Happier

Before moving to Costa Rica I read a book called Happier than a Billionaire. Basically, the author and her husband left behind their very busy North American lives and came to Costa Rica for a fresh start. I read that book at a time when I had more money than I will probably ever see again and yet, I find the title fitting to what I am experiencing now.

People always ask me if I liked the UAE and like most things it is a complicated answer. But the truth is, even after only two months here in Costa Rica, I am much happier than I ever was in the UAE. So you see, I too am happier (now) than when I was a thousands-aire (not quite a billionaire) in the UAE. There are some really wonderful and amazing things about living in the UAE, wonderful people, great travel opportunities, less responsibilities, more resources, good infrastructure, etc. But sometimes these things aren’t enough.

What I’ve realized here is that I enjoy the challenge of living. Now, don’t get me wrong some challenges I would prefer to not live with (cockroaches and massive amounts of ants to begin with) but generally speaking I feel like my brain needs more day-to-day challenges. I often joke with my students that I “haven’t worked this hard it two years” but it isn’t really a joke. The truth is in the UAE, at my particular school, by job was more about checking boxes and being where I was supposed to be. Due to lack of school-wide discipline procedures and an overall disinterest by both students and staff my days were generally long and boring with a few gems thrown in here and there.

However, here at UWC Costa Rica I enjoy a nice leisurely three minute walk from my house to my classroom (only problematic on heavy rain days or when iguanas get in my way). The students want to learn, want to participate and they understand their role. For the first time, in a while, I am doing the real work of an educator, facilitating learning instead of directing it. It is a change for me, I’m having to dig deep into my teaching skills to find the right things for these students. But, after two years of being told “no Miss, no learn today” it is amazing to have students saying “thank you” at the end of a lesson.

These are some things I’ve been thinking about. I am happy to say that I’m starting to put my time in the UAE into perspective (a little bit) and I know it will take me a while to do this but I’m glad to be able to articulate some of how I’m feeling.

In other news, my slow recovery and re-entry into the the world of running is off to a good start. In 2005-6 I got into running and was enjoying it. But something happened and I started getting really bad pain on my left side. After some time and finally zeroing in on the problem (leg length difference) I have been slowly trying to run again. Not having my bike for the past two years has helped fuel this. Anyway, today I completed my first road race (no swimming involved) and it was great!

Costa Rica has a race nearly every weekend during the month of October for breast cancer awareness, today I joined some co-workers and participated in Corre por Mi (Run for Me). When I signed up for the race I registered for a 4K, and later I found out that my co-workers were going to be doing the 8K. So, not wanting to be left out of the “fun” I decided to give it a try. I have only, up until this morning, ran 4K. My goal was to finish under an hour and try to limit my walking. Unfortunately, the last stretch of the race was uphill! I made it about 6K before I had to walk, but I powered on and finished in 54min 45sec (my watch)! Goal achieved!

Running Buddies!

Running Buddies!

Iguana!!

First things first, last week when I was walking home from school for lunch I came upon an iguana. He was quite large.photo-20

IMG_0298I have been super busy with work, which has been good, but I’ve not had a lot of time to sit down and post, for which I apologize. I also had a crazy week trying to get my shower issues sorted out in my apartment (the shower wouldn’t turn off!) and have just been a bit too busy to sit down and formulate a thought for the blog. After all, the 2014-15 TV season started!!

But I did make it to the Feria Verde in San José, which translates to “green market”. It is like a smaller version of the Eugene Saturday Market and I plan to go there at least once a month. I saw they had gluten free waffles, so I have to go back for sure! Here are two pictures from the morning trip to the Feria Verde.

Some great food vendors with lots of natural options.

Some great food vendors with lots of natural options.

I finally found peanut and almond butter without any additives!! Also got some yummy GF snacks and some coconut oil to try.

I finally found peanut and almond butter without any additives!! Also got some yummy GF snacks and some coconut oil to try.

San José has a cool program called Enamorate de tú ciudad, which means basically fall in love with your city. And they provide activities for people in the city’s parks on the weekends. Here are some of the activities happening two weeks ago.

