Rice and Beans

Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner — every meal consists of the classic dish of Rice and Beans. Now to many of us Americans, Rice and Beans may appear to be a simple dish only containing the very obvious rice and beans. However, in Costa Rica there are many different levels of this culturally lavish dish.

For instance, Chicken Rice and Beans consists of chicken and vegetables marinaded in rich coconut milk and hot chilies. This form of rice and beans is often saved for special occasions such as weddings, birthday parties or major dinner events. I was lucky enough to be served this delicious meal by my home stay family in Suerre.

PIntos is the classic dish many of us envision when we think of rice and beans. This is your basic meal involving black beans and white rice. Often this version is served with eggs and a tomato for breakfast.

The beauty of rice and beans is its simplicity and affordability. Rich or poor rice and beans are basic ingredients that most Costa Ricans can afford to serve to their guests and eat on a regular basis. However, with this convenience also comes some flaws. Eating rice and beans for every meal can become very repetitive. The difference in taste between the versions of rice and beans are subtle enough to make eating this meal more of chore than a luxury for visitors such as myself.

Most of our meals we have had have been provided by the campus cafeteria. We have had a few meals with our home stay families and off campus restaurants but the majority of meals have been through Earth University. The campus meals are extremely simple. Abiding to the university’s mission of fostering a learning environment that encourages sustainability and environmental friendliness, the cafeteria focuses on serving healthy, simple meals supplied by the food grown on the university’s farm. These healthy and local meals are indeed refreshing and delicious. However, adding the variety of sporadic off campus meals has helped maintain variety in my daily diet.

Besides rice and beans Costa Rica has many different unique foods to offer. Their extensive supply of unique fruits never ceases to amaze me. My favorite so far has been the Soursop fruit and Mamon Chino have been two of my favorites. Both of these fruits appear ugly and awkward from the outside. But once you crack open them their juicy sweet taste is unforgettable, leaving a fresh and lasting flavor in your mouth.

My favorite food unique to Costa Rica has been the empanadas and fried plantains. Both of these foods have been served at breakfast. The empanada almost looks like a hot pocket from the freezer section in the US. A fried pastry on the outside encasing rice, beans, vegetables and/or ground beef inside. Fried plantains often our cooked in butter with sugar glazed on top making the perfect sugary addition to your morning meal.

In Costa Rica food is the center of every family and every big event. Good food is what brings families and friends together and unites people from all different backgrounds. Every person, man or woman, prides themselves on the food they cook making sure they have at least one signature meal they can mark as their own. Trying new dishes and embracing the local cuisine has provided yet another lens of understanding within the Costa Rican culture. Understanding a country’s food has proved to be one of the better ways to peak into the truths of any culture.

Rainy Days and Traffic Haze

An hour had passed by and not a car had moved forward in the stand still traffic. Taking the bus home from San Jose back to campus in Guacimo required driving through the mountains and weaving through the misty jungle.  Without traffic this drive would only take an hour. However, the daily San Jose traffic practically guarantees an additional two hours of driving time. Rain continued to pour down adding to the hazardous traffic that never seemed to end.

Traffic and rain are common themes of Costa Rican road conditions. The habitual rain and inconsistent upkeep on the roads causes many of the streets to form unavoidable potholes. The majority of the main roads are maintained decently well, however these roads are far and few between.

Many of our days our filled with traveling by bus to different off campus locations for experiential research and class field trips. There are few days where we don’t find ourselves on one of the many Earth University sponsored buses exploring new parts of Costa Rica. At times we have even found ourselves venturing so deep into the jungle that we have been required to exit our bus, walk, and take a small boat to our final destination. During our traditional work days when we stay on campus our classes on are all in close distance only requiring us to walk from building to building. A much needed break after routine bus rides over bumpy gravel roads.

Due to the structure of our program we have not experienced many opportunities to use public transportation. Locals have mentioned that public transportation is less than adequate. It fulfills the minimal needs of individuals but still has plenty of room for in improvement. Particularly regarding its consistency and accessibility. Unfortunately the bus system only runs during rush hour making it extremely convenient for the average employee but particularly difficult for anyone looking to visit the city just for leisure.

Transportation has added yet another dynamic to our travels and studies in Costa Rica. It contributes to the adventure and excitement to the unknowns of this beautiful country. Every bus ride, boat ride or walk down the street involves rolling hills of dense and luscious tropical forests housing thousands of animals waiting to be discovered. The sometimes questionable road conditions are easily swept under the rug once I take a glance outside the window and realize how truly beautiful the world is.

