Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Five Week Countdown!

Hello Everyone!

     It is so hard to believe that this experience is coming close to an end! I have five more weeks out of the nineteen that I am supposed to be here, which means that everything is going to go crazy fast. I am so grateful for this whole experience because if I stayed in the US, I wouldn't have been able to grow as much as I have. In my opinion, the best way to grow in anything is to do things that are outside of your comfort zone. This trip has definitely revealed some things about myself that I might not have known, and I have been able to learn and improve from these inner conflicts.
     As far as teaching goes, I feel that I am getting to a point where I am comfortable with the idea of having my own classroom. I didn't think that I would get to this point for a while, but I am so excited! Also, I have gotten the chance to develop more relationships with the kids, and they are really starting to grow on me. There are still many times during each class when I will say a certain word and they will have no idea what I am saying, or they will say a word in spanish if they don't know the word in English and I will look at them the same way. But, these kids have really given me a wonderful example of how to teach an international student. Since all of the students are speaking in their second language, I have to constantly think about their vocabulary limits. In addition, I am constantly reminded that each student has a story. Since almost all of the students at my school live a "Beverly Hills "lifestyle", it would be easy to assume that they all have perfect lives, but that is far from the truth. There are so many students that are still hurting no matter how much stuff they have. I may not be able to fix their family issues, but I can encourage them. I may not be able to fix how they are treated at home, but I can give them a hug, which may be the only hug they get from anyone that day. I have definitely gotten a different point of view concerning the relationship between life issues and wealth. Even if you work at a rich private school, every kid who walks through those hallways have problems just like any other kid in the world.
     I have also been able to take a few trips since my last post. My first trip was to Arenal, which is a huge tourist spot to see an active volcano. During the trip, I did not do any exciting excursions up the volcano, but I did go to a resort that had twenty five pools of different temperatures. So, basically there were twenty hot tubs with about five cold pools. It was a great way to unwind from a full week of teaching by myself! Then, the next weekend I went to another active volcano, Poaz, which was amazing! For this volcano, you are able to walk all the way to the top and see the crater. I went with a group of wonderful girls and had a blast! When we all walked up to the crater, we couldn't see anything because of the fog, but after the rain started, we could see everything. Unfortunately, being at the top was a lot colder than expected, especially with the added rain. Let me just say, that I am definitely concerned about going back to the States at the beginning of December because I have become a wimp towards the cold. Thankfully, we were all able to scurry down to the entrance and warm-up with some hot coffee. : D . We also got chances during the bus ride to stop and take pictures of the landscapes. So beautiful! Here are some of the pictures that were taken during the trips.
     Who knows what will come up in these last five weeks, but I will keep you posted! Happy Halloween everyone!!


The coffee fields on the way to Poaz

Before the rain at Poaz

After the rain at Poaz

More sight-seeing

Oh these girls! They are so great!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Vamos a Panama!


     While I am writing this, I cannot believe that I am more than halfway through my journey. Time has gone both fast and slow over these past 10 weeks. Since the third quarter of the school year has just ended, the fourth quarter is quickly approaching and that will fly by just as fast. There have not been many updates from me recently because the main activities that I continue to do consist of teaching and relaxing at home. I did happen to catch another illness...that lasted for another week. This time, I think it was from the students. But, everything is all better. Hopefully, this will be the last sickness of the trip. During that period of time, I did get some experience with coordinating an assembly performance. The set-up included doing warm-ups with the band and choir, setting up the chairs and music, and conducting the songs (except the band was conducted by one of the students!). It was definitely a bit challenging at times, but I am glad that I got to go through it with the help of some fellow teachers. Teaching has been going really well! There are still days when I make mistakes (meaning everyday), but that is expected. My teacher and I are preparing the kids for a final end of the year performance in which each grade level sings a "rock" song (this includes "Living on a prayer", "We got the beat", "Twist and Shout", and "Stand by me"). But, I have found that these songs have been following me everywhere I go. I even hear them when I am on vacation! But, it happens. All of the kids that I work with have been wonderful! They do provide a little bit of a challenge every time that I have to teach because English is their second language. There are may students that are already wonderful English speakers, but I have to remember to choose words and phrases that would be familiar to them. Ironically, explaining concepts or definitions in basic terms can often be the most difficult of tasks (at least for me)
     In other news, I have finally taken the trip to Panama! It was a grand old time filled with many adventures. Since I am staying longer than three months, I have to renew my visa by leaving the country for at least three days. So, that was part of the reason for the adventure. When I crossed the border from Costa Rica to Panama, it was a little nerve-wrecking. Why, you ask? Well, the bridge consisted of many loose boards (some were nailed to the structure, of course) over a river. The group that I went with and I had to collect a little bit of bravery to pass the bridge. But, once we passed it, there was no problem and we were off to Bocas del Toro. We stayed at a hostel that was right by the ocean, and the ocean was as clear as day! It was so fun seeing everything in the water including the little stingrays, jellyfish, and fish. We also went on a full day tour that included seeing dolphins, going snorkeling and going to a beautiful beach. The snorkeling was a new experience, and a little nerve-wrecking as well because a jellyfish was spotted at the beginning of the snorkeling activity. But, except for that, it was very cool to see all the different colors and corals in the ocean. For the rest of the time, we either relaxed at the hostel or wandered through town.
     Now, I am back at home enjoying a peaceful day that is again filled with peaceful and constant rain. I may fill the rest of my free week experiencing the Costa Rican culture by going to the mall and drinking some Starbucks. : )

