CENet Scholarship Blog: Quick Update from Costa Rica
I can’t believe slightly over half my time in Costa Rica has already passed. I feel like there is so much more to see and so many more experiences that need to be made here. I feel completely at home here – my host mom feels like a real mom, I have formed friendships that will last many, many years and I only now feel like I can somewhat navigate this place and give future visitors advice on where to travel.
To give readers an idea of what typical life is like here, I will answer some of the most frequent questions I get asked:
- Do you speak Spanish a lot?
Yes, I speak it every day. I live with a Costa Rican family, a Brazilian house mate, and all of my classes are in Spanish. To study at UCR, students are required to be at least intermediate Spanish speakers (I now understand why, UCR is one of the best universities in Latin America). While I still struggle to speak up in class, because I speak ten times slower than any average Costa Rican, I do listen to and grasp about 90% of what the teacher is saying. Although I am not speaking Spanish as frequently as I would like, I am in continuous contact with Spanish speaking friends I have made here. Most ticos (Costa Ricans) do not speak a lot of English.
- What is the weather like?
The weather varies from location to location throughout Costa Rica, but there are two main seasons, the wet and dry season. I haven’t been to the west coast yet (although I am going this weekend, very exciting!), but the east coast tends to be pretty humid and very warm all year around. My first two months in San José (located in the center of Costa Rica) however, I did not see one drop of rain. During the dry season the city remains dry and maintains a comfortable, warm temperature. About two weeks ago, the rainy season started and it started pouring and thundering non-stop. I have never seen plants transform so quickly in my life – from one day to the next I started to see a lush, green color all around. Temperatures remain warm.
- What is going to class in a Costa Rican university like?
The duration of each class is 2 hours and 50 minutes and held once a week, typically. The class setting is similar to the United States. There are about 20 – 35 students per class. It is expected to be on time, but many students and sometimes even the professors (although much less) show up anywhere from 5 – 45 minutes late (they call this “tico time”). Upon entering late students say “permiso” (“excuse me”) before sitting down. All my professors seem very well traveled and knowledgeable and the Costa Rican students are expected to be able to read English textbooks.
- How long does it take to travel around?
Again, it depends on where you are going. To get to either coast it can take about 2-4 hours. But, to get to the beautiful spots, it can take up to 8 hours. Buses here are really cheap and comfortable. This country is small and well traveled and there are tons of online blogs and Facebook groups that share ways to travel around.
- Is it cheap to live in Costa Rica?
No, it is not cheap. Food and clothes are actually more expensive than in the United States. This is hard to imagine when the average income of a Costa Rican is $600/ month. However, luckily, I am well fed at my house. Buses, coffee and the cinema are cheap, however. Just think of Costa Rica as the Switzerland of Latin America.
- What is your favorite thing about Costa Rica?
Definitely the people. This country is not perfect, it has problems like anywhere else in the world, but the general easygoing attitude people have and the way the people deal with problems here is slightly but noticeably different from anywhere else I have ever lived. Here, the people maintain calm and deal with problems as they arise rather than complaining about the problem before trying to fix it. They also seem to (in general, not everyone) worry less about the future and focus more on the present or short-term progress and goals. I also feel like Costa Ricans are a lot less judgmental than any other place I have ever visited. I never feel like I am being overly friendly here. Also, and maybe this has to do with the fact that I am an exchange student and surrounded by a lot of outgoing and interesting people, I feel like people’s genuine personalities stand out a lot more than looks here not only to me but amongst other people. People here overall seem a lot less superficial.
Next would be the sun, the latin american music (people are not ashamed to dance here, with or without rhythm, and I love it), the nature (obviously), the warm weather, the animals, and the proximity to everything.
- Is it dangerous?
If you have common sense, it is not a dangerous place. You obviously do not want to be wandering the streets alone at night or leave your stuff unsupervised on a bus.
I love studying abroad. While sometimes overwhelming, I love being surrounded by a language and culture that isn’t mine but making it mine little by little. I love studying geography, history and politics from a latin american perspective. Thanks to studying abroad (and the professors of UCR) I better understand why real problems like poverty, access to basic resources and racism exist in Central America. This place is helping me shape who I am and what I know. I am so happy and thankful to be here every single day.
Pictures: Jamaica VS Costa Rica soccer game, exchange students, San José street art, the Social Science building at UCR, Cahuita National Park & a man who wanted his picture taken