And the conclusion to yesterday’s post, Costa Rica-a study abroad retrospective.
I learned how to display confidence on the outside even when I didn’t feel that way on the inside
Compared to my study abroad program in Spain where students were almost “babied,” my program in Costa Rica was truly an independent one (well, this is especially true since everyone was sent out on their own to complete their internship).
I learned to master the San Jose bus system. Okay, this is a lie as there is no system, but I could deal with the crazy, frenetic experience that comes with riding the buses there, starting with whether you’re going to be riding in an old American school bus or a refurbished one that looks like Greyhound, to learning how to yell “para” at the top of my lungs for the bus to stop since there was no way to alert the driver you wanted to get off save for your voice, to fighting my way through crazy crowds to get off, all without missing my stop and hoping nothing of mine would be stolen by a pickpocket.
I didn’t blink an eye (okay I did on the inside) when I had to share a taxi with other people and by other people I mean they were complete strangers to me. But when you’re in rural areas, this is a common practice for getting around.
I also mastered my “don’t f with me” face; something that is needed when dealing with the asinine piropos (cat calls) the men there (and in Nicaragua) like to give.
There’s poverty and then there’s priorities
Maybe I don’t understand coming from a white, privileged background but nothing disheartened me more than seeing individuals living in abject poverty with a television set that was newer and sleeker than the ones my parents had. I’ll always remember on a trip with the program, talking with a family who lived in a squatter community. They had no actual door (just rough materials strewn together), the floor was dirt, the family slept on mattresses on the floor, but there was their humongous TV set. When I commented on this to a girl in my program (she was a minority), her response was basically “it’s needed.” That having a television keeps the kids safe since they’re inside watching instead of being outside, getting caught up in stuff. Um, really? A bed, an actual door, proper insulation to keep you warm? Nope, not needed. It’s all about the TV.
Racism is ugly and rampant
I’m old enough to know that racism is everywhere. That stereotypes are always bad when they hurt an entire race, nationality, or culture. Yet they exist everywhere. In Costa Rica it’s the Nicaraguans who are discriminated against. I loved my host mom but nothing made me more upset than hearing this usually kind and charming woman spew such vitriolic hate. If a crime had been reported on the news, it must have been the Nicaraguense even if it wasn’t. Costa Rica is this tropical paradise but once again, this is a side of the country the tourists never see.
I learned so much
Although this sounds a bit cliched, I truly did. About myself, about Costa Rica, about Nicaragua. My Spanish greatly improved. America’s view of Central America is so tied to the events of the 1980s and early 1990s (the Iran-Contra Affair, the civil wars in Guatemala and El Salvador) and I’m happy as an American to have gone and lived there, and learned the “real story,” no longer a one-sided one.
I was bewitched by a country I never thought I would be
Until I went, Europe had always been what was on my travel radar. I had never been the outdoorsy type and yet for a semester I lived in a country that is known for its outdoorsy appeal. While I don’t know if I could do everything I did when I was 19, I still would love to return one day. I think my visit would be all the more enhanced by knowing that at one time, I had seen Costa Rica not through the eyes of a tourist but as a temporary resident.