After 2 months of living in Costa Rica, I have had a lot of time to reflect on my experience and on my life. Being in such a different culture has helped me discover the most important parts of lie.
1. Family life and selfishness
It’s been eye-opening being in a culture that values family so much. For example: it’s extremely common for kids who have moved out of the house and are married to eat most of their meals at their parent’s house. The way our host mom explains it – why wouldn’t they be independent, there is no reason. And this way parents get to see their children a lot.
While this is very different from America, it’s extremely heartwarming that Ticos most important thing is family. It really makes me rethink how much I always want to travel and do activities, when really I should be spending more time at home, being there for all the important life events, and making sure to always be updated on daily life.
Note to self: I don’t have to give up my dreams of traveling, but I can take some time traveling continental US with loved ones. Since I can remember, I have traveled more outside the US than in it.
2. Fitting in
One of the biggest reasons I wanted to be abroad for so long is to be fully immersed with in another culture. There is a huge difference from being a tourist, a traveler, and a resident of a country. Regardless of which title you have, there are always “dos” and “don’ts”.
I have tried to adapt my way of life while in Costa Rica to fit in: I speak Spanish (to the best of my abilities) when communicating, I don’t wear shorts out of the house only pants, skirts, and dresses (I will, however, admit I occasionally break this rule when it is really hot), I eat almost all of my meals at home, I travel on public buses, I live simply (heck, my computer has been broken for a week now and besides being able to write blog posts – it’s not a big deal), I am fine with taking cold showers, I don’t throw toilet paper in the toilet, and I visit places that are a little off the beaten path. Nevertheless, there are still a few things that will make me stand out until (and if) I become fluent in Spanish and completely adapt to a Tico’s way of life:
1. I am extremely pale: yes, some Ticos are pale but they also have flawless spanish accents.
2. I have blond-haired: even fewer Ticos have blond hair but the ones that do fit in every other way.
3. I have blue eyes: even less Ticos have blue eyes, combined with the other 2 people may question is they are Ticos. Then they will talk and all will be right with the world.
I know that regardless of where I go, I may look like a foreigner. Yet, I can still try my hardest with every other aspect.
Note to self: I really should stop wearing workout clothes on weekends. Regardless of the activity – riding a bus, hiking, going to the beach – Tico’s will look presentable. This is definitely the hardest “rule” for me.
It has been very hard living in a country where I am not supposed to walk around by myself or anywhere at night, even with a group. For starters, it’s been a really strange change after living in Hong Kong last summer. Hong Kong is one of the safest places I have ever been and I was able to walk at any time of day/night by myself. Secondly, I’m a very independent person and while I love company, I also want to be able to do things on my own if there is no one else who wants to do the same activity. Even a walk to the gym, which is around the corner from my house, is scary at night. If I have my roommate with me, I usually feel safe, but it is a risk not taking a 1 minute cab ride.
Note to self: I must live in a safe neighborhood when I settle down.
4. Traveling to Latin America when I am young
I never imagined myself traveling to Sweden, China, Hong Kong, or Costa Rica. I’ve always wanted to travel around Europe and experience that way of life. But yet, I always find myself in other countries, that are far less traveled too. The way I see it, especially with Costa Rica, I have the rest of my life to travel to countries that fit my desired way of life. However, when I am older and taking vacations I probably won’t enjoy traveling to countries that are not as glamorous or easy to navigate. Thus, while I am young, I should take advantage of being in these types of countries.
Yes, transportation is an absolute nightmare and figuring out how to get anywhere is like solving the hardest math problem you’ll ever have, but PURA VIDA MAE. This is the characteristic of the country you are in and there is nothing you can do about it. So suck it up and go with the flow or else you are going to hate the time you have here.
Note to self: Appreciate the simplicity of planning and traveling at home. In fact, appreciate all the small things you never thought you’d miss.
