Abroad Adventures and Exploring Alajuela

My host family and roommate Jenna Hess after we made empanadas with them

Submitted by Kayla Barr on the 2024 Winter 24W SPAN program in Costa Rica

Abroad Adventures

My time here in Costa Rica has changed my perspective on a lot of things. Before coming to Costa Rica I thought that everyone here would not enjoy us being here. I think that I thought no one liked tourists so when first coming here I tried to keep to myself not talking to many locals. But while being here I learned that Costa Rican are very welcoming and will try their best to understand and communicate with you.

My host family and roommate Jenna Hess after we made empanadas with them

 I think that living with a host family gave me the best opportunity to get a full understanding of Costa Rican culture. My mamá tica would tell us stories about her life and her kids, teaching us how to make certain dishes and telling us her favorite things to do here. While living here I was able to notice all of the differences and similarities between our cultures and loved that we were able to combine and absorb another culture. Without a doubt that made the biggest impression on me and this trip, I do not believe that I would have been the same without my host family.

 I also think that the experience of being in a different country and not knowing anyone was very exciting but scary, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I was able to make many new good friends and it was fun getting to know them, even though we only met three weeks ago I feel that they could be my best friends. I definitely got along with people that I would never even think about if it weren’t for this trip and I am grateful for that.

 I honestly think that the only thing I would change is to worry less about the trip and learn that everythings going to be okay. I would also like to experience the country through my own perspective instead of letting people tell me how to feel about it. Overall, I think that my time here will be very valuable to my future and that I will definitely be returning in the future with hopefully better Spanish. 

Exploring Alajuela

Me on top of the museum that used to be a fort for the army

This week’s excursion we went to Alajuela. Our first stop was the Juan Santamaria museum located in central Alajuela. We were supposed to go to the church but it was closed that day. After that we were able to explore a bit around by ourselves. We went to the market and then to look around the central park area. 

The museum that we first visited was actually a fortress before it was turned into a museum after the military was abolished.The museum is dedicated to preserving and showcasing the history and culture of Costa RIca. Inside we saw/learned about the exhibit of Juan Santamaria, Historical Artifacts, Art and Cultural Displays, and some educational programs. There is a large focus on learning about Juan Santamaria and his legacy. We even were able to go on top of the roof to see how and where the soldiers would look out of in order to keep watch. 

Next we saw the marketplace where locals and visitors can explore a variety of different things from goods to produce to cultural offerings. While in the marketplace, my classmates and I were a little hungry so we stopped at an empanada spot that we were unsure of but we tried. We were surprised to find out that this was actually pretty tasty and definitely would like to go back before we leave. We also were able to stop in an ice cream shop and the ice was very good and worth the long line. This market plays a crucial role in the economic, cultural, and social life of the community. It is well-known and can be called an identity for Costa rica. After that we started to head back to the central park and it was very beautiful to just sit and look at all of the structures and trees. (Submitted on January 30, 2024)

the best ice cream in Costa Rica

Reciprocal Learning in St. Peter’s School of Barcelona and Witnessing the Art of Flamenco

Submitted by Kate Lilly on the 2024 Winter ETE program in Barcelona …

Reciprocal Learning in St. Peter’s School of Barcelona

Our program’s course focus is classroom management–how, as teachers, can we structure our classrooms in ways that support students’ academic, social-emotional, and personal development while maintaining a safe and orderly community? How can we enforce rules while still building strong relationships with our students? All sixteen individuals in our Barcelona study abroad program are elementary teacher education (ETE) majors, so naturally, the “study”  portion of study abroad consisted of getting into the classroom to see how Spanish schools differ from those of the United States, and how we can learn from them. To do this, University of  Delaware ETE students partnered with St. Peter’s School, a private international school in  Barcelona for students in preschool through secondary school graduation. I was placed in a fourth-grade classroom of sixteen students, and in just two weeks at St. Peter’s, I was able to learn so much!  

