three hour climb on horseback followed by
an hour hiking over slippery rocks and through pits of clay, just
getting to the lodge definitely got us all a bit dirty. They gave us
rubber boots to wear because the trails were so muddy, but the hikes
were great, not to mention led by cute tour guides.

Of course, during the week, our days are packed with studying and
work. The courses are really interesting, and we have the advantage of
taking Latin American classes while living in Latin America. Half of
our professors are from Costa Rica, who are fantastic and eager to
teach. I am taking Spanish classes, a Central American Government and
Politics course, Ecological Biology and Climate Change, an art history
class, Intro to Latin American Studies and TIDES. Spanish is taught at
the local university, UCR, a nice break from being on campus for our
other classes. We joined our politicsâ’‘¬’“¢ professors classes at UCR one
week, which was great to meet some other students and sit through a
full class in Spanish. I am trying to get more involved with the
university community, so I signed up for an oil painting class through
UCR. I miss the art studio I had access to in the States, so I canâ’‘¬’“¢t
wait to get back to the drawing board and mess around with paints,
canvas and brushes. I am usually a ceramics student, this will be my
first ever 2-D art class, but itâ’‘¬’“¢s exciting to branch out and try new
mediums.

In addition to the classroom courses, we are fulfilling our service
learning by working in public schools. Acción Joven is a program that
works with at-risk kids from seventh grade and up to keep students in
school and off the streets. Our group works with two English classes,
and so far itâ’‘¬’“¢s been a blast. We get to help out the teacher with
activities, having conversations, and really just trying to connect to
these kids who are about our age. Each of us CIAPA students have our
own projects in the school. I wanted to get involved with reading
groups or tutoring, and somehow I found myself in a teacher position,
leading a class on Anne Frank and the holocaust, all in Spanish. It
was a bit of a shock that the real professor would hand over her class
to an unqualified, eighteen year old, non-native speaker, in the blink
of an eye. It gave me some insight into the public learning
institutions in this country. They arenâ’‘¬’“¢t very structured, nor very
organized, so flexibility is key. Even though I hadnâ’‘¬’“¢t planned being
the teacher for a day, I took the job and had to make it work. I think
the class went pretty well, and I got at least some information and
major themes into their seventh grade minds. Iâ’‘¬’“¢m hoping to do another
class, but with their system, who knows if that will happen.

My experience here, at CIAPA in Costa Rica has been amazing; I
wouldnâ’‘¬’“¢t trade it for a semester in the U.S for anything. Iâ’‘¬’“¢m excited
to see what the next couple months have in store!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  • Annie Gibson

    Administrative Assistant Professor - Department of Global Education

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