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Study-abroad updates from Central America

BY GUEST OPINION | FEBRUARY 24, 2012 6:30 AM

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One weekend my friends and I made plans to hike a volcano. We asked our tico parents — our guardians while studying abroad here in Costa Rica — how long it would take to walk to the top and got a range of answers from 50 minutes to four hours — we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.

We loaded a bus and took it to what we thought was the base of the volcano — only to find out we were six miles from the base. Six miles for a group of 15 young college students should not be a problem. However, these miles were all up the steepest hills I have ever seen. By the time we reached the base, we had been hiking for three hours. An hour more of the same steep hills on rocky roads, and we were at the National Park where we paid $8 to walk around the park for an hour and look at clouds. Needless to say, we were exhausted at that point and did not want to walk back in the dark. Good thing tico culture is to help everyone. A nice family drove the eight of us who were left back to Heredia.

The next day was Super Bowl Sunday. A group of University Studies Abroad Consortium students got together, cooked dinner, watched the game, and then played the most intense game of charades I have ever been a part of. Just some of the words: analogy, Galapagos Islands, the bombing of Guernica, and sea urchin.

This past weekend, we went to Montezuma. It took a good eight hours to get out to the end of the peninsula, but the sunset on the ferry and running into some German friends we made in Puerto Viejo made the trip more enjoyable. Our group split up into three different hostels (this time none of them involved hammocks). We went to the one dance club on the beach for Friday night and fell asleep to the sound of waves.

The next morning, we woke up to the sound of waves. Saturday was spent hiking to waterfalls and then hiking to the top of them — this time when I say hiking, I mean even steeper than the week before. Getting to the top of the waterfalls meant using ropes to scale and descend rocks. I'll admit my fear of heights was in full force, but I managed to face my fears and keep climbing. The view from the top was well worth it. We were at the top of a series of three waterfalls looking down at where our adventure had begun. After 20 minutes of convincing and watching my friends bravely splash into the water, I jumped off the top waterfall. We spent the rest of the day swimming in the natural pool, lying on the rocks, and climbing behind the waterfall.

All of the climbing in the sun built up quite an appetite, so we used the kitchen in the hostel to make a meal of coconut rice, fish, fresh fruit, and fresh vegetables. One of my friends mentioned the rice needed some more flavor and all of us said, "Add some beans" — a clear sign that we are accepting the tico ways. After a night on the beach with a fire and friends, we went to bed tired but content with the successful day we had.

On Sunday morning, a few of us woke up early enough to watch the sunrise before our 6:20 a.m. bus ride home. I had the pleasure to see the same golden glitter I saw dusting the mountain tops a short month ago. This time, it was sprinkled across the water. It may have been early, and I may have been tired, but seeing the sunrise over the ocean was well worth it.

So those were my two most recent adventures. Spanish II started this week, and so has month No. 2 in Central America. I appreciate the support from everyone at home while I study here. The experiences I have been having go beyond my stories of spending time with friends.

I have met people who speak four or more languages, people who recently quit their jobs to travel the world, people who are traveling to build houses for those less fortunate. I have had to face my fears, to find my way with directions in a foreign language, to lower my standards on what clean bathrooms or comfortable beds are. It's not always easy, but it's worth it when I can look up at the mountains on my way to school and think to myself, "I climbed to the top of that."

 Anna Zoerner is a UI junior psychology student. She's from Cary, Ill.


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