28 July 2010

it's the most wonderful time of the year!

Isn't this picture just the cutest? I love how eager the kids look as they're running for the bus. Hmmm, I wonder if there's cake waiting for them on the bus or something. In my experience, kids aren't usually quite this excited to get back to school.

Even if the kiddos aren't super pumped to get back to school, I always am! While I was visiting my parents over the summer and saw the back-to-school announcements on the marquis signs outside of my old schools, I got really excited to set up my classroom and for school to begin. Does that make me weird? Yeah, I thought so.

The kids arrive next Wednesday, and I can't wait to meet my new fourth grade friends! In the meantime, I've been learning my way around the school and setting up my classroom. Here's a quick tour:

Welcome back to school! This is the elementary building.

Part of the coffee plantation. The beans from these plants are harvested and roasted, and the coffee is served at special events.

Half of a sculpture outside the cafeteria...

...and the other half of the sculpture.

Check out the view from behind the school! The buildings you can [kind of] see in the background are part of downtown San Jose.

Entrance to my classroom

Classroom library and desks, just waiting for students to arrive

Get those pencils sharpened...it's just a few more days now!

Kids running to bus image via.

26 July 2010

movin' on up, to the east side

I've pretty much finished settling into my apartment. I channeled my inner Jeffersons-self and found an apartment in Sabanilla, a town that overlooks the East side of San Jose. There are a few things that I need to pick up from a general-type store, and I'm still waiting for a few boxes to make it through customs, but I expect to have all of those things by the end of the week.

Here are some pictures of the view from my apartment's windows and of the front yard/garden area:

As you can see, it's super green here, partly because it's the middle of the rainy season. It storms at least once a day, but that seems to happen in the middle of the day, when I'll be at work.

I started work today, as well. My co-workers seem really nice, and the school is beautiful. I'll post pictures of the school tomorrow. For now, I have to run to the grocery store to get a few things before the next thunderstorm rolls in!

Jeffersons image via.

having internet is the bomb.com

Hi friends! I'm very excited to announce that I made it safely to Costa Rica, have gotten settled in to my new home and work, and that I finally have an internet connection in my apartment! I apologize for my long absence, but I did write a number of posts during my unintended hiatus, which I will be publishing over the next week or so. Thanks for bearing with me!

Image via.

25 July 2010

leavin' on a jet plane

Do you ever sit there wondering, "What on earth am I doing?" That's pretty much where I am right now. I'm sitting in the Denver airport, waiting for my last flight to Costa Rica. I am really excited, but kind of freaked out right now about moving away from what has been my life for the last few years.

En route from New York to Costa Rica, I stopped in Texas for a friend's wedding, which was beautiful and completely wonderful. Along with seeing my friend so happy, it was great seeing so many of my good friends right before I left.

Getting packed before the wedding was amusing. Because I was going to the airport straight from the wedding, I needed to have everything completely ready to go. I had to fit everything--we're talking all of my clothes, shoes (including bulky rain boots), bedding, pillows, etc.--into only four suitcases. I got a bunch of Space Bags to cram everything into (Space Bags are those amazing things that you stuff and then suck out the air with a vacuum cleaner--you can take three times as much stuff!), but it just didn't seem like everything would be able to fit. I have to give mad props to my friend J here. While I tore around my friend S's apartment like a lunatic, trying to grab every last thing, flinging myself onto my suitcases to try to zip them up, and wailing that my things wouldn't fit, J calmly analyzed the size and shape of my suitcases and rearranged the placement of the different-sized Space Bags to ensure that everything would fit. I'd like to think that if our roles were reversed, I would have been able to help J in such a way, but that's probably not true. I must admit, I did not believe it could be done, but between J's guidance and the sheer amazingness of the Space Bags, we managed to squeeze all of my things into my suitcases. [Note: This is not a paid review for Space Bags.]

The morning after the wedding, I went out for a delicious breakfast with four friends, and then they dropped me off at the Houston airport for my big move.

