"Wanna see the offices of the president of the country?" Fransciso asked. So we stepped out on the balcony of the glass-walled classroom where our private tutoring session is held, and he pointed out the simple gray utilitarian building with three flags in front. The president's modest home is also visible from the school, as are a few volcanoes and several other interesting things.
Sometimes I feel like Francisco is tricking me, because he'll start our private tutoring session by asking me what I did the night before, or if I have any questions about the country, and then we have such a fun and interesting conversation that I hardly realize that I'm in school and that I've just spent 2.5 hours conversing with him in Spanish. When I make mistakes, he'll just repeat what I said the way I *should* have said it. Later, we'll play games where he shows me a word and I must tell him the synonym or antonym. Or, he'll show me a verb and I have to tell him a related noun. It's fun.
"When Costa Ricans visit the United States, the first thing they want to see are the nice roads" he told me. "Oh! So smooth! So free of potholes!" Only after they've savored the roads do they bother to go see the tourist attractions. And when they return home, their friends always ask "How were the roads? Tell us about the roads!" (Here's a photo of the potholes near where my classmates Alanna, Tony, and I catch the bus).
Francisco's been teaching me about the economics of the country. He's been teaching me business terminology and information I'll need when I'll be living in a rural village in the Peace Corps.
Francisco's been helping me understand the culture. I told him about when I offered to give something to my host Dad who replied with "ahora" but then acted as if he didn't want it. "In Costa Rica", Francisco smiled, "the meaning of 'ahora' has changed so that 'now' actually means 'later'". He helped me figure out why everybody is using the formal version of you ("usted") here, even when they are talking to little kids or to their pets...it's just a Costa Rican thing, but is changing over time as Costa Ricans are exposed to movies made in other countries.
He gave me tips for dealing with taxi drivers. "The less you say about the address, the better. Just tell them the neighborhood you want to go to, and then once you arrive in the neighborhood, direct them from there"...this way you can avoid getting taken for a very long circular drive some taxistas do to jack up the price.
Best of all, he's teaching me jokes I can use to break the ice with little kids or others. Like "What has the eyes of a gato (cat), ears of a gato, tail of a gato, paws of a gato, but is not a gato? A gata! (a female cat)".
In addition to meeting with Francisco individually for 2.5 hours in the afternoons, I spend 4 hours each morning in the class of Maria Elena along with 3 other classmates. Maria Elena's class is where I learn the most, and where I get the opportunity to review the grammar rules and learn new words through her explanations of them in Spanish. This week, we've been reviewing the present tense, and so Maria Elena gives us funny comic strips and then asks us to describe what is happening. She assigns us to give presentations, and gently reviews the grammar rules when she notices that we are consistently breaking them. She does all of her teaching in Spanish, and I've been grateful to know enough to be able to follow her lessons.
On our first day at the school, they interviewed each of us for about 15 minutes, in Spanish, to undersand our capabilities and then divided us into small classes based on our capabilities. I'm in a high intermediate class, where once we review the basics of the present tense, we'll spend most of our time working on the other tenses (past, command, etc). I'll have the same three classmates (who are all from a Univeristy in Florida doing a study-abroad program here) until they return home in three weeks. After that, my classmates will likely change every week as the school evaluates my progress and moves me with different groups based on my learning.
At the end of the day, I'm totally exhausted...I'm pretty sure thinking in another language burns more calories than thinking in your own language. When I was in my 3rd sememester of Spanish at Salt Lake Community College last fall, I interviewed a man who cleans the light-rail trains for an assignment, and was grateful that every 15 minutes a new train would arrive for him to clean, giving me a 7-minute break to recuperate from 7 minutes of talking. So, to be in Spanish-only classes for 6 hours a day and then surrounded by the language the rest of the time is *intense*. But, it's an great kind of intense, because every day when I'm better able to understand what's going on around me, I feel a great sense of satisfaction and progress.