Italy and the Scientific Revolutions: Language

Some people here speak English, but there are also a lot that do not. It definitely helps that I am taking an Italian language and culture class as part of the dialogue. I haven’t really had any miscommunications but sometimes it is difficult to communicate. One funny example of this is when we were cooking dinner with our Italian teacher. We first went to the market with her and she told us what to buy but spoke only in Italian, so some of my classmates were accidentally buying the wrong fruits and vegetables. Then when actually cooking, some of her instructions were lost in translation and she ended up having to show us what to do a lot of the time.

My new favorite words are pretty simple – buongiorno and buonasera. They mean good morning and good evening. I don’t like them because of what they mean, though it’s nice, I like them because everyone says them all the time. Every time you walk into a shop or restaurant, the owner says it to you and you say it back. I think it’s a really nice gesture that doesn’t happen as often in America.

Week 3 in Berlin

It is hard to pin down where my favorite place in Berlin is. There are so many monuments and historical sites plus really cool new spaces that have been built recently. Before coming to Berlin, I had read a lot about the Jewish Holocaust Memorial site and everyone I know who had been to Berlin posted pictures from this tourist hotspot. I expected to get there and experience something really deep and introspective, but I was shocked when little kids were climbing all over the large block stones and other tourists were shouting in the maze of pathways. To top it all off, there was a memorial guard who would pop around corners and yell at people who stood up on top of the massive blocks, but he allowed people to sit on them. It was like no other memorial I had ever been to and it really changed my perspective on what a memorial is or what it could be. They do not necessarily have to be a place of silence and seriousness because they can provide a space to celebrate life.

The Brandenburg Gate is another tourist spot that I love. A massive structure sits on the edge of a large square of embassies and tourist traps. So much history happened at this location and it is just incredible that people can casually visit where so many historical hot shots had stood before. I remember seeing paintings and pictures of people like Napoleon and Hitler storming through the gate to make their presence known so it was so crazy to visit this place with our class. Other pictures show a bombed out Berlin with a damaged gate covered by soot. Today it stands clean, tall, and strong.

The next place that I hope to venture off to on my own is Berlin’s East Side Gallery. This is a portion of the Berlin Wall that is still standing and it is right in our neighborhood Kreuzberg. Mural artists came in and emblazoned the wall with huge works of art and pattern work and I am so excited to see it in person. Graffiti is considered an art form in Berlin and it is very much a part of Berlin’s aesthetic and its people as well. In America, graffiti can mark territories and make an area seem threatening, but here it is just a way people express themselves and contribute to the overall feel of their city.

Each Friday we have been going to a city or town outside of Berlin to explore Germany a little more. For the past two weeks we have met up with a local german man named Helmut who is the best tour guide we could have asked for. Even though he is around seventy years old, he was definitely the leader of the pack and marched us all around Potsdam and Dresden in his matching sweater and oxford shirt combos. Even though we were exhausted by the end of these tours, we covered so much ground and heard so many stories about his childhood and what it is like to live in Germany. Potsdam was a gorgeous place. It may sound odd, but it really reminded me of a European Cape Cod. There was beautiful dutch architecture, little shops lined the streets, and street performers stood on the busier corners. We got to go inside palaces and walk through a huge park that housed a few other palaces as well. Dresden was more modern and spread out than Potsdam was. It had other large and beautiful government buildings and former palaces mixed with clock towers and huge churches. In one of the city squares a man had his xylophone and was playing the Titanic song. The song was echoing throughout the whole city and made it seem like a surreal place.

This Friday we are going to Dessau to see the Bauhaus which was one of the first schools of modern design. The founders and students of this school revolutionized architecture, graphic design, and theatre. I have done so many papers and projects about this amazing place and I cannot wait to get on the train and see it.

-A Broad Abroad

Beginning: Wheels Up to Rome

Growing up, our family didn’t travel much. Living in New England, an out-of-state vacation was a day trip to a beach in Maine or a camping adventure in the forests of New Hampshire. The states are small, and we never ran out of places to visit. I loved those trips, but that didn’t stop the enveloping jealousy that followed a friend’s tale about a summer spent on a Greek island, a family vacation to the southern beaches of France, or a winter break in The Bahamas where sunscreen was in high demand. I always had dreams to travel – and college quickly became a vehicle and endless opportunity for me to do just that. I’ve spent time studying international business in France, and last summer took finance courses in England. Now, I look forward to law electives in Rome, Italy. Another summer, another destination, and one more unforgettable experience.