The first aspect of St. Peter’s that is wildly different from my own education was the sheer diversity within the classroom. Of the sixteen students, only three had been born in Spain.  The other thirteen students were from countries including (not limited to) Ukraine (as the student pictured), Russia, Serbia, Brazil, China, Italy, Finland, etc. Along with these different nationalities came a diversity of spoken languages–only one student’s first language was  English. Every child in the classroom was multilingual, communication skills I can only aspire to have. At St. Peter’s, children receive instruction primarily in English, but in Spanish and Catalan  (a Western romance language consisting of a Spanish/French blend, spoken widely in this portion of Spain) as well. It was fascinating to watch children as young as nine years old flawlessly switch between English, Spanish, Catalan, and their first languages, all while covering complex topics such as “Human Intelligence vs Artificial Intelligence” and the effects of AI on the modern world.  

The second educational culture shock I received was the freedoms granted to students–in contrast to a lot of schools in the United States, where students’ days have more structure,  students at St. Peter’s are free to do a little more. They rough house, talk animatedly and jump into class discussions freely. The school is passionate about letting kids be kids, meaning allowing them the room to figure things out (both the good and bad) for themselves. While initially jarring, due to the intense fear that a child would fall and break a bone, it eventually  became a refreshing sight to see a more hands-off approach to learning. I wonder if, in the long run, it leads to more independence among students, or merely medical bills. Regardless, I found myself having a little more fun in the classroom than previously used to, and I will miss it once.

Witnessing the Art of Flamenco

The third and final week of our study abroad program was entirely booked and busy in our attempts to soak in as much of Barcelona as we could. This meant, of course, pulling out all the touristy stops. We took a cooking class as a group, traveled to Sitges (the beautiful beach area of Barcelona that touches the Mediterranean), watched the sunset at the Bunkers (a famous sunset-watching spot overlooking the city), and most importantly, attended a Flamenco show. For those unfamiliar, Flamenco is an art performance composed of dancing, singing, instrument playing, and fashion. It is a traditional dance style that dates to eighteenth century Spain, intended to combine the different musicality to convey deep emotions. Over the years, it has become an especially important pillar of the culture of the Gitano community in Barcelona. Of all the different excursions we took as a group, this shop became my favorite, as it left me feeling the most connected to Spanish culture (and the least like an annoying tourist) than I had felt the entire trip. Not only was it beautiful to watch as the dancers stomped, clapped, snapped, twirled, jumped, and cheered each other on, but the vocals of the performers combined with the sounds of the guitar was enough to make the audience emotional as well. While it may sound cliche, one could see that all the performers on stage cared deeply about their respective parts of their routine, and honored Flamenco in their own unique ways. The women wore colorful dresses with bright floral patterns and full, flowy skirts. The men wore pieces to match some of the women’s dresses. Each woman had her hair styled a different way, often with flowers or patterned scarves woven in. The vocalists and guitar player all wore suits. The formality of their dress did not detract from the individual expression displayed, and the overall feeling was one of deeply valuing a piece of their culture. As audience members, it was an honor to have something so important to others shared with us. The dancers wear shoes with nails built into the toes/heels, to amplify the sound of their tapping and scuffing in time with the singing and strumming of the guitar. It was incredible to see how fast and graceful their feet moved, the male and female performers alike. Several times during the show, I and the other members of the team would exchange looks as if to say, “I can’t believe what I’m seeing and hearing,” or directly whisper such a statement aloud. At the end of the forty-five-minute performance, all of us found ourselves saddened to see something so magical end. Prior to arriving at the venue, I was skeptical about the show to come. It felt as though we were preparing to do something marketed entirely to tourists that was too showboat-esque for actual residents of the city to enjoy. However, in the audience there was a mix of both. It contributed to the feeling of unity created by the sharing of Flamenco between experts of the craft and those entirely new to it. At the end of the experience, I am so utterly thankful I have pictures and videos to look back on, as a memory of the little piece of Spanish history and culture that I was able to consume and enjoy. (Submitted on January 30, 2024)

Discovering Rio


Submitted by Sidney vanNeerden on the 2024 Winter PLSC program in Brazil …

The past few days have been packed with really cool excursions. The first one being Jardim Botanico. After having a watercolor class right outside of the garden we went to the Jardim Botanico to check it out. The first thought I had when we went to the garden was how in awe I was. When you go from seeing a certain type of flora and fauna every day at home to seeing one that is completely different, it’s almost magical. We saw so many Brazilian native plants, orchids, palms, water lilies, and cacti. We also saw so many marmoset monkeys all over the garden. Each pathway of the garden felt like discovering a whole new world. Before we left we stopped at the giftshop and then back to our hotel.

