From LBCC to Costa Rica – Part 5: There Are Places I Remember All My Life

MORE THAN CREDIT — For the last few days with their host families, adventures, and classes the LBCC Costa Rica study abroad team was settled comfortably into their Tico life. On July 6, 2023, the group woke up early for a bird-watching hike with Olman Sisneros into the Curi-Cancha Reserve in Monteverde. Sisneros spent most of his life tracking native wild birds in the area and was quick to spot any within earshot. Among the birds the team observed were toucanets and the famous bellbird with it’s distinct loud call and three waddles hanging beside it’s beak like a mustache.

Meg Roland had found guide Olman Sisneros the day before and was so impressed with his ability to locate birds in the area and the beauty of the Curi-Cancha Reserve that she reserved a time for the team to come back on July 6.
The infamous Bellbird with it’s two waddles. Photo by Josh Robles.

Bailando Barachata

Other activities were more dance classes. This time Latin dance including, salsa, merengue, and cumbia, a Costa Rican cooking class, and an opportunity to participate in a reforestation project providing habitat for the diverse community organisms. Among those benefiting from the new trees were the bluebells that use the ecological corridor.

Evelyn Rockwell teaches Latin dance lessons at MVI to the LBCC team on July 5. 
On July 4 Paola Rojas, Karen Matarrita, and Rojas’ mother, Maricel Cruz, taught the LBCC Team how to make empanadas at MVI. The team played reeaegaton music and warmed up their Latin dance moves as they cooked. Each participant left class prepared to take their new empanada skills home for the U.S. Not a bad way to spend the 4th of July.

Sustainability is not a practice in Costa Rica, it is a way of life

Costa Rica is a country whose mission is to leave the smallest human imprint. Ticos work to create systems that reduce the impact of waste, industry, and pollution on the environment. Throughout their time in Costa Rica the LBCC team was faced with this value system, whether they were planting trees in the forest or recycling organic material in one of the many bins at the school dedicated to low-impact disposal. They learned about Wilford “Wolf” Guindon a chainsaw salesman who in the early 1950s settled in Monteverde with the Quakers. Giving up his chainsaws, Guindon went on to be one of the most well-known conservationists in Costa Rica. 

Riley Bond plants a tree to support an ecological corridor in Costa Rica. This is part of a reforestation project with Corredor Biologíco Pajaro Campana bringing native trees back to the region. This particular area is a migration highway for the famous Bellbirds.  

Becoming Ticos

Each night, team members would sit around the dinner table with their host family discussing ecology, the use of pesticides in farming, and fishing, the trade-off of convenience for sustainability, the military complex, war, and peace, as well as the part that governmental opinion and policy play for environmental impact. This along with discussion over a host mom’s new haircut, similar video game taste, bigfoot, and lots of laughter. For many, these conversations were all or mostly in Spanish.

Haden McConnell and her host family enjoy one last meal together at the farewell lunch on July 8 in Monteverde. Participants in the program lived and shared meals with their host families for their entire Monteverde stay. While once so nervous to make their first introductions by the end of their trip they felt like family. 

Learning Through Literature and Life

In their Costa Rican literature class led by LBCC faculty Meg Roland the team learned about the history of poverty and inequality in Costa Rica as well as the deep connection Tico people have with the earth. This was evident in the writings of Costa Ricans from various regions of the country as well as through digging deeply into Costa Rican poetry. Within their Spanish classes, students used their Spanish language skills while attempting to explain Amazon deliveries in the US to their Tico teachers and discuss the popularity of single-use plastics. 

Another key topic of discussion was peace in Costa Rica and the need for peace in the rest of the world. Costa Rica became a demilitarized country in 1948 allowing the military budget to go towards education, the country’s security, and culture. The concept of peace is now just as deeply rooted in Costa Rican life as recycling. The conversation of peace-making began with their first day’s visit to University for Peace and carried through their the team’s time in the country.

The LBCC team joined Olman Sisneros in the Curi-Cancha Reserve for a bird-watching tour. Faculty Meg Roland found a Targuá tree for the team. In their Costa Rican literature class, the team studied “The Targuá Tree” by Fabián Dobles. The story circles around a Targuá tree which is the cause of two brothers becoming estranged and their attempt at finding peace. Photo by Meg Roland.

Two weeks in Costa Rica proved to be far more expansive than the team had originally expected. While there they learned what peacebuilding is from The Peace University, discovered the vast ecosystem in the forest and at the ocean, learned to dance, learned to cook, and were fully immersed in their homes, in the town, and at school with Spanish language, they understood the country through the words of literary authors and poets and learned of more ways to leave less of a footprint on the earth.

Haden McConnell and Spanish language instructor Carlos Luis Ramón in Spanish class on July 7 at MVI. Students participating in the program are eligible to receive college credit for Spanish language. 

Leaving With More Than College Credits

The team also became a part of Tico families and grew close to one another. On July 8 The LBCC team packed up their Tico bedrooms and met their Tico host families at a special lunch. During lunch each participant gave a presentation, some read poetry in Spanish, some of which they had written themselves. Some sang songs of thanks, and Ralph Taddy offered the custom-painted LBCC soccer ball he had brought. The team used this ball in their Tico vs. US fútbol game. The same ball Tadday had waited for the paint to dry on in the Portland airport 2 weeks before. 

Upon arriving in Monteverde, Tadday worked hard putting together a game, and on the last night in Santa Elena, he was able to organize a Ticos vs. U.S. fútbol match at a local indoor arena. Host families played or came to watch and cheer their host daughters or sons on. Joining the host families from the sideline was their coordinator Paola Rojas who went to University on a soccer scholarship. On this night Paola was a coach, encouraging and giving feedback to the LBCC team who she had shepherded for the past two weeks. 
With a high, loosely kept score of “nine-ish” goals for each side, the much-awaited fútbol match concluded. Scoring 5 goals star player Noah Aynes is congratulated by his host dad, Errol Crus-Cordero. When asked what advice he would give another student if they had the opportunity to Study Abroad in Costa Rica, Aynes responded, “If you want to make great memories and friends while learning in another country, you should sign up and go!”

There Are Places I Remember All My Life

On July 8 the last moment with their host families arrived. With tearful hugs and promises to return the LBCC team boarded a van that would take them back to San Jose. The only goodbyes left would be at the airport the next day to their fearless leader and Monteverde Institute coordinator Paola Rojas. And then to each other, knowing that they would each return to their regular lives away from the Cloud Forest and one another. In the trip’s 17 days, the team spent more time together than apart. Opting out of transportation so they could spend time walking with each other. The team walked some 4 miles to school and home every day. In the words of The Beatles, “Though I remember I’ll never lose affection, for people and things that went before, I know I’ll often stop and think about them.” Leaving their new loved ones and their Tico lives behind the LBCC team returned to the United States forever to remember their time in Costa Rica.

Most of the LBCC team on July 7 outside the Monteverde Institute preparing for their last walk home. Photo by Meg Roland
Riley Bond and Jason Pfahler enjoy one last sunset on their walk home from MVI on July 7.
Paola Rojas (middle-left) drops the team off at the San Jose Airport with tearful goodbyes on July 9. Faculty of Spanish and department chair of languages Margarita Casas (front-right) who co-led the trip with Roland reflected in a message to the group after returning home saying, “You all made the experience! You were so open and so willing to try new things, learn and share with each other. I am fortunate to have traveled with a group of wonderful people.” Her sentiment was shared by all.

Want an Adventure like this?

LBCC faculty hope to offer more study abroad trips like this one in the future. Keep an eye out for informational meetings in the 2023-24 academic year. 

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