Alright, finally getting more settled in here nearing the end of day 2 of my Costa Rican experience. It still feels a little surreal that I’m actually here and will be for the next five weeks. Surprisingly, I haven’t had any major freak out moments like I thought I might, but hey, there’s always still time for them to show up later! Mostly just joking about that last part. Mostly.
Really though, I’m happy to report that overall it’s been a pretty nice experience so far. Even the process of getting here was really smooth, which was a super pleasant surprise. because I hate dealing with airports half the time for domestic travel, let alone international where you have to get there at least two hours early and often deal with lines for days. Getting up super early isn’t exactly my thing (probably an understatement), but aside from that, my dad and I made it through LAX easily and with plenty of time to spare.
I wanted to try and catch up on sleep during the five hour flight, but my brain was so wired thinking about everything that was going on. Was my host family going to be chill? Would I totally forget how to talk to them properly? Would I even be able to locate them at the airport? Time seemed to go by way too fast, and after the captain announced that we were about to descend into San Jose, I had to remind myself a few times that remembering to breathe is a good thing.
Immediately after we got off the plane, the humidity smacked me in the face; Nevada life has destroyed all of my wet air tolerance. It didn’t help that it was pouring, but such is life when you travel to a tropical area in the wet season. Once we made it through customs, we found my host mom, Mayra, and her niece waiting for us. And to my surprise, she’s a pretty sharp dresser! I wouldn’t usually walk around with strappy heels in heavy rain, but hey, I can respect wanting to look good. She’s so sweet, too, though once we got the introductions out of the way, she mentioned that she speaks virtually no English. Now, that would’ve made me less nervous under more normal circumstances (well, slightly less), but since my dad doesn’t speak any Spanish, I had to act as a pseudo-interpreter and my nerves combined with my extreme lack of eloquence when speaking Spanish made for a very interesting car ride.
Speaking of an interesting car ride, was anyone else aware of how bad the traffic can get in Costa Rica at peak hours? I wasn’t prepared. When we were trying to drive from the airport, we probably moved less than 500ft in an entire hour. Well maybe it was a little more than that, but not much better. Also, the drivers are . . . intense, to say the least. The roads don’t usually seem very wide, people try to cut around each other all the time, and people seem to be able to park in way more places than in the U.S. They’re also not afraid to honk. Apparently people will honk when they’re annoyed, or grateful, so just lots of beeping going on. We also got a bit lost when trying to find the hotel my dad was going to stay in, so trying to deal with all this in the first couple hours of coming here was quite the experience.
I thought it was really humbling though to see what the limits of my Spanish are, and what I need to work on while I’m here, and it was nice to learn about Mayra and life in Costa Rica a bit. When we finally made it back to her house, she gave me a little tour. I have my own comfortable room and bathroom, and the house is really just cozy with its soft green walls. She made a delicious dinner for me. It was way too much food for me at once, so I wasn’t close to being able to finish it, but she’s a great cook.
And she’s still looking stylish in the kitchen. A bit after that, we managed to find the correct hotel for my dad, and we drove him there and said our goodbyes. I’m definitely going to miss him.
Mayra and I chatted a bit more on the way back to her house, and she really tries to help me understand what she’s saying as much as possible, so that makes me feel a bit better about sounding like a five year old. Her husband, Alexis, is a cab driver and was out working late so I wasn’t able to meet him the first day, so that was about all the excitement for day one. Aside from some information overload, it went better than I expected for sure. I got myself unpacked and then tried to get to sleep for the study abroad orientation at the university and my first full day here.
My new space during my stay here.
Day two also started bright and early at 6AM, which I’ve learned is pretty typical for the Ticos (Costa Ricans). After I got myself dressed and together, Mayra put together some breakfast for me complete with coffee, fresh bread and some fresh, delicious mango. I don’t think I’ve ever really had such fresh produce so that’s been a welcome discovery, especially being a mango fanatic. I was able to meet her husband that morning too, and he was also very sweet and they seemed genuinely interested in learning about me, so I’m really glad I got the family I did. I brought a candle and some chocolates as a gift for them, too, and Mayra really loved them so that also made me feel pretty good. I forgot how to properly say “I’m glad that you like the gift” in the moment, so I felt a little silly, but can’t always have your cake and eat it, too.
After all that, Mayra showed me how to walk to the university. It’s about 15 minutes or so if you don’t have to wait too long to cross the streets. The cars apparently have the right of way here, so it makes me more than a little anxious, but my mamá tica had my back. As a major positive, the view from where she lives is beautiful.
Once we got there, we were greeted by the other host family moms and students. We were about 25 minutes early so I talked with a few of them. A lot of the other students seemed to be around my level of Spanish, and we all had similar stories about not understanding a lot of what was being said to us. Nothing like bonding over the struggle of language learning!
At the orientation, we went over a lot of basic rules and procedures, received our schedules and learned more about the country, cultural norms and living with our host families. Then we took a break for a lunch and for a tour of the campus. I swear, Heredia has so much natural beauty, and it’s just so vibrant. The university was no exception, and I love how open it is and that it looks so different from my own.
We also covered all the events that we’ll be having through the program, like some plays, sporting events and city tours, and I’m super hype for those. Thankfully it didn’t start to rain until it was about time to leave, and after all that I went back to Mayra’s house and had some afternoon coffee with her and Alexis. Later we had a bit of an adventure trying to buy me a cheap cell phone to use here, since we didn’t have enough money, but the shop owner let us get one anyway, and I have to bring him the rest of what I owe on Monday. That’ll be quite a time since I don’t remember at all where it is, and people give directions here like “Oh, it’s just x amount away from the church,” but I’m sure I’ll be able to figure things out in time.
Overall, even if I’m still struggling a bit with communicating and understanding how Costa Rica functions, day two was definitely a success, and I’m eager to start my classes on Monday and get my Spanish in gear, and most of all keep challenging myself.