Sorry for the delay! It’s been almost non-stop action here so far, so this one’s a pretty long post.
I don’t know if it’s just me, but since I hadn’t really traveled to another country before this, I didn’t truly understand how something like culture shock worked. Sure, I figured it could happen, but it’s a completely different thing when you finally experience it for yourself. My third day here was when it hit me. I think my brain finally caught up to speed that I was in a different place, living with different people, and that a situation like this requires a very open mind.
I’m not the most extroverted person, so living with a different family, even if they’re very sweet to me, and adjusting to a new routine is still a little odd for me to get used to. Let alone when they don’t really speak English and my confidence in my Spanish ability is not the highest. It’s a bit frustrating too that one’s language abilities seem to fluctuate, and one day you seem to be able to understand everything someone says to you, and then the next you need everyone to explain things to you like you’re five.
Language learning is definitely a test of patience.
So, that’s pretty much what day 3 was for me. I got up at around 6AM, got myself together, and then my host mother Mayra called me over to breakfast. I was ready to try and shoot the breeze a bit, and then that turned pretty messy. It’s interesting how there can be a disconnect between what you’re thinking and what you say, because in my head I was like “yeah okay, I’m going to ask her about any good places for tours, talk to her about my classes and my life back home a little,” and then it came out like “Uh… so are there um, you know, places that are um, popular for people not from Costa Rica to um, visit?”. Bless Mayra for her patience, she’s so sweet, and got what I was saying. I didn’t totally understand her response, but bless her.
Later, planned to visit the university to walk around there a little and hang out with some of the other people in my program. Since Mayra walked with me my second day and also drove me there before, I thought I’d remember the way since you just go down this road by her house and then go straight until you get to a park, and then turn left and the uni’s at the end of that street. Simple, right? Oh, that’s what I thought too.
I got lost about 4 times. Turned left at the wrong park, went down a few wrong streets, and I didn’t bring any water with me and I’m sweating like crazy from the humidity and walking up hills, definitely looking like a fish out of water. So I gave up and went back home (thankfully I made a mental note of where I turned at so I could go back).
I think the worst part was that when I got back to the house, my host dad was asking me what happened, and for some reason I couldn’t remember how to say that I got lost. So I tried to tell him I took the wrong path, and he said he didn’t understand. Eventually he was like “oh, you mean your friends weren’t there?” and I just gave up and smiled and nodded. RIP, my confidence level. Later, Mayra was surprised that I was home and she asked what happened and then drove me to the school a little later so I could see the way again. At that point I realized I’d just turned too early and it would’ve been fine otherwise.
I was so tired from walking super far, and embarrassed for messing up a simple route and the fact that everything people were saying to me that day just went in one ear and out the other. Then there was another issue.
I wanted to buy a cheap, local cell phone so I could make calls to my host mom and the university, so Mayra took me to buy one the day before, which seemed fine, got a SIM card and all that. Charged it all up and then it took a while to figure out how to get it running. Half the time the card wouldn’t read properly, and I couldn’t make a call even with the instructions the guy at the store gave me. I would’ve went back to the store, but almost all the stores seem closed on Sundays. My host family didn’t exactly know how to help. In a way they almost made it worse, and seemed like they were going to break something from trying to jam it into the phone awkwardly. I still love them though, it was just like Lord, deliver us, please.
I felt like I just couldn’t catch a break. My brain was so full of negative thoughts about myself and also the experience, too, from everything ranging from the weather, to the bugs, to the gaps in my Spanish knowledge. I felt like an outsider.
But, after moping around for a couple hours, my host family invited me to watch a soccer game with them. Not just any soccer game, though. The national championship game of Costa Rica, with Heredia’s home team playing. Now, I don’t know anything about soccer whatsoever, and I know it’s extremely popular in a lot of countries, but I was not expecting the hype levels of Costa Rica when it comes to the sport.
So, we’re watching the game on the TV, and every time Heredia gets the ball, even if it’s going nowhere near the goal, Mayra’s cheering hardcore. Likewise, if they mess up, she’s on their asses about how their passes or their defending sucks. Now, the first half goes by without a goal on either side, and then in the second half, Heredia gets the first goal and Mayra is screaming “goal”, the announcer is screaming “goal”, and I hear cars honking like crazy in the street. Mayra then runs to grab the team flag from somewhere and comes back to the main room and dances around. The same thing happens when Heredia scores a second time with only a few minutes left, so they pretty much had the game in the bag.
