I woke up at 4:30 am from an uncomfortable nap, only to find out I still had two and a half hours left before the plane would land in El Salvador where I was supposed to catch my connecting flight.
But then I peeked over to see the blue and pink gradient of the sky amongst the dark clouds, and as the light of the rising sun slowly filled the cabin, I was tranquil.
When I landed in San José, I eagerly rushed outside to inhale the Costa Rican air, an air that was new to me. The drive to my host family’s home felt familiar. It was as if I was coming back to visit, as if it wasn’t a new world I was about to discover. Then it dawned on meーthe people, the driving, the music playing in the car, and even the home and neighborhood my host family lived in somewhat reminded me of my trips to Mexico. Of course, there are differences between Mexico, Costa Rica, and every other Latin American country. However, my anxiety and fear was practically gone by the time I settled into my new home because I didn’t feel as much as an outsider. I was excited to begin a journey with new and interesting people, as well as myself. I knew studying abroad here in Costa Rica would be something I will enjoy immensely and thus far, I have. My first four days here have been exciting and eventful, and I’m sure they will continue to be.
Saturday, my first day, I met my host family and Erin, a girl also from SDSU that I will be living with while in Costa Rica. I stayed in that night, settled in and got to know the rest of the family that lived in the house.
On Sunday, we met at Veritas University, the university where I will be taking Spanish courses, and met up with the six other SDSU students on our trip. We walked to the American Institute of Foreign Study (AIFS) office, where we met another group of students from various universities that would also be studying at Veritas. After a short meeting discussing itineraries, rules and guidelines, we took a tour of San José and ate lunch at an amazing place called Patria Cafe. I come from a Mexican upbringing, so the food was not as foreign to me, but one of my goals for this trip is to open myself up to the food that is not so familiar. Getting acquainted with the cuisine is a big part of traveling. Because in not doing so, you would not immerse yourself entirely in a culture, in fact, you’d reject and refuse to participate in a core piece of it.
After lunch, we took a shuttle to visit a local farmer’s market with the most delicious fruit I’ve ever had. I think once I go back home, I’ll never eat the pineapple or mangoes in the US again.The market was starting to close by the time we got there, but we were still able to see all the great produce they had, as well as some interesting seafood, like the colossal fish in the picture. After the market, we went to a mall with an eclectic collection of stores and restaurants, ranging from popular Costa Rican ice cream shops like Pops to the United States’ KFC and Pizza Hut. I’ve heard that certain clothing stores like Nike and Zara are cheaper here than in the states, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if I ended up bringing back some shoes or clothes. Once we had eaten our Pops ice cream and exchanged our money to Colones at the bank, we walked to the bus that would take us back home.
Monday was one of my favorite days so far, it was orientation day at Veritas. We got a tour of the school and met faculty and staff that worked there. During our lunch, we were able to see a few different types of traditional Costa Rican dance performances, which were quite lovely. Andrea, the head of the SDSU program, told us we were going to see a lot that day, and we did. A tour guide showed us around an indigenous museum called Chieton Moren, el Catedral Metropolitana, el Teatro Nacional, a Costa Rican craft market, and el Parque Nacional. Every place we went to was beautiful and interesting. Right next to el Teatro Nacional, there was a giant square where I got to feed pigeons, one even ate out of my hand while another hung out on my backpack. Andrea went back to Veritas, while us students decided to explore more, which resulted in us enjoying a few drinks at a bar in the center of San José.
Tuesday was the first day of classes. The class I was initially placed in was too easy for me, and during our break, the professor told me she wanted me to go to the next level. So I was bumped up from intermediate one to intermediate two. Throughout my time here, I’ve been getting complimented on my Spanish, from employees at the airport, students I’ve met here, my host family, and even those working at Veritas. I always thought my Spanish was broken and not as good, but hearing people tell me I sound fluent is encouraging and flattering. I specifically chose a Spanish immersion program because I wanted to improve my Spanish, not only for academics and my career, but to keep myself connected to my Hispanic heritage and to be proud of it.
As I proceed with my study abroad program, I look forward to making myself uncomfortable. Not by doing unsafe things or putting myself in danger, but rather by going that extra step to try new things. I only have four short weeks here, and I want to make them count, I want to leave knowing I didn’t hold back.
Until next time, ¡Pura vida!