Upon coming to Costa Rica, I really wasn’t sure exactly what it would be like. I knew it would be different, but I wasn’t sure what to expect. In some areas, I have seen just exactly what I thought I would. Some things, though, are a little strange and weird to get used to at first. So here are some things that came as a bit of a surprise to me.
If you’re american and a woman, expect to be honked at. A lot. Every time I walk somewhere, I get honked at least once or twice every minute. Sometimes more. People will give you much more attention than you are probably used to in the states. It makes me feel like a celebrity at times, but sometimes it comes across as just straight up creepy. Men will stare, women will swear. It’s crazy how much attention you’ll get just because you’re “gringo”. There’s nothing you can do to hide it. I guess it must be written on my forehead or something. Sometimes the attention is a bit much and I almost want to tell them to take a picture since it will last longer.
People here are very laid back. They have the saying “pura vida” which means pure life. If you know anything about Costa Rica, I’m sure you’ve heard the word before. Not only is it a saying but it’s a lifestyle. I tend to be very orderly and worry about things going smoothly, but here they just let things happen on their own. Everyone has much patience. “Tranquilla” which means calm down was something I was told very often here. You learn how to calm down more so than you may be used. Be sure to be open minded and not to have high expectations when it comes to time and deadlines.
Gates on everything
There is much security here on just about every building. There are huge gates that make each house look and feel like a prison. I can tell you right now I can go to bed at night feeling confident that there won’t be an intruder getting into this house. Nope. You need multiple keys to get in. It’s nothing like my house in america which I can just walk right into as I feel. No need to bring a key as I come and go. So while you’re here, please don’t forget your keys.
Windows here are much different. Some houses don’t have windows that close, they’re just always open. My house has windows that look like shutters. It’s not just one solid hunk of glass with a frame that slides open, it’s about 10 different pieces of glass that open like blinds. It’s an interesting concept and works well to open it. Except, be careful. One of the panels in my room broke and now each night I get to have a war with the mosquitos as I try and sleep. Bug spray is my new perfume. Be sure to pack your deet.
Rice and beans
At my house, it is rare to go a day without rice and beans. I wake up just about every morning to a plate of gallo pinto, which is a delicious traditional plate in Costa Rica. I knew they ate rice and beans here, but I wasn’t expecting it to be every meal. Prepare to eat your bodyweight in rice and beans.
Depending on others
You really can’t do much without needing to depend on others here. Most host families don’t own a car and so getting somewhere as simple as a supermarket or mall may require the dependence of a taxi driver or bus if you’re not willing to walk a half an hour or so to get there. You also have to depend on your host mom to make your breakfast for you and dinner as well. Having a say in what time you eat isn’t much of an option for you when you’re staying with a host family. What is on the menu is always a surprise at my house. It all depends on what mama tica is in the mood to feed us. If we’re lucky, it’ll be rice and beans.
Learning the language
My host family doesn’t know English, but it seems like just about everyone else here does. It’s not hard to find someone who speaks your language. It’s nice at times; however I’d encourage anyone studying here to go out of your way and try to surround yourself in Spanish. You’re here for a limited amount of time so take advantage of it. Meeting tico’s at universidad veritas is not as easy as it would seem, but if your Spanish is good enough you can for sure do it. Making a tico friend should be your motivation to learn Spanish. I only took one month of Spanish here, but even so I’ve still learned so much, just by spending time with my host family. It is very frustrating at times but don’t let that discourage you. I’ve had my fair share of moments where I’m just not in the mood to speak Spanish. But seriously, just challenge yourself.
Missing the little things
Some people may be the type who know they’ll get homesick, others may go into this experience not expecting to get homesick at all. I am someone who thought I was not going to miss home all that much. I’ve been here for 2 months now and I can say that I’ve experienced a little bit of homesickness but I’d say that mostly I miss the little things. Small things like peanut butter, my dog and driving are a few. Instead of dwelling on the things you miss from home, go out and experience the cultural things that you’ll miss when you get home.
Taking it in
So much happens while you’re abroad and although the cliché sayings tell you that it’s an experience you’ll never forget, I’ll tell you right now that you will forget it if you don’t take time for yourself and journal or reflection it. Do something while you’re abroad to document your time. Sometimes I’ll Skype my friends and or family and I won’t even be able to remember what I did the week before. So do yourself a favor and write down something each day, take lots of pictures and take time for yourself to reflect on your time. It’s a unique experience and you’ll thank yourself later.