Prior to entering Costa Rica, my perception of the country as a whole was that it is very rural, hard-working, and family-oriented. After taking an extensive walking tour of the town of Heredia today and learning more about the Heredia and San Jose areas during our orientation, my perception of the country is mostly the same, with a few exceptions.
In downtown Heredia, there exists the ambient feeling of comradery and togetherness that I have come to associate with small towns, even though the hustle and bustle typical of a large city was also present. This duality is something that is different about Costa Rica from what I expected. While I knew that there are some urban areas in the country, I did not realize that they would be so different in nature from the kinds of downtown areas that we have in the United States. Whereas towns in the U.S. tend to have long, wide main streets with a few side streets, Heredia is much more clustered and compact. While there is technically a main street, most of the shops tend to be built very closely together on a close-packed grid of streets. This layout fosters the feeling of closeness to other people as well as to the bustling character of the town itself.
Another idea that struck me almost immediately as I came to Costa Rica was the idea of “Tico Time” or “Manana”. While I was made aware of the existence of this phenomenon and equated it to the Carribean idea of “Island Time”, with which I am already familiar, I soon realized that they are not quite the same thing. Being on Tico Time is not necessarily the same thing as being lazy, which is often what Island Time is associated with. Instead, it would be better to say that Tico Time is simply a different way of thinking about how people should experience the world. Rather than rushing around and trying to squeeze the largest possible amount of productivity out of every day, Ticos tend to take more time to smell the roses and enjoy the little things in life in lieu of meeting sharp deadlines and appointments. On its face, this attitude may present itself as apathy or selfishness. In reality, however, I think that it is a beneficial worldview, even if it is something that I did not expect to deal with at first, and may not ever fully adopt myself.
My overall first impression of Costa Rica is very similar to what I thought it would be. It is a beautiful, natural, and hardworking country with much to offer and a bright future ahead of it. While the cultural details may not be exactly how I imagined them, I will continue to maintain an open mind about the many small characteristics of Costa Rica in the hopes of overwriting even more of my prior expectations and prejudices.