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.

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.


The classroom corridor. All the rooms are along the right side.


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.


Golden silk orb-weaver spider

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


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.


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.

Final Days

Just under two years ago, I stepped out of the Abu Dhabi International Airport into the hottest most humid weather I had ever experienced, and it was 1am. In a few days I’ll be headed to the Dubai International Airport and ending my time here in the United Arab Emirates and the weather doesn’t seem nearly as bad as I remembered.

I am living in a hotel in Al Ain (as I sold everything and moved out of my flat last Sunday) and doing my best to enjoy my last days here. It is currently the holy month of Ramadan which means shortened work hours and no eating or drinking in public. Which, mirrors my exact situation when I first came here. I think it is very fitting that I will be leaving the same conditions to which I arrived, makes it feel like things have gone full circle.

I have been spending quality time with my friends here. Including this past weekend when I met up with my friend Krista (who will be teaching in China next year) and another woman in Abu Dhabi to enjoy the Afternoon High Tea at the Emirates Palace hotel. The tea was a great experience, lovely atmosphere and delicious food. And in true Emirates Palace fashion, most of the items served for tea were dusted in 24K gold leaf!IMG_0465 IMG_0462

Packing up two year’s worth of stuff (and selling/giving away the rest) was not very fun. I had way more stuff than I thought! I am excited to go home, but I am happy that I have these amazing memories, wonderful friends, lots of photographs and a few little things to remember my time here. Now, onto the next adventure!


Wow! This is my 100th post. I am actually surprised I have written that many posts. I guess that just means I have had a lot of adventures! I thought of doing a “100 things I’ll miss about the UAE” or something, but I realized that I wouldn’t want to have to read that and therefore neither would you!

Instead I will share this bundle of joy with you! This is Rosie, the new addition to the Mutch family. She was born on 20 July and this was taken the following day. She is so cute! And I think she is smiling!

Me & Rosie

Me & Rosie

Okay, now that you’ve seen that cuteness, let me tell you what I’ve been up to. Aside from working, playing and selling my stuff, I have been organizing my documents for the move to Costa Rica. If you have been following the blog, then you know that I had to get documents authenticated before I came to the UAE in order to secure my visa. Well, I have to do the same in order to get my work visa for Costa Rica. It has been an interesting (and not yet complete) process, which I will tell you about in case you want to join me working in Costa Rica. If you are curious about the UAE process you can read about it here and here.

First things first. Document authentication is a great way for governments to make money! From what I have experienced, I think I might want to figure out a way to get in on the business. Anyway, for now I will just be handing over my hard earned cash in return for stamps on my documents.

Costa Rica and the United States are both part of the Hague Convention regarding document authentication, which is GREAT. Basically this means that documents that are properly authenticated in their country of origin (in my case the US) are legal for use in the other without any additional steps. This is a huge relief and saves a lot of money! From the US I need to have my birth certificate and a police clearance authenticated for use in Costa Rica. Because both police clearance and birth certificate came from Oregon, they simply needed to be verified by the Secretary of State of Oregon’s office. And this can be done by mail! This step was very easy, especially easy for me because my secretary in Oregon (aka my Mom) did most of the work for me.

Now, the difficult part was the one document I need from the UAE. The UAE is not part of the Hauge Convention and there is no Costa Rica Embassy here, so things are a little bit tricky. From the UAE I needed a police clearance as well and somehow I needed to get it authenticated for use in Costa Rica. Countless emails and phone calls and I finally figured out how to do it, I think. Here is the process:

  1. Request police clearance from Abu Dhabi Police sector. Wait three weeks for text message to confirm completion, that never comes.
  2. Check on-line now that website is working again and see that it was completed three weeks ago.
  3. Go to Al Ain Police directorate to get completed police clearance ($15 USD), printed in Arabic (20 minutes).
  4. Pay $27 to have the clearance printed in English (30 seconds).
  5. Take clearances to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (across the street) to find out they close at 2pm.
  6. Return another day, pay $43 to get the English document stamped and signed (two minutes).
  7. Take the English document to the US Embassy in Abu Dhabi (hour and 15 minute drive each way). (In order to get the US Department of State to authenticate for use in Costa Rica the US Embassy has to verify the stamp and signature of the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs). US Embassy verification, $50 and about five minutes.

