Under the American Influence

I’ve just finished up the third week of my semester long stay in Heredia, Costa Rica. In just a short time I’ve had the opportunity to zipline through the jungle, bathe in hot tubs of water heated by underground volcanic molten lava, swim underneath a nearly 100 meter waterfall, and whitewater raft down one of the world’s most beautiful rivers. Not to mention, I’ve had the privilege of doing all these activities with more than 40 of my new friends from the SOL program. What’s more, the small town of Heredia situated amongst the hills just northeast of the bustling Costa Rican capital is a beautiful “pueblo” where the temperature rarely rises above 80 degrees Fahrenheit and seldom falls below 65. Despite the first three days of my stay being filled with scattered showers, the powerful Costa Rican sun has been reddening us gringos constantly for the past couple weeks. My walk to school includes views of four different volcanoes located in each of the cardinal directions and vibrant rainbows poke out when a rare sprinkle arrives. My temporary abode is tucked away on top of a hill between San Jose and downtown Heredia and overlooks downtown San Jose. My afternoons are spent lounging in the hammock out back with my host family’s two friendly dogs and my nights are spent picking the brain of my nature-loving roommate from California about the different lifestyles we experience back home.

The feeling of being in a completely foreign and exotic land is overwhelming. I haven’t felt any strong yearnings for my home in Kentucky yet, and breaking free of my typical college routine has been incredibly relieving. Yet despite the nearly 2,000 miles that stand between Heredia and my hometown of Louisville, I have constantly felt like a piece of home followed me down here to Costa Rica. It’s not that anyone from my University came here with me; they did not. It’s not that my parents are texting or wanting to FaceTime too frequently; they aren’t. And it’s not that I’m eating the same food that I would in America; on the contrary it has been a completely new, healthier diet than what I’m used to (although I did take an Uber to get Taco Bell last night). The reason I feel a piece of home travelled with me to Costa Rica is because of the current state of the United States of America. Don’t worry, I’m not going to get political here, but I have some thoughts to share. Every morning my “Mama Tica” (host mom) turns on the Central/South American CNN, and every morning the entire newscast is about recent actions and decisions made in the United States. Just across the street from the Universidad Latina where I am taking Spanish classes is a grandiose shopping mall with two floors featuring all types of American stores and restaurants ranging from the Kentucky Fried Chicken of my home state to Payless Shoesource to Office Depot. American business and capitalism is impossible to miss in this small Costa Rican suburb. The young Ticos skateboard around town, wear vans and Yeezy’s, listen to Drake and 21 Pilots, and some even come up to the ULatina basketball court and play my home state’s favorite sport. Even more, every Tico or Tica I meet wants to discuss how and why our president got elected and what is he going to do, and I simply provide vague responses to their probes because I don’t really have any good answers.

Much of this can be equated to the Internet era and the broad term “globalization”. But to simply label this as globalization is incorrect, because most of what I’m seeing in the towns is strictly a product of “Americanization”. For places like Costa Rica and other countries located in Central and South America as well as the Caribbean, every single thing the United States does has a profound effect on the local culture, economy, and society. It has been this way since the Monroe Doctrine declared the United States the great overseer of the Western Hemisphere in the 19th century. Don’t get me a wrong, a short 45-minute drive outside of Heredia and you’re once again in the rural, peaceful, unique land of Costa Rica. But even here you see sugar cane factories pumping out the product you’ll see on the side of your table at Outback Steakhouse.

My point is this; the United States is currently in a position where we possess immense power over what happens throughout the entire globe, especially in the countries like Costa Rica that have such close proximity to the states. This type of influence also instills a responsibility on us to be extremely careful with what we export from our borders. And that does not simply apply to economic exports, but more importantly to cultural and political exports. When I watch CNN in Spanish every morning and field questions from my Mama Tica about the current state of America, I’m forced to wonder what affects the product we’re exporting will have on the rest of the world. As students studying abroad, we are ambassadors of our great country to share the wonderful ideals and morals our nation was built on, and it’s our responsibility to act accordingly and convey the warm spirit most Americans possess. But it is also our job to return to the United States and convey how the rest of the world perceives our actions, good or bad. The beauty of travel is that it provides you with a completely different perspective on all aspects of life. For example, what American would have thought that slamming car doors could be such a controversial action? Some people are not fortunate enough to have the chance to experience this mind-bending occurrence, but we are. It is our responsibility to take this chance and absolutely run wild with it, spreading it everywhere we step foot.

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