 The bridge of terror!

 Our hostel

 Sunset by the docks

 Our mode of transportation during the tour

"Calypso Joe", our musical entertainment for Monday evening during dinner.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Ultimate Souvenir


     I apologize that I have not written in a while, there have been a few things that have withheld my motivation to write in these past two weeks including traveling and sickness. Overall, things have been going well. I have continued to develop myself professionally as a teacher by learning as I go. Little by little, I am starting to become more confident when it comes to classroom management. Since classroom management is one of my weak spots, I am excited to continually grow in this area! Everytime I go into the classroom, it makes me both excited and anxious to have my own classroom. There are some days when I don't think I can do it, but there are other wonderful moments that reassure me that I am equipped to slowly begin my journey as an educator. I just have to remind myself that even for the most experienced of teachers, there are always moments of error and always room for improvment.
     As for my travels, I recently went to Manuel Antonio which is about 4 hours from Santa Ana. Thankfully, I had another student teacher from COST, Sonam, to accompany me on the journey. Firstly, we had to travel to San Jose and take a bus from there that took about 3 hours. During that bus ride, I got to practice my spanish with an older man, Jose, that sat across from me. Jose only spoke spanish, but he was very amiable and happy to talk to me about different matters of life. We had a surprisingly deep conversation, and I was able to communicate fairly well with my developing spanish skills. For those who want to study abroad, it is so important to speak with as my people as possible. This does not mean that you have to have conversations with random people on the bus, but try to find opportunities to ask simple questions or comments like "How are you?", "*insert comment about weather*", "wow! the cab is very red!", and things of that nature. Speaking as much as possible means more experience, and more experience always equals an improvement in speaking the language.
     Now, going back to the trip...Sonam and I stayed at a hotel about 10 minutes from everything including the National Park, and the public beach. The first day we arrived in the town, we did get to experience the beach, and it was pretty beautiful. We mainly sat and people watched, and I did not get sunburn! How exciting! Then the next day, we went to the National Park, and we got to see all kinds of monkeys, sloths, and insects. As we walked further into the park, we were able to stop at small private beaches, which are dispersed throughout the park. While walking, we definitely had to watch out for raccoons and monkeys, because they are not afraid to snatch your things. They are crazy intelligent! There was almost a moment where we were trapped in between two little monkeys, but thankfully we avoided the crisis. After 3 or 4 hours of walking until our legs were shaking like jello and our clothes were drenched in sweat, we ended up going to a restaurant that included an incredible view and an actual airplane in the dining area! It was beautiful!
     Unfortunately, I had to bring back a souvenir called a "virus". I did not get seriously sick, but the virus did last for about a week, and I am just starting to recover. I am not exactly sure where I got it, but here is a note to those who want to travel in Costa Rica. DRINK BOTTLED WATER IF YOU ARE NOT IN A MAJOR CITY! This is a very important fact to remember, unless you want to get sick, which I do not encourage. Here are some pictures from the trip. Also, my teacher and I celebrated our "month-iversary" by painting pictures for each other. It was fantastic! I will be going to another location this weekend, so I will have more pictures to show.
Hasta Luego!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Weeks of Adjusting