And now I am at the final step, which will wait until I return to the US in a few weeks. That step is to send the English version stamped and signed by all the proper authorities in the UAE and pray that it is all correct so the US Secretary of State can authenticate it. If that all goes well then I’ll have it complete and ready for Costa Rica. If not, then you can bet I’ll be telling you about it.



The End is Near

My time is the UAE is coming to an end, I have just about 30 days remaining. I am doing my best to enjoy the end, but that has become more difficult as it is generally 110-115 degrees every day! Never-the-less I have found some things to keep me occupied. I have been to baby showers, a ball and a great brunch weekend. As well as just catching up with friends.

In late April I joined a group of friends to attend the ANZAC Day Ball hosted here in Al Ain. For those of you who don’t know, ANZAC stands for Australia and New Zealand Army Corps. The day is meant to remember not only the first major Australia and New Zealand casualties of WWI, but also the service of all the men and women in the Australian and New Zealand armed forces, it is in this way similar to Veteran’s Day in the United States. So in order to honor those Australians and New Zealanders here in the UAE who have served/are serving, we got together for some nice food, speeches and of course, dancing. It was a fun night with great friends.

Rachel and I at the ANZAC Ball.

Rachel and I at the ANZAC Ball.


ANZAC Ball, having a great time!

A few weeks later we had a baby shower for Rachel (see above pics). Two amazing ladies did most of the planning and preparation and I did my best to help by chauffeuring the mom-to-be to the event. It was hands down the best baby shower I have ever been to. There were some wonderful activities (such as each guest contributing one or two pages to an ABC Book by drawing a picture and writing a word that represents the picture and signing a card for the baby for future birthdays) and the games were very creative. The decorations were perfect, check out this beautiful (and very tasty) cake.IMG_5728

A few weeks ago my friend Natasha and I did a 5K fun run called Glow and Go. The race was held at night and we wore as much neon as we could manage. The race started off like an actual road race, but after a bit went off-road and into the dark. It wound back into the facility at Wadi Adventure where we then had to wade through the white water channels and finished with a jump into the surf pool and a swim back to shore. It was hot out, so I don’t think anyone minded being in the water that much. I know I was sure glad I didn’t really have to run a 5K, because I am not sure I actually could!

Natasha and I getting ready to run.

Natasha and I getting ready to run.

The start to June was excellent. Students stopped coming to school, giving me plenty of time to read and plan for next year’s courses! But before they could finish up the year, they  had to give “how to presentations.” Most students taught us how to make a recipe, style your hair or do origami. But, one aspiring veterinarian taught us how to trim your cat’s claws. Yes, she brought her cat to school. 10338816_660359797112_1521661552068643679_n

A student made this Dubai skyline with my name painting for me so I wouldn't forget the UAE.

A student made this Dubai skyline with my name painting for me so I wouldn’t forget the UAE.

And the first weekend of June meant a surprise birthday brunch in Dubai as well as an overnight at the Westin. I am considering this to be my last big extravagance in the UAE and I really wanted to have a great time. Rachel’s husband Dave will be turning 50 next month, but since many of us will be gone and they will have a newborn, she decided to surprise him with an early birthday at the Westin’s Bubbalicious brunch. The brunch is, of course, amazing (I went for the first time last year, read about it here). But really the company was what made it great. I really am going to miss these awesome friends when I leave.

Ready for brunch!

Ready for brunch!

Where I spent Saturday morning, the Westin Dubai's pools.

Where I spent Saturday morning, the Westin Dubai’s pools.