Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Final Post

Today marks 2 months since I have returned to the US after living in Costa Rica for the past 27 months. Proof that I am still adjusting from the slow pace of rural CR: it has taken me this long to compose my final post. Where to begin? The last few months in site were hectic, finishing up projects, savoring every last moment of my 'vida tica,' and saying goodbye to people in a town who had taken me in as another member for the past 2 years. Needless to say, a lot of soccer playing and coffee were involved.

In terms of projects, I am genuinely satisfied and happy with how everything culminated. The book drive was a huge success, thanks to the generous support of family and friends (including the Osborn Hill School in Fairfield, CT, who are pen pals with the kids in CR). The kids, parents, and teachers were super excited about the tremendous expansion of the library in the elementary school. Here are some happy kids:

Another big accomplishment was the regional Art for Peace Conference that I co-coordinated with a fellow PCV friend, Becca. Over 40 kids from 4 towns had a blast presenting plays, poems, and dances they prepared, as well as participating in various interactive workshops. The evaluations from the kids were overwhelmingly positive, making Becca and I feel that our hard work paid off.

the volunteers who brought kids to the conference

having fun making stress relief balls with corn starch and balloons (a bit messier than we imagined)

the kids working in groups to dream up and draw their ideal town

first ice-breaker of the morning: get in a tight circle and sit on each others' laps-- took a few tries but they got it, with lots of laughter along the way!

One of the big projects in town, the government funding to build concrete ditches for the steepest hills in town (with the hope of paving them in the future), was approved and currently underway. I look forward to seeing pictures of the final product, but feel really good about the fact that the local development association now has the knowledge of one successful project design and implementation and will hopefully apply for another grant in the future to address local needs.

On a more personal note, in terms of saying my goodbyes, it really didn't seem possible that after all this time, I was actually leaving my town, for good. I visited home twice throughout the 27 months and it kind of felt like I would just be coming back in a little bit. Similar to when I first arrived, there were a lot of questions I answered many times (When are you coming back? What are you going to do in the US? How about you just stay here?). However this time around, it was with friends and my familia tica (host family) and it was hard not having a firm answer as to when I will come back to see them again. What I do know, having moved around so much growing up, is that you keep in touch with who you want to keep in touch with and I have already been able to do that via phone/email/letters with my tico friends, which has been wonderful.

I feel really proud to have finished my Peace Corps service, having had the opportunity to do my small part to make the world a better place (though the very idea of how to go about doing this evolved tremendously during this time). This is a personal goal that I will continue to develop. In addition, it has been an incredible opportunity to gain valuable experience in a (relatively!) short period of time. I would 100% recommend Peace Corps to someone considering it and would welcome sharing my experience with anyone who is interested in joining.

As I close this chapter of my life, I would like to wrap up by saying how much I appreciated everyone's support while I was away. I know I never could have done it without the emails, calls, and visits, as well as the messages from everyone who read my blog. Now that I am back in the US, I look forward to sharing my story with everyone as I begin the next chapter of my life, finding a job and moving to NYC. And instead of connecting through my blog, this time it will be in person!

Lots of love and "pura vida,"

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Sentor Visit

I actually wrote this post a few months ago but hadn`t finished it until a few days ago, so here it is!

This past Saturday morning, I found myself in one of the nicest hotels in San Jose having breakfast with the senator of Connecticut, Chris Dodd. Talk about a cool opportunity! Earlier this earlier week, I received an email that Senator Dodd, along with Senator Corker from Tennessee, would be in Costa Rica as part of a tour of Central America and were interested in meeting Peace Corps Volunteers in the country. And so, with my fellow Connecticut PCV friend from West Hartford, Victoria, as well as a few other volunteers and PC/CR US citizen staff members, we enjoyed a delightful brunch with the senators. We learned that Senator Dodd served in the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic in the 60’s, so we were swapping stories. It was fascinating to hear about his Peace Corps experience from “back in the day” when one was not permitted to visit home during the 2 years nor had the luxury of keeping in touch with fellow volunteers via cell phones. Times have certainly changed! But I would like to write about something that really struck me from our conversation. Something that I think can be considered a universal Peace Corps ‘truth.’

