Gringo in Costa Rica: Studying abroad is a non-stop adventure

By Jacob King

There is this feeling in your gut when the plane takes off, and you think to yourself, “I’m not coming back for a while.” In that moment, you realize you’re about to have an experience of a lifetime.

Looking back at it now, I remember waking up one day and saying to myself, “I want to study abroad,” and a couple of months later here I am, in Costa Rica. It was an impulse decision that I will never regret. These past couple of months have been extreme eye-openers and when living in a different country, what else would you expect? One of the biggest adjustments I’ve faced is the pace of life here.

Life in Costa Rica is much more relaxed than in the U.S. and there is one word used to describe this pace- “tranquilo,” meaning relaxed. Every time I’m around my host parents they say to me, “Tranquilo, toma una siesta,” meaning, “go, relax, and take a nap.” In the U.S., if I lay around for hours I feel guilty—but here—it’s encouraged.

My host mom discussed with me that they value working for life, not living to work. That’s one value I can definitely agree with. An average morning here consists of me waking up and being greeted with fresh fruit, sweet juice and the housekeeper trying to start a conversation in Spanish entirely too early. Then I head to class and try my hardest to understand everything the professor is throwing at me. After that, I usually head to the pool.

Life couldn’t be simpler here. The only thing not so simple is the traffic.

Traffic will kill you here, literally. I’m sure we’ve all seen how men in the military train. They go through drills and complex obstacles—crossing the street is exactly like that. To make it even crazier, a taxi ride is just as deathly. I remember my first taxi ride here, and I’m lucky it wasn’t my last. Five minutes into the ride I couldn’t tell if I was in a taxi or the movie, “Fast and Furious.” Even though the ride feels like a roller coaster, the drivers are usually friendly and conversational, which makes for great practice with my Spanish. However, I’ve learned that if you can’t correctly pronounce your location to the driver, he already doesn’t like you. It has happened to me a couple times where I can’t pronounce my destination to their understanding and they’ve denied me the service. Okay, I get it, but a Gringo still has to go places. The traffic and public transportation may not be ideal but the views make up for it.

As I was walking to class one day, it hit me how lucky I am. I have had opportunities such as zip-lining the longest line in Latin America, feeding monkeys on the beach, and spending spring break in the country of Panama.  This country has so much to offer and it’s impossible to take enough photos. Along with being beautiful, Costa Rica is a spontaneous country. For example, the other day I was walking home and all of a sudden my eyes filled with dust—except it wasn’t dust, it was ash. A volcano had exploded about an hour away from me and what’s funny is that no one cared. It was so natural for the people here.

So far, my time in Costa Rica has been unforgettable and I’m lucky to have another two months to go. ¡Pura Vida!

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