The flight from Houston to Denver was pretty great, and inspired me to choose the picture at the beginning of this post. However, the picture is a little misleading because: A) I didn't fly Delta, and B) There was no giant baby riding on top of my plane. But anyway, my flight was great in several ways. First, the lady who checked me in at the Frontier Airlines counter didn't charge me the $100 fee I should have paid for checking two extra bags on the plane, which was a lovely surprise. When does that ever happen? I mean, cha-ching! Second, the flight attendant gave me free refreshments and video access because I happened to be sitting in row entirely occupied by unaccompanied minors. Not quite sure how I ended up there, but I really didn't mind. My seat neighbor and I totally bonded when the air conditioning kicked in just before takeoff, and the colder, foggy-looking air started billowing around the cabin. (The captain said it had something to do with the humidity in Houston.) We started talking about the weird-looking air, and as the flight progressed, we had a nice chat about Hannah Montana, Bratz dolls, and the joys of going home after being on vacation, before settling in to watch Miley Cyrus fave The Last Song. Overall, I'd give my experience with Frontier Airlines five stars. [Again, not a paid review.]

So now, I'm just chilling in Denver after my flight from Houston, waiting for my flight to Costa Rica. Wish me luck!


Ok, I made it! I arrived in San Jose a little before 6 a.m., and made it through all the official business quickly. Other than the man beside me asking if I wanted to pray with him for the plants of the world and demanding shrilly to be served a locally-produced meal (um, locally to where, buddy? We're covering a distance of over 2,000 miles here), the flight was pretty uneventful. Afterwards, while I was retrieving my suitcases from the baggage claim, the last remaining handle on one of them ripped off (apparently, it's been through the airlines a few too many times), but a man nearby helped me snag it from the carousel. Immigration went smoothly, and the man at customs barely glanced at my bags.

After clearing through customs, I met the school director and another man who works at my school. They helped me schlep all my bags to the van, drove me to my apartment, and left me with some groceries to get me through the first few days. As we traveled by amazing mountain scenery, I had to remind myself a few times that I live here now. I've been here only a few hours, but I've unpacked and set up everything in my apartment. The apartment has big windows that let in a lot of light (which might not be my favorite thing early in the morning, but is great most of the time), and it came fully furnished, which makes getting settled in so much easier. I have a good feeling about where I'm living and I'm looking forward to starting work and meeting my colleagues tomorrow!

Image via.

23 July 2010

road trip re-cap

After packing up all of my belongings and getting my work visa paperwork taken care of, I didn't have much time between wrapping up the school year in Texas and moving to Costa Rica. However, I did have time for a sweet road trip from Texas to New York, and even got to hang out in New York for a bit before moving. Here are some highlights from the summer:

Driving to San Antonio to hang out and go tubing with my friend SK. Never thought I would see a zebra running free through a field in south Texas!

Checking out the steam at Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas

touring the world's longest underground cave at Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky

admiring the views at Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee

wandering through the swamps at Congaree National Park in South Carolina

visiting my extended family in North Carolina...

...and making faux-hamburger cupcakes for our massive annual family reunion/Fourth of July picnic combo

avoiding the bears at Shenandoah National Park in Virginia

enjoying the company of old friends

sailing on Cayuga Lake, where I grew up

cooling off at one of the hometown waterfalls

taking a wine tour on beautiful Seneca Lake (in the Finger Lakes region, right next to the lake I grew up on)

and heading back to Texas for one last weekend of fun at my friend SK's wedding before moving waaaay South!

Congratulations, SK and SK! Costa Rica...here I come!

22 July 2010

background check: part 3

Remember how I said getting my birth certificate apostilled and authenticated was going to be pretty simple? Yeah, I know. I think we've all realized by now that these things are never exactly simple. But I was so hopeful for a while. Originally, I had my sister express mail my birth certificate from New York to my friend's apartment in Texas, so that I could pick it up on my way to Austin and get it signed, sealed, and delivered at the Secretary of State's office in preparation for going to the Costa Rica consulate in Houston. However, when I got to the Texas Secretary of State's office, they informed me that they can't apostille documents from other states. In retrospect, this seems like a huge no-duh on my part. I guess I just thought you could take these things to the Secretary of State/Consulate that have jurisdiction over the state you currently live in. Silly me.

This was starting to feel like The Land Before Time movie empire.

I mean, we all loved the first one, but I don't think we needed them to make 11 (12?) more of these bad boys... Similarly, I understand that these work Visa processes are complicated, but I could have done without quite so much red tape. If the process had been clearly outlined somewhere, say, in a checklist format, that would have been super. Alas, it was not, but I figured it all out in the end, and ultimately, I guess it's comforting to know that criminals can't just skip out of the country and get a [legal] job overseas.