To be honest, all their positive attitudes and seeing how excited everyone gets was pretty infectious, and I felt my spirits jump just a bit. Then after the game, Mayra made us some dinner, and told me that we were going to go to the streets to celebrate. I was not expecting what was in store. So we walked to a street corner, and they’d brought a couple team flags, and told me to help wave one and cheer. So I did, and people were filling the streets, either walking or by car, waving flags around, honking, singing, screaming, you name it. For hours. I’ve never seen anything like it. I yelled with my host family until our voices were gone, and life seemed alright again.
Day 4 was a super busy one. We had our first official day of classes, and had to get there super early to get our ID cards issued. I was feeling a bit nervous, but better overall after that great night of bonding with my host family. Mayra drove me that morning, and I felt confident that I’d gotten the route to school down. Then, we had some orientation stuff to do, and got pictures taken for our ID cards. Four of us in the program don’t have any morning classes, so we decided to just hang out. The only guy with us, Elias, is actually from Costa Rica, and he showed us around Heredia a bit since we had 3 hours or so to kill.
Heredia truly has some beautiful spots and great food options (my fave). We stopped by a few clothing stores, which seemed cheaper than in the states for a lot of it, except the shoes. The shoe lover in me wept a little, but it’s alright. Then we walked through the central park, which was very pretty, and very chill. Will definitely take some breaks there when I can.
After the sightseeing, we headed to a cute and cozy creperie and cafe near the university, called Entre Nous. They have a mix of breakfast, lunch and snack options. I opted for a sweet crepe with a mix of fruit, and a tea infusion with mangoes and strawberries. It was pretty decently priced, less than 4,000 colones, and I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it was absolutely delicious. Will for sure be heading back there.
After food it was time to head back to classes. I was nervous for my Latin American Short Story and Essay class, but my teacher is super chill and speaks slowly enough for us, and I could understand about 90% of what he was saying! He also likes to take coffee breaks halfway through the class, since it’s 3 hours long, so we all got some coffee on the house. My hero. As an aside, the coffee here is legit the best I’ve ever had. Even though I’m not a huge coffee person, I could drink it all the time if it were all this good.
That was about all the excitement for that day. Oh, wait, almost forgot the most important part: I made it home and didn’t get lost! Woo!
Day 5 was pretty standard, which I was totally fine with since it seems like we always have a lot going on, and I was tired as heck from walking around town and then walking home. I told Mayra that and she made me a great breakfast, complete with some gallo pinto. I love rice and beans, though it was my first time having the traditional Costa Rican dish and it’s delicious. I don’t know if a lot of the host mothers cook super well, but Mayra is fantastic, so I’m lucky to have her. Everyone needs a mamá tica in their life. At breakfast she told me I speak Spanish really well, and in fact, better than the other students she’s had stay with her. If that isn’t a confidence boost, I don’t know what is; maybe I underestimate myself too much.
Anyway, I walked to school (and made it there properly!), and then went to my conversation class, which I can tell is really going to challenge me and improve my Spanish, since we can only use Spanish in the classroom, and she has us do a variety of speaking exercises. There are only six of us, so we all get a lot of chance to practice, so I’m hype.
After class, apparently there was a bit of a hiccup with my ID card, and they couldn’t get it to print properly since the computer apparently crashed or something when they tried to make mine, so we had to get that sorted out. It wasn’t awful, but I did miss lunch because of it. I think I’m like a minor-inconvenience-magnet. But aside from that everything was fine. I went to my class with my coffee-fanatic teacher and had a good time, and then went home and Mayra made me some delicious veggie and mushroom pasta to make up for the fact that I didn’t have lunch. She’s way too sweet. I’m going to miss her when I have to go.
These past few days have taught me a lot about myself, and dealing with new situations. Culture shock really is something that can be controlled if you don’t close yourself off, and if you allow yourself to decompress. It’s not all going to be smooth sailing, but I feel like I’m better equipped to handle whatever comes my way, and I’m ready to keep learning about the culture, language, and myself. Pura vida all the way.