Students preserve culture, stories in Costa Rica

The Media School Report • Nov. 29, 2016
Media School students
Fourteen students visited Costa Rica with The Rich Coast Project, which is dedicated to preserving stories. The trip was part of a service-learning initiative through The Media School. (Audrie Osterman | The Media School)

Fourteen students spent Thanksgiving break working on a service project in Costa Rica, working on podcasts about the people and heritage of the small village of Puerto Viejo, Limon.

Director of Experiential Learning Audrie Osterman traveled with the students. Working with IU alumna Katie Beck, the group of students spent their break recording the stories of local residents and creating podcasts for a local radio station for the Rich Coast Project, a nonprofit focused on oral storytelling.

“The goal of Rich Coast is basically cultural preservation and documentation,” Osterman said. “This community is still developing, so we’re recording the culture before it goes away.”

Students were divided into pairs and worked with local guides, who helped them translate stories, navigate the area and learn about the culture. They created podcasts on people from indigenous communities, land tenancy and the preservation of traditional Afro-Caribbean wellness practices.

From left: Katie Beck and Audrie Osterman
Katie Beck, left, BS’09, founded the Rich Coast Project after college. Audrie Osterman, right, director of experiential learning at The Media School, worked with Beck to plan the service-learning program. (Courtesy photo)

Osterman says the trip offered students a new and different perspective for viewing the world.

“The students fell in love with the community,” she said. “They were really interested in the stories they were researching, and they were able to interact with all kinds of people.”

During the week-long trip, students visited a cacao farm and attended a Rich Coast storytelling event that highlighted important moments throughout the area’s history.

Here are student reports:

Looking ahead

By Amanda Marino

Nov. 19, 2016

Puerto Viejo
The group spent time in Puerto Viejo, meeting with locals to hear and record their stories and preserve them for the future. (Audrie Osterman | The Media School)

Indiana weather has been reminiscent of summer days for the past month. November doesn’t seem to have reached us yet. Now, though, 14 students and staff members from the Media School are escaping the onset of the cold and heading south for Thanksgiving.

We are heading to Puerto Viejo, Limon, Costa Rica, where we will partner with the Rich Coast Project and use a passion for telling stories to help record some of a community’s most important ones for future generations.

The Rich Coast Project’s mission, according to its website, is to “build a platform for the collection and dissemination of historical information relating to the identity of and history of the area’s inhabitants and to improve access to the legal information necessary for securing local rights to property and natural resources.”

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In teams of two, we will work with the Puerto Viejo community to collect stories and add them to an already rich narrative archive. This audio storytelling process is sure to be both an exciting and gratifying project.

For most, this is the first trip to Costa Rica, an opportunity to experience a new people with an unfamiliar culture. It will allow us to connect with each other as well, sharing a trip we may only make once in our lives.

From left: Evelyn Rehrey, Greg Gottfried and Victoria Ziege
Seniors Evelyn Rehrey, Greg Gottfried and Victoria Ziege hung up photos at La Casa de Le Cultura in preparation for a storytelling expo. The event allowed the members of the community to share stories from their lives. (Audrie Osterman | The Media School)

After walking through the bracing wind to the Indiana Memorial Union, we boarded a yellow school bus to their first of two flights, one to Newark and one to San Jose. Travel days are some of the longest ones, making them ideal for preparation and reflection. From roommates to work goals, there will be plenty to do before we see palm trees.

Hopes for this trip include business and pleasure, interviews and exploration, motivation and relaxation. We will be collecting stories, capturing a first draft of history.

