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Talking with Ticos

Our first cultural immersion activity could not have come at a better time. I’ve been in San Jose for a little over a month now, and have been so busy with classes, excursions, and exploring the country that I haven’t had too much time to really interact and make friends with many Ticos. One of my professors actually gave us a mini-lecture today about how to get immersed in the culture and really experience the Tico lifestyle and “pura vida.” It was also a wake-up call that I only have a little over two months left here!

Myself with two other Ticos during the language tandem

Earlier tonight, we had our first language tandem with UMCA, another university in San Jose, Costa Rica. The idea of language tandems is for us to practice our Spanish, and for the Ticos to practice their English.  Many of the students have full-time jobs in addition to taking English classes at night, so they enjoyed getting a chance to practice their English skills one-on-one while helping us out. It’s also a great way to learn the little phrases of a language that are unique to each region of the world.


When you arrive at the language tandem, you are grouped with Ticos and are given a list of common questions to talk about. This month, the theme was Halloween and Las Mascadas, which is a Costa Rican tradition that can take place around the same time. For half of the time we spoke in English, and the other half we spoke in Spanish. I was surprised at how much my Spanish had improved in the short time I’ve been here, but it was also a relief to be on the other side of the language barrier again. While I’ve learned a lot in my time here and have definitely improved my fluency, it can be frustrating to want to speak opinions and questions and not know how to say them.

One of my favorite parts about the tandem was how relaxed the experience was. Even though we were all nervous in the beginning, it was much easier to make mistakes here, since they did not count in class and we are all trying to learn. No matter what level you may be at, the idea is to practice and make friends. The language tandem was also a great way to meet Ticos, and I will be keeping up with a few of them on Facebook and through email! If you have the chance to participate in a language tandem or exchange, go for it!

Kathryn Moorhead is a Summer 2013 Seville, Spain alumna, CEA Alumni Ambassador at Iowa State University, and a Fall 2014 CEA MOJO in San Jose, Costa Rica.


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