Two days later we got to hike sugarloaf mountain. Technically the mountain we hiked was called Morro da Urca, which is connected to sugarloaf by a cable car. It was mostly stairs that we climbed and once we got to the top we all used the bathroom and then headed towards the cable cars. There was an extremely long line at the cable cars so we waited and then finally got on. It was pretty scary, it reminded me of a ski lift but all glass around you. It was really slow and honestly confused me how a cable could hold that much weight. At the top you got a view of the entire cityscape of Rio, you could see Christ the Redeemer and Guanabara Bay. It was an absolutely stunning view. When we were done taking it all in, we went back on the cable car and got popsicles. It started to rain but we decided to hike down anyway. Although it was slippery, it was fun to see all the views from the trail again.

Christ the Redeemer

Our next big excursion was to see Christ the Redeemer. We woke up at 7:30 and got picked up on a bus. We took windy road after windy road until we finally got close to the top of mount corcovado. There was a big building which was the gift shop and where you buy the tickets. After getting the tickets we got onto another bus and that bus took us to the very top. Once we got there we had around 200 stairs to climb and then there in front of us was Christ the Redeemer. This being one of the modern wonders of the world, I didn’t know what to expect. It was extremely busy with a crowd so big and a platform so small that you could barely walk through. The 360 view that we had of Rio and the forests in the mountains was absolutely breathtaking. After seeing Christ the Redeemer so small all around Rio, It was cool to see up close. We only spent around 30 minutes there because of how crowded it was. When we got back down the line for the bus was 10 times the size when we got there. Which is probably why we went so early. Overall it was really cool to see and the view from the top was beautiful. These past few excursions have been ones I am never going to forget. (Submitted on January 29, 2024)

Third week in Brazil

Submitted by Ben Sekowski on the 2024 Winter PLSC program in Brazil …

After being in Rio for a week I started knowing all the ins and outs of the area, from restaurants, laundry, banks, and pharmacy. On Wednesday we woke up early to have breakfast at our hotel and then we headed over to our third and final watercolor lesson. Throughout our watercolor lessons I learned to be patient and you can still fix your mistakes, for they are not permanent. At the end of the day everyone went to a Brazilian Steakhouse, which was really fun and plenty of good food came around. I got to try new foods like chicken hearts, which were pretty tasty. 

      The next day we took a van ride to Petropolis to visit an Imperial Palace, which was cool to see. We also saw the Santos Dumont House Museum, which was an inventor’s house. I learned that Santos Dumont invented the first plane to fly by self propulsion. We then rode about six more hours to Brumadinho to stay at a hotel. The next morning we visited Inhotim, an art museum. There were many cool art pieces and displays to see at Inhotim. After Inhotim we headed back to Rio. 

       On Saturday we had a free day so I went to Copacabana beach with a few friends. We then had dinner at a poke place. Then on Sunday the class went on a bike ride around Rio towards Flamengo Park. Flamengo park was a cool area for it had recreational activities, a beach, and plenty of shaded spaces to sit. Unfortunately we didn’t get to stay there long. The bike ride to Flamengo park was fun, however the ride back was against the wind and the streets started to get crowded, which made it not so fun. On Monday though we had a fun hike on a mountain. Overall, this week in Brazil was full of good weather and great times with friends. (Submitted on January 23, 2024)

The Last Few Days

The last few days have been such fun, but as the days flew by the more it was hard to let go. On the 23rd we took the metro to the city and then a tram to Santa Teresa. It was a very rainy day. On the 24th, another rainy day, we went to the Museum of Tomorrow, which had some cool exhibits. Then we took a ferry to an art museum, which I think was cooler than the first museum that we went to that day. There were some cool art displays and for one of our sketching assignments we had to draw a display. 

