Monteverde Host Family Interview

The Monteverde Cloud Forest of Costa Rica is home to the section of the gap year when students live in homestays. That is, independent living with a local family while exploring their culture and experiencing an apprenticeship in a particular skill during our trimester 1 ISPs. During my ten-day long homestay with a family of four, a happily married couple with both a son and a daughter, I decided to take the opportunity to interview them in order to better understand their role in our journey, as well as my own in theirs. The interview (originally in broken Spanish via Google Translate but translated and tweaked to better suit English) is as follows:winterline global gap year

Q: Why did you decide to start hosting travel abroad students?

A: Our family has actually been hosting students for almost 17 years. We have seen many types come and go, all participating in or working toward something new. It has always been a pleasure to meet people from new places as we don’t get to travel very much. It lets us learn more about the places they come from, and we enjoy teaching them about our home. We keep a photo album of all of the people we’ve hosted, and we enjoy adding to it.

At this point, we took a photo to add to the album and she showed me her past students.

Q: Have you ever had any problems with someone you’ve hosted?

A: Coming to a new place is a tough adjustment for many at first, especially when they don’t speak the language (this entire interview was conducted through Google Translate), so there are instances where we have had to ask our visitors to not to act a certain way so as to avoid trouble, however we are generally pretty open and accepting, and allow our visitors to be as independent as they please.

I can certainly vouch for this, staying with the family was a pleasure. They had very few rules and allowed me to do mostly anything I wanted. There was a lot of respect between us and it made for a very enjoyable stay.

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Homestay family

Q: How much do you know about Winterline and what we’re doing on our journey?

A: Very little, we were asked to provide a home for international students and that was about it. Of course, we said yes, but we would like to know more.

This made for good conversation; them not knowing too much allowed me to break the tension easily and tell them all about the amazing program Winterline has put together. They were very excited to learn more about a program they had never encountered.

Q: Would you ever hope for or allow your children to stay with a family abroad?

A: I think it would be a good opportunity, but I would never feel safe letting my children travel like that. I’m a mother first and foremost, always worrying. Maybe someday if the opportunity arises, we will talk about it.

My ISP during this time was learning to cook, so I asked this question on a whim:

Q: How would you like it if I cooked dinner one night?

A: Oh no, I don’t like anyone else to work in my kitchen. I appreciate the gesture, but let me take care of things like that.

She held true to this, always anticipating and accommodating every one of my needs without me even asking. A very lovely woman and mother to get to know, and I am grateful for everything she has done for me.

This interview was especially difficult to complete, as Google Translate is not a reliable means of communication in another language. It was enough to get the point across, but I feel as though myself and my host family missed the full scope of each other’s responses. The interview may have been more fleshed out had I spoken Spanish, or they English, but on the flipside I feel as though this was a very valuable outcome for myself as well as for future students who can now take these shortcomings into consideration. I’m glad it went the way it did, and learning about my host family brought us closer together and made my stay that much more enjoyable!

The Monteverde ISP Experience

Each student in Winterline completes two ISPs, also known as an Independent Study Projects, during their gap year. These are apprenticeships in which the participant learns a variety of skills, doing things like coffee farming to shadowing a local government. Our first trimester offered ISPs in the beautiful little tourist town of Monteverde located in the Puntarenas Province of Costa Rica. Definitely a highlight of the first trimester, myself and the other students of Squad 1 all loved our ISPs. Here are a few of the things we learned throughout our time spent in the Monteverde cloud forest.

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Monteverde Cloud Forest | Photo By: Whitfield Smith

My personal ISP was titled “Cooking Costa Rican Food”. Initially, I wasn’t sure what to expect as this had not been my first choice for ISP, but due to overlapping desires in the squad, this was the one I was given. And I can safely say I absolutely loved every second of it. Every morning for a week, I woke up and visited my teacher Karen’s house, where she taught me the recipes of local Costa Rican cuisine. Karen was a regular member of the local community, not some intimidating 5 star chef. I have never cooked anything before in my life, but Karen was such a wonderful teacher that every meal came out more delicious than I ever could have expected. And luckily so, because unlike the other students doing their ISP, I was cooking my own lunch rather than bringing one each day. Whether it was ceviche (raw fish cured in citrus juices), picadillo with tortillas (ground beef served similarly to a taco), or rice pudding for dessert, I enjoyed every meal and came away feeling more proud of myself and satisfied with the dish than I ever thought possible.

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Josh’s ceviche!
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Josh cooking picadillo

The real kicker? Karen couldn’t speak a word of English. I learned everything by watching and inferring certain things based on the way she gestured. I certainly picked up a bit of Spanish after this ISP, though only words that can apply in the kitchen. At least now I can read Spanish menus in restaurants a bit better. This ISP taught me so much about traditional dishes of Costa Rica, of cooking in general, some Spanish, and how to interact with a language barrier. I would absolutely recommend it to anyone, especially since as I said earlier, it wasn’t even my first choice and I couldn’t have had a better time with it.

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Josh and his teacher Karen

My squadmate, Jacob Rona, did the ISP known as “Reusing and Recycling Materials”. This title, while a bit unclear on what the ISP will actually consist of, certainly sounded interesting on paper, as we have been learning all about sustainability throughout trimester 1, and recycling is a huge part of sustainable living. This apprenticeship turned out to be one of my personal favorites as I would visit Jacob after cooking my lunch and I got to see him in action. It may have been the happiest I have seen him on this trip, and he’s the type of guy who is always smiling. During his ISP, he welded scrap metals and other materials together to create useable appliances such as candle and wine holders or small “toy” cars. His mentor, Memo, also spoke no English, but was a very energetic guy and had a certain love for the western genre, so everything they made together was cowboy themed. It looked like a lot of fun and I was very impressed with all the pieces he and Jacob made together and how practical everything they made was. I know that Jacob would recommend this one as well, he loved it so much that he had his pieces shipped home separately from him to gift to his family.

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Jacob showing off his welding tools
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Jacob’s wine bottle holder

Other Squad 1 ISPs included: coffee farming, bird art installations, photography, identifying edible plants, painting, mindfulness, intensive Spanish, baking, and sustainable farming. I never heard a single complaint about any of these apprenticeships, and I can easily say that overall, Monteverde was absolutely a highlight for Squad 1’s first trimester.