We were telling the senator that when considering one’s lasting impact achieved throughout service, while infrastructure projects serve as physical testaments to our service abroad, that has not been the “take away” from our experiences here. The take away comes from something completely intangible but, perhaps for that very reason, all the more powerful: the relationships formed with members of our communities. The senator told us he was delighted to hear us say this, as that has been the case in his experience; all these years later, he has kept in touch with several members from his village, including one who ended up living in the US. Out in the field, one sometimes feels like she can be doing more, instead of celebrating all that has been accomplished, specifically in terms of personal relationships. However I think this realization becomes more clear towards the end of service, which is a time of reflection and answering the questions, “what have I been doing all this time?” and, “was it worth it?”

It is hard sometimes, being in the thick of it, to step back and think about this in a big picture comprehensive manner, but in doing so, I have come to realize that the relationships I have made during this time will be one of my lasting ‘legacies’ as well as what will stay with me long after I leave Costa Rica. In answer to those questions: What have I been doing all this time? At the most basic level: living and working side by side with people who have a different culture, language, and religion, than myself and becoming a part of this community. Has it been worth it? As I constantly have said, this time is best described as a roller-coaster… but isn’t that life in general? There have been low times when I have wondered what I was doing here away from everyone I love for 2 years, but overall it has been an amazing learning experience in so many ways. In the end, more than any project I have been involved with during the past 2 years, I am confident that pretty much every member of my town will remember me fondly as ‘la gringa’ who, among other things, was always out running, loved working with kids, didn’t like ‘typical’ American fast food and always drank water instead of the sugary drinks they have here, and looked more tica than some of the ticas in town. Likewise, I will think back on my time here and remember the kindness and generosity that so many families showed me, this gringa who came out of nowhere to work on ‘community development’ in their little town and became another member of it. That is the beauty of Peace Corps: for the stranger to become a friend--- someone to laugh with, cook with, dance with, run with, chat with, work with, and all the other 1,001 things we do in our day-to-day life. So yes, it has been worth it.

Monday, April 5, 2010

I am really happy to be posting the long awaited pictures of the playground today! The company came March 17th to install it and the kids of my town-- as well as a few teens and adults, which may or may not include yours truly-- have been delighted, playing on it ever since. All during the installation the neighborhood kids were there watching and helping out where they could. One of my chica´s poderosas´s said, `Tesa, who would´ve thought that here we´d ever have a playground!` It was so sweet. Every time I pass the soccer field there is always a bunch of kids playing, and many times there are little kids with their parents, which was one of the goals of the project: encourage families to spend time togethere in an active way, as well as develop friendships between familias in town. I believe it has been quite successful on that account and am excited to plan an inauguration with the development association to take place in the coming weeks.

On another note, I have been blown away by the response of family and friends in support of the book drive for the elementary school. It means so much to me-- and I know it will mean a lot to the kids of my town who will benefit tremendously. I am looking forward to going to San Jose this coming week with the school principal and a parent of one of the students to pick out the books. The children and I plan to write thank you notes to each of you, but for now I want to say muchisimas gracias to everyone for your generous donations.

Time is flying by as I´m finishing up my time here. I will be flying home to the US on May 15th-- almost a month away. It is really bittersweet-- everyone here is constantly saying how they can´t believe I´m leaving and I think part of me doesn´t believe it either. I´ve been here for 2 years and have truly acclimatized to life in the country. On the other hand, I have my family and friends to get back to and I´m anxiously eager to begin ´anew´ after my two-year hiatus. I believe the key, which I try to do with every experience in my life, is take it day by day and appreciate the moments each day brings, because very soon it will all seem like a distant memory. Here´s to `carpe diem.`