So anyway, once I realized my misunderstanding, I hopped online to rush order me some birth certificates from the NY State Department of Vital Records (I ordered an extra one just in case). Happily, they were waiting for me when I got to my parents' house, and the day after I arrived in Ithaca, my mom and I road tripped it up to the Secretary of State's office in Albany to get my birth certificates apostilled. Now, all that was standing between me and my work Visa was the authentication of this packet of papers by the Costa Rica consulate in New York City.

Word on the bureaucratic street was that this authentication could be done through the mail. I just needed to send in the required documents, my payment, a letter describing what I needed, and a self-addressed, stamped envelope for them to return the documents to me. I wanted to verify that I was sending the correct items, but when I called, I just reached a voice recording telling me to look at their website for all the information I could need, so I sent an e-mail to double-check. When they didn't respond for a few days, I decided to send in the packet as it was, as I had to leave for Costa Rica in just over a week. However, I did tuck in a note that requested that they call me or e-mail if there were any problems, rather than returning the documents to me un-authenticated.

Predictably, two hours after I express mailed the packet, I received an e-mail saying that for the payment, I could not send a check, but instead had to go to the Bank of America, make a deposit into their account for the required amount, and send the bank deposit receipt to them in lieu of an actual payment. D'oh! Of course! I should have remembered this requirement from my experience in Houston! I dashed off a reply explaining that I had sent a check in error, but would be making the deposit right away and would fax the receipt for immediate confirmation, after which I would express mail the original receipt to their office. I did all of these things and sat back to wait. The next day, my self-addressed, stamped envelope arrived from the consulate, feeling strangely light...yes, my documents had been returned, un-authenticated, for lack of proper payment. Sad day.

I received my original documents on a Friday, and I was leaving early the next Thursday, so it was officially CRUNCH TIME. Cut to me waking up at 3:00 a.m. the following Monday to catch the first bus to New York City. After an uneventful 5-hour ride on the Shortline (FYI, it's also referred to as the "Snortline," so you can never be too sure of what you'll find on those rides), I arrived in NYC and took the short walk from the bus station to the consulate.

When I arrived at the consulate, the woman I spoke with was very apologetic about the confusion and inconvenience of the whole situation. I was worried that my order would not be processed because I only had a copy of the bank deposit receipt with me, but she had saved the original at the office for me, so that worked out. I went in hoping that I could just get the official stamps and head back to Ithaca, but learned that that would be impossible, as I did not have an appointment with them. Luckily, the post office was just two blocks away, and so after narrowly avoiding being hit by one of those cycling couriers, I managed to procure a pre-paid express mail envelope for them to return my authenticated documents to my parents' house.

With my fingers and toes crossed that my documents would make it back to me in time, I caught the 12:30 bus back to Ithaca, and arrived just 13 hours after leaving. Tuesday came...no envelope. Wednesday came...envelope! And so, on the very last day before I moved, I received my last documents for my work Visa.

Thus concludes the Trilogy of the Background Check.

Images via and via.

15 July 2010

one day starts today...

Have you seen this article about some of the new teachers in Teach for America's (TFA) 2010 corps, from Monday's edition of the New York Times? If you're unfamiliar with TFA, the article gives a little background on the program. Five years ago, I began teaching with Teach For America, and although it was a very tough two years, I can't say enough good things about my experience and the people I met because of this program.

Tomorrow is the last day of training for the 2010 corps members at the TFA's institute in Houston. Along with completing my own initial training at the Houston institute, I have worked on institute staff over two summers as a corps member advisor (CMA). As a CMA, I got to work with new teachers by reading and editing their lesson plans, and observing and providing feedback on their teaching. One part of observing their teaching involves talking to the students to check their understanding of the material they are supposed to be learning. Last summer, there was a completely adorbs little friend named Zahaira in one of the fourth grade classes I was observing. She always said hilarious things and furthermore, she would waggle her head and peer over her glasses while talking, à la this feisty dame (minus the angry scowl, of course):

Zahaira's particular brand of sass was right up my alley, and needless to say, I loved interviewing this girl while observing her class. During a lesson on matter, I quietly walked over to her to see how she was doing with the material.

