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The Internship

          It’s time to tell you all about what I do on Mondays.  Whitworth encourages us to do an internship related to our majors during our time at the CRC.  In my case, I receive credit for my Spanish major by working at Musmanni Panadería (Masmanni homepage, Spanish only.).  Panadería” means bakery in Spanish, but Musmanni is different than we might understand in the U.S. because they receive the dough already made and then have to ferment, decorate, and bake it.  We make everything from cinnamon rolls to French bread, empanadas to the Musmanni equivalent of a pizza bagel bite.  In addition, Musmanni offers queque, cakes baked and decorated here.  

                The idea of an internship every Monday is usually a point of confusion in Costa Rica, since the word we use for internship, pasantía, is often in reference to a year after studying where one gains experience in what they studied the preceding years.  A better translation of pasantía in English might be “apprenticeship,” because it is much less about the required credit hours and more about the application of learned knowledge.  Regardless, the unpaid assistance around the bakery is received quite warmly, and I’ve felt that I’ve been able to be an asset rather than a burden to my coworkers.  

                The bakery is exactly the kind of internship I was hoping for.  In addition to preparing bread, I chose this internship because of the opportunities to speak purely Spanish throughout the day.  Thankfully, I’ve learned how to work with bread, but have also learned an immense amount of slang and am now able to keep up with the rhythm of Costa Rican Spanish.  

                Here’s a picture of me suited up for a nine-hour day working with pan.  I work from 7:00-4:00, but receive two 15 minute breaks where we drink café and rest up.  Also, the employees receive an optional 30 minute unpaid lunch break, which my boss Mauricio encourages me to take since I’m unpaid anyways.  

The picture below shows the back area where I spend the majority of my time.  This is where all the fun happens. Sprinkles, ajonjoli,  pizza sauce, fruta congelada—you name it, we prepare it.  In the mornings, I often work here with Carlos, a nicaragüense jokester who currently lives and works in Costa Rica.  Once the morning shift is over, Luis (pictured below) replaces Carlos for the night shift.  Luis is 24, about to be a father, and is my language buddy.  My interest in Spanish and his in English lead to some funny and puzzling talks as we try to translate slang phrases and other dichos for each other.

I'm very blessed by this internship, but don’t let the positivity fool you! I’m working hard and by the end of the day I’m dead tired both physically (who would have thought bread would be physically demanding) and mentally (a second language will do that to you).  

Well, thanks again for reading these notes, I appreciate it!  This Saturday we leave for eight days in Nicaragua, which is different than Costa Rica in many ways. I’m sure I’ll have a lot to write afterwards. Que Dios les bendiga, God bless.

-Austin Vander Wel


The Host Family

Things have officially begun to fall into a rhythm.  I’ve finally moved into a home and am beginning to fine-tune both my cultural competency and Spanish language skills.  My host parents’ names are Francisco and Yolanda Hernández and they’re amazingly loving and hospitable people.  Francisco is the more reserved of the two, but really enjoys deep conversation and discussing the things that matter most to him.  If Yolanda loves someone she makes sure they know it, whether it be through hugs, laughter, or teasing her smile is seldom absent.  This combination has been priceless in acclimating myself to Costa Rican culture and language. 

Staying in the Hernández home in San Rafael de Heredia has been a true blessing.  From what I hear, families in Costa Rica tend to live closer together than in the U.S.  My host family is no exception to this generalization, as their neighborhood is full of familia and two of their three children are past the age of 23 and still live at home.  Also, the two grandkids come over daily to see their abuelos and spend time in the presence of each other.  When the subliminal ticking of the clock quiets and people spend time together something beautiful happens.

We share breakfast together around 7:00 a.m. and I must say that the food is deliciosa!  After a breakfast of gallo pinto (Gallo pinto recipe) or eggs I walk seven minutes to the bus stop and catch a ride to Monte de la Cruz, where the university campus is located.  On Mondays, however, I walk about five minutes to Musmanni bakery for an internship, but more to come on that later.  Either way, after the day is finished I'm relieved to come home to the host family.  

But when Alejandro, the grandson of Francisco and Yolanda, looks at me his face twists up with uncertainty.  It’s as if his four-month old eyes can see right through me.  He hears foreign sounds leave my throat rather than my tongue when I speak Español.  It must sound funny.  It’s as if his innocent confusion knows I can neither work nor play outside all day without putting sunscreen (SPF 50 at that) all over my face.  As if he knows I cringe when I force myself to follow the Costa Rican norm and throw toilet paper in the trash, or when my primary culture takes over and I drop it in the toilet.  As if he can tell that deep down I’m more comfortable meeting a woman with a handshake than a kiss on the cheek.  I stand tall and gangly, as a Pine among citrus trees.  

Then he coos and smiles at me, and I’m reminded why I’m here.  I’m reminded why the fascination of people, culture, and language is never robotically substituted by money or cars.  The whole world understands a genuine smile.  Although I may be a pine and he a citrus, we both breathe the same air, feel the warmth of the same bright light, and need the root system found in human community.

Being in Costa Rica has been an amazing experience so far, and I’m excited to see where this adventure will lead.  Every day brings new gifts and new challenges, but I’m glad to have a strong root system in my host family, my “Whitworth South” friendships, and all the amazing people up north thinking of and praying for me. Muchas gracias a todos.

-Austin Vander Wel


Orientation Week

                 After an entire day of travel I’d left the pines trees of the Northwest, felt the warmth of Phoenix, passed over the mountainous landscape of Mexico, and arrived in beautiful Costa Rica.  At this point I’ve been here five days, but most of it has been spent on the Whitworth campus since we have one week of orientation before moving in with Costa Rican host families.  

                Besides living on campus, the opportunities I have had to venture down the thick green mountain (where the campus is located) and into the city have been amazing.  Monday was my first time in the capital city of San José, on what the CRC staff calls “The Plunge.”  The Plunge is basically a city-wide scavenger hunt, with the twist that it’s done mapless.  Being without a map is a way of acclimating ourselves to the city and putting us in a situation where we must ask directions in Spanish.  

One of the first things I noticed downtown was the style of driving.  In Costa Rica pedestrians never—I repeat, never—have the right of way, and because of this crossing streets is much more exhilarating than in the U.S.  Knowing that you could easily be run over by a red and orange taxi traveling at top speed just makes things more fun.  

                Another thing I quickly noticed was how the Costa Ricans (Ticos) are incredibly helpful to us gringos, lost and disoriented.  When searching for buildings such as El museo del jade and parks such as El parque de España the help of the Ticos felt as warm as the Central American sun.  I know my excitement and limited knowledge might seem broad, so for those interested in more numeric details I recommend you take a look at CIA World Factbook to familiarize yourselves with some of the logistics of Costa Rica (CIA World Factbook, Costa Rica). 

                Being on campus for the first week has offered me both very busy times due to orientation as well as times to reflect and soak in the world around me.  Both have been times of growth and learning.

                On one of the occasions when I found some downtime I observed six pinto beans.  The beans were each a different color, some red, some yellow, some white with speckles.  I’d been staring at them for at least 20 seconds before I realized I was mesmerized.  Each one was so unique; each one was only beautiful in the diversity of the other. The mix of pattern and color both accentuated the individual and the collective beauty.  Each one of us would do well to learn from the awe of six beans cradled in an open palm.

                Well, seeing as this week is mostly spent on campus (pictured above) I’m sure I’ll have more pictures and adventures once we’re received into our Costa Rican host families this Saturday.  It’s been a great introduction, and there’s more to come. Hasta Pronto.

-Austin Vander Wel