5. Being the constant
When I signed up for my program, I was under the impression that there would be around 20 kids who would be spending the full 12 weeks with me. In reality, there were two others in my session who are here for 12 weeks, 1 who is here for 15, 2 who were staying for 9 weeks, and the rest stayed 3 or 6 weeks. Out of session 2, there are 2 people staying 9 weeks (meaning they leave the same time as me), 1 staying 12 weeks, and the rest for 3 or 6 weeks.
While, I do have session 3 and session 4 kids to befriend, I have had to say goodbye to over 50 friends, listened to their complains and wishes to go home when they were a week away from departure, and had to continuously make new groups of friends. Yes, the last statement is not always a huge problem; It’s always great meeting new people. However, the problem lies in the fact that the first 3 weeks anyone is here is filled with programmed activities making it hard to bond with the new kids who are making their own groups or meeting anyone from the new group who is not in your group. Its been a running joke with everyone that I won’t have friends when they leave and telling the new group to “BE MY FRIEND” :).
It really hasn’t been as bad as I had thought it would be. Yes, life during the week has become less social, but I still have great weekends and have been very lucky having 2 other roommates. And luckiest of all – one of my roommates is here the entire time with me. I really don’t think I could be here without her and to think I didn’t even know her 2 months ago.
Note to self: Don’t be a drama queen and deal with problems as they arise – not before.
6. The food
For the first time since I have traveled to another country, I really don’t have complaints about the food. Yes, I eat more eggs, hamburger meat, and fish than I have in my entire life, it’s incredibly easy to be gluten free here and all of it tastes good. There are only two dishes that I have been given that I had a hard time finishing; not a bad track record. Since everything is muy rica (a phrase meaning very rich that Ticos say about all of their food), I will miss it. Thankfully, my Mama Tica started teaching us a few recipes. Keep an eye out for photos and posts.
Note to self: Become a good cook, find a store that sells the correct products to make Costa Rican food, and share dishes with friends and family. Become “famous” in your family for doing so.
7. 12 weeks
In hindsight, there are many times where I think 9 weeks would have probably been the perfect amount of time here. But in reality, I am very fickle. We all get frustrated especially with being with a select group of people everyday. Sometimes the frustration gets too much and all you wish is that you go home. But then most of the time, you see an incredible view, have an amazing moment with your family, or experience the Ticos welcoming home La Sele (or their soccer team) and you think “I never want to leave.”
12 weeks allows me to have more time practicing my Spanish, really become a part of the culture, and my family, and most importantly – feel more like I live here. It allows me to have some low key weekend where I stay at home or do day trips, not have every day programmed, and allow myself to be lethargic everyone in a while. Reason being because I am not a tourist and don’t have to squeeze everything into 1,3,6,7, or 9 weeks. I have now hit this sweet spot where I do really feel at home.
Note to self: Keep in contact with Mama Tica and the rest of the family. I will miss them all so much and know that I will forever have a second family and home here. Maybe one day I can return. P.s. Mom, I am so excited for you to meet them!!!
8. Nonverbal communication
What I find most interesting about the World Cup, besides the incredible plays, is the idea that all the players on the field don’t always share a common language. Being a past participant in international soccer games, I know that it is both a challenge and blessing to not be able to communicate fully with the other team. This idea relates directly to my study abroad experience, as I am living with a family that speaks little English while I speak only a small of Spanish.
It never ceases to amaze me how much we can communicate without words. While my speaking in Spanish is not great, I can understand a majority of what is said at home (sometimes in class too) using context clues and non verbals. And in return, I am able to speak with people without using all the right conjugations sentence structure, or words. I have always wonder how people can form relationships without speaking the same language and then you experience that same thing and realize how much you can communicate and bond without understanding each other fully.
Final note to self: As with everything, there are definitely some parts of my trip that are less glorious than others, but at the end of the day – I am in Costa Rica and I can either spend my days frustrated with how things work or I can accept it and move on.
There is a big difference in happiness between the two.