1- Don’t be afraid to ask questions. As you settle in more to your life in Costa Rica, you will (no matter how crazy the culture shock feels at first) get comfortable. It will start to feel like home and often this is when we stop overthinking, and sometimes that means we stop asking questions. We go with the flow, let other people make the weekend plans, and just enjoy. While it is importance to relax and enjoy your time here, I urge to you stay as curious as you will be on your first day. Continue to ask each Tico you meet about their favorite part of Costa Rica. Continue to ask your teachers everything that crosses your mind. Continue to ask your mamá Tica if you are speaking Spanish correctly. Stay curious because there is so much to learn each day.
2- Try all of the food. Coming from someone who has been a vegetarian for nearly nine years, you can have something that limits your diet, and there is still so much to try. Don’t be afraid of foods you cannot pronounce or fruits that you have never even seen in pictures, because chances are that they will all be delicious. I firmly believe that experiencing the food is a big part of traveling, so now is not the time to be picky.
3- Get out of your comfort zone. As I have already said, after a few weeks here, you will be comfortable. But travel is not about being comfortable. Talk to Ticos even though you have study abroad friends. Explore. When you travel do not just stay in nice hotels with your group of gringos, but instead talk to locals of the region and ask about hidden gems. Try things that scare you. Go zip lining, consider bungee jumping or waterfall repelling or parasailing or surfing or whatever idea gets your heart pumping with some beautiful mixture of excitement and fear. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity, so try to take advantage of it.
4- Speak up for yourself. For me, this first came up in my homestay. My mamá Tica is an angel and was making me pancakes nearly every other day for the first week, because she thought that most people from the states love pancakes. I, unfortunately, deeply dislike pancakes. Because her intention was so sweet, I was very scared of coming off rude or unappreciative, but explaining my dietary preferences to her has made my life so much better, and not-so-shockingly, it was not nearly as big of a deal as I thought it would be. It is important to try and go with the flow and embrace cultural differences, but if there is something bothering you in one of your classes or in your homestay, speak up for yourself.
5- Remember to rest. You have the opportunity to travel every weekend, there are fun things to do each evening, and you will also have ample work in your classes each day. Living each day to the fullest here feels incredible, but it can also cut into your sleep. After seven weeks, I just got my first sickness. My body and brain are both very tired and I know it’s the result of putting traveling, socializing, and schoolwork before sleep and rest.
6- Get involved! The best part of my Mondays and Wednesdays is an English class that I get to team-teach with another study abroad student. Our students are a mixture of Tica moms and Veritas students and they are all incredible people. If that doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, there are so many other ways to get involved. I have friends who volunteer at preschools, orphanages, hospitals and more. Whether you plan on doing a full internship or just volunteering a few hours a week, it is incredibly rewarding and will teach you more than I can describe.
7- Be yourself. This is obvious but sometimes we all need a reminder.
8- Find your personal level on keeping contact with loved ones from home. It’s important that your loved ones aren’t worried about you, but it’s also important that you don’t organize your life here around constantly connecting with them. It will make you homesick. Everyone has a different standard for how often they should connect with home, so be aware of the importance of this balance and then try to find it for you.
9- Be kind to your body. If you went to the gym every single day in the states, find a way to work out here most days as well. Yes, you will do a lot more walking here, and on the weekends you will return sore from hiking/ surfing/ whatever, but if your body is used to sweating and endorphins each day, going cold turkey here will make the transition much tougher. Around San Jose you will have a gym (super close to Veritas), many yoga studios, pole dance classes, aerial silk classes, zumba, kickboxing and more. And experiencing a fitness class in your second language is a pretty amazing experience.
10- Don’t compare. Things are not going to be the same as they are back home, and that is why you are here. Things are not going to be the same as they are in the pictures that your friends post online, but that’s because you are here experiencing life and life does not come with an instagram filter. You have chosen an amazing place to study abroad; so don’t take away from it by constantly comparing things here to things in other places.
11- Keep a record of your experiences. I journal for a few minutes every day, and when I look at my entries from a week ago, it amazes me how much has changed. You are going to grow and change so much and keeping a record of the change allows you to understand how incredible this growth is.