I wanted to live with a host family so I could learn more Spanish. My Spanish-speaking ability has drastically improved through numerous conversations with my host mother and sisters, but I have also learned much more than I anticipated about other aspects of Costa Rican culture that cannot be taught in a classroom.

In the mornings I wake up to warm sunlight spilling over the high mountain peaks and through my bedroom window, and the sound of ham sizzling on the stove top in the kitchen. We often eat ham with papaya and banana for breakfast, or sometimes cheese and egg quesadillas with mango. I have yet to taste a less-than-delectable cuisine in Costa Rica, though my host mother´s cooking surpasses everything I have eaten in the Soda restaurants. There is always plenty of time for eating and chatting before my roommates and I leave for the university.

When we return, we greet our Mamatica with that light kiss on the cheek that Costarricenses have long perfected. She offers us afternoon coffee or tea as we sit down at the kitchen table for another chat. (Chatting is a very popular activity here.) I´ve noticed that my host family prioritizes different luxuries than those which are typical in the United States. For example, my host mother hangs the laundry to dry on a clothes line because she does not have a dryer. However, she does have a coffee press with a reusable filter that she uses to make rich Avarica coffee every morning.

For dinner, we eat South American style spiced rice mixed with chicken and vegetables, topped with tomato gazpacho and avocado. And the avocados of Costa Rica are the size of cantaloupes, their creamy insides oozing into the rice to create a cool richness on the pallet. We savor fried plantains with salsa, beef and beans on fresh tortillas, and endless amounts of juicy papaya.

You can learn Spanish by studying vocabulary with a tutor, and you can learn about the Costa Rican government system in a political science class. But no one can teach you sweet aftertaste that papaya leaves on your tongue or the heavenly scent of fried tortillas permeating your bedroom as you awake.

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