     As I write this post, I am about 4 weeks into my experience. I would definitely call these past couple weeks the "weeks of transition". Although every week could be considered just that, I feel as though I am becoming more accustomed to what is around me. The fear of just getting out of my house and interacting with others/walking around town has greatly diminished. If there is ever a feeling of homesickness, I can simply go to a huge and wonderful shopping center called "Multi-Plaza" and drink Starbucks until my cravings are satisfied as well as walk around a very fancy mall. Did I also mention that is was wonderful? Also, the fear of managing a classroom is decreasing little by little. The more I get to know the students, the more that I become comfortable with what I do every monday through friday (or thursday if we are lucky and have a day off). There are still 300 student's names to learn, but I will get there. It also helps when your students are already saying that you are "the best teacher and Ms. Leon, too". *Sidenote* Since the students are still learning their english, some do not understand the difference between Mr. and Ms. and since there are probably more women than men on staff, some just call everyone Ms.. There are still some struggles that I have to overcome as far as classroom management and being the assertive teacher, but I will get there : ) .
     There has also been another student teacher (Sonam) that arrived last wednesday, and she has sort of turned into my adventure buddy. When I first introduced her around the town, telling her where everything is and how everything works, it was crazy to think I was in her exact same position three weeks ago! During her first week here, we have already gotten lost in the center of San Jose trying to look for the bus station, we have attempted running for exercise (which both of us are not the most enthused to be doing) and even got lost during our first run. We seem to have a knack for getting lost......
     Now, let me tell you a little bit about my adventure getting lost in the center of San Jose. Since some fellow student teachers/staff and I are going to Manuel Antonio this weekend, it is important to get the bus tickets early in order to ensure that one has a seat on the bus. If you don't....well then you have to stand for 3 or 4 hours, which I don't want to do. So Sonam and I decided to go and get the tickets. Firstly, we had to take a bus from Santa Ana to San Jose (in which we did not ask anyone which stop to get off of) so we asked the bus driver. When we asked him, he said this was the stop, so we got off and we were already on our fun journey to the bus station since we had gotten off at the wrong stop. We did ask many people for directions, but they were pretty vague and included measurements in "meters". At the end of our journey we did learn from someone that 100 meters is kind of like a block in our terms, but we did not know that at the time. We finally met a wonderful doctor who was heading that way, so he helped us find the station. Then, there was the complication of finding which of the two bus stations sold the tickets for Manuel Antonio....etc, etc. Nevertheless, we have the tickets now and that is all that matters. : ) It was also a great opportunity to practice my spanish.
     For anyone that ever travels to Costa Rica and travels by bus, know which station you get off of before getting on the bus! It definitely helps a lot. Now I can cross off "getting lost in a foreign city" to my to do list.
     Sorry for no pictures this time. I didn't bring my camera around anywhere this week. But, come next week, I will have beautiful pictures to show you of Manuel Antonio! Can't wait!

Hasta Luego!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Week 2!

Hello Everyone!