It seems cliché to dwell for too long on the opportunities and potential that a trip like this holds, but at the same time, it’s difficult to think of much else. With all the things resting before us in a foreign place, what better way is there to spend a travel day?« See less

Arriving in Puerto Viejo

By Courtney Veneri

Nov. 21, 2016

From left: Courtney Veneri and Fatjona Hasani
Seniors Courtney Veneri, left, and Fatjona Hasani visited Puerto Viejo with 12 other Media School students. They stayed at the hotel La Casa de La Cultura and documented the area’s culture through podcasts. (Madison Dowers | The Media School)

Finally, our days of traveling have come to an end. We took our final long bus ride today from San José to Puerto Viejo, a little town settled between the sea and the jungle.

Though I’m not usually one for long bus rides, spending four hours driving through the rainforest and seeing waterfalls was not a bad way to spend the first half of the day.

Once we made it to Puerto Viejo, we settled into our home for the week, La Casa de Rolando. It’s a block of apartments complete with hammocks and gorgeous jungle views. We have time to disconnect and enjoy getting to know each other (plus getting to know the adorable cat we named José Huevos in honor of his love of eggs).

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From left: Teaira Charlton, Courtney Veneri and Tirza Morales
From left, students Teaira Charlton and Courtney Veneri met with Tirza Morales, far right, who worked as their guide during the trip. Morales translated Spanish, navigated the area and taught them about the culture of the area. (Audrie Osterman | The Media School)

Tonight we also had orientation with Katie at Lidia’s restaurant, where we had our first real Costa Rican meal. I have to say that I was nervous when I heard that most of the meals here are rice and beans. I make rice and beans a lot, and it’s nothing special. Clearly though, I do not have the skill that Costa Ricans do. The rice and beans here are incredible, plus the fried plantains (tastes like a cross between a banana and a potato) that seem to be a staple here.

A few of us ended the night with a trip out to get ice cream and dance. It was pouring but that certainly didn’t diminish the beauty of this town and the excitement we all have to get working on our stories.« See less

Settling in

By Greg Gottfried

Nov. 22, 2016

From left: David Knight and David Gonzales
David Knight, left, and David Gonzales, members of The Rich Coast Project, played music before the Thanksgiving meal at La Casa de La Cultura. (Madison Dowers | The Media School)

It’s Sunday night and I’m holding a guitar.

David Dávila González, one of the leaders of the Rich Coast Project, handed me this instrument in the hopes that I had some musical talent unbeknownst to anyone sitting in this little corner of Casa de Rolando.

After playing Rock Band for way too many years, perhaps I had acquired some skills that would allow me to strum chords in a way that is pleasing to the people surrounding me.

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Nope.

I’m dreadful at guitar.

However, do you know who’s actually pretty good?

David Dávila González.

We learned that as a group on Monday night when we ventured to Hot Rocks to watch David and his cohorts play some music with a slideshow of pictures collected by the Rich Coast Project behind them.

Hot Rocks restaurant and bar
Students visited Hot Rocks, a local restaurant and bar, for a special musical performance featuring a slideshow of historical photos put together by Rich Coast. (Greg Gottfried | The Media School)

There were residents doing tricks with fire, lights flashing and live Spanish music blaring throughout.

For those wondering, Hot Rocks is a restaurant and bar, which also has sand protruding from every crevice, swings to be swung on and dogs waddling around looking for leftovers. Next time you’re in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica, I recommend making your way over to las piedras calientes. I doubt anyone calls it that, but there’s a first time for everything.

The food eventually made its way to our table: chicken fajitas for some, catch of the day for others, which brings me to my next point.

As good as your grandmother’s cooking is for this upcoming Thanksgiving, we’re eating better down here in Costa Rica. The rice, the beans, the chicken, that beef thing that you’re not exactly sure what it is but you decide to eat it anyway and you love it but there’s no possible way you want to find out what it is.

Everything’s tasty—delicioso, as the residents here might say.

Greg Gottfried
Senior Greg Gottfried learned about the people and culture of Puerto Viejo during his time there. This included meeting indigenous cultures and trying out the traditional facepaint. (Audrie Osterman | The Media School)

Finally, since this will be my first and last blog post for the Costa Roca Media Trip, I’m going to give you a quick list of my favorite things so far.

