2 September 2015
¡Buenas! I am actually kind of annoyed right now. I was so exhausted all day, so after school and dinner, I just kind of bummed around coloring and texting. I was in bed by 8 with the lights out at 10. And of course, as is the story of my life, as soon as 10pm hit, I was wide awake. I tried some yoga and breathing exercises, but alas, here I am. And yes, I know turning my laptop on will just suppress my melatonin even more. Stop it with your brain science already!
Anyway, this post has been brewing for a few days now. I have been wanting to do a little top 10 list, but the more I think about it, the more I realize that it would be a crazy long post if I tried to do 10 things. So, that means I shall be sharing this list of the top seven things I have learned in Costa Rica thus far. ¡Espero que te gusta!
#7: Having a bank at work is cool.
Yes, you read that correctly. We have a bank at school. And an ATM. On the campus. It’s just so convenient! I mean, I technically can’t have a bank account here until I have my residency card, but still. I am able to go to the teller, pay my rent and electric, cash checks, and get reimbursements from the school when I need it. I dunno, I just think it’s so cool that we have a bank. I don’t think any schools in the States have their own banks. Incidentally, there is also a copy center and a school supply store. Both are also as convenient, but for some reason I don’t find them as fascinating as the bank. Is it just me?
#6: Kids are kids.
If you know me at all, you know that Biotech was a HUGE part of my life for the last decade (it sounds so momentous when you say “decade” instead of “ten years,” doesn’t it?). And you know that the reason I love Biotech is the relationships I form with the kids. I mean, I think I have spoken to more Biotechers since I’ve been in Costa Rica than regular people! I’m not complaining; I love hearing from them every day. However, my deep connection to Biotech and its students was the thing that made me really hesitant to leave. I feared that the only awesome kids on the planet were in Monmouth County, NJ, attending Biotech. And in a sense, I was right; there is just something about the culture at Biotech that you really can’t find anywhere (case in point: I haven’t seen one pair of goggles since I arrived here).
The good news, though, is that the kids at my new school are awesome, too. Having never been so integrated into a local culture abroad before, I didn’t know what to expect. I read all about Costa Rica in my travel books, and I knew I could expect them to be friendly. But could I also expect them to be hip? Funny? Tolerant of my awful puns? Those are things that really matter to me when interacting with kids. (Especially the pun thing.) Fortunately, I was stressed over nothing. I have learned that no matter where you go, kids are kids, and they are the reason I love teaching (apparently I get overly sappy when stricken with insomnia). They know the music and shows I know, they are hilariously funny, and they seem just as interested in connecting as I am. So, while there will ALWAYS be a ginormous place in my heart for Biotech and no one can ever replace my Biotechers, I am happy that I am also finding a comfortable space here in my new home.
#5: Large Spanish numbers are hard.
And they are used all. The. Time. The currency here is the colón. 500 colónes is equivalent to about a dollar (a little less when I swipe my CapitalOne debit card, which, by the way, gives a great conversion rate and doesn’t charge fees). So, let’s say you go grocery shopping for a few items. You might end up spending 18,935 colónes. That’s “dieciocho mil novecientos treinta y cinco.”
The cashier will tell you how much it is, but he or she might speak fast. Or if there’s background noise from the other registers, forget it. The sound gets swallowed. If you’re lucky, the price from the register will be facing you, so you can just read it. But to be able to catch it by hearing is just muy, muy difícil. So, I have learned to just always give a bill that I think is larger than the actual price and hope I get change. Or sometimes I swipe my card even if I have cash just to avoid having to figure out how much I owe. This seems to be working well for me, but I have a feeling that eventually I’m going to need to make a Quizlet to help study my numbers. I’ll get there eventually.
#4: I can live without.
