Summer is coming… and with that a new set of students

I was looking through my old emails and saw a post about writing in our blogs. Naturally, I decided to go back and read some of them. Reading these posts really made me reminisce about not only Costa Rica, but our BME 271 class specifically. We truly had a great class and atmosphere that I don’t think I’ve experienced in any other class besides this one. We literally had class for 3 hours everyday, yet I found each class to be engaging, interesting, and dare I say… really FUN! Most of us are in Libby’s imaging class, and we all communicate still, but I don’t think it’s the same. In just 6 weeks, I think we really all just connected very naturally.

As finals approach and the new set of students travel to Costa Rica, I am hopeful that next year’s class can match what we had. I hope that they become a tight knit group of students who are able to bond with not only each other, but also Libby and Lauren! I believe that you guys were the key to making us all feel so comfortable with one another and I hope that the next set of students feel that way as well.

I am going to stop writing because it is 2 in the morning, but I just wanted to share some of my thoughts. I don’t know if anyone will even see this post, but if you do, know that I really appreciate the time we all shared together!

Love you all and pura vida!


Ruta 59, Curridabat-La Lia


The La Lia bus on a busy day

As my last day in San Jose has arrived I have been pondering of all the ways my 6-week stay in Costa Rica has changed me. Among all the different experiences we lived, I have come to realize that the one that oddly colored my daily life here was using the public transportation. The daily rides from the CRLA to home in Curridabat, on the La Lia bus, have been so unexpectedly diverse from day to day. During the first week I felt that taking the evening bus home was a “necessary evil”. However, day after day I started noticing all the smiling and serene faces in the bus. After the second week, at a time when I started to comprehend increasingly more Spanish, I would try to guess what people were saying to each other and at times I would notice their facial expressions and hand gestures while they were speaking. It was fascinating to see how calmly and simultaneously very enthusiastically these people I didn’t know would describe everyday things to each other. Before leaving Athens, my dad told me “You know, Costa Ricans are considered to be among the happiest people in the world”, and these bus rides helped me realize that. From college students hopping on from the San Pedro area to doctors, physiotherapists, salesmen and housewives, I noticed that a very diverse group of people use the local buses, people with unique stories, thoughts and worries who share a vehicle for almost 30 minutes everyday, and produce dialogue, laughter, cries, sighs, the sweetest smiles and all sorts of emotions. Although I can’t explain it, wherever I looked in the bus the passengers’ faces always seemed to be hiding something they only knew, perhaps it was that secret to inner satisfaction and happiness my dad had mentioned. These rides helped me immerse myself more into the Costa Rican culture and what it really means to lead a laid-back life. By the time the CRLA shuttle bus started operating I had already fallen in love with the Ruta 59 local bus, thus, I had to keep on taking it.

An interesting Uber ride

I was finishing up some work at the Starbucks, as Javier pulled up the main entrance.

I got in and he greeted me with an “Hola! Que tal?”. For whatever reason, his question took me by surprise even though every Uber driver has greeted me in the exact same way. My nervous self just responded with “bien gracias!” then I silently put the seat belt on.

He directly asked me if I were tica, probably because I didn’t seem to look too tica with my Duke hoodie. I said no, and that I was Lebanese. Here I usually get the same answer from all Uber drivers “Oh that is far from Costa Rica”, either in Spanish, or a broken English with a heavy accent. It’s always funny how conversations sound exactly the same. After the nationality comment, we talk about the official language of Lebanon, and after that they comment about my Spanish and after that it’s probably about some random Costa Rican fact.

But then, he asked about my faith. I told him religion in Lebanon makes you doubt where you stand exactly when it comes to that topic. My dad is Sunni, my mom is Shia and my grandfather actually chose to get baptized as catholic when he was in his 40s. And as I explained a bit more about the religious conflicts and wars in Lebanon with my limited Spanish vocabulary, he started sharing more and more about his own values. I think this is the first time that I talk to an Uber driver who shares so much with such passion. He talked about his relationship with God, he talked about how he felt so different than people here. He explained that he felt most people around him walk around with blinkers or blinders like the ones they use for horses to try and prevent it from seeing whatever is around it or behind it. He said that people tend to forget to look up, or towards what mattered. At one point, I stopped talking and just listened to everything he had to say. He would smile with a big smile and laugh whenever he would say some witty then just continue with the flow of his thoughts.