France was my first time out of the country. It was the summer of freshman year. I was timid, yet excited. I learned the power of adaptation and thriving in uncomfortable situations. London was more relaxed and I had visited the summer before. With the lack of a language barrier and the idea of traveling more familiar, I took the  chance in England to further push the boundaries of my comfort zone. I rode public transit more heavily, interacted with locals, and played a six week game of leap frog throughout the EU. Now it’s time for Italy… I don’t know yet what Italy will be for me. Another chance to learn a new language? To absorb a new culture? Of course. But I’m sure it will be much more than that too. The irreplaceable and wonderful thing about travel is that you usually don’t realize the true impact of the experience until you return. You venture back home to a life that has gone on for months without you and it is the same. But you’re not. That’s when you see the beauty of exploration and can reflect on time spent.

My goals when abroad are always the same. Leave fear in your home country and embrace discomfort. Discomfort gives lead to personal growth, an advanced acceptance of differences, and a crazy story to plaster on the back of a postcard. Immerse yourself and relax (but do it without having your wallet stolen in the process)! Despite this encouragement, it’s natural to fear the unknown. Italy is unknown. I fear the language barrier, of not meeting people, and the law classes I’m going to be taking. But I’m also excited, and that’s the key to it. My real, and only true, fear is running out of time to see everything I want to. An uncontrollable factor, time often passes too quickly once you begin your explorations.

I’m looking forward for so many experiences over the coming weeks. If Italy were a three-course meal, I’d order History as my starter. Serve me up an ancient city, with a beautiful past and that will keep me satisfied for a while. For my main course, I’d ask for Culture. The people, art, and lifestyle of Rome.  I can’t wait to stumble down cobblestone streets, dry my clothes from a strung line, and sit on a patio sipping red wine and curling angel hair delicately around my fork. Putting a ‘Crespi’ in Italy is like putting the Cookie Monster in a Chips Ahoy factory. I’m definitely looking forward to the food (as a side note; I’m writing this on the plane as I eat Chicken Marsala, roasted potatoes, and steamed broccoli. When the airplane food is  good, you know you’re in for something special when the wheels touch down). Finally, for dessert, I’d have the language. Accents, tans, and a beautiful country- is there a better way to spend the summer?

Mi Casa y Mis Amigos

The first week in Costa Rica has been a whirlwind. Over the span of 7 days and 6 nights we have already spent time in three different locations. Between the Pacaure Reserve, home stays with local families and on campus dorms we have truly gotten the opportunity to experience it all.

Our first lodging experience at Pacaure Reserve was initially described as “Rustic” and “Survivor Like” by our professor. When she first started saying this we didn’t quite understand her fully. However, after three hours of transportation through rocky, muddy roads and crocodile infested waters we finally began to come to terms with what she truly meant by that “rustic”. We arrived at the Reserve to find that we had no electricity, simple housing and no hot water. The Reserve, deeply tucked within the jungles of the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, thrived with insects and diverse wild life. As a result each of us were quickly bitten by the many different types of insects inhabiting the jungle. When the sun set at 6:00pm and we were left to the dependency of our candle light and flash lights we quickly became very appreciative of electricity. Each of us students had to think of creative games to play until we were finally ready to go to bed. These first few days at the Reserve forced all eight of us to become closely bonded very quickly. Many of us did not know one another before the trip however after two nights in the jungle we became friends who seemed like they had known each other for ages.

After this eye opening experience we made way to our home stay visits with local Costa Rican families in a middle-class neighborhood named Suerre. Each of us were paired up together in different homes within the neighborhood. The majority of us on the trip do not have strong Spanish language backgrounds. Walking into homes where practically no one spoke English was yet another obstacle that forced us students to depend on one another and learn quickly together. Needless to say, the homes were welcoming and inviting regardless of the language barrier. Each home made us a part of their family for the short time that we were there. Our experience at these home stays shed light onto the daily life of a Costa Rican and drew a picture of what life is like in the Suerre community.

Beginning today we have finally made it back to campus where we are residing in the student dorms. The dorms were a flashback to my freshman year – communal bathrooms, tight living quarters and optimal time to socialize. It was as if I had never left Stetson East.

