Lisa Burstein

This Be Where I Blog

Help Bring a Free Library to Palo Verde Costa Rica

on October 8, 2012

One of my very good friends Cassandra has spent the past year teaching English for WorldTeach in Costa Rica. During her time there, she noticed the need for a library in one of the communities where she visited. Please consider donating to her cause.

She is very passionate about libraries and wants to start a community book exchange there. She hopes to accomplish this by mounting a Free Little Library (a small structure to house the books) in the center of town and stocking it with books from the International Book Project. Please help us bring this innovative, community-buliding book exchange to a rural community with little access to books.

I’ve asked her questions about her experiences in Costa Rica below.


1. What was the best part of your time teaching in Costa Rica?

The best part of my time teaching in Costa Rica has been all the great friendships I’ve made with my fellow teachers. There is something extraordinary about realizing that there are only 18 other people on Earth having the exact same unique experience at the same exact time. Even after we go our separate ways I imagine that we will be bonded for life.

When things are tedious or difficult at our sites we’ve been able to lean on one another. A simple 30 minute conversation with another teacher can make everything better, or at least get you through another day. During a hard week, the thought of escaping to another teacher’s site or meeting up for a weekend get away, is the only thing that gets me through. But, we are also together through the good times too. We’ve taken part in numerous cultural events and even organized our own flash mob. We share in each other’s joys and hardships, because we understand them.

Most of all, my fellow teachers help me keep everything in perspective. When our students are crazy and our host families don’t understand us, they remind me that things will turn around tomorrow and that, oh yeah, we live in beautiful Costa Rica. How can anything ever be that bad when we are surrounded by such natural beauty?

2. What has been the hardest thing to get used to?

Well, I’m an only child and I’ve lived alone for many years, so living with a host family has been the most challenging part of my year. My host family is very kind and very respectful of my need for alone time, but it is very difficult to have much quiet time here. Yes, I have my own bedroom, but even with the door closed it is easy to hear everything that everyone is doing – the walls are very thin.

I think culturally, Ticos are used to living with less personal space. Many of them share a bedroom with a sibling when they are growing up and a lot of times a large family will share one bathroom. They are trained to be heavy sleepers; Ticos make a lot of noise in the morning even if someone is still sleeping. They will turn on loud music, they will shout at one another across the house and they will make quite the commotion in the kitchen as they make breakfast.

Admittedly, it is good for me to learn how to live with other people. I have been forced outside of my comfort zone time and time again. When my natural inclination has been to have some quiet time in my room, I often force myself to sit in the living room and socialize. When I want to spend an hour in the bathroom showering and grooming, I make myself take a 5 minute cold shower. When I want to eat all the cookies for my daily snack, I don’t because I know there are four other people in the house who may want a snack.

Sharing and socializing are things most of us learn in Kindergarten, but I’ve been able to forget these lessons as an adult. It’s been a good growth experience. I’m definitely glad I purchased some ear plugs for those loud early mornings though.

3. How do you think a free library in Palo Verde would improve life for the community there?

There is little cultural interest in reading outside of school and I think that is due to three factors: 1. Books are very expensive , 2. libraries aren’t easily accessed and their lending rules are very restrictive – you can only read books there at the library, instead of taking them home and 3. Ticos aren’t used to associating reading with pleasure as the only books they usually read are text books, which can be rather dry.

I have a small library in my classroom that the students get very excited to read during down time. I mean, REALLY excited – if I forget to offer that as an option to them when they are waiting for other students to finish an activity they take the initiative to ask if they can read. That is always surprising to me, but it makes me really happy to see them having so much fun reading. I have one Halloween book that makes “spooky” noises as you turn the pages – they’ve actually been fighting over that one lately and I have to make them take turns and calm down. Who knew that books could cause such a frenzy in a culture where people supposedly don’t like to read?

So, I think if I am able to make books available in a venue Palo Verde can easily access, that I can help nurture this interest in books that my students already have. I am hoping that having adult books available will help reignite an interest in books that many of the adults here may have lost along the way. I think this would improve life for the people of Palo Verde not only because they will have access to another form of entertainment, I think it will also get them excited about learning more. For many people, once you get them reading, making sure to offer them subjects that may speak to them, it is really just a jumping off point that leads to them seeking out knowledge in other forms. I feel that this thirst to learn can only be a good thing, leading to individual self-improvement and probably more.

4. What is the craziest thing that happened to you while you were there?

I was waiting for a bus on the highway.  I’d been waiting about 30 minutes and it was pouring down rain.  Suddenly, a silver SUV pulled over and honked.  Against my better judgement and the advice of my supervisor, I decided to get in.  It was weakness, laziness and impulsiveness all rolled into one.  I quickly realized that the older “gentleman” who’d picked me up was wasted.  I could smell the liquor and I could see its result in the way he was swerving down the winding road from my site into Cartago. Luckily, he was so drunk he couldn’t drive very fast – we were crawling along at a snails space. He proceeded to ask me if I had a boyfriend and if I like to drink.  I lied and said I had a boyfriend back home; he responded by saying I didn’t have one here though, right?  I told him I didn’t drink, and he actually said, but what about when you do, how much do you drink?  It was like he had a checklist of all the things we’d been told that men would ask us here and was following it verbatim.  We finally reached Cartago and he dropped me off without incident.  I could

only shake my head and laugh.  Luckily, he was a mostly harmless old man, but I learned my lesson and I’ve refrained from hitchhiking on the main road.

5. What will you miss most when you leave?

So, while it drives me crazy at times, most of the time I love the laid-back attitude of Costa Rica. It can be frustrating when I’m trying to get something done in a timely manner or if I want to make plans. There are very rarely a sense of urgency or timelines here.

But, honestly it has been a refreshing perspective for me. Most of the time back home we are always GOING, GOING, GOING. We don’t take a lot of time to just relax and enjoy the view. Americans always need to be doing something. We live and die by deadlines; we kill ourselves to get things done quickly, letting sleep and healthy eating fall by the wayside. Work is king and vacations are few and far between.

Here, especially in the countryside where I live, there is a lot less to fill your day. I teach four hours a day and maybe spend some time after school planning for future classes. After that the day is mine and I’ve felt stressed at times trying to fill all these empty hours with something to do, like I would back home. I’m learning to enjoy these gentle pauses, the long winding hours where I have little else to do but sit and enjoy the view. I used to be stressed by this lack of “something to do”, but I’m now grateful. It is a blessing to be able to relax and enjoy this life. I am perfectly happy to sit and do nothing. I am in fact content to sit and do nothing – I know when I am home that I won’t have many moments like these and I’m thankful that I’ve had this chance to breathe, if only for this short year.

One response to “Help Bring a Free Library to Palo Verde Costa Rica

  1. […] The title says it all. You should read Lisa‘s book Pretty Amy, it’s very funny and real. She also has a new book coming out in 2013, it’s called Dear Cassie. Hmmm, my name is Cassandra and I went by Cassie as a little girl. Coincidence? I think not, but I’m completely narcissistic. Hey, look at me, look at me. I’m only sort of kidding. […]

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