Our conversation went as follows:
Me: Hi, Zahaira. What are you working on today?
Zahaira: Matter...everything's matter. This pen is matter. This paper's matter. That prize bucket is matter. Even that girl over there who always watches The 16 Show is matter.

["That girl over there" gives Zahaira a look. Zahaira is unfazed.]

Zahaira: What? You do always watch The 16 Show, and you are matter.
Me: [stifling laughter] Great, so you're learning all about matter. So tell me, what are your goals in this class?
Zahaira: I don't know...like, work hard, get smart?
Me: Awesome...are you working hard to get smart?
Zahaira: Oh yeah. [dramatic pause] Oh, and see that desk? That's matter too.

Being a first year teacher is hard. Although my first year was a while ago, I distinctly remember feeling completely lost and like nothing I was doing could make any difference. So, to all new teachers...let Zahaira's words be a reminder that what you do does, in fact, matter.

Images via and via.

14 July 2010

i get so emotional baby...

...every time I think of you. Is anyone else a big fan of that song, and/or Whitney in general? I totally love her, especially in pics like these:

Hott. I'm digging those high-waisted pants of hers. Anyway, as excited as I am for my upcoming move, I've also started getting all sentimental about leaving my family, friends, and the great places I've lived. Naturally, I've been turning to online episodes of Glee and The Bachelorette during these trying times.

Also, I've received many e-mails containing well-wishes from my 6th grade friends, which have helped a lot. As much as I love having the summer off, the e-mails from my students have reminded me how much I love teaching, and I can't wait to meet my new 4th grade friends in a few weeks.

One that I received yesterday read:

Subject: re
Body: You're going to Costa Rica I'm going to Chicago it is going to be so much fun. -Elvira

Another one, from last week, read:

Subject: Hello mis L it is Fernanda how are u have a great summer and a good life
Body: Yes mis i would be gladso you could send me pictures. I am glad you were my homeroom teacher you are a great teacher and I hope I see you in life thank youmis L thank u for teaching me...mis L I hope you get there soon and hove a good time at COSTA RICA [insert bouncing smiley face icon here]

So presh. However, (and I mean this in the best possible way), I am now realizing how much I need to insert more grammar/writing instruction into my science lessons in the future. Maybe I'll even throw in a letter-writing lesson or two. I'm also realizing that although things like e-mail, Facebook, Skype, etc. can lead to wasting time, ultimately I'm glad we have them to help us stay in touch with each other.

Image via.

13 July 2010


Since arriving at my parents' house in Ithaca, NY, I've been alternating between relaxing by enjoying the beautiful scenery and seeing to the last details that need to be taken care of before I leave for Costa Rica. I've already gotten all of the required vaccinations (there were nine, in case you wanted to know), found someone trustworthy to look after my fish Louie, and arranged to vote by absentee ballot while I'm gone. After all, I've gotta uphold my civic duties, even from abroad.

The last big thing that remains is to get everything packed. It's kind of like packing for summer camp, but a lot more intense. Initially, I planned to ship most of the belongings I would take with me. Then I went to the post office and discovered how expensive it is to ship parcels overseas. It seems the USPS recently eliminated the first class shipping option to overseas destinations, so everything must be sent priority rate or not at all. We're talking $100+ per medium-sized box. At that rate, it just wasn't worth it to me, so I decided to limit what I was taking to that which would fit into four suitcases, and then I moved the rest of my things into a storage unit. And by "I moved," I mean "I hired burly men to do the heavy lifting."

Luckily, I have some contacts in Costa Rica who are giving me the lowdown on some things that are essential to bring, either because they are impossible to obtain or ridiculously expensive in Costa Rica. Over the past few weeks, I've been basically holding auditions for what I will take with me. Ultimately, deciding what stuff will make it and what stuff will be cut has been really good for helping me focus on why I'm making this move and what is important to me. I've heard that a big reason people move abroad is to simplify their lives, and while that is not the main reason I'm making this transition, it's certainly a side effect, so to speak.

Some things that I'm definitely leaving space for include:
1. bug spray with DEET
2. sunscreen
3. waterproof hiking sandals
4. camera
5. books
6. photographs

I'd love to know...what would you make sure to bring if you were packing to move overseas?

Image via.

