“Please put all sanitary napkins and paper waste into the trash can, thank you.” Uhhhhh what?! Upon first arriving in Costa Rica, one difference that really struck me was that they don’t flush toilet paper. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve broken this rule, or how curious I find this practice, but as strange as it may seem, this custom of theirs has taught me some valuable life lessons as a first time foreign exchange student.
Thinking more and more about the word “flush,” I went and looked it up in the handy-dandy dictionary. This is what I found…
Flush (v)—to become red and hot, typically as the result of an illness or emotion
Flush (n)—a surge of emotion
Flush (adj.)—even or level with another surface
After reading these definitions, light bulbs began to flicker in my head. I realized as a foreign exchange student, I had entered into what I like to title “The Flush Cycle.” This cycle is composed of three phases related to the various definitions of the word “flush.” Phase one is where we become ill as a result of being immersed into a foreign country. Phase two is the surge of emotions such as frustration and close-mindedness. And phase three is when we begin to rationalize and see the importance of equality.
Upon first arriving in Costa Rica, I found myself entering phase one. Having been removed from my comfort zone and routine in a matter of days, it was hard for me not to let my initial pessimistic reactions get the best of me. Uncomfortable, overwhelmed, out of place—this is how I initially felt, and I found myself just about as successful as a dog chasing its tail when trying to dodge these negative sensations.
After getting a brief feel for the culture, the schooling, and the lifestyle here, I found myself progressing to phase two. I was frustrated. I didn’t understand why people would talk to me in English when I’d try to talk to them in Spanish, I didn’t understand why my classes were more difficult than anticipated, and I didn’t understand how to manage my time in a place where time wasn’t really a thing to be managed. Honking? Just another language. Touching? Forget about your personal bubble. Punctuality? Out the window. All these differences were weighing me down, and it was notably taking its toll on my character.
Luckily, this friendly little voice inside my head reminded me that I am not here to follow my customary routine, I’m not here for things to make perfect sense. I’m here to challenge myself and learn from those of a different culture. This oh so intelligent voice led me to the more rational phase three of the cycle. The accepting and adapting phase. I learned I must not waste my time flushing in anger, or breaking into a flush of frustration, but rather to become flush with the culture of Costa Rica. My job isn’t to blend in and live alongside them, but rather with them, in harmony and free of judgement.
As an exchange student I would like to remind all other students in my shoes, that for as scary and simultaneously exciting of an experience as this may be, this is an experience of a lifetime. This is our opportunity to be an “other,” and what a rewarding opportunity it is to be on the outside for once in our lives. It takes us out of our routine, reminds us not to take life too seriously, and increases our abilities to see from all types of perspectives.
So my challenge to you is don’t flush my friends, but crush. Crush on the people, the food, the culture, the lifestyle. Let yourself fall in love. Learn how others live, work, and play and you will find yourself transforming into a more accepting and understanding individual. With this mindset, we can become the individuals who break down pressing social barriers such as prejudices and narrow mindedness. It’s these negativities that are acceptable to flush down the toilet.