This past week, the UGA Spring Semester students entered their homestays. The students are staying with families around the campus in San Luis. This is a new and exciting experience for the students as they get to know their families and become more connected with the surrounding community. They have also visited a local coffee farm, and helped out with many of the departments here at campus! This has been a great opportunity for the students to not only practice their Spanish, but get to know the staff here as well. These are some excerpts from the journals the students are keeping for their LACS service class about their experiences with their homestays and service learning so far:
“For the past week I have been living in the home of a Costa Rican family. In this short amount of time I have learned one crucial life lesson: Never underestimate the power of board games.
Moving into a house with a family with that you have never met would be difficult under any circumstances. Add a language barrier; multiply the awkward silences. I was so nervous beginning my homestay, worried that the family wouldn’t like me or that I would come across as a “rude American”. Basically, I was afraid that we would be too different. Fortunately, on the first night my host sister, Estephanie, pulled out the board game Sorry. Coincidentally, Sorry is one of my favorite board games of all time. I would play it with my cousins nearly everyday during my childhood summers. The simplicity of the game combined with a bit of lighthearted competition instantly broke down barriers between my host siblings, Estephanie and Jeferson, and I. After a while even my host parents, Eylin and Yolanda, joined in. That first night we laughed and joked and played Sorry for hours. It was one of the best nights I’ve had in Costa Rica.
Now I am not saying that there haven’t been moments of culture shock. Sometimes my family and I have miscommunications, and there are still awkward silences every now and then, but our differences are not insurmountable. Families are families. Five year old boys run around and break things. Eleven year old girls get annoyed with their five year old brothers. Parents try to hold everything together without pulling their hair out. Living with a family here has given me the opportunity to directly observe the similarities and differences between family life in Costa Rica and the United States and has required me to live in the tension that this creates. For me, learning to embrace both similarity and difference is an important goal of this trip. Each day I learn a bit more about my family and their history and culture.
And each night we laugh and joke and play Sorry.”
“This week has been a roller coaster to say the least. I have never felt so tested and out of my comfort zone more than this week. From learning to budget my time to really getting to know another family has been so challenging. I feel so lucky, as I’m sure the other students do, that family is just so welcoming and sweet. They feel like actual family and I seriously feel like I can rely on them for anything. Even the other morning when I had a horrible earache, I felt comfortable to quietly wake them up and ask for help; they take such good care of me and I always tell my host mom, Marina, that I’m going to be muy gorda by the time I leave her house! This experience, as nerve racking as it is, has been so influential and has encouraged me to try more things. At the end of the day, I am so happy that the staff and people involved in the program are the way they are, because I think the entire process would severely suffer without them.”
“This week we helped the UGACR maintenance, kitchen, and housekeeping staff on campus as part of our service class. Having finished all 3 of my work shifts I can confidently say that the common quality between all the workers here is simply happiness. They are happy to be at work, and approach each day with an optimistic grin. These jobs are not easy. In fact most are just pure brute labor, but you would never know it by the tireless and genuine similes the employees proudly display every single day.”
“I didn’t know what to expect visiting the coffee farm. Alvaro was a really friendly and knowledgeable guide. He told us that the land is owned by about 25 families. All I could think about is how hardworking the people who own the land must be. Even I didn’t realize how many steps the coffee making process required. After hearing a brief history of the land we went to the trapiche which is a huge sugar-cane grinder. I was surprised that they had this equipment, it was huge and looked expensive. They mentioned that there is more modern equipment available but they like to keep the old tradition alive so they keep it. Ticos (atleast around here) seem to be preserving the old ways. Pura vida.”