The capitol of each country captivates and cultivates the culture and soul of the people. Each city has its own unique beauty created by decades of history. However, some travelers fail to realize the biases they have packed from their home country and brought with them. With the privileging of traveling to multiple countries, I have learned that each city is not going to look like the last. American cities are more known for their grand architectures, bright lights, and advanced technologies on display. In Latin American countries, cities are more known for the natural beauties their cities lay in. With these great contrasts in mind, some students were taken aback by the “failed” expectations San Jose had compared to their cities back at home. As the old saying goes, “beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder.”
San Jose is a beautiful city tucked inside the valley of tall, green mountains. As every big city, it has its bustling downtown with many museums, stores, and markets. You can see old and current art in the National Museum to listening to current operas in the National Music Theatre. But besides downtown, the rest of the city has been able to maintain the local feel anyone can find in a small town. Most of local activities are centered around the neighborhoods (called “barrios”) that a person is located in. In each barrio, you can find a meat shop (carniceria), bread shop (panadería), a small convenience store (mini super), a bar (un bar), a local church (iglesia), and many other small family owned shops that are significant to the neighborhood. Each specialized store provides the opportunity of a close-knit feel to other residents who live in or nearby the barrio.
Another unexpected expectation that tends to be forgotten is the need to follow cultural behaviors. Coming from a country that is very advanced with gender roles and independence, it tends to be difficult to be accustomed with Tico behavior in the city. As a pedestrian, it only took me a couple of minutes to realize that pedestrians never get the right of way. Always double check before crossing the street, and whenever you see a car coming get out of the way! The time difference of participating in activities takes a while to adjust to as well. Since it is winter for Costa Rica, the sun sets early (around 6 or 6:30 pm) so night activities start as early as 9 pm and usually end around 1 am. Also as a woman, it is not wise to travel in a taxi or walk around after 9 pm. It is expected that a woman is accompanied with at least another female or male friend.
One of the best things anyone traveling to a different country can do: research on the culture of the country. It makes it easier to adjust to the culture, minimize culture shock, and make your stay even more enjoyable. But if worst comes to worse: “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”