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Mucho más allá

Mucho más allá

I arrived here in Santa Rosa, Costa Rica a week and a half ago. From classes starting, to life with a new family, to weekend adventures and a trip to Longo Mai, it’s been a whirlwind. While I was definitely nervous for the semester, there was one thing that helped as I prepared to leave. Hannah, a Valpo alum and friend who stayed with the same family, connected me with our tica mom* on WhatsApp, and she sent me a delightful voice message in which my new siblings – two younger girls and a toddler boy – introduced themselves. Whenever I felt stressed or nervous about leaving, I would replay it and smile as “hola Yena, cómo estás, te amo” filled my ears.**

My tica sisters made me welcome cards that they gave me when I arrived, complete with glitter.

Posing with my tica sisters and cousin, with plenty of Valpo gear to go around!

When people ask me about my first impression of the country, I talk about its natural beauty. It’s an easy thing for me to talk about in Spanish, but it’s also my natural first reaction. I chuckle to myself every time my tica mom asks if I need to grab a jacket whenever the temperature dips below 75 degrees Fahrenheit. I take advantage of every opportunity to study, have class, or walk around outside. And I will never get tired of the mountains. We’re located in the Central Valley, which means the mountains surround us. To locals, they’re unremarkable, background, but I will never get tired of gazing at them on my walk to class, at sundown, or while driving around the city.

Beautiful cloudy mountain views on our drive to Longo Mai.

While I’m very grateful for how lovely my time here has been so far, it hasn’t been without its mishaps. One morning was particularly trying – first, I couldn’t leave my house because I couldn’t figure out how to unlock the front door and no one was awake. Upon leaving my house, the neighborhood dogs jumped on me and chased me down the street. After shooing them off and arriving at Casa Adobe, the front door, which I don’t have a key to, was locked! But for every unfortunate occurrence, there have been many more joys, from swimming in the river and singing old songs with locals at Longo Mai, to playing and laughing with my tico siblings, to trying and loving new foods. I’ve learned so much in class already, and arguably even more in my everyday life.

We went for a swim in a beautiful river while at Longo Mai.

A quick explanation of what my study abroad program looks like, since it’s pretty unusual: while I’m a part of a Valpo study center program, I’m the only student from Valpo in Costa Rica this semester. Thankfully, the Valpo study center is based out of a house called Casa Adobe, the hub for several volunteer and educational programs, and the residence for families, volunteers, and employees from around the world. Like previous semesters, I’m taking an introductory history course with the program coordinator, Heidi, but we are joined by two Casa Adobe volunteers who arrived here around the same time I did – Juliana from Bolivia and Andrea from El Salvador. I was very nervous about studying abroad alone, but now I feel lucky that I get to do my first class, a few trips, and orientation activities with a unique international cohort.

From left to right, my cohort – Andrea, me, and Juliana – at El Museo de Arte Costarricense.

Some Costa Rica things I’ve googled so far:

  1. san jose airport map: Preparing myself so I wouldn’t get lost immediately after arriving!
  2. how to ask for check costa rica: I went to lunch alone in a restaurant for the first time. Unlike in US restaurants, the waiter doesn’t rush to give you the check right after you eat, but I wasn’t sure how long I had to wait. After waiting and watching, I realized that I was supposed to go up to the counter to pay. Good thing there were other people in the restaurant, or I may have waited forever!
  3. incofer train schedule: Figuring out how early to wake up in order to catch the train to go to San José with my cohort on Saturday (turns out – very early). It’s the same train that I’ll take to my Spanish classes at the University of Costa Rica in February.
  4. how to add minutes kolbi: Here, instead of phone company contracts, you prepay for phone “minutes” on your Costa Rican SIM card. I knew that most stores were able to help you add more minutes, but I wasn’t sure quite how to ask.
  5. pupusa recipe with squash: While in Longo Mai, Doña Edit taught us how to make pupusas, a delicious Salvadoran corn flatbread stuffed with cheese, squash, and beans. I knew immediately that I would want to make them again.
  6. costa rica earthquake: There were two earthquakes while we were in Longo Mai! As I’m from the Midwest, I’d never experienced an earthquake before. Both of them were of moderate intensity, causing little to no damage, but they occurred in the middle of the night, and I slept right through them!

A phrase has been knocking around in my head ever since I heard it last week. My tica family and I went to see Frozen 2 in theatres. In Spanish, instead of singing “Into the Unknown”, Elsa sings “Mucho Más Allá”, a phrase that colloquially means “far beyond.” If each word is literally translated, it sounds like “a lot more over there”, which made me laugh. But the chorus of the song has been stuck in my head ever since, which makes sense, as I am “mucho más allá” from my home, my family and friends, and everything that’s familiar. Still, I’m grateful to be here, and can’t wait to see what more adventures this semester holds.  

The view in our backyard from the garage stairs at sunset. San José is just below the mountains in the center left.

*The word for Costa Rican is tico, and for brevity’s sake, I will use tico/a to refer to the members of my host family.

** The “J” sound is different in Spanish than in English, so my name sometimes ends up with a Y instead of a J in spoken and written Spanish.


05 February 2020


Jenna Johnston