Saturday, November 1, 2008

San Pedro & Español

On October 4, we arrived in San Jose, the capital city of Costa Rica. Our first stop was the language school that was to be our academic home for the next three weeks. CRLA, the Costa Rican Language Academy, is located in San Pedro, a smaller city adjoining San Jose. After a brief orientation and oral placement exams to supplement the written ones we had already completed by e-mail, we said farewell to our three biology professors and split into groups to be taken to our homestay families.

Homestay Awesomeness

My homestay "Mama Tica" ("Tico/a" = Costa Rican person) was somewhere around 75 years old (so more of an "Abuela Tica"). She lives in what came to be called "the compound" - about five houses together behind a big orange gate. Nidia, my Mama Tica, and a few of her children live with their families in the houses. During my three weeks there, there was also a German student named Stefanie living with Nidia. Even though Stefanie speaks English, we always spoke in Spanish, which gave me lots of extra practice.

Nidia is an amazing cook, and I ate huge breakfasts and dinners every day. I had my own room and bathroom, which was incredibly nice after a month and a half of bunk rooms and communal bathrooms. Between Nidia and her husband, her children, her grandchildren, and their friends, there were always a zillion people at the compound with whom I could practice my Spanish. Her grandchildren always got a kick out of this, of course, but they were really fun to hang around with. One of the uncles is the mayor of San Pedro - he is a hilarious guy who tried to convince me that I should have a Tico boyfriend at every biological station we visit... thus, seven presents throughout the semester. I had an awesome time at my homestay, and was sad to leave.

Spanish, Spanish, and more Spanish

My main worry about our intensive Spanish classes in San Pedro was that I wouldn't place into the advanced level, and thus wouldn't complete my Duke Spanish requirement like I had planned. Luckily, though, the placement seemed to be based more on the amount of grammar you knew and not your speaking ability, and thus I did place into the advanced level. The classes at CRLA are small in order to increase the amount of time each student spends speaking in class - my class was two girls from my program (Jessica and Whitney), our teacher Carla, and me. Carla is in her mid-twenties and is an extremely fun and creative person - thus, class was really enjoyable. When we weren't playing ridiculous games directed at practicing some aspect of grammar, we were gossiping continuously (in Spanish, of course). We had Spanish class Monday through Thursday from 9 to 3, with a one-hour lunch break in the middle. Most days after Spanish a few of us went to dance class from 3 to 5, which was really fun - our salsa and merengue skills improved considerably. Throughout the three weeks we had two quizzes each week and a long final exam on the last day of class - all requirements from Duke so that we would receive a full class credit. On the last day of class we had a little graduation ceremony in which we all received certificates and a hug from our professor. All in all, I was really pleased with both my experience at CRLA and the improvement in my Spanish abilities - and, as always, sad to leave.

...and a little bit of biology.

Of course, we couldn't possibly put biology completely on hold for three weeks (grrrr...). Unlike the other students at CRLA, we didn't have our Fridays completely free. On our first and third Fridays in San Pedro, we had guest lectures in the morning at the OTS offices at the University of Costa Rica. On the Friday in the middle, though, we had our midterm exams for our Introduction to Tropical Biology and Environmental Policy of the Tropics Classes. About two hours was budgeted for each exam and we were allowed to grab lunch from the lobby whenever we so desired. Both studying and taking the exams was pretty much horrible, especially when we wanted to be out enjoying the city. To make up for this, a bunch of us took off ASAP for the beach after the exams - but more on the weekend adventures later!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It was interesting to read your account of your classes in Costa Rica but the real challenge will occur when you return home when you need to continue practicing.

I have taken Spanish in both high school and college and later on participated in a number of Spanish immersion courses and camps in Spain, Mexico and Columbia, but I have always had a problem maintaining and even advancing my fluency afterward.
Now, being fairly fluent in Spanish I have found that classes and computer based instruction are usually below my mastery level. Movies and novels are OK, but are not as personal and memorable. They are easy to forget as they are sort of optional. What has worked well for me recently are online classes in which I can chat to someone to improve my conversational skills. I have been happy with which offers classes from a variety of teachers that fit my schedule. I work long hours.

Do you know of anyone with a similar problem and how have they managed? Even online isn't ideal.