This past week I finished my time working for Fundacion Rahab and returned back home. My final time was mainly spent doing research, gathering resources and creating material that we used to create more detailed packets for the organization to use in the future as educational material for people who want to learn more about starting a microenterprise.
Overall I learned a lot during my time abroad although it was a very different experience than I was expecting. I thought I would be working with the employees on an existing program; another student and I were tasked with developing a microenterprise program. I’m proud of all we accomplished, but wish we had more time to work with the women because there isn’t currently anyone to continue on our microenterprise class. We were however able to work with the woman in charge of grants and funding to add a section in the budget money to create a partnership with a bank to provide ongoing financial literacy and business classes, so I’m hopeful our work will be continued.
This being my first time abroad, it was interesting seeing how business differs country to country and especially how important micro businesses are. I also learned a lot about the nonprofit industry which is an area I hadn’t had much exposure to before. Going abroad this summer also gave allowed me to build connections with the Costa Rican employees at my organization, and with the other Americans who were there with me. I learned a lot of technical business vocabs in Spanish, which will be helpful in the future.
Through my internship I was able to put many concepts I’ve learned in class to action. I took some of the basic principles and applied them to the women’s microenterprises. For example, I helped a woman who wanted to own her own soda (small restaurant) determine her establishment and operational costs, and fixed verse variable costs for each month. I helped a woman who wanted to open her own jewelry store understand the importance of having a stock of jewelry in inventory, but to make sure she left enough money out each month to pay herself and her employees. And I helped a woman who wanted to open her own floral shop create a sales forecast to determine how many flower arrangements she would have to be able to sell a month to be able to afford a store front.
My time this summer confirmed that I want to work in finance. I’m not sure in what capacity, but I was exposed to how versatile and important finance is. I loved being able to share my knowledge for finance and business with the women.
I am glad to be back in the United States, but am going to miss all of the people I met and experiences I had. I want to thank all of the people who helped make this amazing experience possible; the Global Engagement Office and Greg Colvin, for the Greg Colvin International Internship Scholarship, and the Honors College. Without their generosity and support, my Internship this summer would not have been possible.
This week I have been spending most of my time working on creating a basic money management guide for the women. Talking to the other employees it sounds like money management is something rarely taught or discussed in Costa Rica even at the University level. A lot of people are working to be able to provide for themselves, but don’t have a lot of extra money lying around, so being able to manage money is essential. We were working on creating a program to teach about how to deal with the finances of their small business, but decided with the lack of knowledge it was important to extend our discussions and start with the basic of budgeting and saving their personal money as well.
Working at times can be frustrating, because the other volunteers and I have ideas of ways we believe we should go about helping the women with their business plan, but there is a lot about the Costa Rican government and business laws that we are not familiar with, and the actual employees aren’t readily available or eager to help us navigate through all the forms and regulations necessary to start a business. The internet connection here is also very spotty at times which makes it difficult to complete tasks efficiently.
I am working on reaching out to some banks to see if we can partner with them to have someone come in and do a seminar about the forms you have to fill out and tax classifications for small businesses.. There are 3 large national banks in Costa Rica, which are what the majority of people use because private smaller banks are relatively new to Costa Rica, and are not very popular because they haven’t developed a trust among the people. One of the banks does have an online program for PMYE (Pequena y Medina Empresas) where we’ve been able to find a lot of useful information, but haven’t had luck finding anyone to come in and help us.
During class on Thursday we gave a presentation about basic accounting and bookkeeping practices and the importance of being organized and knowing where you are spending and making money in your businesses. Our class went well, but made apparent how little many people know about what all goes in to running a successful business. We have a lot of work we want to do with them, but very little time to do it.
I am now a week in to my Service Learning Internships and want to share some of my experiences so far. One thing that is a big time consumer that I was not expecting was my commute every morning. Long commutes and taking public transportation are both big parts of Costa Rican life. I leave my house by 7:15 every morning, have a 30 minute walk to the train station, take the train for 30 minutes from Heredia, where I live, to San Jose, and when I arrive in San Jose, I have another 15 minute walk to my job. I am actually really enjoying having to commute, because I am really getting to feel like I am part of the Tico culture.
