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Study Abroad: Costa Rica

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Welcome to Costa Rica!
Welcome to Costa Rica!

Hello and welcome to the Costa Rica Summer Program of 2011!  Every other summer since 1997, Mount St. Mary’s students have traveled to Costa Rica for a month-long Spanish immersion program.  This year’s adventure began on Tuesday, May 24 when nine Mount students landed in the capital city of San José.

Forester Institute
Forester Institute

Every afternoon on Mondays thru Thursdays, we took Spanish classes at Forester, a San Jose institute dedicated to teaching Spanish to foreigners.

Class
Class

We were divided into two small classes at the Forester Institute so that each lesson would be more personal.

Latin Dance Class
Latin Dance Class

We also took a very different type of class here-Latin dance! Forester offers them free to students. We all went once a week to learn some Salsa, Meringue, and Swing. Here we are smiling with our talented instructor, Sylvia. Check out the video for highlights from our dance lessons.

San Jose
San Jose

Forester also organizes daily cultural excursions for the students. Every morning before Spanish class, we would set out to see and learn about a new sight in the country. The first of these excursions was a tour of San Jose.
As we walked around the city, we immediately took notice of the unique plants and trees. Even in the middle of the busy capital, it is common to see beautiful rainforest vegetation.

Metal Buildings
Metal Buildings

San Jose is also marked by some unique buildings, such as this school constructed completely of metal.

San Jose National Park
San Jose National Park

At the city center is the National Park, distinguishable by this statue. The statue is reminiscent of a campaign in the 1800s that played a significant role in giving Costa Rica its national identity.

Costa Rican National Museum
Costa Rican National Museum

From there, it's just a short walk to the National Museum. This museum features many artifacts from the pre-Columbian civilizations of Costa Rica. But the building itself is of historical importance as well. It used to be the army headquarters before the Costa Rican government abolished its military in 1948.

Mystery Spheres
Mystery Spheres

Inside the museum are several stone spheres in all different sizes. One of the larger ones, shown above, was the first artifact we saw. Discovered in the southern region of the country, these nearly perfect spheres are perhaps Costa Rica's greatest mystery. No one quite knows how they were made or what they were used for.

Cartago Basilica
Cartago Basilica

Our next excursion with Forester was to the city Cartago. Cartago is one of the country's oldest cities and was the original capital before San Jose. However, it is mostly famous for this beautiful church, the Basilica of Our Lady of the Angels.

Basilica Interior
Basilica Interior

It was at this site that the Virgin Mary is believed to have appeared several centuries ago. As the story goes, a small figure of the Holy Mother carrying the Baby Jesus appeared on a rock in the woods. Multiple times it was removed from the rock, only to reappear there. It was determined that the Virgin wanted a church built in that spot, and the basilica was constructed. The original figure is housed in a shrine at the altar. The Costa Ricans are extremely devoted to the Virgin of the Angels, and many of them walk from the entrance of the church to the altar on their knees.

Charms
Charms

Above the main church are several small charms on display. These show different body parts, such as hands, feet, legs, and arms. These are brought to the Basilica by people who have been healed through the intercession of the Virgin of the Angels. The charms they bring represent the healed parts of their bodies.

Britt Coffee Plant
Britt Coffee Plant

Costa Rica is famous for its delicious coffee. Thus, it is only fitting that we learned about this important product. Another excursion with Forester took us to the Britt Coffee Plant. Britt is one of the country's biggest brand names. At this plantation, we learned everything there is to know about coffee processing.

Coffee Crops
Coffee Crops

First, we were taken to the area where the coffee plants are grown. The coffee plants are the short green trees at the front of the picture

Collecting Coffee Berries
Collecting Coffee Berries

During the harvesting season, coffee pickers go from plant to plant selecting the best coffee fruits by hand. Workers tie a small basket around their waist to collect the fruit. One of us was called up by our guides to demonstrate this process.

The Coffee Brewing Process
The Coffee Brewing Process

After the fruit is harvested, the skin is removed and the seeds inside are collected and roasted. They can then be brewed into delicious cups of coffee. Pictured here is a traditional Costa Rican coffee maker. Ground coffee is placed into the bag at the top and hot water is poured in. The water passes through the bag and into the cup, extracting the coffee flavor.

"Cupping"
"Cupping"

Finally, we learned about the "coffee cuppers," or the coffee tasters. Just as there are experts to taste wine, there are experts to taste coffee. Another of our students was called up to help demonstrate the proper coffee-tasting technique.

Sarchi - World's Largest Ox Cart
Sarchi - World's Largest Ox Cart

ur next short excursion was to a city called Sarchi. Sarchi is known for its wooden handicrafts, especially the hand painted ox-carts. Long ago, ox-carts were commonly used all around Costa Rica. People began to paint them in order to distinguish them. Over time, this practice turned into an art. Our first stop in Sarchi was to see the sight shown here-the world's largest oxcart!

Chaverri Oxcart Factory
Chaverri Oxcart Factory

We had the opportunity to visit one of the families that makes the typical ox-carts. We went to the Chaverri family business where we could watch the artists do some of the painting. Amazingly, every intricate design is done free-hand.

Grecia
Grecia

Before leaving the area, we stopped at another nearby town, Grecia, to see this church. This church is particularly interesting because it, like the famous school in San Jose, is made entirely of metal.

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