My time in Costa Rica so far can be summed up with one word: exhausting. From the moment I left the airport, it’s been nothing but buses, boats, and taxis going from home, to school, to the beach, to downtown San Jose, to volcanoes, to infinity and beyond! The ship just keeps on moving! And while I have had some of the best times of my life in these crazy couple of months, I finally decided it was time to take a break from the chaos and spend a weekend with my Tico family in San Jose. My Tico dad’s birthday was coming up and I knew his family was coming into town to celebrate; something I wasn’t willing to miss out on! (That, and the birthday cake! Lol) So, I decided to toss my suitcase aside and tend to the other bags I had been packing all week…the ones under my eyes. Ready for some much needed rest.
With nothing but chocolate cake and mi cama on the weekend’s menu, I figured there wouldn’t be much to write about. So, in light of the, then, upcoming occasion, I planned to explore the cultural differences between the way birthdays are celebrated in the United States and Costa Rica. I came up with questions like: Are birthdays as significant in Costa Rican culture as in the US? Do celebrations differ based on age or gender in Costa Rica? Do celebrations in Costa Rica involve large communities or only family and close friends?… and, of course, the most important question, How do you sing ‘the birthday song’ in Spanish? Well, I learned how to sing the song (…beautifully lol) and, afterwards, found myself in a constant state of analysis. Taking mental notes about who was there, how they were interacting, how his party compared to my birthday parties at home, or my dad’s parties, or my mom’s…or her mom’s, or… okay, you get the point. If he could read my mind, my Tico dad would have had one word for me, “tranquila,” a.k.a. “chill out, its just a birthday party”…which is exactly what I started thinking to myself after a while. It’s just a birthday party. Someone pushed through one more year of life, so their friends and family came together to celebrate the new year and to show their love and appreciation in hopes that there will be many more. Why should that be any different when crossing oceans or borders… or even cultures? The less I thought about the differences, the more I could feel the similarities popping up like old memories. In no time, I could even imagine my own family and friends being right there in the room with me, laughing and dancing and smearing cake into the face of whoever’s birthday we were celebrating.
Without any analyses or preordained sets of questions, I had gathered all of the information I needed. The concept of family and strong bonds we form with the people we love most are universal. Even in another country, miles and miles away from home, I was able to experience the strong connection of family and community. This weekend really stood out for me because up until then, I was unaware of how focused I was on finding the cultural differences between Costa Rica and the US. To a certain extent we’re all looking for cultural differences; anticipating and regulating culture shock, adjusting to new people, new places, a new language, and making comparisons for research and analysis. But it’s important that we don’t forget to appreciate our oneness. Yes, we should acknowledge and celebrate our differences, but we must also remember to marvel at our similarities. We should be amazed at the fact that even when we’re worlds away from each other and different in every way imaginable, we’re all still one in our humanity and in our capacity for love, kindness, and community.
…And we all love some good (…and free) birthday cake! (Can I get an Amen?!)