The organization I am working for is called Fundacion Rahab and is located in downtown San Jose, Costa Rica. Fundacion Rahab is a nonprofit agency that works with women who are victims of sexual violence, human trafficking or prostitution to be able to be self-sufficient and independent in society again. Learning about the problems of sexual violence throughout the world, especially in Latin American countries has been a learning experience in itself. After the women have been with the organization for a while and received counseling they are eligible to participate in different programs to help them integrate back into society, these include language classes, vocational training, and help with their microenterprise initiatives.
My first day I arrived and received a tour of the organization, met many of the employees and learned more about the organization. There are 4 other students from the United States who are working here for the summer. The pace of work life is much more laid back and not as focused on time as it is in the United States. All the employees seem to come and go as they please and work on whatever they feel like needs to be done. There definitely isn’t a lot of communication between the different branches. I am assigned to the Microenterprise project, but was given very few guidelines or instruction for what to do. I was basically told there is a group of women who are interested in trying to start their own small businesses, and I am supposed to help them with the process. I spent most of the day Tuesday and Wednesday researching different business practices in Costa Rica. Unlike in the United States where we have lots of big chain Supercenters such as Walmart, Target, etc. that carry everything that we need, Costa Rica has hundreds small little shops on almost every corner that specialize in something specific.
While my Spanish is decent, one of the biggest challenges I am facing is the language barrier. I know a lot about businesses, economics, finance and accounting etc. in The United States and in English, but I am having to learn the terminology in Spanish and apply concepts to a different country, whose economic and business system I’m not familiar with and then be able to explain these concepts to a group of people who have little background knowledge. I am having to do a lot of research and use a lot of patience, but I am really enjoying my work.
Thursday morning, we had our first lesson, which very well. We had about 10 women show up and talked about the importance of writing a business plan, having short and long term personal and financial goals for your business. We discussed people they know who own businesses and things they notice that makes them successful or not, and how they can incorporate and apply their observations into their own business plan. They all seemed like they were able to understand what I was saying alright which I was a worried about since the class was in Spanish and they were very optimistic and excited for the weeks to come which was all very encouraging.
I have officially hit the half way point of my trip which is hard to believe. It is a little bittersweet because on Friday I had to say goodbye to all of the wonderful students from all over the United States I met through ISA during the academic portion of my program. However I am very excited because on Monday I will start commuting to San Jose every morning for my Service Learning Internships at Fundacion Rahab. I haven’t been given many details about what I will all be doing yet, but I am very excited to start this part of my trip. I am planning on doing more daily posts share my experiences throughout my internship.
For the past 5 weeks, I was taking Spanish classes at La Universidad Latina. The atmosphere of classes and school is very different here than in the States. The school is very small, but nice. It is constructed very openly to the outdoors, to help keep it cool because air conditioning is not common in most places in Costa Rica. The openness of the school also means that it is easy for animals to get in. Street dogs are everywhere here and they often come into the school and wander around, and have even ended up in the classroom with us several times, but this is seen as normal here.
I have the same teacher or “Profi” for both my classes, and she is unlike any teacher I have had before. She is very upbeat and passionate about what she does, and is always thinking of new games and ways we can learn. My professor runs on “tico time” which is basically the idea that punctuality doesn’t matter. She shows up for class at least 10 minutes late every morning, and will often keep us long after class is supposed to end, even if you have another class to go to. This has probably been one of the hardest things for me to adapt to here, because being on time is very important to me. My professor also brought us food or some other sort of surprise almost every day. I think one of the funniest days was when we were going to be learning a hard, kind of boring concept in my Phonetics class, and she said she felt bad we had to learn about something boring so she bought us donuts.
My first class was a Spanish Phonetics Course. I have never taking a Phonetics course before, so some of the concepts were hard to grasp. We learned a lot about the construction of language and communication, and how dialect differs between different Latin American countries. One thing I was not expecting was the amount of big group projects I would have for my classes. Every week we would have at least one huge project due, which ranged from having to film a 10 minuet Romantic Comedy in Spanish, to creating new products and infomercials.