11 July 2010

background check: the sequel

Whew! After the last few incidents surrounding obtaining the papers I need to work in Costa Rica, I decided to make one last effort to get my background check clearance letter from my local police station. When I arrived at the local precinct, I entered a little booth and found myself surrounded by strange mirrors and facing a phone marked with a sign that read, "Please answer phone when it rings." ??? The phone did ring a few minutes later, giving me a chance to explain my errand. In doing so, I learned that the woman who is in charge of printing the letters had decided to return from vacation, but that the letters can't be printed on Mondays. Obviously. I was told to return the next day.

Fortunately, I did manage to get my clearance letter printed early Tuesday morning and hit the road, headed for Austin, which is about six hours north. Unfortunately, when I got to the Secretary of State's office in Austin, I learned that neither the fingerprints I had taken during my nighttime visit to the Mission jail, nor the clearance letter I had printed in Palmview are accepted at that office. I'm still not entirely sure why, but I think it had something to do with the officials who had produced those documents not being in their records, or something like that. Anyway, by that point, I had pretty much adopted a "Smile and nod" policy in order to preserve my sanity, and I just rolled with it when I was sent to the Austin Department of Public Safety to get re-fingerprinted so that another (third) background check could be run.

(Just for the record, my background check came back totally clear. All three times. In case you were wondering.)

For an extra fee, I was able speed up the processing and pick up my papers the next day. Despite this quick turnaround, I had to change my road trip plans a little and scrap going to White Sands and Palo Duro Canyon, because I had to stay in the Austin area longer than expected. Ah well, another time. Luckily, my friend S, who lives in San Antonio, was able to take me in during my time of need.

With the results from my most recent background check in tow, I returned to the Secretary of State's office, and received the required "apostille", which is basically a letter/stamp/seal thing that certifies that the document is authentic. Victory!

From Austin, I continued on to Houston, where I needed to visit the Costa Rican consulate to get my apostilled background check "authenticated". I distinctly remember thinking en route to the consulate, "I'm so relieved that this is the last stop I need to make for this document!" Oh, how young and naive I was.

Here is the transcript of my visit to the consulate:

Me: Hello, I'm here to get my Texas background check authenticated so that I can obtain a Visa to work in Costa Rica.
Lady: Ok, have you made the $40 deposit at Bank of America (BoA) yet?
Me: (confused) No, I'm sorry, I wasn't aware that I needed to do that. I have $40 right now; should I pay you here?
Lady: No, we can't accept payments here. Here's a deposit slip. Take this to the BoA around the corner and bring back the receipt, and then we can take care of the documentation.
Me: Ok, thank you. While I'm out, is there anything else I should take care of to facilitate this process?
Lady: No, that's all.
[I follow the lady's instructions and finally find the BoA after a few turns, a trip around a traffic circle, a U-turn, etc.]
Me: Hello again. Here's the bank receipt, and here are my papers. Is there anything I need to fill out?
Lady: (rifling through my papers) No...hmmm, where's the xerox copy of your background check and apostille?
Me: I'm sorry, I thought I had to provide original documentation only, so I don't have a xerox copy.
Lady: Yes, but we like to keep a xerox copy for our files. There's a Kinkos around the corner where you can make the copies.
Me: Oh, I see. Well, actually, I have two original copies. Would that be acceptable?
Lady: I guess so. All right, you can pick up your papers on Wednesday.
Me: I was told on the phone that the papers would be mailed to me.
Lady: Fine. Where's your self-addressed, stamped envelope?
Me: (long pause) I'll be back.
Lady: There's a UPS store around the corner.
[After driving "around the corner" for about 15 minutes, I admit to myself that I can't find the UPS Store. But then I remember that I have legal-sized envelopes, as well as many stamps, buried among all of my worldly possessions, currently heaped in my car...it's just a matter of finding them. Miraculously, I do so, and affix an entire book of stamps to the envelope. There's no way this baby's getting sent back to the consulate for insufficient postage.]
Me: Hello again. Here is my self-addressed, stamped envelope.
Lady: Ok, you're all set. You should receive your documents in a week or so.

And would you believe it? When I got to my parents' house after my road trip, the envelope with my authenticated documents was waiting for me! Now, I just need to get my birth certificate apostilled by the New York Secretary of State and authenticated by the consulate in New York City...

Image via.