     So, it is a little past week 2, and everything is still going pretty well. Last week was yet another week of school (minus the earthquake) and waking up at 5:20 each morning (and sleeping in is considered 7:30-8am). The previous sunday did happen to be my birthday, so the day consisted of eating wonderful food all day and I did receive a Costa Rican bag that I can add to my collection of grandma bags. Now, I do not want this to sound like I am dissing my host mom, I am very grateful for the bag, it is just a little grandma-esque. : ) . That very same weekend, I had the opportunity to ride a motorcycle for the first time! I was being picked up by an acquaintance of mine who is known through someone that I know in the states and since his car was being borrowed by someone, he gave me the option of picking me up by motorcycle or through a borrowed car. I said that I didn't really care which one it was (even though inside I was very nervous if he was going to come with the motorcycle), and he came with the motorcycle. The whole way there I held on for dear life while praying non-stop that we would get there safely and not crash. He was not a crazy driver what-so-ever, but it was definitely a new experience for me, and later he laughed at the fact that I was so stiff while riding.
     School has been going pretty well. But, since I teach a subject that is "extra" to the student's home classroom, I do get all of the elementary school students which means 15 classes throughout the week. There are still so many names to learn, and I don't even know where to begin. To help with the matter, I may only see these children once or twice a week. So, we will see where the name memorization goes. But, I love my students! One has already come up to me saying that she doesn't want me to leave because the music teachers never tend to stay long-term at this school. It just broke my heart. The week also consisted of singing some more karaoke classics while responsibly accomplishing the tasks that needed to be done for each class (of course : D ).             
     One of the awesome opportunities that I get is helping to build the curriculum for the music program. The program is still very young, so all of the music teachers from Pre-K, Elementary and High School are coming together to make sure that they have curriculum that builds off of one another. The other two teachers are wonderful to work with, even though there is a bit of conflicting views when it comes to music education. Let's just say one view says we should learn the technical side of music including notation, forms, etc. while the other view thinks that the experience and self-creation is more important than the "technical" side. The second point of view is very Costa Rican regarding music education because they are taught through a lot of pop music and not taught about notation or anything of that sort. You are actually able to receive a college degree in music education without knowing how to instruct the different instruments or voices! Very different!
     This weekend, I took a little adventure to the beach in Jaco with the girls that live right down the street  from me, and it was a lot of fun. Since this is rainy season, we did have to leave early and take a 6:30 am bus from Santa Ana that would eventually connect to other buses. It was definitely too early for the weekend. There were a few short sprinkles here and there, but the day turned out to be pretty nice. The girls told me that this was the "bad" beach in Costa Rica, so I look forward to what a "good" beach looks like! This was my first time swimming in an ocean (the pacific ocean, to be exact) and I totally forgot that it was salt water until some splashed in my mouth, and I remembered right away. At the end of the day, I did not wear a lot of sunblock, so I now look like a shrimp that is in a little bit of pain. But, that is all my fault. What a wonderful day! I also took some pictures on the bus ride, which included a lot of beautiful scenery.

 Hopefully everyone is doing well, and I will update you as my adventures happen!
Pura Vida!



Friday, July 25, 2014

Poco a Poco (Week 1)


     So, my first week has finally come to a close, and it has been one of the longest weeks that I have had in a while, mostly because of my brain getting used to new surroundings and being truly independent. I would say that because of this, I have been quite the emotional rollercoaster, but I know that this is just part of the process and I will eventually become accustomed to my surroundings. Thankfully, I have a wonderful host mom, Sandra, who is very friendly and very patient when it comes to me speaking spanish. She also happens to be a spanish teacher who works with beginning spanish speakers! How perfect! Now, before I came, I did review a little bit of spanish and I thought I would be equipped for most of the basic topics. I was wrong. So, I actually borrowed Sandra's extra spanish workbook for practice and I am trying to practice everyday. One point that Sandra always tries to emphasize when I get frustrated is "poco a poco" which means "little by little". I will just have to use the method of "Baby steps". Eventually I will get to a point where I can successfully have a smooth conversation with someone, but that will not be today.
     Since most of this week as been school, I cannot say that I have gone exploring yet, but I hope it will be soon. One highlight did happen on my first night here where there was a parade of multiple percussion ensembles or marching bands from high schools. It was very fun to listen to all of the different rhythms and see the different presentations each band had while they were marching. In other news, I experienced my first 10 second earthquake. I was in the classroom with everyone, and then all of a sudden the ground began to shake. Thankfully, nothing happened and earthquakes do not happen often here, so I am not worried. It also happened at the perfect time because I was in charge of a discussion and I was blanking on what to talk about next and that is when it happened. So, the earthquake saved me from an awkward silent moment.
     Also, my experience at my school has been wonderful. I have been paired with a teacher who definitely has a lot of personality. During one of our breaks for the first day, we ended up singing a karaoke version of "Summer Nights". How many people can say that? lol. He is a great example to follow for how to handle the kids, so I am already learning a lot. I have also been learning about the fact that a teacher wears many hats for their job. For example, since we needed a dance choreographed and the choreographer was too expensive, so we were the choreographers. This semester we will be covering Costa Rican folk music, Costa Rican dances, hymns, rhythms, etc. I will also be helping out with the 5th grade band and choir. Since music is required for everyone in elementary school, I still have everyone's name to learn. But, at least I have started learning the names that I need to know (aka "the troublemakers"). Even though there are some trouble makers, all of the kids are wonderful to work with. : ) .
     Now, I apologize for my lack of pictures because the places that I wanted to take pictures (like the parade) are really great places if you want to get your camera stolen. But, as I adventure more...I will have more to show. This picture is taken right outside of the house that I live in. The mountains are beautiful to look at every day. Unfortunately, the picture doesn't do it justice.
I will write next week : )