The Richard Nixon School of Costa Rica

The sign, bearing the name Instituto Parauniversitario Richard Nixon, translated easily enough. In the small city of Heredia, nestled in the Central Valley region of Costa Rica, more than 3000 land miles and seven countries south of Washington DC, there existed a most unusual institution: a para-university of Richard Nixon. Not once during a twenty-five year life of media-heavy exposure to American popular culture, nor throughout the undertaking of a liberal arts degree with a marked lean toward American presidential politics, had I ever heard of such a thing. At the time of his resignation, Nixon had been the most reviled president in the history of the United States. In fact, he is the only ex-president ever to be denied an official and publicly funded presidential library. The people of the United States have a tradition of honouring their presidents in this way, but a publicly disgraced one, who had resigned under a suspicious cloud of illegal dealings and had avoided jail time only because of a presidential pardon by his hand picked predecessor, would not be so fortunate. This formality didn’t stop Richard Nixon, who found a way to privately fund his presidential library in his hometown of Yorba Linda, California. Perhaps he had funded his own Costa Rican school as well.
I’d arrived in Costa Rica on February 18th, 2003 with an unclear agenda. The only thing I had decided is that I would spend my first night in the capital city of San Jose. The TEFL certificate that sat neatly pressed inside my green folder in my back pack could help land a teaching gig if I enjoyed myself enough to stay in the country after the money ran out. Maybe bartending would provide a better window into the culture. I’d read about the Caribbean coastal town of Puerto Viejo and was drawn by the lure of the Caribbean Sea and the laid-back Rastafarian culture. On the other hand, I had made a contact at Intercultura language school in Heredia, who would need an English teacher around the time of my arrival. Perhaps the prudent thing to do would be to check out the job situation first. Having escaped the chill of a Canadian city’s cold, dark winter, made the coast, seem like a potential paradise and a difficult option to wait on. After a night’s consideration, I woke up with my guidebook open on my chest and my mind undecided. It was only when I saw a bus bound for Heredia that I knew I would end up there first.
Instead of the soothing roll of endless waves upon an endless white sand beach, I found myself in a worn down hotel room overlooking an exhaust-smoky city street, two blocks from the language school. I walked out into the early morning hallway on my way to the shared bathroom. I stared into the dusty mirror, noticing my hair was uncharacteristically wild. It was more than just bed head. It was my very own culture shocked hairstyle. Just then I felt something run quickly across my bare foot. A cockroach. I shudder-jumped instinctively, trying to avoid landing on it, my hair thrown wilder by my reaction and a silent scream building in my throat. The great insect disappeared into the wall and I brushed my teeth in my room instead. Little did I know I’d be finding another hidden in my rice and beans the following day.

On my first day at the language school, a gregarious American girl from the land of Lincoln (Springfield, Illinois) had befriended me and invited me back to her apartment. Her long, tall, figure led me North through Heredia’s seemingly identical downtown streets. Her blonde hair waved enticingly to passing Costa Rican men, whom she towered over. She’d voted Bush in 2000, explaining that in the land of Lincoln “we’d always voted Republican.” It was as we approached her block that I first noticed the Richard Nixon School. Had she found its existence as incredulous as I had? Maybe she appreciated the symbolic GOP presence so close to her apartment. She mentioned that her Costa Rican boyfriend had studied there and claimed that he’d gotten somewhat defensive when she prodded him to find out just what exactly he’d studied there. The school supposedly had an excellent local reputation for office administrative skills courses. The irony grabbed hold as I recalled the sordid Watergate tale of stolen documents from the Democratic National Committee. I shared a watermelon with my new friend inside, and had a cigarette when she showed me her indoor-outdoor garden. Startled again, when cockroaches ran among our feet, she told me not to worry, that they were everywhere in Costa Rica. I smiled wondering if the same could be said for Richard Nixon schools.

About Chris LePan

Writer/ Editor
This entry was posted in Forget-Me-Not-Nations, Short story and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Richard Nixon School of Costa Rica

  1. richard henderson says:

    I know the lady and her family well who started this school before Nixon was president. She just picked the name out of the air quite randomly. Her name is Yolanda Calderon,

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