Hula hooping.

Hula hooping.

An area for board games (checkers, chess, etc).

An area for board games (checkers, chess, etc).

And last but not least, I snapped a lovely photo of this guy in my classroom. IMG_0261

This Oregonian Needs Rain Boots

The afternoon/evening rain showers here are nothing to joke about. I have experienced thunder and lightning nearly every afternoon/evening since I arrived (and un-related but still fun, two earthquakes). The rain is serious business as well. Being a born and bred Oregonian I pride myself on being comfortable in the rain. Umbrella? Only for non-Oregonians!

But, here in Costa Rica I have changed my ways. I forgot to take my umbrella to work one day last week and I was devastated. It was absolutely pouring and I had important electronics with me. Luckily one of my co-workers was able to give me a ride (thanks Bernardo)! Phew! I hope to never make that mistake again. And I hope to find some cute rain boots soon.

My schedule.

My schedule.

We are well into the first month of school and I am starting to get my schedule figured out. Not only are there classes, but we have tutorials (office hours), tutor group activities, whole-campus meetings, staff meetings and other activities. There is almost always something happening on campus.

This week was a particularly busy week. Costa Ricans (and other Central American countries) celebrate their independence this week. The celebrations in the community started on Sunday with a torch lighting (local students ran a torch to symbolize how Central American countries were told of their independence through the province) and then lit the final flame at the local school. This was followed by a parade of children with lanterns through the streets of Santa Ana.

Lighting the flame at the local school.

Lighting the flame at the local school.

On local child's lantern for the parade.

One local child’s lantern for the parade.

 

 

 

 

 

Monday was the Independence Day parade and United World College Costa Rica was invited to participate. Since only a few of our students are Costa Rican, the school shows off the national flags and national costumes of the many countries represented at the college. I took the opportunity to join the German students by wearing my dirndl in honor of my German heritage, small though it is.

Getting ready to start the parade!

Getting ready to start the parade!

And we are moving!

And we are moving!

With my colleague, who is from the same region as my ancestors!

With my colleague, Florian, who is from the same region as my ancestors!

A lovely shot of Kgomotso from Swaziland.

A lovely shot of Kgomotso from Swaziland.

Everyone who could be found that had some German ancestry.

Everyone who could be found that had some German ancestry.

The College students were fantastic. They really embraced the day taking photos with each other and even with some of the local school children and Costa Rican families. It was a fun event and really lovely to see all the community out together. It was such a contrast to what I experienced during National Day celebrations in the UAE. It is hard to explain, maybe someday I will be able to do so, but for now all I can say is that this felt more real, more authentic.

The day was topped off by a tea for my friends at my new apartment. While shopping over the weekend I discovered a pre-packaged cake mix that was gluten free so I was very excited to try it. It is called tamal asado con coco and is a popular Costa Rican treat. I decided to make it and invite some co-workers who live in town to try it, sip some tea and relax on our first holiday. I think my co-workers enjoyed it and I really enjoyed their company and entertaining.

Tea Time!

Tea Time!

 

Getting to know Costa Rica’s nature.

I have officially been in Costa Rica for one month (and a few days) and I have been having a pretty wonderful time. We started our school year last Monday and things are going well. I am working harder than I have in a long time, but so far it has been very rewarding. My students are intelligent and confident. However, before starting classes we had one last week of orientation. One orientation activity included taking all of the first year students on a quick tour of San José. I took some photos of my tour group posing with some locals and with some local birds.

Last Saturday my roommate decided to make an appearance in my bathroom, he’s pretty cute! And hopefully he’s helping keep some of the bugs away.
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Here are some shots of my walk to school. These were taken today (Saturday) so the campus was pretty empty. However, before you worry about me being at work on a Saturday, know that I was there to take pictures for the photo challenge.
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The classroom corridor. All the rooms are along the right side.

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A flower I can see from my classroom.

This week’s photo challenge was a nature and wildlife theme where the image should show patterns and textures. Since the campus is very green with lots of plants and wildlife, I thought it would be a good place to try and get some photos.

