Strawberry Pancakes

My housemate Izzy and I popped downstairs for breakfast at 7:15am last Friday. Cecelia, our mama tica, or Costa Rican host mom, had laid out two pancakes for each of us, peanut butter, jelly, and maple-flavored syrup as toppings, and pineapple chunks on the side. She always puts each breakfast item on a separate little plate – even our coffee mugs get small china saucers.

“These pancakes are strawberry,” she told us, in Spanish. “I got two boxes of mix; one is strawberry, and one is banana because I know you girls like banana.”

“How sweet!” we responded.

To further prove her point, she brought the pancake boxes from the kitchen, proudly showing us her selections. I immediately realized both boxes were in English and both had a large photograph of a stack of pancakes on the front. On one box, they were garnished with strawberry slices. On the other, banana rounds. Both boxes read, “Original”.

“There were some other mixes, but I didn’t know what kind they were because they didn’t have the drawing on the box, y eran en inglés,” she told I smiled big at her, and on the inside, I crossed my fingers that no one would ever tell her the pancakes she had bought were all just regular pancake flavor with pictures of fruit. She is such a sweet, well-meaning lady, who, just like me, struggles to understand when things are not in her native language.

In the three weeks I’ve been studying here, there have been countless signs, labels, comments, and conversations that I misunderstood due to my lack of Spanish fluency.

Last Thursday, I went out with my friends and one of them tried to order a tequila soda. The bartender was confused and asked if she wanted a tequila with Coke. After a few more attempts to explain, my friend gave up and ordered a margarita (which turned out to be bright blue).

Once I accidentally ordered what was essentially a frappuccino when what I wanted was an iced coffee. Apparently at my favorite sandwich place, that’s as close as you can get.

Even my and my housemate’s nightly dinner conversations with our mama tica involve countless lapses in understanding between us. Izzy and I have a little debrief session on the way back upstairs after eating. Basically, we compare notes on words we didn’t understand or whether we both followed one of Cecelia’s long stories (she likes to go on tangents about the state of the world and how her sons and daughters are doing). I think collectively we normally process about 80% of what’s happenin

As becoming more fluent in Spanish is arguably my biggest priority while I’m here in San José, I put a lot of pressure on myself to understand and to be understood. Our plain/strawberry/banana pancake breakfast was a reminder that learning any language is not a fluid process. There will never be a full jump from “intermediate” to “fluent” or some point I reach where there are no more mistakes and no more to learn. Communicating outside your native language is messy, and if I’ve realized anything from the ticos I’ve spoken to so far, most are more than willing to patiently work with you to reach mutual points of understanding.

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Cecelia showing us around the neighborhood.


I spent this past weekend exploring the capitalof Catalonia, and one of the most famous cities in Spain. Barcelona was very large with an abundance of famous art, beautiful architecture, and delicious food. To me, Barcelona felt similar to other big cities that we have in America with the exception of high rise towers.


I found that almost every individual that I encountered spoke English quite well, which was important because a surprising number of citizens in Barcelona do not speak Spanish. They all seemed to speak Catalan, a language similar to Spanish but spoken mostly in Catalonia.

I spent the majority of my time exploring the numerous architectural phonemes around the city that were created by the famous Antoni Gaudí. As seen in the featured image of this article, we first went to the Sagrada Familia. It began construction in 1882 and will not be finished until the year 2026. It was truly the most magnificent cathedral I have ever laid eyes on.


Unlike many cathedrals in Europe, the outside of the Familia is astonishingly intricate, compiled of beautiful works of art and sculptures. The inside, however, is quite simple. It is simple but beautiful. It is said to resemble an enchanted forest due to the long columns and colorful glass.



I then spent my time roaming Park Güell, which is a 45 acre park that was also designed by Gaudí. The park was full of beautiful architectural works that are quite famous around the world. There were many basic works such as pillars and benches, and more intricate areas where there are colorful sculptures made out of recycled tiles.

There are many things to do and see in Barcelona, it is a huge city. I did not limit myself to the works of Gaudí during my weekend, but his works were definitely the most interesting things to see. I would love to return and do more in this city, but I really enjoyed the short amount of time that I was there.