Today was my first day of actual classes here in Costa Rica (yay, I caught up to real time!). I am enrolled in two classes: Public Health 121 and Public Health 179. Public Health 121 is about Alternative Medicine (I’ll probably abbreviate this to CAM [Complimentary and Alternative Medicine] or Alt Med in the future so be prepared), which sounds really interesting but we don’t have any lectures for it the first week. Public Health 179, however, started today. The course is called ECOSYSTEM HEALTH AND PUBLIC HEALTH: THE CASE OF COSTA RICA and sounded relatively interesting before today.
Let me explain. We all (except 4 people who did not have class today and decided to stay at the hotel) got on the bus at 8:15am after a breakfast at the hotel (by the pool of course) of rice and beans, eggs, fruit, and tamarind juice (delicious). It was actually my first serving of rice and beans since I arrived in Costa Rica, though I am sure many more will follow. When we arrived at ULatina, we split off into groups. Those in the Biodiversity class took the bus further on to InBio, the Institute of Biodiversity. Those in Dr. Bic’s (a UCI professor who transferred from the Prauge program that was cancelled and lives in the room across the hall from mine) Introduction to Public Health class followed her across the street to where all lectures (other than those for Biodiversity) will be held. Everyone else, the eight of us who either didn’t have class that day or didn’t have class until the afternoon (like myself) were left to our own devices.
Tyler stayed by the library on campus to work on his application to Medical School while the other seven of us wandered around campus for awhile until we decided to go wander the mall and see what else was there. We were bored, there was nothing to do, and when we got to the mall, everything was closed. Parul (who is almost fluent in Spanish) asked a guard when it would open, which turned out not to be until 10:30am, so we took pictures by the fountain to waste some time. Eventually we got bored and went back to hang out in the building where our lectures will be. The building is part of the mall, on the end closest to the university, and has 6 floors. The fourth is where we had our orientation on Monday. There are tables and a snack bar there as well but our classes will be on the third, past the lobby area with a reception desk, a Nescafe dispenser, and several couches, in the classrooms beyond. After hanging out on these couches, dozing, using the WiFi to check Facebook, email, etc. (most people had brought their computers, I used my iPod Touch, and others just stared into space or talked) we went back to the mall to wander and check movie times. Everyone wants to go see Toy Story 3, which has two versions in the theater, dubbed in Spanish, or in English with Spanish subtitles. Of course, we want the subtitled one so we can understand what they’re saying, but it only plays at that theater at 8 or 9pm. The movie theater is relatively cheap here too, only about $4 dollars ($6 for 3D) per ticket. With extra time to fill between classes, I’m sure the group will make good use of it.
We stopped at a stall called “Rice ‘n’ Smile” for some Arroz con Leche, and wandered around, looking for an open bank so people could get colones (Costa Rican currency). After checking the movie times, we eventually went back to a Citibank on the outside of the mall, where Tyler caught up with us again. Finally, after returning to an appliance store so one of the girls could buy a hair dryer, we all went back to campus to grab lunch at the cafeteria.
My second serving of rice and beans was supplemented with pasta, salad (that looked like dry coleslaw and had no dressing), garlic bread, and what I think was peach tea. They don’t seem to drink much water here, only juice and tea (though the water is potable I’m afraid it might be overly treated to make it so because I think it dries out my throat – looks like its bottled water for me anyways, oh well). The darker clouds started rolling in around 12:30-1pm and we could hear the thunder. What had started out as a beautiful, blue-skied morning, was soon to become another typical rainy-season afternoon. Everyone that had Ecosystem Health at 2pm decided to run back across the street and get back to our classrooms before the skies opened to drown us. We were successful (and it didn’t end up raining that hard after all anyways) and we waited on the couches for our as yet unknown professor to arrive.
