The study abroad experience puts you in new, beautiful, absurd, and sometimes scary situations. Whether you find yourself bungee jumping in Monteverde at the highest bungee jump in Central America, or you simply find yourself attempting to navigate buses and taxis in broken Spanish, you can count on being uncomfortable and then growing because of this discomfort. You may not realize it in the moment, but the experiences you will have here are extremely significant. The life metaphors (e.g. bungee jumping) become more obvious in hindsight.
This past weekend I went to a friend’s house and our plans to go out with other study abroad students quickly changed. Her abundance of Tico siblings were socializing in the kitchen, inviting us to talk with them. Talking became dancing and we found ourselves learning salsa, bachata, merengue and cumbia, dancing barefoot on the kitchen floor. About an hour into dancing, my Tico dance teacher asked me, “What exactly are you listening to?”. He was not trying to be rude, he simply saw me doing the steps perfectly in order, just not completely finding the beat. I knew what to do intellectually; I was following what I thought I should do; but I was not actually present with the music.
Yes, this is a life metaphor for sure.
Moreover, it is a study abroad metaphor. It is easy to come to Costa Rica and think intellectually about what we want to do here. It is easy to make a long list of all the adventures to have here, and then receive ample positive feedback about these adventures as we post pictures of them all over social media. It is easy to force the days here to fit a typical “United States schedule,” planning exactly how much time to do to the gym and then fit a hundred other things into a day. But if we live like that, are we really immersing ourselves? Are we thinking of what we “should” do each day, or are we waking up, listening to the culture, and living more spontaneously?
Costa Rica is absolutely incredible, but it is important to actively try to always be present here. Do not spend every moment with other students from the states, isolating yourself from amazing Tico friendships. Do not waste time on instagram, scrolling through the perfectly filtered pictures of friends studying in other countries, wondering if you chose the right one, because you really did choose the right one!
You have chosen to come to a country that is currently running 100% off of renewable energy. You have chosen to come to a country that, while having significantly less money than the states, has a lifetime expectancy of 77 years old and a literacy rate of 96% (both some of the highest rates in the world). You have chosen to come to a country where everyone runs on Tico Time (anywhere from 10- 30 minutes late) because here the expression is not, “Time is money,” but instead, “El tiempo es oro,” meaning time is gold, so spend it valuably living in the moment, and it is okay if the beauty of that moment makes you fifteen minutes late for the next one. You are coming to a “pura vida” country, where happiness, relaxation, and love are the highest priorities. You are coming to one of the most physically beautiful places on the planet, with tropical beaches, rainforests, cloud forests, and more at your access.
So don’t live the way that I dance. Do not overthink and compare, but instead just be here. If you are not here mentally, then only half of you gets to experience one of the most incredible cultures in the world.