When I sat down to write this initial blog, I simply pulled up a single picture from 2008--my first summer spent in Costa Rica--and let my mind fill-in the rest.
The picture shows the day my university arrived at the San Jose airport to begin our study abroad trip, and I can be seen grinning broadly while
proudly sporting my Dayton Flyers t-shirt and bangs (Seriously, who let me get bangs?). Our CPI group assistant, Muni, had managed to corral all 36 of us, load us onto the bus, and begin her introduction to what would become one of my favorite places on earth. I remember sitting on the bus, wide-eyed with wonder (or was it nervousness?) not yet privy to the fact that I was woefully unprepared for the amount of rain that Costa Rica would receive that summer.
We arrived at the CPI Heredia campus in San Joaquin de Flores, took our placement tests and anxiously waited for our host families to arrive. From the moment I met my familia tica, I knew I was home. I had it all: a mamá tica, papá tico, two brothers, a dog named Weeni, and Snow White painted on the front of our house.
For the next two weeks, I arrived at the CPI campus every morning ready for class and some sort of excursion to follow. Our CPI teachers were wonderful--interactive, energetic, and communication-driven (Can you tell what I value as a language teacher?). Our morning classes led into afternoon cooking lessons with Doña Eugenia, salsa dancing in the courtyard or a quick trip up to Poas volcano and La Paz waterfall with our naturalist, Johnny.
And just when I thought I couldn’t love Costa Rica more, our group transferred to Monteverde for our third week of classes. Maybe it was because the small town located inside a cloud forest reminded me of my own home town, but if there were to be any place in Costa Rica that truly stole my heart, this would be the place.
Once again my classes and host family didn’t disappoint.My host mom, Mayra, taught at CPI Monteverde’s campus and would walk with me every morning to school. She cooked the most wonderful meals, patiently reworded questions for my novice-Spanish brain, and even invited me to her spinning class—during which I embarrassingly huffed and puffed, red-faced, through an hour long workout with a room full of grown Tica women who barely broke a sweat.
Beyond our classes, we zip-lined, we rappelled, we hiked, and we woke up in the morning surrounded by clouds. If it sounds like a dream, that’s exactly how it felt.
Our final week was spent at the CPI Flamingo campus where the Pacific Ocean could be seen from the front entrance and the beach was a 5-minute walk away. We had just spent the weekend in Rincón de la vieja National Park horseback riding, river tubing, and trying to convince our professor that he definitely looked like a natural out there—especially in his yellow safety helmet. Things were coming to an end all too quickly. Here in Flamingo I would learn to surf, navigate myself to the closest pulpería selling ice cream and get sunburned to a crisp because well, the sun is a little more intense than this Ohio girl ever thought possible.
But throughout all of the adventures, my host families, the activities, the events, I learned. My Spanish classes moved seamlessly from one campus to the next, the CPI staff found all sorts of ways to help us out and go the extra mile, and somewhere in there my language skills began to flourish. Every single interaction--whether at school, on a bus, or blazing down the Pacuare River trying to remember if the guide had shouted to paddle to the izquierda or derecha, learning opportunities were everywhere. (Or maybe it simply was the knowledge that if I wanted to eat the world’s best coffee ice cream in Monteverde, I’d have to figure out to order it…)
But I also built connections. Oh, did I build connections. Conversations, interactions, and memories that last to this day and would bring me back for the next five summers to volunteer for CPI. Costa Rica, the people, CPI: are all magical in that way.I knew from that very first summer that I would be back--that I wanted to see my friends at CPI again and that the whole country was now a part of me. I wanted to learn more, to know more, to experience more.
CPI is where it all began for me.