I have been in Costa Rica for four days now and every morning that I wake up in this tropical land and look outside my window to the mountains, it feels surreal. Walking the streets, I feel like an outsider. There is their ever-present life that I am not a part of: family members coming to visit, dogs and birds I see through gates, and ticos and ticas retrieving their standard conveniences from the various tiendas in the neighborhood. I stay in La Suiza which is a part of San Rafael which is a part of the larger province of Heredia. They don’t use addresses here so my sense of my whereabouts in the world will have to guide me for the next four months. Today I tried to take the bus by myself and, in fear of riding too far past my stop, got off way too early, recognized nothing, and had to ask for directions to my home using the index card my host mama gave me. Luckily, the man was a great help, but I did have to walk a mile in the rain.
So far I feel very dependent on others for everything. My host mama makes me three meals a day and packs my school lunch like I am a little kid again. She takes me to the bus stop (for now) and following today’s disaster, she will retrieve me from the university until I know my way around. Despite my early trouble, I am in a constant state of wonder at the beauty of this place.
The houses are not devoid of color like they are in the States; they are bursting with lively hues of orange, red, and yellow. The campus of UNA- The National University of Costa Rica doesn’t even look real. Once I remember that Costa Rica, a country the size of the state of West Virginia, houses 5% of the world’s biodiversity, I am less surprised to see twelve types of flora on my walk across campus. To be fair, I haven’t started class yet. My classes are Tuesday through Friday and my schedule is fantastic. I am excited to have time to volunteer to teach English to children and to join the program Tico Friend where I will make friends with local students.
One could say I am still experiencing some culture shock as I venture farther each day. The main sources of culture shock thus far have been:
-The roads. Costa Rican drivers do not seem to pay attention to driving laws and gun it when there is someone right in front of them only to swerve at the last minute. I would laugh if I didn’t feel so darn scared to cross the street.
-The bathrooms. Here, all waste goes into the wastebasket. Water pressure is low, and you’ll be lucky to get ten minutes of hot water for your shower because the houses have a coil system rather than a hot water tank. There are also always little bugs in the bathroom, but they don’t harm you.
-The schedule. In the U.S., I feel that we are constantly minding the time because we do not have enough of it to do everything we wish. But in Costa Rica, time is less of a stress. My host dad works from the early morning to around 3pm for 4-5 days a week as a mechanical engineer. He enjoys his work, and he always has time for siestas after he comes home. I have taken a nap every day since I have been here too because there seems to be an abundance of time, and also because it always rains in the afternoon and I feel extremely lazy when I cannot go outside. Also, the sun rises a lot earlier here and sets a lot earlier, around 7pm, so I typically go to bed around 9 each night. This is definitely an adjustment, but I can’t help but appreciate how in tune with nature and relaxed the atmosphere is here.
So far, Costa Rica is impressing me. I have yet to see much besides Heredia and the university, but I’m finding that it’s the little things that contain much of the beauty and charm of this place. Everywhere I turn, I find something else that brings me delight, whether it’s the chirping birds in the trees or the seemingly never-ending array of frutas for me to choose from. I am excited to see what lies ahead in these next four months.
For now, Pura Vida!
Sarah Merrifield is currently studying abroad in Heredia, Costa Rica. You can read more of Sarah’s study abroad journey on her personal blog, Merri Words.