Monday, 19 January 2015

Motivational Monday #2

I often skip past video posts on blogs, because I'm on the go, or watching TV (I know, I know, screen-overload). If you're like me... Wait! Don't go! I urge you to give this cute little three and a half minute video a chance. 

Back in 2013, Maria Popova, writer of the ridiculously good blog Brain Pickings, shared the 7 things she learned in 7 years of reading, writing and living. It's a lovely piece, with lots of thoughtful insights that stay with you. To pick just a few: 
"It’s enormously disorienting to simply say, “I don’t know.” But it’s infinitely more rewarding to understand than to be right — even if that means changing your mind about a topic, an ideology, or, above all, yourself."
"You are the only custodian of your own integrity, and the assumptions made by those that misunderstand who you are and what you stand for reveal a great deal about them and absolutely nothing about you." 
"Be generous with your time and your resources and with giving credit and, especially, with your words. It’s so much easier to be a critic than a celebrator. Always remember there is a human being on the other end of every exchange and behind every cultural artifact being critiqued."
Inspired by Maria's essay, the people over at Dissolve went and made this sweet video version. A soothing voice-over and gentle music make this a warming, smile-inducing watch. Give it a gander for a little motivational pick-up this Monday! 

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Costa Rica: Samara

I spent two weeks in the little beach town Samara at the end of my Costa Rica trip. I've already written about what it was like studying Spanish there. My time in Samara was about more than studying though, so I wanted to share a few photos from outside the school. Above, a couple of snaps of my homestay including one of my two tico pups, Lyca and Poochie. I miss those little goofballs! 

A couple of photos from my tico little brother's graduation. In Costa Rica they have graduation ceremonies at a bunch of stages through their school lives; in this case, moving up to high school. The younger children did some super cute dance routines, and some were dressed up in adorable festive outfits. Feliz Navidad! 

Finally a few obligatory beach shots; Playa Buena Vista at sunset. Not the most picturesque of beaches, if I'm honest - rocky and tricky to navigate compared to the main, sandy Samara beach. But, if you want a great view of the sunset, worth the effort (see above).

Monday, 12 January 2015

Motivational Monday #1

I don't think I'm going to win any prizes for originality by stating that Mondays are my least favourite day of the week. Even if you like your job, even if life is going generally pretty good for you right now, thank you very much, there's just something about a Monday (especially on a dark, wet January morning) that's elementally crappy

While I can recognise that having this kind of defeatist attitude towards the beginning of the week is a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy (you always dread Monday, therefore Monday is always your shittiest day), I also can't bring myself to let it go. I feel like hating Mondays is part of our national psyche, an intrinsic aspect of our Britishness, like saying sorry when someone bumps into you, or medicating with tea. Even more than that: if spending some time on the other side of the world has taught me anything, it's that hating Monday is part of our very essence as human beings. Like dancing badly at weddings or talking about the weather, hating Mondays forms part of that shared language that binds us together; makes us see that we're really not so different after all, are we, and oh by the way, don't Mondays just suck balls? 

So while I will continue to revel in bemoaning Mondays, as is my duty as a Brit and member of humanity, I will aim to counter some of the suckiness that is the start of the working week* by offering up this regular post featuring something that I have found motivating, inspiring our otherwise pep-inducing. Whether it's articles, books, quotes, pictures or other people's blog posts, I'm always coming across stuff that gives me that little spark of energy that's particularly needed on a Monday, and it seems a ridiculous waste not to share that feeling around. So, without further waffle, please find below the first instalment of Motivational Monday...

I know it's super simplistic, maybe overly so for some people's taste, but there's something about this Thomas Fuller quote that makes me keep coming back to it. I guess it's because although it should go without saying, it's good to be reminded that if you keep at something it will get easier. You might be envious of that friend who can play guitar, run a 10k or knit up a beautiful jumper with ease, but you have to remember: it almost certainly was difficult for them, at one point. In fact, when they started out, it might even have been more difficult for them than you're finding it now. Kind of a cheering thought, right?


Well, I hope you liked my first Motivational Monday post! I've got a bunch of stuff that I'm excited to share... see you next week! 

* A quick shout-out to any readers who don't work a standard Monday-Friday week. I know from working in retail when I was younger that the weekend isn't synonymous with freedom, fun and party times for everyone. Please feel free to save these motivational morsels for whichever day of the week gives you that Monday feeling :)

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Costa Rica: Intercultura Language School (Samara and Heredia)

So. I'm back from my little Costa Rican adventure. I gotta say, after swimming in the sea every day for two weeks, it's pretty surreal to be bundling up into scarves and gloves and cranking the heating up!

How was it? I freaking loved it. Of course. Who wouldn't enjoy hanging out in a beautiful, different country, in the sun, learning Spanish, meeting new people and eating way too much Costa Rican food? 

I was out there for 6 weeks in total: 4 weeks in Heredia. a small city nestled in mountains just outside of San Jose, and 2 weeks in Samara, a small beach town on the Pacific coast. Two incredibly different places, but I really liked them both. In both places I was studying Spanish in Intercultura language schools. In case anyone stumbles across my blog looking for more information about the schools, I thought I'd write a little bit about my experience. 