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Golden silk orb-weaver spider

While taking this photo (which I ended up submitting to the challenge) two students were calling my name.

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Baby raccoons.

All I heard was “Andrea, look” and I tried not to panic, but I was thinking that something was probably sneaking up behind me. Instead, they were pointing out these cute little guys:

Lots and lots of wildlife around these parts! I can’t wait for my first trip to the wilderness.

No electricity, no water…TIA. Wait! No, it’s Costa Rica.

In the summer of 2013 when I was staying at Mukuni Big 5 Safaris (see my guest blog), every time something strange would happen people would say TIA. TIA is short for This Is Africa. I think Costa Rica might need something similar.

My first week here I experienced my first Costa Rican earthquake, had to stay out of my dorm room on campus because it was being sprayed to prevent Dengue Fever, watched as termites (or were they ants?) emerged every night from the furniture, to leave their corpses behind in the morning. We also had a day of scheduled electricity shut-off for the entire town and surrounding area. During the day. Not at night like I’m used to in the US. These things are all part of moving to a new place. But as you’ll see if you continue reading, these “new experiences” can wear on a person. And sometimes lead to the inevitable questions: “What am I doing here?”; “Am I crazy for doing this again?”; “Why can’t things just be the way I’m used to?”

I really like my new apartment, but as with any new place there are things to get used to. My first night I called the landlord because the shower wasn’t working. There was no hot water. They came and checked it out and told me no, it is working fine. The water was WARM not hot. But, let me back up.

I do not have a hot water heater at my apartment. The shower head heats the water as it is coming out. Here is what this one looks like:image-4

So, with a very low water flow you get warm water. With a heavier flow, colder water. Okay. No problem. But then this shower head was dripping, all the time. Also, the toilet was running randomly (that I fixed on my own–thank you internet).

I was happy in my little “suicide shower”, as they are affectionately known, until the shower head appeared to be short-circuiting. It didn’t happen every day, so I didn’t think much of it. Then I noticed the lights flickered when I was showering. So what did I do? Turned off the lights when I showered–obvious, right? Finally, on Friday morning just as I was about to rinse the conditioner from my hair the shower head heater shut off, and didn’t come back on. Later that day, in my broken Spanish I explained to the landlord that it wasn’t working at all anymore. We went back and forth about when they could come and replace it, and when I left Friday afternoon I was pretty certain they were going to come Saturday or Sunday.

Upon my return home I discovered that Saturday the water would be shut off for the whole town of Santa Ana and many of the surrounding areas. What? From 7am-5pm. So, I stored water in nearly every container I could find. Just as I was finishing washing the dishes (with water heated in the kettle) the power went out. Now, this wasn’t a big deal to me, but I was about 20 minutes from attending an open house event where all the students and staff were meant to be sharing desserts in the staff homes all over campus. Luckily, as I arrived on campus the electricity came back on and we had a great night.

Saturday I got a call from the landlord who was making sure I was going to be home (YAY!!) and the guy came soon after to replace the shower head. He had to leave three separate times to get parts, but this morning I had a wonderful HOT shower with my new shower head. Don’t mind the wires…they are covered in electrical tape…That’s safe right?image-3

And in the end, Costa Rica does have a saying like TIA. Costa Ricans say, “pura vida” (simple/pure life), as a greeting, as a way of explaining how one is feeling and as a way of reminding stressed out expats that some things just aren’t that serious. So I will enjoy my cute new neighbors and try to embrace the “pura vida”. image-2

Settling in and exploring

When I learned I would have to find my own place to live here in Santa Ana, I spent quite a bit of time on Craigslist trying to figure out what types of places were available. I quickly realized that it was too difficult to do this because, like the UAE, Costa Rica doesn’t use addresses. So it became very difficult to figure out if “Santa Ana” on an ad meant the center of town or simply in the “greater Santa Ana area”. What I did decide, though, were my requirements for my new place. Here they were/are in no particular order:

  • Must have outdoor space for eating, working, relaxing, etc.
  • Must have good natural light and cross-breezes
  • Must have own washing machine (not shared)
  • Must be within walking distance of the school and a grocery store

