Okay, so maybe not everyone’s, but nonetheless a pretty popular one: How is the culture shock / What is something you didn’t expect from it?

Looking back, I really wasn’t sure what to expect for my first time leaving the USA, but I’ve managed to compile a top-five list of some of my most surprising encounters here in Costa Rica. Doing so has helped me reflect on my experience and hopefully can help you create a more realistic picture.

5. San José reminds me of New Orleans.

Maybe it’s because the Crescent City is one of the few outside of the Midwest I’ve visited. But with everything from the buildings’ open-air designs and vibrant colors, to the above-ground cemetery, lively dancing, artisan market, street performers, and rice and beans centric diet, I couldn’t help but be reminded a little bit of this Mississippi jewel.

4. English is everywhere.

Thanks to a great deal of American influence and a thriving tourism industry. As a result, I don’t think it would have been a problem coming here without much knowledge of Spanish, if any. However, I’ve realized that it takes effort to practice and improve my Spanish, as really should be expected with any language.

3. I would never consider driving.

Traffic is ridiculous. Drivers often disobey rules and motorcyclists seem to have death wishes the way they weave around. However, for those of us car-less people, there is always the public bus, taxis, and of course our own two feet.

2. Life is expensive.

Having a meal plan back at college meant I didn’t eat out all that much, and I managed to run a pretty strict budget. Yet here, I have to plan to afford lunch every day and of course want to splurge on all of the fun and exciting activities at my disposal. Everything sure does add up, but it all works out with a little planning.

1. Homesickness is real.

Most of you probably don’t realice how much it pains me to admit this, but it is with much humility that I acknowledge I have been longing for home. Yes…I know that must sound crazy coming from someone living in what seems to be a tropical paradise, but it’s the truth.

I myself was surprised when I finally came to terms with what I was feeling. After all, I couldn’t wait to get away from dull, wintry Iowa and experience the world. I shrugged off all the talk about dealing with homesickness during orientation without a worry because I had already decided it wasn’t going to apply to me.

Yet, here I am wishing I could hug my mom, dad, all my best friends, and yes, even my annoying younger brother. It’s hard knowing all of their lives are going on without you, but then I stop to remember all of the things I have to be thankful for and that this experience is definitely vale la pena.

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