exploring, examining, exchanging, expressing
Monday, June 25, 2007
Good news: Had a great time partying with my students Friday night.

Bad news: When my roommate and I got home, we saw that the gates were open and the lights were on. I peered in the window and saw my laptop was gone. We didn't enter, instead we went to the neighbors to call the police. Then they came with us to check the house. Two locks completely removed. The thieves made out with 3 TVs, 2 laptops, and my raincoat. Could've been worse. They left a lot of other valuables behind. Another kind neighbor drove us downtown to file a police report. But I hold no hope of seeing my laptop again. Neighbor also gave us a chain and lock to put around the gate so we wouldn't be exposed. Got about 2 hours sleep. Next morning, our landlords came to survey the damage. They had the locks replaced with better locks, and added two more. So now it takes 6 keys to get from the street to my bedroom. Guess we're safer now.

I feel violated, frustrated, and pissed off in general. I considered giving up and coming home. But I'm not ready to do that. I don't want to make a rash decision. I need time to cool off and think. Of course, homesick doesn't even begin to describe what I'm feeling now.


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Wednesday, June 20, 2007
My Kids
Last night I had my students debate the pros and cons of CAFTA. They groaned at first. Some don't like political topics. Others are sick of talking about CAFTA. But it's one of the hottest issues in Costa Rican at the moment, so I felt it was important to bring it up in class. Plus, I wanted to hear what they had to say about it.

The debate went fine, but the best part was the discussion afterwards. We started talking about the socioeconomic status of Costa Ricans, and how that affects their attitudes. There's a large lower class, especially outside of the central valley, that depends on government assistance. But there's also a growing middle class that could take advantage of the jobs that would come from a free trade agreement.

My students used themselves as examples. Each of them explained how they'd grown up on some level below middle class. They didn't all live in poverty, but they certainly weren't given the advantage of wealth. And now, here they are: well-educated, bilingual, and employed in very good jobs. They see the opportunities that are open to them. They speak of plans to get more education, to climb to higher positions in their companies, and to someday own their own businesses.

By the end of the night, I was so proud of them I could've burst. They have such amazing attitudes. I know they're going to succeed. They're an inspiration to me.

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Monday, June 18, 2007
Change Versus Improvement
I was seriously bummed before the beginning of class tonight. It's my last week with them. Three are graduating and two are moving to another teacher. Next week I'll be teaching from 3-6pm instead. When I told them about this, they got a little sad too. They said they've had fun in class and that they felt they've learned a lot. They like my style of teaching. We're comfortable with each other, which is important for learning to happen. We all decided to go out and do karaoke after Friday's class.

I was also bummed because of the curriculum changes that I know are coming up. My class is a perfect example of the result of our current method: they can hold a natural, fluent conversation in English with minor mistakes. They are proof that "Converse & Correct" is a good way to improve pronunciation skills for advanced language students. They don't need formal grammar training; they just need quick reminders. They don't need to memorize lists of vocabulary; they need practice using the words they already know.

I don't know why I feel so strongly about this. I shouldn't care, but I do. I guess I hate to see an innovative approach get stamped down by the status quo. I've seen this method work. Our students get jobs. And they recommend our school because it's different. And perhaps I have selfish reasons, too. I enjoy teaching this way. It's far more enjoyable than lecturing. It means less time preparing lesson plans, though it does mean I have to stay on my toes during class. But I like that. If I wanted to be a "now-turn-your-books-to-page-blah-blah-blah" teacher, there are plenty of other schools I could work for.

So, I'm going to make one more pitch for focusing on accent reduction for our advanced students. I'm going to do some research and make a proposal in writing to our academic coordinator. It's my last stab. And it's a long-shot. After that, I can at least feel like I made an honest effort.

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Sunday, June 17, 2007
Working for the Weekend
Friday night one of my students invited me and my roommate out to Bar Retro. It's a two level bar where they place American music videos from the 60s-90s. The place was packed. Apparently, classic rock is popular here. Of course, the beer special (2 for 1100 colones) might've helped. Every table was filled with empty bottles. These folks know how to drink! My student and I did our fair share too. In fact, we closed the place down (no biggie - it was only midnight). Then we went to another bar (this one had 3 levels) closer to campus. Very, very nice views. We made friends with a Tico that works at a call center, speaks very good English, and claims to be a poet. Overall, it was an interesting and fun night.

Saturday morning was the Farmer's Market. I stocked up on all kinds of good veggies. I even got a huge mango as a treat. I just love walking up and down the rows of vendors. I could spend hours just browsing, taking it all in. But it was way too hot to linger. I also had my first Pipa Fria while I was there. They take a young green coconut and hack the top off with a machete and stick a straw in. You drink the fresh coconut milk/water. It was soooo good on such a scorching day.

That afternoon, roomie and I hosted a teachers' meeting out our place to discuss changes to our school's curriculum. I made my pitch for a focus on accent reduction and conversation skills. But I was politely overruled by a room full of women who have a more traditional view of language education. So our most advanced students will be getting heavy doses of grammar and vocabulary, at the cost of pronunciation and fluency practice (which was the school's original selling point and what set it apart from the hundreds of other English academies in Costa Rica).