After looking at a few places that didn’t really suit me very well for a variety of reasons (one was literally just a large room with the shower and toilet on a outside patio) we visited a place just outside the school doors that in the end I decided to rent. I am currently sitting on my back patio enjoying the nice weather and distant mountain views while I write this. Here are some pics of the new place:apartment living room kitchen

Friday was my first national holiday in Costa Rica and the start of a three-day weekend. Since the school was closed on Friday, they had a mini-celebration for the holiday on Tuesday. Friday was Mother’s Day and the school did an excellent job celebrating all the mothers who work there. They provided a special meal, gave roses to all the moms and even had a mariachi band come in and perform during lunch. mariachi

On Thursday the school again provided a celebration, this time to celebrate the coming school year. They took us all out to a traditional Costa Rican lunch of casado and cas. Casado is a dish composed of rice, beans, plantain, salad and your choice of meat. It is very, very good. It will probably become comfort food for me! Cas is a fruit, from the guava family,  that they make into a pulpy drink. It has a unique taste that is between sour and bland, not bad, just different. Sorry I didn’t get any pictures, I was too busy chatting with my new coworkers.

Saturday some of the new teachers and one veteran (our guide) went into San José. This was a great opportunity to not only see the city, but also to learn how to ride the bus. We took the bus from the center of Santa Ana, to a large beautiful park in San José. On the edge of the park is the former airport (I assume that the park is in the spot of the former runway) which has been turned into an art museum for local and international artists. museum cosecha statue

We spent a few more hours exploring San José, particularly in the market and art/culture districts. It is a lovely area and I’m looking forward to going back. And, next time I’ll take more pictures.

Finally, today I attended the “Feria” (Farmer’s Market) in Santa Ana which is held every Sunday. For less than $20 USD, I got some great stuff for the week ahead. Plus I had two delicious Salvadorean pupusas for breakfast, which were my biggest expense of the day at $5. market haul

 

Costa Rica, week one

I have been in Costa Rica for one week. I arrived here on Sunday around mid-day and saw my first wildlife right away, just after arriving on the UWC Costa Rica campus. It was so exciting! My first wildlife spotting, a large iguana, I just knew I was going to be seeing a lot of wildlife. And I was right! But, so far that “a lot of wildlife” has been insects. And not a ton of beautiful butterflies or colorful beetles, but swarming winged ants and a zillion other types of ants too. But I have been told, “you get used to them” by many, many people. So I’m keeping my fingers crossed, and I hope you will too! But I thought this guy was pretty cool looking!beetle

My first week here was split between new staff orientation and finding a place to live. The new staff is diverse, as I know the whole campus will be. There are seven staff (from the USA, Colombia, Canada, Germany) and one volunteer (from Belgium, who has started her own blog if you are curious, I found it very interesting.) Though, like me, these men and women have left a bit of themselves in many places, these are their passport countries.

During this week I stayed in one of the residence halls on campus which really did help make the transition easier. In the mornings we had the staff orientation, where we learned about academics, co-curricular and residential life. One of the most interesting things I learned during new staff orientation is that the campus of 168 students represents more than 60 countries!

I went out to look for apartments on Monday and Tuesday, by Tuesday evening I had decided on a place to rent. On Wednesday I had signed the lease, and Friday evening I was all moved in. The college does a great job helping with the move. They provide all the necessary household items on a loan basis during the contract. So, on Thursday and Friday they moved all of these items into my 1-bedroom apartment and I spent Saturday cleaning and unpacking. I still have quite a few “little” things I need to help organize my things, but it is coming together nicely. My new place has a backyard covered patio and is about 50 yards from the school gates.

During the last week we also had many evening gatherings to celebrate the upcoming school year, to get to know the new staff and so forth. The first night I arrived in the country we went out for pizza, it was delicious! And the place is only half a block from my apartment! On Tuesday I was invited to join a “traje fiesta” (like a potluck—bring something to share for food and your own drinks) for all the people living on campus. There are staff who live on campus connected to each of the residence halls and also volunteers, other staff and people like me who were still apartment hunting. That was fun, I met lots of staff and their families that I hadn’t met yet. The following night all the new staff had dinner at the new Academic Director’s house. Thursday we had a lovely meal of very popular Costa Rican cuisine (ceviche and chifrijo) at the College Director’s house. And Friday, we had another traje fiesta on campus for all staff who were interested.

