If someone would have told me a year ago that I would be in Costa Rica with my husband studying Spanish for a month I would have probably laughed at them. Me? Travel abroad? Me? Study Spanish in a place so far away from home? Me? Find a place to live for a month with my husband?
Sometimes I think Life is the best comedian, because two weeks ago on Sunday, my husband and I stepped off of an airplane in San Jose, Costa Rica. We walked (slowly) through immigration, we rode in a black Echo car to a home stay, and we met two of the nicest people we will ever meet (our host parents). Our padres ticos lead us to our room which had its own bathroom, let us rest from our flight, and before we could say “pura vida” we were thrown into this crazy situation called “study abroad.”
Even if I had known a year ago I would be in San Jose, I don’t think I could have prepared for this. From the moment we arrived in Costa Rica, we were totally immersed in Spanish. We spoke Spanish with the immigration officers, and when we met our host parents, we spoke Spanish with them. Neither of my host parents speak English, but my papa tico knew enough to be able to say “don’t worry, be happy,” when I apologized to him for not being able to speak Spanish very well, despite the three years I spent in high school studying the language… good thing we were learning!
Our mama tica walked with us to Universidad Veritas, and the next day we went through orientation and started our classes. There are a few things I should have expected before I came to Costa Rica.
1) Being lost. The streets are laid out completely differently than they are in the United States. It took about three tries, two taxi drivers, four rain storms, twenty dollars, the grace of God, and sheer dumb luck to find a market place some other students had told me about.
2) FOOD. People love each other with food here. I should have known my mama tica would lavish me with delicious meals and fresh fruit! (Stretchy pants are a necessity!)
3) Overstimulation. This is real. Imagine four hours straight of converting Spanish to English in your head during class. Then for lunch, you attempt to order some type of mystery meat dish. (Tip: You can’t go wrong with a pupusa!) Afterwards, you ride a taxi/minibus home with a driver who you have to give directions to in Spanish. Once at home, you walk through the door and your very nice host parents talk with you about your day… in Spanish. Afterwards—if you’re lucky—you can speak with your friend/boyfriend/husband in English while you do your homework in Spanish. Just about the time you finish homework, you have supper with your host family, where you speak (you guessed it) more Spanish. After supper you speak with your host parents a little and tell funny stories. In Spanish. Then, you go to bed, dream in Spanish, and start all over again. It’s great for learning, but I should have packed some extra aspirin!
4) Enjoy everything. The Spanish equivalent of my papa tico’s favorite phrase in English, “don’t worry, be happy,” is “tranquilo,” and since I’ve been in San Jose, I’ve probably heard it about “dos mil” times. I still have two weeks left here, and I’m sure I’ll hear it many more times. It’s been a great motto for me. Even though “tranquilo” only translates to “tranquil” it means so much more. To me it means: relax, everything will work out, and don’t forget to enjoy yourself.
Even though this time in my life was unanticipated, I can’t deny that it’s been one of the best experiences I’ve had in my college education. Because even though Life is a comedian, Life is also a secret romantic and things tend to work out for the best. J