  1. I’m 100 percent buying a hammock when I get home.
  2. Chicken empanadas are a great late night snack after a night out. I may open a food truck right next to Big Cheeze.
  3. There are dogs everywhere walking the streets and they’re all incredible and my new best friends.
  4. Cats kill lizards, apparently.
  5. My new favorite sandwich is a banana with Costa Rican bitter chocolate.

I think that’s all I’ve got so far. Also, follow me on Twitter @gott31 for more great content.

Adios.« See less

Meeting the community

By Hailey Hernandez

Nov. 24, 2016

costarica-charlton-3-web
(Teaira Charlton | The Media School)

Edwin is a local man from Puerto Viejo. He is tall and loud, but he is the most humble and modest man I have ever met. Edwin lives in a yellow and green house near the beach in Costa Rica. There’s a monkey that lives in the tree in his backyard.

Every morning, he gets up and goes to work, but he doesn’t mind, he doesn’t have to travel far. He walks across the paved road to his restaurant where he sits talking to us, watching the people go by on foot, on bike or by car. Nearly everyone stops to wave and say hello.

Edwin has lived in Puerto Viejo all his life and he seems to know everything there is to know about the city. He talks about the people and the land, and how the community would be nothing without it.

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Edwin’s passion is people. Making people happy, helping people and bringing them together. Part of how he connects with people is through stories.

“Stories keep you alive,” Edwin told us on Wednesday. “Without no past, you have no future. You have to know who you are and where you’re coming from to know where you’re going. People know, experiences of people know, but Internet doesn’t know.”

Evelyn Rehrey
Evelyn Rehrey, senior, edited her podcast at La Casa de La Cultura. Students collected and recorded the stories of Peurto Viejo citizens for the future. (Audrie Osterman | The Media School)

Part of the problem in Puerto Viejo is communication. People want to communicate through the phone or Internet and forget the traditional means of face-to-face conversation. But this problem is one that is widespread and Edwin is one example of how to fix that.

As he sits looking out over the street, answering our questions in English, directing orders to the kitchen in Spanish and making a point to acknowledge every familiar face that passes by, he is the best example of what it means to be in the moment and in tune with the world around you.

We sat with Edwin and the minutes passed, but we didn’t seem to notice. After talking to him, I realized the level of respect I had for him, his community and the land with all it provides. We were captivated by his wisdom and his sense of humor, without the distraction of technology.

It’s easy, Edwin says, if everyone would be just a little more simple, there would be an undying appreciation for the world around us that makes up our home.« See less

Thanksgiving in Costa Rica

By Taylor Hurt

Nov. 24, 2016

Media School students in the forest
Students hiked through a forest in Manzanillo during their time in Puerto Viejo. They visited cacao farmers and indigenous people in the area. (Audrie Osterman | The Media School)

We all were excited Nov. 24. After all, this was our Thanksgiving break, so it’s safe to say that we were all anticipating Thanksgiving dinner.

That morning, we hiked through Manzanillo and Punta Uva to explore local land and history in Limon. When we got back, everyone was tired from climbing the steep, muddy trails. But at 6 p.m. we reemerged from our various states of exhaustion and distress, reinvigorated and excited for Thanksgiving dinner.

At La Casa de Cultura, we were greeted by the director, Glenda Halgarson Brown, and residents from the area. Katie encouraged the group to share things we were grateful for. There were poems from residents about appreciation for nature and community, and rhyme and even Dr. Seuss.

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Before we ate, Audrie Osterman presented Katie and David with IU memorabilia as thanks for their hospitality and this opportunity, and Katie invited us to sit with people we didn’t know.