   On the 25th I woke up with a cold, so I stayed in for the day. The next few days we did some last minute shopping and worked on our final projects. We also went out to some fancy lunches and dinners to celebrate our amazing trip. On the last day we went to the Hippie Fair for the last time and hung around the hotel’s rooftop pool until our flight home at midnight. This study abroad trip was truly an amazing experience. (Submitted on January 31, 2024)

Tercera Semana en Costa Rica

Submitted by Elsley Hazell on the 2024 Winter SPAN program in Costa Rica

Birds in the mangrove forest

Our entire group spent the weekend at Tivives beach in Puntarenas, and it was so beautiful. The sand is black because of all the volcanoes and there was a Mangrove Forest by the beach, so a couple of us took a Mangrove boat tour! There were so many cool animals to experience! There were monkeys, iguanas, little lizards, minnows, macaws, and some more. I had never seen Mangroves before, nor did I know a lot about Mangroves before this weekend. But it was so cool to see how the roots of the Mangrove trees overlap each other in an attempt to get enough water. They have special adaptations to take in extra oxygen and to remove salt, which allow them to tolerate conditions that would kill most plants. Mangrove forests stabilize the coastline, reducing erosion from storm surges, currents, waves, and tides. Fernando, our boat tour guide, told us that the Mangrove roots are good protection for small baby fish and they help to keep the older fish that preys on them away. There was so much unique life in the Mangrove that we weren’t able to see, but also so much that we were able to see! I’ll never forget how it felt to watch the sunset behind the mountains over the ocean, and there were so many visible stars!!! (Submitted on January 23, 2024)

Getting to Rio

Submitted by Sidney vanNeerden on the 2024 Winter PLSC/LARC program in Brazil…

Walking to the Beach

After 6 days straight of travel, getting to Rio de Janeiro felt like a sense of relief. Today we had breakfast and class until around 1. After class we went to the beach. The beaches here are super busy and almost a hub of activity. Tourists and locals flood the beaches, setting up colorful umbrellas and beach chairs. Everyone sunbathes under the hot sun and I enjoy the sounds of the waves and the refreshing water. The beach also holds so many sports. Beach volleyball, soccer and paddleball games seem like the most common. Vendors are everywhere you look on the beach, trying to bargain with all the tourists and locals for drinks, snacks, umbrellas, towels, sunglasses, pretty much anything you can think of to enjoy a relaxing day on the beach. I thought this was super interesting as even when they didn’t speak English they still understood how to bargain with us and other non Portuguese speaking tourists. It seemed to me that the beach was more than somewhere to relax but also an almost vibrant marketplace. At some points in the day it was hard to deal with the vendors but we soon got the hang of the phrase “no thank you” which is “não, obrigada” or “não, obrigado” (depending on gender) in portuguese. We stayed on the beach for a few hours but I could feel myself getting burnt so I decided to go back to the hotel where we have a rooftop pool. Honestly the view from the rooftop pool is absolutely beautiful as you get a panoramic view of the entire city and beaches. Unfortunately a tall building next to our hotel does block the view of the famous statue Christ the Redeemer, but we will be going to see it later on the trip. Though we can see sugarloaf mountain. After leaving the pool we all showered and got some poke bowls, which is basically sushi in bowl form. Then I went to bed early to prepare for the long day we have tomorrow with our watercolor classes and to look at Jardim Botanico. Being able to enjoy a long day on the beach felt amazing after being in the heat of the amazon and traveling non stop. I can’t help but feel a sense of gratitude for the relaxation and excitement they brought after six days of continuous travel. (Submitted on January 20, 2024)

Parque Nacional de Volcán Irazú

Submitted by Kat Severson on the 2024 Winter SPAN program in Costa Rica

Looking at Volcan Irazu from the lookout point! Admiring the view!

Vulcán Irazú might be my favorite excursion thus far. Everything from the ride up the mountain to the spectacular view, to the coffee in the gift shop was incredible! I enjoyed getting out of Heredia and stretching my legs, breathing in the clean, fresh, rural, Cartago air. Throughout the whole bus ride up the mountain, I did not stop looking out the window. I was amazed by the views and looking at all the small local farms. As an agriculturist spending most of my life living on a farm, it feels good to be in that atmosphere (plus I miss my goats). The views of the Central Valley and the surrounding mountain ranges were incredible, I took so many pictures. Once at the top of Irazú, I took in all the cold fresh air I could, it was so nice being away from the sticky heat for a little bit and also to be out in nature. The views from the top of the volcano were astonishing, I took a seat and just took it all in. Though volcanoes are dangerous and at times unpredictable, they are very important to the lands. When they erupt, they provide rich nutrients to soils, which is why the land in the valley is so fertile and able to support the growing of many different crops. Hence why many farms can be found in the mountainsides, especially coffee. When erupting, volcanoes also release valuable organic material such as pumice, gold, opal, mercury, and other metals. Some of these precious stones and gems can be good for the economy. Carbon Dioxide and hydrogen gasses are also released during eruptions, which in moderation, can be good for the environment. I greatly appreciated being out in nature and seeing the natural wonders that the world created. And there was something so exhilarating looking down at a (kind of) active volcano. (Submitted on January 22, 2024)