Sorry, for the long post, but I feel like so much has happened I don’t want to forget anything. But I will leave you with some photos from my first Costa Rican tourism. Sunday the new staff took a trip to Poas Volcano. The area is in a cloud forest and has two crater lakes one has constant steaming action. I will leave you with these pictures of the trip. ARS_4544 ARS_4534ARS_4575 ARS_4579

How time flies

My three week trip home has come to an end. I am sitting at the gate waiting to board the first of two planes that will take me to my new home, Costa Rica. Coming home and then leaving again is never easy. But, as usual, my family and friends showed me a good time while I was home.

We went outdoors, ate (too much) good food and had some wonderful quality time. I am very grateful it worked out for me to come home between jobs. I don’t know when I will be able to write again, but next time it will be an update from Costa Rica.

Until then, enjoy some of these Oregon snapshots.

I was so excited to be home!

So excited to be home!

Mom and I checking out the Three Sisters Mountains.

Mom and I checking out the Three Sisters Mountains.

Ocean view from Strawberry Hill.

Ocean view from Strawberry Hill.

Thor's Well filling up.

Thor’s Well filling up.

Thor's Well beginning to drain.

Thor’s Well beginning to drain.

Thor's Well drained, at Cape Perpetua.

Thor’s Well drained, at Cape Perpetua.

Took a beach walk with the family.

Took a beach walk with the family.

My sister, Mom and me.

My sister, Mom and me.

Packing, again

I feel I am starting to wear out the floor between the guest room at my parent’s house and their office, which has been taken over by my things, as I begin to pack again. Packing is not an easy task, whether it be for two weeks, two months or two years. Packing always pulls me into a bit of nostalgia. Items remind me of certain times, places and people. The act of packing here in these same rooms as two years ago also reminds me of the start of my journey to the UAE and to my career as an “international educator.”

Thinking back, I feel I was very well prepared for my move to the UAE. Especially because I was part of various Facebook groups that provided more information than I would ever actually need. At the time, I had no idea how helpful (and later on annoying) those Facebook groups would be to me in the move to the UAE. And yet, there are so many things about living and working in the UAE, for ADEC and in Al Ain that no one could ever explain. You wouldn’t believe them or really even have the capacity to understand without actually experiencing it for yourself.

I haven’t had time to fully digest all that occurred over the last two years, and I hope that what I take with me from those years are only the good, funny and down-right shocking memories and none of the sad, negative or less than exciting ones. However, people often ask what it was like to work for ADEC, to work in Al Ain, to just be in the UAE in general. These are over-whelming topics to discuss so fresh off the experience. But I do have a few thoughts.

My experience with ADEC in Al Ain wasn’t a wholly positive one. My life outside of work, in Al Ain, was excellent. But, work was 7 hours a day, five days per week, and for me to be unhappy at work was difficult. I am glad I went back for a second year because it was much, much better than the first year. But in the end, I felt like I was a glorified baby-sitter. I felt that, while my students were nice and for the most part inquisitive, to them I was just a place holder in a long day of “more important” classes. And for me, that simply wasn’t enough. Additionally, it is hard working in an environment where it is clear that most people do not want you there, and while this too changed over the two years, it never fully went away. (I have strong opinions about this too, but that is for a whole different post, that I’m sure I’ll never write.)

I think that most people who are looking for an adventure, to learn about a new culture, to experience the world, etc., will enjoy life in the UAE for at least two years and I think overall ADEC as in institution is a good employer. But if you are considering a job with ADEC, please do your homework. Join the Facebook groups and read the threads, ask questions and inform yourself. A good place to start is here: ADEC Info Center. This is a very well written blog about the pros & cons, ups & downs of working for ADEC.

