During my third week in Costa Rica, I had the immense pleasure of ziplining in the Alajuela provinence, near La Fortuna, and of experiencing the busy city of San Jose. Over the weekend, my fellow classmates and I traveled to La Fortuna to stay at a resort with numerous hot springs and a great view of the Arenal Volcano– when it’s not foggy. The zip lining was incredible. Soaring from tree to tree was a great way to experience the rain forest. Later in the week, I walked around San Jose and experienced a bustling city unlike Heredia. My classmates and I considered how different our study abroad experience may have been if we had spent our 3 weeks in San Jose. Undoubtably, I would see far more people and historical places, but I feel I wouldn’t have had the more authentic experience of being able to say hola to my neighbors each day and of quiet mornings in my host family’s garden.
The cultural of San Jose and Heredia is captivating, and far more subtle than I imagined. After my first week, I thought Heredia seemed very much like home: it was a suburb outside of the city where people drive similar cars past a lot of the same resturants from home. Yet, when I reflect and think about my experiences talking with locals, and their patience with my limited Spanish, I realize how amiable my experience with Costa Ricans have been. Despite the business of modern life, they seem adept at making time for friendly strangers in a way many of us in the US do not. A perfect example is my experience at a local gym, where I have only exercized 5 or so times. Each time after the workout, I find myself giving fist-bumps and encouragement to several people who I have only met briefly, but are excited to share a smile with a stranger. After 3 weeks, I am just beginning to be open to starting conversations in a way I wish I was before I visiting. When I go back, I plan on continuing my challenge of starting a conversation with a new person everyday because I now appreciate the benefit this can have on my life.
Saturday morning, when I return back to the United States, a great many things will not return with me. I will likely never have authentic gallo pinto again nor will I eat many of various fruits whose names I cannot remember. Pictures will just be echoes of a beautiful country. All that will remain are my memories, how I have grown, and the bags of coffee I am bringing back with me. I am comforted to know that Costa Rica has encouraged me to seek out more experiences with people and to smile more at strangers. In a broader sense, there is a greater openness towards living a social life. I have not thought more about being a father than on this trip. I think a big part of this is living with adults that are not my parents, as well as, a deepened appreciation for social connection. Even in another language, I can still reach out and create meaningful connections with people. This fact, more than anything, encourages me most about my time spent in Costa Rica and is a momento far more valuable than any trinket in my suitcase.