First week in Rio de Janeiro

Submitted by Addison Garrett on the 2024 Winter PLSC/LARC program in Brazil…

Watercolor lessons at Casa Caminhoa with Alice

So far our time in Rio has been full of memorable experiences. One of my favorite activities has been our watercolor lessons. We have a teacher named Alice who is always so warm and welcoming. In the first class, she had us paint guava. In the second class, we painted different leaves. Finally, in the third class, we painted flowers. It was nice having some time to myself to get creative. Her classes emphasized capturing the beauty of nature in Brazil. We got to see this beauty firsthand at Jardim Botanico, a botanic garden in Rio. This garden had countless collections of plants including succulent greenhouses and a collection of stingless bee hives. The uniqueness in appearance and characteristics of each plant was fascinating. The garden was very effective at showing each plant’s beauty and role in the ecosystem.

The fashion in Rio is also fascinating. It is often very colorful and loose-fitting. I assume this allows airflow in warm weather. It’s interesting to think about not switching your wardrobe for the seasons. They are so close to the equator that the temperatures between seasons don’t fluctuate as much.

You can also see that the constant temperatures have an impact on architecture. Natural light is utilized extensively through big windows, skylights, or glass ceilings. There are also many more outdoor spaces. There’s even a free outdoor gym next to the beach that I’ve been super grateful for.

We’ve had plenty of unique views of Rio. One at the top of Sugar Loaf Mountain and one at the top of Corcovado, where Christ the Redeemer stands. Once you see Rio from high up you realize how massive it is and how little you’ve explored. It’s much bigger than any city I’ve seen in the US. (Submitted on January 20, 2024)

View of a part of Rio from the top of Corcovado

Week 2 Rio

Submitted by Ben Sekowski on the 2024 Winter PLSC/LARC program in Brazil…

In the second week of our study abroad in Brazil, we spent our time exploring the amazing parts of Rio. In the mornings we could go to an outdoor gym on the beach, which was cool to see the townspeople share the equipment and help each other workout. Working out with strangers made me realize that there is a big sense of community in Rio and Brazil. 

Usually we would have class around 11 am and then go on a trip or a watercolor painting lesson. The trips included hiking sugarloaf mountain, seeing the Metropolitan Cathedral, and some gardens. There were some breathtaking views and they were worth the long hikes and Ubers. During these trips we had to do some sketching assignments and each time I really started to improve in my art skills. Having to draw different scenes and items made me look into the views in more detail, which made me appreciate what I saw even more. (Submitted on January 20, 2024)

Segundo Semana en Costa Rica

The Ujarrás of Cartago

Submitted by Elias Tapia on the 2024 Winter SPAN program in Costa Rica…

This last week we went to Irazú Volcano and the Ujarrás of Cartago. They were so pretty and I was simply in awe of the vast beauty of Irazú volcano. The volcano is almost 11,000ft in elevation and a lot of people actually live and work on the volcano itself. The soil is rich from volcanic eruptions and many people farm coffee, potatoes, and cattle. You may ask, “why would someone live on an active volcano?” it is this mentality called “It won’t happen to me”; the people are aware that Irazú is still an active volcano but there are also multiple people who are constantly monitoring the volcano’s potential activity. 

The Ujarrás of Cartago were really cool too. It is an old Church, probably one of Costa Rica’s first churches and first potential settlement (it did not succeed). It was made a historical national monument in April of 1920, but it is estimated that it was first built in the 1500s. There are so many kinds of birds and parakeets that live in the trees surrounding the Ujarrás. Many locals seem to relax and enjoy the scenery surrounding the Ujarrás as well, and there are a few pools in the area that the locals also enjoy and relax in. (Submitted on January 18, 2024)