I have been to other countries than the United States a few times before, but never on my own. The process of studying abroad and traveling to another country by myself is intimidating, and I’m still getting the hang of it. I’ve only been in Costa Rica for a few days, but in that short time I feel I’ve learned some important things.
Firstly, I quickly found it’s important to ask questions in an airport. I must have bothered ten different people during my trip from Illinois to Texas to San Jose. I originally didn’t even know where my gate was, but I eventually asked someone at the counter where I could find it. And when that flight was delayed, I made sure I was able to switch flights and bring my luggage with me. I also worked on getting a few colones before I left for San Jose to make sure I’d be able to cover anything unexpected.
I found out in my first few days here that it’s possible to get a message across without speaking a language very well. I’m not the best Spanish speaker, but by using hand gestures and cognates, I’ve been able to communicate with other people. Since I don’t really know much about the culture or how manners work in Costa Rica, I always try to be as polite as possible, and use “muchas gracias” fairly often. However, my friends and I are trying to use Spanish in regular conversation so that we can get as much practice with the language as possible.
Nevertheless, the most important thing I’ve learned is that, generally, people are willing to help. To be fair, there are people who will take advantage of you if you are not careful. But for the most part, if you are confident and know what you want, people will be friendly, especially in Costa Rica. Whether it was just that I dropped my wallet, or didn’t know what time a store opened, or was looking to talk to someone, people are very receptive to friendly interactions. I still have much to learn. I’m only in San Jose for five weeks, and there’s far too much to the city to know everything in such a short time, but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to try.
As the days continue, I hope to learn much more about the city. My friends and I are talking with our host family. They are very kind and have a lot of knowledge that we wouldn’t be able to get elsewhere. I hope we grow closer to them as the weeks grow on!