From Gringo to Tico in 83 Days

It’s hard to believe that I have only been here for a week. I feel settled in and with good company. Everything has been completely different from my experience in Hong Kong.  If you know me well, you probably know that I went not knowing a soul, lived in my own apartment, and planned my own excursions. You also most likely know that it was the hardest and best thing I have ever done. I cried home for the first two weeks, until I made friends and had a set schedule.

However, Costa Rica has contrasted that entire experience. Even though I didn’t know anyone prior to Costa Rica, I am in a program that allows all the students to bond through class and programmed immersion activities. It has been so nice to immediately have friends. They are all really fantastic – funny, kind-hearted, and intelligent.  I am really going to miss them when they leave (most are staying for 6 weeks). But for now that is the furthest thing from my mind, here is what the first week has brought:

1. Speaking Spanish.

I try not to get frustrated with my lack of knowledge, especially in comparison to all my friends. I have to remind myself that they have been studying for years and I am trying to learn what they learned during a semester, in 3 weeks. I am making a lot of progress and can understand more than I can speak. However, my vocabulary is extremely limited as well as my knowledge on sentence formation. I had my first test on Friday and it went pretty well. The written part was a breeze but the speaking a little bit harder. Nevertheless, the thing I screwed up the most was the listening. My teacher would spell out a word and we would write it. There are so many sounds that are very similar that I was confused. I didn’t recognize most of my words, but I didn’t feel confident changing them because my vocabulary is so small.  I definitely learned I  should have gone with my gut and changed them. However, even with those mess ups I still did really well on my test and feel that everything I missed was a stupid mistake and easily fixed. 

2. Language Immersion.

Because my Spanish is not that great I miss out of a lot of the jokes and directions people give. It has become a running joke in the group when someone is speaking Spanish, for another to turn to me and say, “you got that allanah?”

At my tico house, I can usually understand the context of the conversation even if I miss out on every details. Nevertheless, my roommate is my saving grace. Without her, I would be so lost. Emmanuelle is constantly translating questions I have into Spanish and answers into English; I really don’t know what I would do without her.

My mama Tica gets so happy when I speak in Spanish or can understand what is going on. She keeps telling me I am doing so well and am a really fast learner. Personally, I think I am just pay attention enough to get the general message.

And that’s the other thing, it is unbelievably tiring to listen to Spanish all day and not understand at least half of it. Mostly, it is just so frustrating not being able to respond to anyone when I am out. If I didn’t have friends with my, i’d be lost – however this can backfire and make me believe I always have a safety net. I really hope that is not true and that my fight overcomes my flight. 

3. Cultural immersion.

Because I am traveling with a group I definitely don’t feel as culturally immersed (at least not yet). While I am getting more accustomed to going to be early and waking up early, it still feels like I am tourist. I am sure this will change as the weeks go on and I start planning my own activities (there is so much to do and I’m getting stressed about planning). Yet, because we are a group of Americans, we also bring some of our culture here.  We’ll go out for drinks and will be some of the only people in the bar. Maybe its Heredia (San José being the bigger party city), but it definitely seems that people don’t go out as much here.

4. Beauty.

It’s no wonder this has been rated the happiest country. It’s so pretty and natural. While they all live simple lives, most of them find family and friends to be life’s biggest gifts. Not worrying about materials really allows you to focus on the relationships in your life, which is beautiful.

However there are some things I find confusing: country layout and birds.  You’ll see a really nice house right next to a more simplistic one, it’s not like in America where it’s the communities that usually define ses. Next, I am woken up around 5 A.M. every morning to screeching birds. Some of them continue to make horrible noises at all times of the day – like who are you? 

5. Other notes.

I love the family that I am living with. The grandsons are a ball to play with and mi mama tica is so caring and cooks such great food. Yet, people weren’t kidding when they said Costa Ricans like to prepare different versions rice for every meals. I think it is all starting to catch up with my stomach.

Overall, what this week has shown: All I want to do is have a conversation with my Mama Tica. She is so sweet and I really think I could learn an immense amount from her. While my roommate is constantly translating questions that I have, I really just want to be able to talk to her and her grandsons on my own. I can’t even imagine the feeling when we can actually talk to each other.

If you want daily updates, look at the day to day page where I will be posting about my daily adventures.


One thought on “From Gringo to Tico in 83 Days

  1. What a terrific holistic look at your experiences so far. I am really proud of you! Perhaps there will be great learning on trusting your gut that will stay with you for future test taking too 🙂

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