Dinner was a traditional Costa Rican meal of chicken, rice and beans, salad and plantains, with tamarind juice to drink. I sat with Rozanne Dioso-Lopez, a Filipino woman from Canada whom I had met earlier in the week at the story exchange, and Madison Dowers. We talked about a range of topics from spirituality to technology.

costarica-dowers-group-web
Students had a chance to talk to local residents about their lives and the history of Puerto Viejo at a Thanksgiving dinner. (Madison Dowers | The Media School)

But what was most interesting was our conversation about Rozanne’s five children and how living off the grid fostered their large imaginations, and how she noticed kids who grow up constantly surrounded by screens need constant entertainment. I was so engrossed in the conversation that I looked down and my food was gone, and Tia was yelling for us to find a pose so that we could do the mannequin challenge.

After some technical difficulties, we finished filming and dinner was over. That night, a few of us talked about how surprised we were that we missed our families. But I know from the constant chatter in the room, and the smiles on everyone’s faces, that it wasn’t an experience any of us would have traded.« See less

Finding stories

By Victoria Ziege
Nov. 27, 2016

From left: Tirza Morales Sanchez, Hailey Hernandez, Courtney Veneri, Greg Gottfried and Teaira Charlton
From left, Tirza Morales Sanchez, who volunteered as a local facilitator for one student reporting team, showed seniors Hailey Hernandez, Courtney Veneri, Greg Gottfried and Teaira Charlton raw cacao in the forest. (Audrie Osterman | The Media School)

Everyone has a story.

That’s why I became a journalist. I’ve never felt represented by what is immediately obvious to those who meet me: my appearance, my interests, my polite speech. I feel the majority of my interactions (and all interactions) exist within this safe little bubble — trite and cursory. No one is harmed, but no one is fulfilled. We part feeling disconnected. We part without being known.

So I became a journalist. I wanted to see past first impressions. I wanted to bypass social niceties and engage others in meaningful conversation. I wanted to be known, and to know others.

Of course, I quickly found out that there’s a lot more to being a journalist. Throughout my four years at IU, I’ve had the opportunity to tell some truly profound and moving tales. I’ve also repeated stories that are frankly more of the same, contributing to the ongoing problem of social disconnect. Not untrue, necessarily. That wouldn’t be journalism. But it’s not the whole truth. That’s the reporter’s conundrum. Wielding our microphones, we have the power to open people up, but we also have the power, inadvertently, to make them shut down.

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Enter Narrative 4, a nonprofit that seeks to “build a community of empathic global citizens who improve the world through the exchange of personal narratives.”

Nov. 21, I and 13 fellow Media School students took part in a Narrative 4 story exchange led by our host, Katie Beck. Each student was paired off with a resident of Puerto Viejo, both of whom were asked to share a story about where they came from. Then, the pairs came back together into large groups, and, in the first person, told their partner’s story.

Teaira Charlton
Senior Teaira Charlton and her classmates were responsible for documenting the culture and environment of Puerto Viejo through photography and audio podcasts. (Audrie Osterman | The Media School)

To me, this experience is the essence of journalism. It asks participants to hold space for one another without judgement and then charges them with the tremendous responsibility of telling someone else’s story fully and honestly. It reminded me of why I wanted to become a journalist in the first place.

My favorite moment came during small group, when IU senior Taylor Hurt and her partner, Mike, shared one another’s stories about racial identity. Listening to Mike, a middle-aged white man, give his “first person” account of the challenges Taylor experienced growing up as a young, black woman was truly moving. Taylor followed by telling her “first person” account of Mike’s upbringing in the Deep South, where he grew up with segregated drinking fountains, bathrooms and restaurants.

This is what journalism is all about: bridging race, class, age and ethnicity to tell true stories, connecting people across borders and most important — across the bubbles that limit our everyday conversation.

It’s what the world needs, now more than ever. To listen without judgement to those who are different than us, about the issues that matter to them, and do our best to communicate those sentiments with compassion and sincerity.

After my experience with Narrative 4, I will continue to do my best to inspire those conversations, regardless of whether my recorder is rolling« See less