I should start off by saying that I found both of the schools to be excellent; great programme, great teachers (and admin staff), nice buildings with good facilities. If you're trying to decide on a Spanish immersion course in Costa Rica, I wholeheartedly endorse Intercultura. I could actually see myself going back to one or both of the schools one day. I already miss it a lot. 

So: Heredia or Samara? Unfortunately I neglected to take any pictures of the Heredia school, so all of these are of Samara, but the Heredia school was lovely too. Bear in mind, the school is in a city setting and so naturally does not have the outdoor space of the Samara site (which is, literally, right on the beach). It does have nice enclosed gardens though, with plenty of tables to hang out at and drink your third coffee of the morning (if you're me). 

While I enjoyed both schools, I found them to have quite different atmospheres. In Heredia there were far fewer students studying Spanish (I'd say an average of 12 at any one time while I was there, but I believe there are more at other times of year) with many more Costa Ricans studying English (mainly in the evenings, whereas Spanish classes were generally in the morning). I thought I wouldn't like such a small cohort, but it ended up being perfect for me - probably because I made a few good friends that I really liked hanging out with. Perhaps because of this smaller scale, the Heredia school (for me) had more of an intimate, family feel to it. Teachers (and staff in general) at both schools were great, but I particularly enjoyed the relationship between staff and students in Heredia. 

Samara, on the other hand, had a much bigger cohort of students studying Spanish. I think this, coupled with the difference in setting, made for a different feel. While in Heredia, there isn't a lot to do other than hang out at the school, or with your Costa Rican family, in Samara you have the beach, swimming, surfing, kayaking, yoga, lots of restaurants and bars... Depending on your perspective, and your reasons for studying Spanish, you might find Heredia boring or the perfect setting for learning Spanish as quickly as possible. For me, it certainly felt like there was more opportunity to practice Spanish in Heredia. It's a regular Costa Rican city that doesn't attract many tourists (other than the small number of people studying Spanish), and mostly people don't speak English, so you basically have to improve in order to communicate with people. In Samara, it's easy to get by speaking English all the time (although the school is strict about only speaking Spanish on school grounds). 

The difference in weather between the locations definitely impacted on my motivation to study. While in November and December Heredia had plenty of sunny, hot weather, it's higher altitude means it isn't really humid at all. It wouldn't be uncommon to need a light sweater, and there are showers. Samara, on the other hand, is hot, hot, hot, and humid (although in December you also get a lot of wind, which is nice). There are also a lot of bugs, in contrast to Heredia, and a lot of students were unlucky with mosquito bites (by some stroke of luck, they didn't like the taste of me!). While I loved the warm weather for swimming in the sea and lazing on the beach, I didn't find it conducive to productivity - my progress with Spanish was definitely slower in Samara (though my tanning progress was significantly faster, so there's that). 

As I mentioned, the cohort size was quite different between the two sites at the time of year I was studying (November/December), with Heredia having a much smaller group of Spanish students. I'd say the demographic of students was quite different too; as a rule, people who actually needed to learn Spanish - for a job say, or a degree - were based in Heredia. Ages in Heredia ranged from late teens through to fifties, but most students were early twenties to early thirties. In Samara, many of the students were late teens or early twenties - taking time out between school and university, or between university and work. Then a number of people in their thirties through to fifties. At a guess, I'd say my age group - late twenties - was least represented. Nationality wise, a large proportion of the Samara students were Swiss (or German, or Austrian), a smaller number from Canada and the States. I was the only Brit at the school! (Come to think of it, I'm not sure I met another Brit in Samara...). Heredia was more of a mixed bag - Canadian, American, British, German, Swiss, French (and for one week, THIRTY TWO young uni students from Australia and New Zealand! That week was... different). 

I should probably say something briefly about safety in both locations. While I didn't have any problems in either place, getting mugged is a definite possibility in Heredia - although unlikely if you're cautious. That means taking (the official, red coloured) cabs at night instead of walking on your own - they're cheap and there are plenty of them, so there's no reason not to. Take all the usual precautions: walk with people; only carry around as much cash as you need for the day; don't carry your passport with you; be aware of your surroundings. Just generally be careful. Conversely, while you should always keep your wits about you, walking in Samara at night isn't a problem. As I understand it, the town is generally considered to be a very safe place with little crime. Samara just... feels like a very different place to Heredia at night - the larger number of restaurants and bars (catering to the larger number of visitors) means there are more people out and about after dark. 

Host Family or Hotel? I stayed with Costa Rican families in both Heredia and Samara, and for me there really isn't another option. Going to a country to learn Spanish, then choosing not to stay with a local family, just seems crazy to me. While I was a bit intimated by the idea of living in someone else's home, and in the beginning not having any shared language, I needn't have worried - both my 'familia ticas' were lovely. My Samara home was a bit more basic, but both houses were clean and comfortable, both had wifi, and I was served tasty food every day. I wouldn't have predicted it before my trip, but I genuinely miss my families now I'm back in the UK, and I'll always remember them fondly. 

If you're considering studying with Intercultura and have questions about the schools not answered above, feel free to get in touch - I'm happy to offer any advice I can. I know choosing a school was a big decision for me! 

For more posts about Heredia and Samara, see my Costa Rica tag.

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