The car stopped 20 min later. “It was great to meet you!”, “You too!”

I unlocked the entrance door of my padres ticos’ house as I hit on the 5 star rating. “Leave a comment” ……… “Javier is a great guy”.


El Fin

Tomorrow is our final exam, and I am going through a range of emotions right about now. I’m a little nervous for the test, but we’ve had the privilege of having such a great professor and TA, it can’t be that bad (at least that’s what I’m telling myself)! I’m exhausted; these 6 weeks have been A LOT to take in. And I am excited to go home to my family and friends. However, I am also sad that our time has come to an end. On some of the longer days, it felt like the time could not go by quickly enough. But most days and overall, it’s been hard to believe that the time has gone by so quickly. There really is a sense of tranquility and just appreciation of life here in Costa Rica that I adore and will miss so much. I consider myself truly blessed to have been able to participate in this program, and I am excited to see how it will grow in the future. I don’t have that many pictures of myself (not a fan of the camera), but I have many of the places and things we experienced as well as a lifetime worth of memories. I look forward to the day I am able to return to this beautiful country and appreciate all that it has to offer even more. But for now, back to studying!

Pura vida!

Adios al mejor país del mundo

The last few weeks have been busy, but I’m sad we’re almost at the end. We had a tiring trip to OTS last weekend, but we managed to get some strong calls for our analysis.

Recording at OTS

Orange-billed Sparrow Call

The true highlights of the trip have been unplanned. Getting lost in San José, having political discussions with Uber drivers, days on the beach, getting caught in the rain in a national park, and playing Uno until 1:00 a.m. in the middle of the forest have all helped make this trip unforgettable.  The staff at CRLA, especially Mariana, have been wonderful, and I cannot thank them enough for their work helping us learn Spanish and with navigating the country.

Mariposas en el Museo Nacional



Costa Rica, espero que nos veamos muy pronto.



So as our time in Costa Rica draws to a close, I would like to thank everyone who made this trip possible. I am so grateful for the experiences that I have been for fortunate enough to be a part of, in just a short six weeks. Costa Rica has given me a new perspective on life, taught me to speak Spanish, use engineering skills in situations I wouldn’t have initially found applicable, but most importantly it has provided me friends for life.

Thank you to Professor Malkin for directing such an incredible program, that I am so thankful to be a part of. I am already excited for next year’s students to experience what we have. Thank you to Libby for reciprocating my sarcasm on a daily basis, and for being such an incredible professor and person, you honestly made this class so fun (I didn’t know this was possible for engineering)!! Thank you to my Spanish class (Eugenio’s Dream Team) for making me laugh harder than I knew was possible, and for making everyone else envious that they weren’t a part of our class. Thank you to my fellow BME’s for dealing with my competitiveness during class games, as well as making engineering actually enjoyable. Finally, a massive thank you to every single person on this trip for the memories we have made that will last a life time. I look forward to continuing this ‘Pura Vida’ family back at Duke.

Until then, let’s hope finals aren’t as bad as we are all expecting!

Last day of classes

Today is our last day of classes, and our time in Costa Rica is coming to a close. I have experienced so many new things over the past six weeks and have gained so many new friends (mainly Olivia).  She threatened me so that I’d write this. I really do hate her sometimes but also love her at the same time. When we go back to Duke, I hope that I will stay close friends with everyone that I’ve grown close to here. It truly has been a wonderful time in Costa Rica, and I’m so appreciative of the fact that I was given the opportunity to study here. While my time in Costa Rica has been amazing, I am also ready to go home and be able to see my family again. Adios, Costa Rica!