After the meeting, we went downtown for sushi, then the school's owner caught up with us and invited us out for drinks. Couldn't refuse a free round from the head honcho. It was nice to be able to talk to him out of the office. I learned quite a bit about him. I had no idea he was only 25. Naturally, with a table full of educators, the conversation centered on linguistics and education theory. Good stuff for a Saturday night, aye? Honestly, it was a great time, and we all vowed to do it again. There was even talk of house parties and beach trips. I'm starting to feel like I have a social life again!

Today is laundry day. The washer here is tiny, and looks nothing like the washers I'm used to. It took me awhile to figure it out. Naturally, the buttons are all in Spanish. But I got it. Now everything is hanging out to dry. No dryer. Welcome to the simple life.

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Thursday, June 14, 2007
Webbed Feet
Last night I got a taste of what the rainy season is really all about in Costa Rica. It started raining in the afternoon, as usual. (At least we have clear mornings, for now). Then, as the hours wore on, the storm kicked up. Buckets of rain. Heart-stopping thunder and lightning. And the air was actually chilly.

A little after 5, I had to start heading towards the school. I knew if I walked, I'd get soaked, even with a raincoat and umbrella. My plan was to get one of the taxis that are always parked down the road. So I stepped outside and was immediately drenched. The wind made my umbrella all but useless. The taxis were gone. I tried hailing a few as I walked, and none would stop. I kept walking towards the school. I came across massive puddles that I had to wade through. My shoes were filled with water. At some points, it was above my ankles.

As I got into town, I saw that the streets were flooding and that traffic was crazy. If I'd managed to get a taxi, I probably would've been late. Drains were completely backed up. More than that, they were gushing water upwards. They looked like fountains or fire hydrants.

By the time I made it to my school, my shoes and pants were completely drenched. Two of my students called to say they couldn't make it to class because of the rain. One was very late. And this week, my classroom is outdoors. It's covered by an aluminum roof, which means rain is very noisy. Cold, wet, and frustrated, I just wanted to go home. But somehow we made it through three hours. I think I even managed to teach a thing or two.

Thankfully, the rain stopped before I had to make my way home.


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Wednesday, June 13, 2007
Student Driven
My school's highest level classes are taught a bit differently from other language classes. They're 2 months, 5 days a week, 3 hours a day. They're highly conversation-oriented. The students talk, and the teacher's job is to make corrections along the way. Sometimes the teacher provides topics or has them do specific activities. There are job-related role-plays. But for the most part, the students generally dictate the content of the class. And, since students enter and leave the course all the time (it's a circular curriculum, not linear), the needs of the class change often.

So my job is to take the basic outline of a curriculum and tailor it for each unique group of students. I like it, because it allows for a bit more creativity than just teaching out of a book. The students tend to like it because they get to talk about things that interest them.

But, just as students come and go, so do teachers and academic coordinators. Currently my school is in a state of flux. There's a trend to move towards a more "traditional" curriculum. Less time spent "just talking" and more structured activities and lessons.

One class rejected this new method so much that their teacher felt the need to leave them. They're now my class. So I'm stuck between giving my students what they want (lots of conversation) and what my administration wants me to teach (structure, grammar, etc). Naturally, if it comes down to it, the school wins. They're the ones that pay me. But I'm going to go to bat for my students as much as I can.

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Monday, June 11, 2007
The 'Hood
I walked around for an hour today, exploring my new area, San Francisco de Heredia. It actually reminds me quite a bit of my former neighborhood in Westerville, OH. It's being heavily developed. There are condos, townhouses, and gated communities popping up all over the place. That makes it a little bland. It's clean and quiet. There are a few spots with a magnificent view of the central valley.

Tonight it was an easy 20 minute walk to get my school. I like that. I like that alot. My roommate finishes teaching at the same time as me, so we skipped the bus and walked back together. There were enough streetlights. It seemed pretty safe. I don't think I'd do it alone, though.


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Saturday, June 09, 2007
New Home
This morning, I finished packing my bags, cleaned the house, and said goodbye to my Tico family.

A $16 cab ride and here I am, at my new, shared apartment. It didn't take long to unpack. I've spent the rest of the day trying to feel comfortable here. It doesn't feel right, for some reason. I have the place to myself this weekend. One roommate is back in the States till Monday. The other roommate doesn't get here until July. The landlords are in Panama, but they left their dog (Bailey) here outside.

I've traded some comforts. I don't have a fully equipped kitchen, a fan, or a clothes dryer. But I do have cable TV and wireless Internet. My bedroom consists of a futon and a 12in TV. I've begged the landlord for a small desk and chair for the bedrooms and a coffee maker. She said okay, but that's it. I guess it's up to me to get the kitchen up to snuff. It needs some knives and a can opener, at the very least. These things would be trivial in the States, but are slightly more expensive here. I might buy a fan for my room, too. It's getting pretty stuffy, even with the window open.

I'm a little worried about how things will work when there are two other people living here.

Besides that, I'm happy to be in Heredia. I can walk to Hipermas, downtown, and my school very easily. The neighborhood is quiet. There are taxis and buses nearby.

