MelissaWinchell's Travel Journals


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  • Currently in Monteverde, Costa Rica

Monteverde, Costa Rica Adventure!

These journal entries will be a compilation of my experience on the Living Routes program to the Monteverde Institute. They will be addressing adventures I go on, processes I go through and awarenesses I gain from this experience.

Homestay Mirror

Costa Rica Monteverde, Costa Rica  |  Feb 06, 2011
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Arriving in Costa Rica felt extremely surreal. After a whirlwind of a winterbreak with massive snow storms and heartbreaking goodbyes, I was off to a small, rural part of the Monte Verde district. This is my first time going on a plane by myself, having a homestay experience, and did I mention, I don't speak a lick of Spanish? Due to this, my thought pattern was fairly cynical and cyclical getting off the plane in San Jose, as you can imagine.

The first week was an intense mixture of adventure, fun, fear and "Melissa, you still don't know any Spanish". I have an phenomenal group and team of faculty, all passionate individuals, but even so, I found my mind distracted by a particular fear the entire week. Nothing was going to quell my fear of living at a homestay. We received a brief bio of our homestay families the day before we met them. Evelyn, the homestay director, and Fran, a faculty member, dropped us off and shared a few words with our families. I was the fourth to get dropped off. It was terrifying! Margarita, my host mother, opened the door, "Hola!". I felt like a stray dog entering a new house. What niche would I fit into in this dynamic organism that is family? How could I possibly settle in and become a beneficial participant of this house when I could barely say "Mi nombre es Melissa". Quickly, I came to realize the importance of body language and acting. All I have to say is, when I get home I will be the master of charades.

As Evelyn and Fran took off, a wave of confusion and survival instincts coursed through me. My thoughts: What on Earth are they saying? How do I respond? What if they don't like me? How will I get food? Water?. Soon the Spanish-English dictionary they had ready for me was slid across the table as we began almuerzo. You learn fairly quickly that small talk is an incredible fall back since it can be easily charaded.

After lunch Karen Noelia, my younger host-sister, took me under her wing and gave me the tour of their land. This also included climbing an ancient tree draped with bromeliads and the beginnings of a strangler fig tree's roots dripping down the host tree's branches. She handed me fruits I didn't know existed and without even questioning her, I gobbled them up as we perched in the tree. On this first adventure, somehow, she conveyed to me that Paola, my elder host-sister, was heading to school in San Jose the following day. Shocked, first of all because I was given her room before she left, and second, because no one had told me a family member was leaving, I asked her to "repita por favor" numerous times.

This idea may not seem that strange, but seeing Paola go through her process of saying goodbye to her family and her home to go to school 6 hours away, well, it felt like deja vu for me. Paola's experience was identically mirroring mine merely a week before. I wanted to be able to communicate with her about how the transition was for me, but I was completely limited the language barrier. I wanted to be supportive but I had barely known her for 12 hours. I felt like an invader in this house and family. This intimate process of goodbyes and mental preparation for leaving--I did not belong.

The following day, Paola was to take off at 1pm. The entire day was one of rushing to pull things together, crying, hugging, packing, more crying. I didn't know what to do with myself. How does a stranger give support without words or trust? I stayed in my room. Helped when I could with dishes and other menial jobs. Other than that, I hid. As she was heading out the door, she stopped by my--by her room--to say goodbye. She gave me a huge, tearful hug that conveyed more than words. It was affirmation that by giving the family space, I was supporting her transition the best I could. Though I have been experiencing numerous different cultural norms and patterns, witnessing Paola's departure reaffirmed to me that something cross cultures.

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