My other class was a Latin American Literature Course. I found this course a lot more interesting than Phonetics. We learned all about different literary movements in Latin America. The difference between different literary genres like theatre, poetry, novels, short stories, etc. One thing I really liked about this class is that my professor really expected us to be creative and learn by doing. We would spend the first half of class learning about the history of theatre or poetry, and then we would spend the second half of classes performing theatre shows, or writing our own poetry in Spanish.
Since classes were only 5 weeks long, we had a lot of information to fit into a short time. At times it was hard because we were moving through material so fast, and there weren’t laid out expectations about what was expected from us, or as much structure as I am used to in my classes. I had a lot more work and presentations than I was expecting, but it was overall a positive experience.
One of the great things about Costa Rica is that it is a very small country and there are lots of cheap, easy options to get from one part of the country to another. This has allowed me to spend my weekends traveling around the country. So far I have traveled two weekends to locations included with my Study Abroad program and two weekends independently traveling with other students from my program. Costa Rica is a beautiful country that has it all, from beaches, to mountains, to rain forest, I am very lucky I am getting to experience all this country has to offer.
I spent my first weekend traveling to Monte Verde. Monte Verde is where the famous cloud forest of Costa Rica is located. We took a bus there and stayed in hostel. This was my first experience staying in a hostel, but I ended up really enjoying it. They are definitely a great option if you are looking to travel somewhere on a budget. I got to do the famous Costa Rican zip lining through the rain forest. ( Almost everywhere you go in Costa Rica will have the opportunity for you to go zip lining, but Monte Verde has the most famous one) On the final cable, which was also the longest ( 1590 m) , we got to ride “superman” style, it was a pretty amazing experience. At the very end we had the option of doing the Tarzan Swing which is where you are hooked on to a cable, you walk out on a bridge to a platform that is 600 feet off, 2 guys are standing there holding a rope, and then they open a gate and you literally fall off, and swing through the Rainforest like Tarzan. That was probably one of the scariest things I’ve ever done, but it was so much fun. While in Monte Verde I also got to go on the hanging bridges tour. We walked all through the rain forest on these giant suspension bridges. This was an exciting way to kick start my time here.
Weekend 2 was our first excursion included in my program. We went to Playa Tamarindo which is a beach located in the Northern part of the country on the Pacific side. We stayed at Hotel Diria a beautiful beachfront resort for the weekend. During dinner the first night we watched some traditional Costa Rican dancing. I spend most of my time just hanging out on the beach, and got a very lovely sunburn to take home as a souvenir. This was probably one of the nicest beaches I’ve ever been to, because it was more secluded, the water was very warm, and we were surrounded by mountains. While on the beach various vendors were wandering around trying to sell stuff. One guy was walking around with a cooler full of coconuts. I had never tried coconut water before. It was really cool, because he just took at knife, cut a hole in the top of it and stuck a straw in and then we could drink the inside of it. It was very refreshing and drinking fresh coconut water has become one of my favorite Costa Rican treats.
Our second excursion provided by ISA was to Volcano Arenal. We once again got to stay in the absolutely incredible resort that backed right up the volcano. The resort had a bunch of different hot springs that were all natural heated by the Volcano. The area was very cloudy and for most of the time the Volcano was covered, but on the second morning the clouds moved and we were able to see the whole Volcano, the guide told us we were very lucky, and were one of the first groups who actually got to see the whole thing.
On the second day we were here we traveled to a sustainable farm and got to learn all about farming practices and history in Costa Rica. We started by eating a traditional lunch of rice, beans, plantains, yucca,etc, made all with ingredients that had been grown on the farm. We then got to sample some coffee from the farm and learn a little about the coffee growing and roasting process. After lunch we walked to a different area of the farm where we learned about different fruits and vegetables common to Costa Rica. One of the things we saw was a Cacao seed, which is used to make chocolate, when you break open the seed it is filled with these slimy balls, which are what are actually used to make the chocolate., we all got to sample some straight out of the seed, it was very slimy and had a very faint sweet taste. My favorite part was the sugar presentation. They had big stalks of sugar cane and had demonstrations about what it can all be used for. I got to help “juice the cane” there was a big roller that we pushed the cane through and each cane produced almost a gallon of pure liquid sugar. We all got to try a little bit of the freshly squeezed sugar juice; we also got to chew on a raw piece of sugar cane. Our guide talked all about the history of the sugar industry in Costa Rica, and how important it is for them to use every part of the sugar for something and not waste anything, and how the sugar industry really became profitable in the country after they figured out how to make alcohol from sugar.