If you have been to this blog before, you know about the Great Luggage Fiasco of 2015. (Don’t worry, my bag will be here in two weeks!) And yes, it has been a challenge to do without a bunch of things I’d rather have, but as time goes on, I think more about how much stuff I have and how much stuff I need. I mean, I have a full storage space at home, plus stuff at my parents’ house. Yet here I am wearing the same 8 dresses every day and managing a very happy existence nonetheless. Do I want my raincoat, pajamas, and all those brand-new cardigans I bought? Sure, of course I do. But can I survive without them? Of course. Probably literally billions of people on the planet have less than I have here, and there is still plenty of happiness to be found. And not for nothing, #GLFo2k15 has also taught me about the kindness of strangers. One of the main reasons I have managed without my stuff is that my awesome neighbors (who are now my friends) are always willing to share. They have loaned me everything from umbrellas to raincoats to bathing suits to sweatshirts to sweaters (one time Tracey literally gave me the shirt off her back) to tools to I-don’t-remember-what-else-but-I-know-there’s-more. Faith in humanity remains strong.
(Author’s note: I cannot be held responsible for my hypocrisy on the day that I post the celebratory entry about finally having my bag and oh what a terrible time it was living without it.)
#3: School lunch doesn’t have to suck.
Biotech cookies notwithstanding, school lunches in the States leave something to be desired. Despite the work FLOTUS has done, there is just something about school lunch that remains…an enigma?… a concern?…an issue? Anyway, you know what I mean. While I do think that this article (check out #2) is an exaggeration (I didn’t mind the chicken patties at Biotech), there is certainly room for improvement in the good old US of A.
And don’t say that it’s because we have to feed too many people. My current school has over 1,000 students, and every day I am able to buy a balanced meal comprised of fresh fruit and salad, actual meat, rice and beans, and multiple sides of veggies. And let’s not forget the fresh juice that comes free with a meal.
Actually, I will stop trying to describe it. Here are some pics so you can see for yourself.
School lunch! pic.twitter.com/YObD4zXkvR
— Michelle Lampinen (@MichLampinen) August 25, 2015
— Michelle Lampinen (@MichLampinen) August 31, 2015
— Michelle Lampinen (@MichLampinen) September 2, 2015
And by the way, Sodexo makes our lunches here, so don’t go blaming them, either.
#2: Patience is indeed a virtue.
So, one of the biggest things I’ve learned here is to be patient. With the universe, with bureaucracy, with people, with things, and with myself. You see, for the first month or so, nothing was easy. And truly, I mean NOTHING. I felt like I couldn’t even do the simplest task. It took me an hour to read the instructions on my washing machine because I had to translate them all (this was before I knew that Google translate could translate images, which by the way is completely futuristic and kinda creepy TBH). The internet is unreliable. I still haven’t figured out how to pay my utility bills. It took me two weeks to print anything out because I was scared and overwhelmed to try to learn the printing process. I still don’t know how to order school supplies from the bodega (by the way it’s so cool that we have a bodega). Seriously, just every little thing was difficult. I became very worn down after a couple weeks, and I would catch myself being pretty down on myself. I felt stupid and incompetent, and I was frustrated that I wasn’t adjusting faster. For a while, I felt like the universe had it out for me, and that, like Sonny said in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, “all I’ve had is a constant series of disasters interspersed with the occasional catastrophe!” (Side note: If you haven’t seen that movie yet, what are you waiting for?)
This, in retrospect, was silly, considering that I wasn’t expecting to adjust quickly at all! I knew it would be a process, not an event. But when I was in the moment, it was easy to forget that I need to ease up on myself and just be more patient. So, I think I am getting better in that department. Sure, when my apartment flooded the other day, I was still pretty grouchy about it (there’s always room to grow). There are other things that I think I am doing better about. Like when I couldn’t flush my toilet for a week. Granted, the people of Gringolandia probably got tired of hearing about it, but instead of sitting around crying about it, I just kept my mop bucket in the bathroom and dumped a pail of water in the toilet every time I needed to flush. (It’s fixed now, don’t worry.) So while remembering to stay calm and patient during frustrating situations may be a challenge, I will continue working on it. After all, my reaction to things is really the only thing I can control.
#1: Recess is bæ.
So, we have recess. Every day. For 20 minutes. And I don’t think I can ever work in a place without recess again. It is amazing. That is all.