These unique housing environments and unexpected challenges have made it extremely easy to meet and get to know my fellow Northeastern students on the trip with me. However, it has made it difficult to meet students who attend Earth University due to our ever changing lodging locations. I suspect that as the month continues we will have more opportunities of expanding our networks and meeting students from Earth University. Our Northeastern crew is a tight knit group that I am positive will continue to grow in flourish in our relationships. I am sure that the relationships we foster on this trip will be genuine and lasting friendships beyond our time in Costa Rica.

Welcome to Earth University

When we first arrived at Earth University it was a breath of fresh air. A private oasis, isolated from the bustling city of San Jose nestled into 8,000 acres of the Costa Rican rainforest. We spent the afternoon orienting ourselves with our surroundings before our first day  of orientation the following morning.

We began our orientation with Nico, the Director of International Affairs. He played a short introduction video to our small class of Northeastern students where we learned about the history and education model of Earth University. The university was founded 25 years ago  and initially funded by USAID. The goal of this university was to foster a democratic learning environment for students from lower socioeconomic statuses. USAID and the original founders believed that real change could only take place if we began to educate those in poorer communities and empower those individuals to invoke change within their own communities.

Earth University consists of 400 students from 44 different countries. The community is culturally and economically diverse. However, there is only one major, agro-economics. Students are given the opportunity to study agriculture through many different lenses and are later able to define their specific concentration in their third year of schooling. The three concentrations are renewable energy, horticulture and livestock. Each student is given the fundamental skills to become a generalist in each of those sectors and later become experts after they have declared their concentration.

In addition to Earth’s strong emphasis on agriculture and sustainability the school is extremely committed to entrepreneurship and community based work. 20% of the students who graduate from Earth University later create their own businesses in their own home communities. The university’s emphasis on community engagement and entrepreneurship inspires many of the students to take their education back to their home countries and create lasting change within their communities.

This is one of the many things that stood out to me during the orientation. Throughout my studies and time abroad I have found that the best way to build lasting and sustainable change is through community engagement. Therefore, I found Earth’s approach towards development and academia refreshing and uplifting.

I was also intrigued by Earth’s emphasis on enrolling students from lower socio-economic communities. Within the development sector experts are constantly talking about how education is one of the many solutions to alleviating extreme poverty. However, the problem always arises in which proper education is seldom accessible for those from lower income brackets. Earth University is an inspiring response to the educational needs of the many who desire a higher education. Approximately 85% of students are on some type of scholarship primarily funded by the MasterCard Foundation. This allows many students from small indigenous villages across the world to attend a school that they would otherwise not be able to attend.

Lastly, I found that Earth University’s orientation on cultural differences was far more progressive than most. For example, during our safety and precautions orientation the Director emphasized the differences of male and female courting practices between those from the U.S. and Earth’s diverse community on campus (Particularly individuals from Latin American  African citizens). Rather than pinning individuals from Latin America and Africa as poorly mannered or disrespectful our Director explained that what we say and do in one culture may be interpreted as far more than what we intended in another culture. As a result we as students should be extremely aware of how we interact with the opposite gender in order to avoid any miscommunication between the two parties.

Earth University’s consciousness of community engagement, diversity, and cultural awareness was a refreshing taste of what type of university Earth represents. It is a fresh perspective that has warranted plenty of reflection and change in behavior on my part. In just one week I have grown more conscious and more engaged in understanding the landscape of Earth University and Costa Rica as a whole. I look forward to the exciting adventures and experiences to come over these next four weeks.

Ending: Hansard Scholars Programme

Naneka Bakare, Traditional Summer 1 Handsard Scholars Program - View from the Shard


As my time in London comes to a close, I must say working in Parliament was the most rewarding, stressful, and exciting time in my undergraduate career thus far. I remember my very first day conducting research on an Early Day Motion and I recall one of my last days watching UK game shows with my supervisor for two entire hours. No day was alike and no moment was predictable. I completely loved and deplored work, and I say that knowing I would repeat my summer at British Parliament in a heartbeat. I developed my writing skills and understood how to best manage my time when it was necessary. I built my personal independence and confidence. My internship was full of those fight or flight moments but I made myself adapt and respond appropriately rather than allowing myself to falter. All of these personal triumphs are gifts that my internship placement granted me with and thus, my study abroad experience allowed me to grow in several ways.

It also influenced my future goals as I can now see myself working in politics upon graduation. Academically, I feel more knowledgeable in the British political establishment and will certainly continue studying political science. From my time in London, I found how trying yet, exciting the political grind can be and I think I’ve actually found my niche in public policy work.

