Even though we learned a lot about Costa Rica’s history and culture before we departed, I still had some questions. It felt like after absorbing so much information, we had only scratched the surface and only covered basic knowledge in order for us to not be completely clueless. Today, we were given a lecture on Costa Rican history by Professor Lizano at the Universidad Latina, where many of my questions were answered.
One of the more interesting facts we’d learned about the country is that Costa Rica doesn’t have an army. After the nation’s civil war in 1948, President José Ferrer abolished the military. After I heard this, I was curious about, to put it bluntly, what’s stopping other countries from walking in and conquering the defenseless Costa Rica. Professor Lizano explained that after the military was abolished, Costa Rica was able to develop alliances with other nations, such as the United States, that would guarantee support and safety in case of an invasion. In addition, the abolition of the military ensured that the central government could spend their resources in other facets of the country, such as education and healthcare. These investments created a positive feedback loop that helped Costa Rica become a peaceful democratic country with few enemies. The country’s diplomatic approach is actually quite similar to the Tico culture I’ve witnessed over the past couple of days. Everyone is very laid back and friendly; random people walking down the street will greet you with a smile and a “¡Buenos Dias!” and every gracias is met with “Con mucho gusto.”
Another question I had about Costa Rica was related to their national currency. Currently, the exchange rate is about 567 Colones for 1 USD. I knew that for the value of their currency to be so low, there had to have been a period of inflation. However, I didn’t know anything about the events that might have caused this. Today, we learned that after a 1980’s oil crisis, Costa Rica’s GDP plummeted. This resulted in the government issuing a moratorium, delaying their repaying of debts to foreign countries until a later time. Widespread inflation soon followed, and the Colon devaluated about 600%.
Before the trip, we were told that Ticos refer to Americans as Gringos. I was slightly confused as to why this was normal and acceptable practice, as it was my understanding that the word gringo was a disparaging remark used by native Mexicans towards the US military. However, Professor Lizano explained that while this word is seen as derogatory in most other Latin American countries, that’s not the case in Costa Rica due to the strong relationship between the local government and the United States.
Overall, today was extremely interesting as we learned a lot more about Costa Rica’s history and culture in-depth. We’re beginning to become accustomed to the afternoon rain and becoming much more comfortable interacting with the Spanish-speaking locals.