My trip to Costa Rica was my first time out of the country, and I’m glad I chose this country rather than any other one. Despite the bad reputations held by other countries near it, such as Mexico and Nicaragua, Costa Rica is the land of “pura vida”, or pure life. Once you get past the rough roads and sidewalks, the catcalls from the tico men, and the fast drivers, you feel pretty much at home. The people are friendly and helpful, and as long as you are smart about where you go and who you’re with, safety is not a huge concern. It is smart to be aware of your surroundings at all times, but there’s no need to be so paranoid that you can’t ever have fun.
Off the top of my head, the first thing I wish I would have known before arriving in Costa Rica would have to be the speed of the native Spanish speakers here. Rule number 1: if a tico asks you “hablas español?” ALWAYS say “un poco,” no matter how great you think your ability to speak and understand the language is. I made that mistake on the first day when I arrived at my host mom’s house, and man oh man… the next five minutes consisted of my host mom rattling off sentences and commands; it might as well have been in Chinese, because I didn’t understand a single word she said.
Along with this tip, there are many things I wished I knew how to explain at the exact moment I needed to, but I had no idea how to explain them without a translator nearby. I would have to go to my room and translate a conjugated verb and then go back to my host mom to explain in order for it to make sense. Some of these are listed below.
- “Cuando tengo tiempo sola, empiezo a pensar en mi novio y amigos. Si pienso demasiado sobre cuánto los extraño, me pongo a llorar.”
- My first night here, my host mom showed me to my room and I immediately started crying when she shut the door and I started unpacking. My second night here I also started crying after I had been sitting alone in my room for thirty minutes, because all I could do was think about how much I missed my boyfriend and family back home. It was around dinnertime, so I had to explain why I didn’t want to eat dinner with everyone while I was choking on my tears. Needless to say, it was very unsuccessful. I wish I would have had an explanation ready for when my host mom asked me “por qué estás triste?”, but instead I just caused a lot more confusion and worry for her by not knowing what to say.
- “Puedo dormir mucho porque tengo una enfermedad llamada narcolepsia. Mi cerebro confunde mis patrones de sueño, por lo que mi cuerpo siempre piensa que está cansado y me quedo dormida incluso cuando yo no quiero.”
- I also have narcolepsy, which is a huge factor in my academic, athletic, and social atmospheres. I needed to explain to my host mom why I always went back to bed after breakfast and took a nap before my afternoon class, because I did not want to come off as rude, lazy, or inconsiderate. However, I did not know how to explain a disease in depth until I translated it, and that was very inconvenient because I tried many times before. She ended up thinking I had insomnia at one point, so I knew I had somehow really messed up what I meant to say.
- “¿Está bien si…?” (Is it okay to…?)
- I needed to know how to say this sooo many times before I actually translated it. I focused on getting to know my host mom and her rules during my first week in Costa Rica, but it was almost impossible to get her opinion on certain habits that I had without asking about them specifically. I didn’t want to offend her by doing something I was used to doing in the U.S., and I definitely didn’t want to break any rules and get off on the wrong foot that early in my trip.
Memorizing hundreds of phrases word-for-word before arriving in Costa Rica is not what I’m suggesting, but I am suggesting that you anticipate what you would need to say in order to describe your character, values, morals, personality, etc., so that your host family can get to know you better. I think it is extremely important to have a strong foundation and good relationship with your host family in order to have a great experience while abroad. I look forward to going home from class each day and seeing my host mom, and that has made a huge difference in my enjoyment of each day.