Home

On my last day in the UAE I was feeling pretty good about everything. I’d been able to say goodbye or “see you soon” to all of my close friends and had some time to relax and enjoy the last few moments. I was not looking forward to the 25 hour journey that I would embark on the following morning, but I went to bed with confidence and excitement for the future.

I left my hotel room exactly when I wanted to and drove through the nearly deserted town of Al Ain, toward the foggy Al Ain-Dubai road. I successfully made it to the airport and that is exactly when the morning went a little crazy. But, before I get into that, I have to say that I am so, so grateful that I survived the two years without a single traffic accident. Getting into an accident was my number one fear before I arrived in the UAE and for the entire two years I was thankful every time I made it to my destination in one piece. So, to arrive at the airport and finally return the car to the rental agency was a huge relief.

And that, is where the morning drama began. Generally when I take my rental car to Dubai International airport I meet the agency rep at the Terminal 1 parking area. So I drove there on Friday morning, took my ticket and entered the parking area. While I waited for the agent I cleaned out the car and dumped some old CDs, papers, etc in the trash nearby.

The rep called me and through our conversation I realized that he was in the Terminal 3 area and that I would need to drive over there. As I was leaving the parking area I realized that I didn’t have the parking ticket with me. I then quickly realized that I must have thrown it away while cleaning the car out! The agent in the ticket booth was not having it. I told him I’d lost the ticket and asked what the fine was. He said it was 150 dirhams, about $40 USD, so I started to hand him some cash. I then remembered that I might want the cash for the airport and the other parking area, so I handed him my card instead. He then proceeded to take FOREVER to charge me. Insisting that I go back to the parking area and look for the ticket. I had to ask him two different times to just charge me the money and let me go. Finally after about five minutes he did process the charge.

So, I quickly got myself to Terminal 3 and found the rep, returned my car and got on my way. Terminal 3 is a very efficient area and with nearly every single ticketing counter open I was not in line for very long. I got my boarding pass and both my bags were within the weight limit, so off I went to passport control.

At passport control the officer questioned me about why my residence visa didn’t have a sticker on it. I explained to him that it was cancelled a few weeks ago and they stamped it. He said, “yes, yes, but it is not canceled, it is still in the computer”. I didn’t really know what to say, so I just stood there and stared at him. He then spoke with the officer next to him and I gathered from their conversation that the other officer was telling him not to worry about it. But he was still worried and would’t let it (or me) go. I explained to him that I would be leaving and I would not be back for a very long time, so it wasn’t a big deal. But he wasn’t convinced. Eventually, after inputing my information into the other officer’s computer, he stamped my passport and I was on my way. Thankfully, as that could have gotten very tricky.

After walking around the Terminal 3 area trying to find some water and snacks, I headed toward my gate. I had my ticket and passport checked two times (which is normal for an Emirates flight) and headed toward the gate area. I noticed that there was another agent checking passports and tickets, again, and that his line was a little backed up. I saw to my left, two other agents with no one in line, so I headed in that direction. I handed the agent my passport and boarding pass and he promptly took my boarding pass and asked me to have a seat. Huh? Was my reaction, then I realized that I was now in a special “random” screening area. I had just inadvertently nominated myself for a more stringent security check! I couldn’t help but think that after all this, the flight was going to be a piece of cake!

I eventually did make it onto the plane and just a little over 24 hours after I had departed the Hilton Hotel in Al Ain, I was standing in the Eugene Airport giving my Mom a hug! And, despite the crazy morning, my flights and everything else went very smoothly.

I was greeted upon arriving to my parents house by my family and one of my favorite meals, pork ribs and corn on the cob. And, my favorite Rosy Cheeks wine from Sweet Cheeks winery. Saturday was spent hanging out with my Mom and sister. Today we braved some very black skies and headed to another favorite place of mine, Mt. Pisgah for a hike. It was a very fun morning even though we had to run the last few meters of the trail to get out of the rain and lightning!

The hiking crew at the top of Mt. Pisgah.

The hiking crew at the top of Mt. Pisgah.

Relaxing at the top.

Relaxing at the top.