Last weekend I got to travel to Manuel Antonio National Park. Manuel Antonio is one of the biggest tourist destinations in Costa Rica and famous for its gorgeous beaches and wildlife. We took the bus in Thursday night and stayed at a backpacker’s hostel. This hostel experience was very different than my first one. We were sleeping in a 16 person bunk bed room, with one central bathroom. Even though the hostel was pretty rough, I still really enjoyed it and we got to meet people from all over the world who were passing through. Going through the actual national park was really cool. You are walking through the rainforest and are surrounded by wildlife in their natural habitat. I saw 4-5 different varieties of lizards, spiders, 3 different types of monkeys, 2 and 3 toed sloths along with lots of other plants and insects. It was absolutely beautiful, and definitely a must see if you ever visit Costa Rica.
Before coming to Costa Rica I had never left the States before. I really am enjoying living here, but it is very different than the U.S. I am living in Heredia, which is the Providence just North of San Jose. While here I am living with a Host family. My family consists of Mario, the father, Karla the mother, and Mathias their 6 year old son. If you are thinking about studying abroad, I 100% recommend living with a host family because it is without a doubt the best way to truly experience what it is like to live in another country, and it is also the place where I get to practice my Spanish the most.
Here are some things I have experienced and learned about Costa Rica so far.
Ticos (which is the name for Costa Rican people) love their rice and beans. I have eaten rice and beans at least for one meal every day and some days I’ve had it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They even call the pair “casados” which is the Spanish word for married, because you can’t eat the two separate.
Costa Rica only has 2 seasons, summer and winter, or the rainy and dry season. The rainy season, which is considered their winter started in May, sot that is what I am getting to experience. The weather is still in the 70’s or 80’s every day, but it rains almost every afternoon. The people are used to it though, so even in the middle of a down pour people will still be hanging out outside.
Public transportation is very big here and is utilized by most people. There are buses that run all throughout the city and country, as well as a train that will take you from Heredia to San Jose, and a very large taxi system. My house is located far from the University so I have been taking the bus every morning. Drivers here are very crazy, and like to drive fast, ignore stop signs and use their horns at every possible opportunity. Fender benders are very common because of this, and I have to be very careful every time I walk anywhere to make sure I’m looking out for drivers, because I know they’re not looking out for me.
On almost every corner there is a Super Mercado, which is essentially a little grocery store with all of your essentials. Instead of going to the store and buying a bunch of food and then putting in the fridge. My family goes to the Super, which is less than a 30 second walk away every day and buys all the fresh meat, vegetables and fruit that we need for whatever we are eating that day. If you love fresh fruit this is the place for you, because on every corner there is someone selling mangoes, bananas, coconuts,papaya etc.
There are many Costa Rican specific sayings that I have learned since being here. The most important one is Pura Vida, which literally translates to pure life, but is used by Costa Ricans all the time to mean pretty much anything, and really describes the lifestyle and people of Costa Rica. Ticos is the term Costa Ricans use to describe themselves and they are all very proud to be Ticos. Mae is a term used for a friend, it is used in the same way we would use dude or bro. !Tuanis! is an expression used in Costa Rica which means something is really cool or exciting. After studying Spanish from a textbook and in the classroom for so many years, it has been really interesting actually getting to hear and learn some of native speakers sayings and expressions.
Hello! My name is Jill Kallenberger, and I just finished my sophomore year at the University of Arkansas. I am Finance major and Spanish minor. I am spending my summer studying abroad through International Studies Abroad (ISA) in Heredia, Costa Rica. I selected this program because it is a joint program where I will be taking Spanish classes for half the summer, and then will be working at a Women’s Microenterprise Service Learning Internship.
My trip was made possible because of the generosity of several donors. I am very grateful I received the Honors College Traditional Study Abroad Grant and the Greg Colvin International Internship Scholarship. Without these my study abroad experience wouldn’t be possible.
This will be my first time out of the United States, and I am very excited to finally have the opportunity to travel to a different part of the world to learn about a new culture, learn a new language and work in an international setting. I will be using this blog to share some of my experiences while abroad.