“How was the first week?”
I remember landing at the airport just outside of San Jose and thinking “Shucks I’m in a foreign country far from my home wow!” and being as nervous as I was excited. I spoke briefly to some of my neighbors on the plane on our way into the airport, one of whom also happened to be a Sol alumni who went to Argentina a couple of years back! She happened to guess that the program I was with was Sol; it’s a small and neat little world we live in. The man who sat next to me looked relatively well-off and well-traveled. It was my first time flying in first class, so I was not used to all of the snacks, so many free entertainment options, and people saying ‘Bloody Mary’ without hesitation when asked for drinks. He was a travel writer, a job that I’m currently only slightly jealous of.
I exited the airport and found a small riot of taxi drivers and people trying to sell me experiences. I found two of my Sol directors, Angie and Jessenia, and they took me to a van to go immediately to my host family. My directors are currently learning English and I’m currently learning Spanish, so the Spanglish that ensued worked well enough so that I could understand what was going on.
So literally, from the airport into the house of a family in Costa Rica who I’ve only seen pictures of is how my first day went. Orientation happened on day 2; this program is pretty intense with the immersion, which is a great thing.
On the way to the house from the airport, I took in how green everything is, how humid the air is, and how much it rains here by the wear and tear on the infrastructure. Driving a car in Costa Rica is its own adventure, one that my friendly bus driver assured me was more or less safe. Cars have the right-of-way, not pedestrians. Further, there are a lot more motorcycles here. Like, having a motorcycle is almost as common as having a car. Every lane is a passing lane on every street. You cross streets when you have an opportunity. Cross walks are as rare as roundabouts in the U.S.
I was taken down a little street next a train station. The trains here are older models than the ones in the US, and there is no train gate thing on the streets that keeps you back when a train is coming. It’s your responsibility to not be on the tracks when the train comes roaring by with it horns blazing. The public transportation system places a lot more trust on its users here.
My host mom, Doña Miriam, has a little bakery that is literally a part of her two story house; she walked up to the bus when we drove up, introduced herself, and we conversed a little before entering her house. Turns out I know more than I thought! She’s incredibly kind, hospitable, and even does my laundry for me. In Costa Rica it seems that mothers have what people in the US would consider more ‘traditional’ roles, and that it’s very common acceptable.
I live with three of her sons, all men in their twenties and one who is middle aged, and we all get along really well. Two are still students, and one is a chef. The two younger ones are both musical like myself, and we spend lots of time looking up music on youtube, messing around with one of the two keyboards they have, and practicing some latin music together.
My family, and mama tica in particular, have been extremely accommodating with my vegetarianism and the food we eat is both diverse and still spectacular. I’ll talk more about this later.
For Costa Ricans, one phrase seems to hold sway over their ways of thinking: ‘Pura vida.’ This literally translates to ‘pure life’, but means something much deeper, more profound. It means that one should enjoy their life, not let worries get to them, and connect with those around them. There’s a twinge of national pride attached as well because it is unique and native to Costa Ricans. It’s kind of similar to ‘hakuna matata’ from the movie The Lion King but it’s actually commonly used, and its influence is much easier to see. I’ll talk about this more in a later post, but ambition here does not cause nearly as much stress and disquietude as it does in the United States.
My Sol Group is amazing; we’re from all over the United States (lots of Texans) and come from all sorts of different schools and backgrounds. One man is an ex-marine; there’s one couple who are here both to learn & practice Spanish as well as spend time in Costa Rica. These folks are more middle aged than the rest of us, who are around 20. So far, we talk, joke around, go out, practice our Spanish, and work on homework together. All of our excursions have been together as well. It feels like we’ve been here much longer than a week.
Sometimes it’s difficult to feel at home in a larger group of people, but when I’m with any of these folks one on one or in smaller groups, conversation flows like water if they’re down to talk. It’s good to be here with people who, although from different states, have a really similar background and upbringing and speak the same language. We are all at extremely different levels of Spanish, from being basically fluent and just needing practice to knowing only English and some French. But in this first week, we’ve all learned huge amounts. We’re much more comfortable going out, buying drinks, and talking to locals than we were just a week ago.
I feel like I pulled the lucky straw because, so far, this trip, this study abroad thing, has been more than the itineraries promised. Tomorrow I’m looking forward to class, the club de conversacion with some local students trying to improve their English, and more likely than not celebrating the 4th of July with my Sol group.
I don’t think there’s much more I could have asked for. Every day is a challenge, but in the best kind of way. New words, verbs, conjugations. Names to remember, sentences to structure, foods to taste. The days are diverse, long, and well-rounded. I’m so glad that I somewhat know how to dance to latin music, and that I dance even to music I don’t know the dances to; it’s come in handy.
We’ve been to Volcan Poas (a volcano), Volcan Arenal, and have toured the lovely city of Heredia (where we are staying) and have commenced classes at the Latina University of Costa Rica in Heredia. I’ve tried fruits that look like they can squirm around and name themselves, and I’ve discovered that I know much more Spanish than I gave myself credit for. The nights are filled with bar hopping, hanging out, and somehow we get homework done. The classes range from beginner to Spanish literature. What seems to be one of the most important factors in learning a language is not how many classes you’ve taken but how long you’ve been conversing with people who speak it. Not to discredit classes, but using a language teaches you more.