Hello and Happy Holidays!
As we sit here in a hot and tropical country, it is slightly difficult to believe that Christmas is upon us – even if our host family's house has been decorated with wreaths, trees, and little Santa Claus figurines since before Halloween! We hope that this finds you doing well and that you have had a wonderful year. It really is hard to believe that yet another year has passed, considering we are living in a perpetual summer.
This past February we said good-bye to family and friends before embarking on our current adventure – Peace Corps. We found ourselves in Washington D.C. on March 1 we officially began the Peace Corps journey by sitting in a conference room (for about 10 hours) with everyone else that was bound for Costa Rica. We went out for a nice dinner to celebrate what was to come and first thing the following morning we were piling into a bus and heading to the airport.
We spent March, April and May sitting in long training sessions and trying to learn Spanish. It was a frustrating time for us as a lot of training had to do with how to work with youth – which you know we have been doing for a fair number of years! We had our ups and downs, but it all came to an end on May 21 when we became official Peace Corps Volunteers – complete with a trip to the U.S. Ambassador's residence. On May 22 we loaded up our belongings, hopped on a bus (or 3), and several (4 or 5) hours later arrived in the comfort of our current home in Colonia, a small community in the middle of a banana plantation!
The seven months between then and now have also presented us with challenges as we try to figure out how to work most effectively in a new country. Every day is a new experience; whether we are going to cultural events at the school, hanging out at the playground and basketball court, walking through town or working with English classes at the high school we tend to finish the day in disbelief thinking, 'what just happened?' This is our new life. We're learning a lot – about Costa Rica, about how to adapt to a slower pace of life, and about ourselves.
Some of the highlights from our time here include (but are not limited to):
- Doing a cultural exchange with a Spanish Service Learning class from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln and students from our high school. This included letter exchanges between the students and culminated in a video chat through Skype – our kids were so excited to look into a classroom in the U.S., it made their day and we were so glad that we were able to provide them with that opportunity. Thank you Professor Aaron Chambers and class for making a difference in our community!
- Chris teaching the kids how to play Knock Out, Around the World, and O-S-O (a shortened version of H-O-R-S-E) and then seeing the kids organize themselves to play on their own.
- Playing games with our neighbors. The boys are 6, 10, 11, and 12 and can't get enough of card and dice games. Over the course of seven months we have seen them go from being shy boys who would reluctantly say hi, to quiet boys who participated in camp activities with us, to outspoken boys who shout to us from their houses whenever they see us and have no qualms about stopping by the house, peering into our windows and asking us if it is time to play yet. They also tell us that we're their best friends. If we're having a bad day all that we need to do is keep an eye out for them and soon enough we're all smiles.
- Camp. During July the students had a two-week long vacation and we spent four hours a day playing games with them. We averaged about 25 kids a day. This was our first real attempt at doing anything in the community and it was a great success. It broke the ice between the kids and us. Their shyness was forgotten and they started hugging us, hanging on us, and acting out – in other words, acting like we know kids do! It was wonderful. This also showed us that the parents we had been saying hi to at every opportunity trusted us enough to let their kids spend the day with us.
- Wednesday night English sessions with our friends Jorge and Alberto. Sometimes there are more people who show up, but these guys are consistent. They joke around with us and also help us with our Spanish, ensuring us that we're all together to learn from each other. It's pretty great.
- Making friends from around the U.S. and Costa Rica. We have met some pretty incredible people throughout this journey. They have made all the difference in our time here.
So, in a nutshell, it has been a very interesting year. We have pushed ourselves and have benefited from the challenges that we have faced. It is hard to believe that we will soon be approaching our year mark here in Costa Rica. We are actively planning for the year to come and cannot wait to see what opportunities we will be presented with.
If you want to learn more about what we have been up to or want to keep track of what exactly it is that we're up to when we're not sitting around to avoid sweating, check out our blog: tarahandchris.blogspot.com – we try to keep it relatively current!
Many blessings to you in the year to come! We hope that it is adventurous as ours is bound to be!
Chris and Tarah