Overall, living in London for the last few months allowed me to realize how independent, self-reliant, and confident I could be. This time on my own allowed me to discover myself and realize my many strengths and weakness. I surprised myself when I was able to budget my money and time throughout my 8-week trip and got to attend all the London events, tours, and excursions that interested me.

I navigated through my prior fear of failing to budget during my trip by just taking the leap in London, and managing my time and money to the best of my ability. Proper planning, discipline, and organization allowed me to overcome this former apprehension and actually afford the time and money to the locations I wanted to in London.

After studying abroad, I now view the world as a much larger place. Europe is very diverse and after visiting London, I had the opportunity to meet so many people from all parts of the world. I have a new perspective on English people, politics, culture, customs and contemporary topics. After this summer, I see the world overall as this large overwhelming place that is just waiting to be explored.

The single greatest benefit of studying abroad was getting to discover new places and adapt to new people in one of the greatest cities in the world. This allowed me to not only learn about the rest of the world, but also about myself and my abilities.

My favorite experience was visiting the Shard building in London, the tallest building in the European Union, because I was able to view the entire city of London. It was the most amazing sight I have ever seen during my London experience and allowed me to view all of the popular sights in the city, such as the Tower Bridge, the Tower of London, the London Eye, the River Thames, and Big Ben. This experience was a great way to put the entire city in perspective and really see how vast London really is.

The best advice I can give to future participants is to explore, explore, explore! A study abroad experience can go by too fast and you may feel like you are pressured for time. The best way to counter this is to spend all your free time walking out and about. Rather than sleeping in, watching TV or surfing the web, try your best to take a different way home each day and try a new restaurant each week because these are the real experiences you will remember forever. Don’t forget to take loads of photos!

I would certainly study in London again, especially during the summer, because there is an unlimited number of things to do and during my stay, I never ran out of new places to see. London is large, diverse, and is unlike any other city. In the summer, there are so many free events and tours and students from all over the world also studying abroad. Finally, London is a great location to access the rest of England and Europe and studying abroad there would allow me to rediscover one of my favorite cities and still visit so many places throughout my stay.

End of Week 5: CULTURE SHOCK

Naneka Bakare, Traditional Summer 1 Handsard Program

The most prominent cultural difference for me in London has been the centrist nature of British politics. As a parliamentary intern, I have come to notice that both the typical left and right wing parties in Parliament do not appear very extreme in their party platforms. Also, the British overall seem to be very moderate in political matters, preferring to produce positive outcomes rather than stick to party lines. Compared to American politics, this is monumental as the Democratic and Republican parties surely do not hesitate to remain as left and right as they can legitimately go. It was strange for me to experience and encounter several politicians who are centrists in the UK government.

As for culture shock, I went through a number of stages. At first, I actually was anxious and nervous about traveling to another country for a long period of time on my own but, by the end of the first week I had begun my “honeymoon” period. For the next couple weeks I was excited to continue my new adventure and see what this city had in stored. By the middle of my trip however I completely missed my family, friends, and home and could not wait to get back. This feeling subsided after about a week and finally I was well adjusted to the London life. Now that my study has come to a close, I know that I will be returning for the summers to come.

China – Field Trips, Museums and Landmarks,

Since one of our classes is solely devoted to cultural experiences, we’ve gone on a lot of field trips so far. One of my favorite field trips so far has been going to the traditional tea ceremony this past weekend and experiences the cultural tradition in tea pouring. It was very interesting to watch the intense process of tea making/serving in a traditional Chinese setting. However, though that has been one of my favorite field trips, my favorite landmark in Kunming is actually on our university campus. It’s not even much of a landmark but it’s a gorgeous traditional Chinese arch and well worth the view. I’ve included pictures below to show the tea ceremony and the arch.

The arch on campus that I love: a.k.a my favorite landmark

The traditional tea ceremony

We’ve done so many field trips so far it’s hard to remember them all and talk about them all. However, to name a few: an aromatherapy session, a tea ceremony, releasing the turtles in a Buddhist temple, visiting Flower City, making dumplings, and seeing a local museum. They have all been incredibly fascinating but very different. It’s been absolutely incredible seeing so many different parts of traditional Chinese culture.

Just a little landmark outside of the tea house

A tea house inside the local museum

The Buddhist Temple where we released our wishing turtles – mine was named Speranza (meaning Hope in Italian)