Nuestro último fin de semana

Our time at Costa Rica has flown by, and sadly we just experienced our last weekend here. We have all experienced so much since arriving here, from visiting costal areas on both the Pacific and Caribbean side of the country, to trekking through a National Park in the biggest downpour of rain I have ever experienced.  My time here has been incredible, and the only thing I would change is the duration of time we get to stay here, I wish it was longer.

Despite being upset that our time is coming to an end, we made sure our last weekend here is one to remember. On Friday, Era and I decided to visit La Paz Jardín de las Cataratas. It required a very early morning, Ubering to the bus station at 5am, and catching our bus by 6am. Upon our arrival at La Paz, we were a little taken aback at how expensive the park cost for non-nationals, however once we left, we never questioned it again.

For those that know me, you are more than aware of how much I despise snakes. HOWEVER, the guide at the park was very insistent that he would get out a boa constrictor and that we would hold it. I must say it took a lot of persuasion, but eventually we did, and I still can’t believe it happened.

 Yes we were as terrified as we look.

After our crazy experience, we visited some little, old, Costa Rican house which gave us some traditional sugar cane tea, and sweet corn bread, as we sat in front of the fire on old rocking chairs. Finally, after a big hike down to the river, (with a few additional stops at the frog, monkey and jungle cat sanctuaries) we made it to the river with all the beautiful waterfalls. They were breathtaking, and very beautiful.

We topped of the day with some incredible costa rican food, the best casado dish I have ever tasted, in a restaurant looking over the mountains and waterfalls. Pura vida!


Please don’t make me go back to Duke next week!



Update on our program

Sorry to be slow with the uploads of information and pictures. My internet at both CRLA and at my homestay has been spotty at best so I’ve taken pictures but not tried to upload them lest I stay glued to my computer watching the upload bar tic up only to wait over an hour and never successfully upload a picture. Apparently internet is much better at La Selva and I am taking advantage of it!

The weeks have flown by super fast. Our spanish class took a field trip to the central mercado where we saw all manner of interesting Costa Rican delights and nary a tourist in site (except for us, of course). While we were walking, we encountered a rather large female statute that is supposed to give you good luck if you rub her butt, so Bob Malkin obliged as seen above! There we discovered a whole number of new fruits, some delicious, others not so much, but interesting and fun to try to new things! We found an ice cream/sorbet shop that had one flavor that has apparently been around for over 120 years! The flavor they picked that apparently could not be beat was a horchata type flavor. We saw chickens, ducks, birds, dogs all for sale. We saw a whole lot of different herbs that could cure you of any ailment. Here are the students and professor Malkin in the shop with all the herbs.

In addition to visiting the central mercado, we also stopped by the teatro and walked around China town, which really is just 1 shop where students bought ‘China tacos’ which were really just egg rolls that took about 20 minutes to cook.

We’ve been busy, but we have regular breaks and our students always take advantage of every break they get. Here are some shots of students hanging out in their free time during spanish break and class break where they usually take a moment to grab an empanada, some coffee or tea, and chat with friends in the lush paradise of the CRLA garden.

We’ve made great friends here in Costa Rica so far, as this picture of my daughter and her good friend, my homestay mother (Maybell Solis’) daughter. Friends forever!

La Selva day 2!

Woke up bright and early this morning for some more bird recordings and breakfast! The students had a late night last night, with them working into the middle of the night processing their sound recordings and putting together their report. By all reports, students slept well, though it is hot in La Selva, much hotter than it is in San Jose (though nowhere near as hot as it is in good old North Carolina!).

We had breakfast and then were off to check out the beautiful flora and fauna of the rain forest! We saw 2 sloths that were the most active I’ve ever seen a sloth, hanging upside down scratching itself. We saw a huge iguana perched high up in a tree, we got eaten alive by some very biodiverse mosquitos despite applying a liberal amount of bug spray (scourge of the environment apparently but given that we were literally covered in bites in a matter of minutes, necessary for all involved). And the students were able to record more bird sounds so hopefully will have a productive day of data processing! Pura vida!