by Bill Schlichting
of Suzie Stadelman
Suzie Stadelman joined four girls from throughout the United States for a six-week stay at the home of a retired veterinarian in the Central American nation of Costa Rica.
The 17-year-old senior at Brookings-Harbor High School (BHHS) visited the country as part of the American Field Service (AFS) Home Stay Program. Stadelman was in Central America from June 23 to Aug. 8.
Her AFS experience began with a flight to Miami where 100 students bound for Costa Rica who were participating in the program gathered for an orientation.
In Miami, Stadelman learned about the Home Stay Program, community service and the Spanish language.
Fortunately for Stadelman, she had taken two years of Spanish at BHHS, but even then, "I learned quite a bit down there," she said.
Upon arrival in San Jos, the nation's capital, she had another orientation before traveling to Orofia, a town about the same size of Brookings near the Pacific coast. At Orofia, she became acquainted with Cecilia Alfaro, her host mother, and Kyrsten Caires and Stephanie Jones from California, Jessica Buckle from Pennsylvania and Carolyn Peterson from Minnesota.
Because Stadelman was participating in a summer program, and there was vacation time in Costa Rica, she did not experience attending school there. However, she did take cooking, arts and crafts and dance classes four days a week. On her three day weekends, she would travel around the country, mostly to San Jos or the beach.
During cooking classes, which took place at the house where she was staying, Stadelman learned how to make arroz con pollo (rice with chicken), a papaya dish and something that resembled a garden burger.
"I discovered I don't like papayas," Stadelman said.
For arts and crafts, she made handbags and a key holder. She decorated the handbag with an image of a palm tree and a bird.
Dance classes were held at a school. There she learned salsa, marengo and cumbian dances.
"I also learned I can't dance," Stadelman said.
Finding her way home wasn't easy either, she said, because, in Costa Rica, they don't have street names or numbers. To avoid getting lost, she carried a card with her for when she needed to get directions. The card had an address that read "Invu, frente a la pulperia de Yolanda Montero." Invu was the section of the city. The remainder described a house across the street from a little store owned by a woman named Yolanda.
On the weekends she traveled to Punta Arenas where she visited a college.
"It's nothing like the colleges here," Stadelman said. "I would have never guessed it was a college. It looked like it was in a warehouse."
She visited beaches in Jac and at Manuel Antonio National Park.
"At Jac, I played on the beach," Stadelman said. "The water was perfect. I heard there was great surfing on the beach."
One day she learned what she heard was true. There were big waves and about 50 surfers.
Stadelman thought the beach at the national park was nice, too, but was more intrigued by the monkeys and the huge iguana-like reptiles she saw.
A visit to Arenal Volcano was a disappointment, though. It was covered in clouds.
"Every once in awhile I could see a burst and a red flow at night," Stadelman said. "I couldn't get a good picture, but I will remember it."
On her visits to the nation's capital, she spent time at a shopping mall and was able to visit a discotheque.
"The age limit is 18, but they don't check gringo I.D.," Stadelman said.
She had a lot of fun salsa dancing, Stadelman said. "Once we stayed until 2 a.m."
At the discotheque she was offered drinks, but "I didn't know what it was, so I drank water."
Drinking the water in Costa Rica was no problem. She could drink it from the tap. This is not to say she never got sick.
Stadelman said she thought she had food poisoning, but after three days of symptoms, she was checked into a hospital in San Jos. After checking her, it was found she had contracted dengue fever. It is a blood virus she got from a mosquito, she was told.
Five days were spent in the hospital. Stadelman said she received excellent care there. She described the hospital room as a suite which was half the size of a house.
While in Costa Rica, she had the opportunity to meet students from Canada, Finland, Germany and Thailand. Most of these students were on the year-long program.
Stadelman said she is considering a year-long program in Italy. She owes her participation in AFS to her sister, Ann, who spent a year in Switzerland.
"My sister blazed a trail for me," Stadelman said.