Friday night, one of my students invited me to go out with some of his friends to a bar. I had to decline because of my long, late bus ride home. But I told him that as of next week, I'll be able to go out any time. He promised to show me the hot spots in Heredia. It'll be nice to get out. And it's a nice ego boost to know that my students like me enough to hang out with me outside of class.


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Thursday, June 07, 2007
One Step Closer
I just picked up the keys to my new apartment. There are 8 of them in all! I figured out the three that get me inside. It's going to take awhile to work out the rest. Of course, I couldn't ask my absentee landlord. She just left the keys with the neighbor. I've never seen the woman. Our only contact has been via phone, email, or third-party. It's such an odd situation.

I toyed with the idea of bringing one of my duffle bags with me, trying to do a gradual move-in over a few days. But it was raining, and the thought of carrying the big ol' bag on two buses was just too much. I'm going to have to bust out the bucks and take a taxi on Saturday. That's probably the safest thing to do.

Speaking of safety...

Last week a teacher mentioned that one of her students had been mugged. Last night, one of my students said he was threatened with a knife by a kid on the street. He said he scared the kid away, but I could tell he was shaken up by the events. I know it worries me. It happened not too far from the school. And this is in Heredia, a supposedly safe area. In broad daylight.

I'm beginning to think it's not a matter of if I'll get mugged, but only when.


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Wednesday, June 06, 2007
Little Fish, Little Pond
TEFL Logue linked to my post on Costa Rica Classroom about "The Lesson" and called it "a great article." Granted, it's a limited audience (EFL teachers abroad), but I'm glad to get the word out about what a wonderful (and challenging) experience teaching English in Costa Rica can be.

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Monday, June 04, 2007
Night Shift
The perfect schedule I was supposed to begin this week has been changed (naturally). Both classes are apparently caught in limbo. You see, private ESL schools work on the same principle as "just in time" manufacturing. New classes start only when there are enough students to make it profitable. The sales department provides the students, while the academic coordinator provides the teacher. And when it all comes together, there is a happy classroom filled with 6-12 smiling faces, eager to learn English.

In my case, however, the students never materialized. Being a lowly teacher, I am not privvy to details. All I know is that I was about to go from 15 hrs / week to 0 hrs / week. But then I was offered a M-F class that runs from 6pm - 9pm. Same number of hours I'd been promised, and the same type of class (highest level), but a very late schedule. Not that I'm worried about missing my bedtime. I'm more worried about walking through San Jose at around 10pm. But I didn't have much choice. I had to take it. So I start tonight.

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Friday, June 01, 2007
Trip Tidbits
A few things I left out of my trip report...
  • At the first dock we went to in Panama, there was a kid hanging out, playing "Guess the Tourist's Nationality." He had trouble pegging the guy from Israel. But he looked at me and shouted: "GRINGO!" Days later, when I was passing through again, he remembered me and made the same exclaimation. At least he said it with a smile on his face.
  • There were Germans everywhere. I heard almost as much German as Spanish while I was on the Caribe coast.
  • I checked out "Rockin' J's" while I was in Puerto Viejo. It was Lonely Planet's top choice for budget lodging. It's a freaking Disneyland for surfers. Huge. Hammocks and tents everywhere. Plenty of areas for... smoking. It was cool, in an odd kind of way. But I chose not to stay there (it was overpriced and overcrowded).
  • The police were involved twice. First, a cop boarded the bus that I took from Sixaola to Puerto Viejo (returning from Panama). He just had everyone show ID. Second, we were pulled over at a station going from Cahuita to San Jose. This time we had to leave the bus, show ID, and have our bags inspected. I opened my bag, but they didn't search it. They didn't really search anyone.
  • At one point, I overheard a girl say I looked like Jim Belushi. Or was it John Belushi? Either way, I'm sure she was talking about me. I'm just not sure what to think of it.
More pictures of Cahuita.

More Pictures of Puerto Viejo.


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It's a word filled with potential and promise and hope. It's become one of my favorite words in Spanish. Granted, my vocabulary is limited, but it is a favorite all the same. I enjoy saying it. I love picturing it in my mind, letting the possibilities twist around and around. That's the joy of the word. It's so flexible. It's like an M. C. Escher illustration, whittled down to 6 letters.

Mañana is morning. It is the beginning. Unblemished potential. It is the start of the day, when everything is fresh and new. Crisp air and clear skies.

Mañana is tomorrow. It is the leftovers of today, that which could not be done and is put off. It is the definite future. It is certainty that the Sun will rise again.

Mañana is the future. Indefinite. Infinite. Some period of time beyond right now, when anything could happen. It is the timeless eventuality of a million possibilities.

I dig this fuzzy line between tomorrow morning, tomorrow in general, and the future in general. Vocabulary is a reflection of mentality. It is a beautiful culture that blurred these ideas into one word.

Orphan Annie had to bellow on stage through several choruses to get the idea across. That little redhead had nothing on Spanish linguistics. Her wide-eyed dreams could be summed up in one simple word. A word that offers a second chance. A word as sacred as any I can think of.

Hasta mañana, my friends.


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