How many spanish students does it take to buy a SIM card?
Three, plus a computer with google translate, in our case. I'm not all that proficient in discussing SIM cards in English either, but Alanna, Tony and I were able to speak just enough Spanish to get Alanna a local phone number to use in case of emergency. When we started talking about the data plan, that's when the clerk had to pull out the big guns (i.e. Google Translate).
Here's a photo of Alanna (just quit her job in San Francisco to travel in Latin America for 3 months) and Tony (just graduated from college in Florida and looking for a spanish-speaking job in the hospitality industry) and I at the restaurant "Tenedor Argentina" (Argentine Fork) which is just across the street from the National Theatre. Hanging out with them has been great...they are roommates staying with a host family very close to mine, so we get to ride the bus together, figure out the meaning of the street signs together, and help each other cope with life in a different culture.
We also have a friend named Christina, a young doctor who is doing a volunteer internship at a hospital here each morning and attending private classes in the afternoon.
Most of our other classmates belong to a study-abroad group from a university in Florida. I've enjoyed chatting with their advisor, and have only had a chance to visit with a few of the kids. Many of them are really great. But others seem like they are definitely not paying their own way here...they seem more interested in partying than in learning spanish. Since our school is very close to the University of Costa Rica, there are lots of party spots nearby.
My host mom advised me to speak only Spanish during downtime with my classmates, because I'd learn faster that way than if we spoke English at lunch and other times. I've been trying to do that, but we often revert back to English. (I'll re-commit myself to do better next week). Some of them speak very little Spanish. I feel badly for them, and can see that they are struggling quite a bit...I translated for a girl the other day when she was trying to describe how she wanted to order her coffee, and she was very appreciative.
I once took a seminar about language learning where the teacher said that immersing yourself in a language environment can be counter-productive if you do it too early...it can be so overwhelming that people become discouraged and quit. I can see the truth of that here, and have been grateful to know enough Spanish to be able to get by and be able to offer a little help to my new friends.