Pura Vida,


Monday, February 8, 2010

Unbelievably, my time here in Costa Rica is winding down. I have a little over 3 months until I complete my 27 months as a Peace Corps Volunteer. At the beginning, 27 months seemed an impossibly long time and though it does seem like it has been a long time since I’ve lived stateside, time has simultaneously crept up on me. As with the end of any adventure, it is quite a bittersweet feeling, although it really doesn’t seem to be sinking in yet. However I don’t think I go through a single extended conversation with a person in my town where that person doesn’t bring it up, saying how much he or she is going to miss me and how much I am going to miss things here (the people, living in nature, and of course yummy Tico food). They then proceed to tell me that the simple solution to this is me getting a boyfriend so that I stay here instead of heading back to the US. My response to this is, “Nunca se sabe” (you never know), but in truth, besides the uncertainly of what I will be doing career-wise upon my return to the US, I think I will be ready to re-adjust to a life that involves living within driving distance of family and friends. But I still have a few more months and I know they are going to fly by with lots of activity, so I am quite consciously enjoying every minute. Here’s an idea of some of the things I’ll be involved in:

-As my Mom wrote in an email to many of you a few months back, a friend of mine on the development association and I wrote a grant to CRUSA, a non-profit organization that works to encourage collaborations between Costa Rica and the US in development projects and specifically accepts applications from Costa Rican towns that are working with Peace Corps Volunteers. Our grant addresses a necessity that has been defined by numerous community members: a playground. In December we received the news that the project was approved and just this past week, we transferred the money to the company that will come to build the playground, which should be in a few weeks. We’re hoping to plan a celebratory party soon after—pictures to come!

-Last year, one of my most fulfilling projects was the play a group of elementary school students wrote, practiced, and performed at the annual Arte por La Paz conference in San Jose. I was really hoping to have the event before leaving this year and luckily met a really cool Tico 19 (the group that came in February of last year) volunteer, Becca, who wanted to help organize the event, so we will be co-coordinating the event which consists of the volunteers who live closest to San Jose bringing kids from their school who will perform plays, dance routines, poetry, and exhibit their art projects that all relate to peace. We will be having it at an amazing space at the University of Costa Rica, which will be wonderful to simultaneously expose the kids to the university setting and show them that if they keep studying, they too can go to college one day! I think it’s going to be a really fantastic day, and the planning of it is a good culminatory project as I’m realizing how many connections with different people and organizations I have made during this time.

-In addressing another community-defined need, I’m coordinating a book drive fundraiser to start a little library in the elementary school. I sent out an email detailing this project and am really excited at the prospect of working with my friend in the community and the school teachers to set up various programs to utilize the books (reading buddies, having the parents come and read, etc.). If you did not receive the email and are interested in supporting this project, please email me or leave a message on the blog and I will gladly send you the email with the information =)

-I am also looking forward to continuing the Voces Valerosas workshops that I conducted with the English teacher in the high school last December, as well as Chicas Poderosas in the elementary school. Also, I will be co-teaching a conversational English class with my friend from Canada, Sandy, who has a house on the next mountain over and recently returned to Costa Rica after spending the year in Canada.

Certianly, lots to do! I am absolutely happiest here when I am busy and know that the next few months will fly by with these various projects… and before I know it, I’ll be back in Connecticut looking for a job that will complement all that I have done here--- ojalá!

Ok, hope all is well with everyone!
Pura Vida,

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Nicaragua Pictures

A few pictures from what was one of the best trips I have ever taken:

almost all of the buildings in the colonial cities (hotels, restaurants, etc) had these little indoor gardens that I absolutely adoredthis is the side of the volcano that we sand-boarded down

Kelsey and I gearing up to board down the mountain, a slightly terrifying prospect once we reached the top and saw what awaited
a view from the top

delicious street food

in front of an old church in Leòn, one of the beautiful colonial towns of Nicaragua
relaxing on the dock in one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to, the Laguna del Apoyo sunrise at the laguna


A little Hanukkah party with some friends, complete with dreidel, lighting of the menorah, and homemade latkes!


In December, the chicas poderosas and I took a trip to the closest city where we met with a motivational speaker and visited the public library. making Christmas cards in the library
a cute little play the librarian had the chicas perform

the chicas and the speaker (the same woman who has done several wonderful personal development workshops with the women`s group in the town next door)

the first communion, featuring a few of the chicas-- aren`t their dresses adorable?!