Turns out the professor was at a conference, so he wouldn’t be there until 3:30 (class was supposed to be from 2-5). Instead, his significant other took over and gave us a presentation on la Fundacion Neotropica, a foundation that strives to balance the needs of humans and those of nature. We had a quick break before our professor arrived but he quickly made an impression. I can already tell he’s going to be a great teacher, he is enthusiastic, interesting, humorous, and quick-witted. He thought it was funny that we had traveled so far from the O.C. (the program is through UC Irvine) just to listen to lectures in a strip mall. He then asked each of us why he should want to get to know us as an introduction. After going over the logistics of the course and telling us to form groups for our research presentations by this Thursday, he let us out early to “explore the country”. This would have been great if we had had something to do or a way to get back to the hotel to dump our stuff. Unfortunately we did not, so I for one would have liked to listen to Professor Bernardo Aguilar give a lecture. The class which had sounded interesting before now sounded amazing!
The group eventually, and somewhat reluctantly, left and returned to the mall to wander into the main supermarket-type store called Mas X Menos. While waiting for the bus to arrive outside later, I started talking with Dr. Bic. She strikes me as a very interesting person. I don’t know where she’s from (yet) but she has an accent from somewhere and has traveled to many different countries. This is her fourth time in Costa Rica and she told me the story of how she once drove across the border to Panama, but she wasn’t supposed to and it might have even been illegal at the time. We also compared stories about India. It seems she is an expert on headaches and, though she is in charge of the Alternative Medicine class, will be a guest lecturer for the professor actually teaching it.
On the bus on the way back to the hotel, we organized the possibility of having multiple buses per day back and forth to the hotel and university so that we wouldn’t be stuck there with nothing to do all the time. Fernando also told us about a trip to Monteverde and the Cloud Forest that we can sign up for the free weekend we have (I’m pretty sure I’ll be going, anyone who does will also be eating in a treehouse) as well as the possibility to go white-water rafting (maybe even on the Pacuare – class III/IV and rated one of the best/most beautiful rafting trips by NatGeo). Fernando is really flexible and very helpful. Anything we want to do, he is willing to help us arrange. I can already tell this trip will be great!
I especially can’t wait for the weekend trips though. As much as I enjoy being in a foreign country, San Jose is a city: noisy, dirty, crowded, and polluted like any other. The people are friendly but I feel like I could learn more about the traditional Tico culture outside of the city. Here you can get anything; all the major American brands, foods, and companies are present. Though my roommate Alex admitted to culture shock, I think the area is too Americanized. It is still definitely Costa Rican but globalization has its drawbacks. Much as I love the influences of other cultures on each other and the expansion of global ideas, there are many things I’d like to leave behind in America. Did you know that in Costa Rica McDonalds and Burger King deliver? Yep. A lot of restaurants do, particularly any sort of fast food or to go type place. I know I will find some great places here, and I appreciate the opportunities the city offers for people, services, banks, schools, stores, resources, etc. but I can’t wait to get out into the nature that Costa Rica is so famous for.
Tonight some people (well probably most of the group, along with Fernando) went out to dinner. I however, stayed behind. They were going to a seafood place (which is alright, but I never developed much of a taste for it, I could take it or leave it) and I had a lot of work to do. I have been working on this blog now for over 2 hours, probably closer to 3, and when I checked the disk my professor handed out in class today, I found I have a lot of homework too already. That will not be my favorite part of the trip, but it sounds like for this class at least, the readings are just beneficial and not imperative. That will help but I would still like to read at least most of them. We will have take-home exams that will be part of our field trips and a research presentation we’ll have to work on, but that should be about it. The class sounds really interesting but lectures are 3 hours long for every class. I’m not sure how that will go. The professor for Environmental Health seems like he could hold the class’ attention for a long time but I don’t know about Alternative Medicine (I will have two classes of Alt Med on Monday to make up for this week, eeek!). We shall see. In any case, school shouldn’t kill us, there’s too much fun to be had and exploring to do here in Costa Rica.