Going in Depth with Costa Rican Culture and History

Today we listened to Don Joaquin Lizano, a professor at Universidad Latina de Costa Rica, give a talk about the history of Costa Rica and their culture. It was enthralling to hear about the ins and outs of Costa Rican politics and international relations from Don Lizano because he was taught history from a non-American perspective. During the presentation, we could ask questions to turn it into more of a discussion. During this I came up with these three questions which I didn’t have time to discuss further.

Why is recycling so disorganized and littering prevalent in some of the cities of Costa Rica? With the destruction of the socialist state with the introduction of structural adjustment programs the stability and reliability of the state provided programs has dropped and varies region by region. Recycling is one of the programs that was affected by the degradation of the social programs and has become spotty at best here in Heredia. My host abuela doesn’t recycle because she doesn’t have a car and there is no nearby place to recycle, but if she says if she could she would. However, she is passionate about saving energy and strongly believe that Costa Rica is a “green” country. She was also very excited for Costa Rica to hopefully be the first carbon neutral country in the world by 2027. In Heredia, there is also litter all over the streets and sidewalks and for a culture that is so focused on sustainability the carelessness concerning proper waste disposal is a large shock and contradiction. It makes me question the population’s dedication to creating a sustainable environment as individuals instead of just a fraction of the population attempting to create a sustainable future. I agree with their movements to protect the environment but I do not approve of their lackadaisical approach to proper waste procedures.

Why is education important for the future of the Ticos? Education is very important for Ticos because it is the most common way that someone can move up in society. The national government has set up a system that places a large emphasis on education. There are schools across the country for kids up through 12th grade, and then there is a strong system of national public universities. In the history presentation today, we learned that University of Costa Rica is the 16th best university in Latin America, a prestigious award for a public university. The universities are extraordinarily cheap compared to those in the United states to incentivize people to attend them and have very good scholarships available to those who can’t afford that. My host abuela was a teacher for thirty years at a public university and she is very proud of the opportunities it offers students who complete the curriculum. However, she believes that the primary and secondary schools in rural areas aren’t preparing students well for university because they aren’t being prepared to succeed at the university level due to a lack of resources.  I am impressed by the importance Ticos place on education and I agree with them that education is the most common path to success. The lack of resources, especially in rural areas, is an unfortunate fact but overall the system seems to be respected.

Why doesn’t Costa Rica have an army? Costa Rica doesn’t have an army because of Jose Figueres as well as the fact that they needed more spending ability for their socialist policies. There is a large police force however, which provides necessary security and is very highly trained, so it’s not as if there isn’t anyone with power to control in the country. The lack of an army however seems to go hand in hand with the Ticos’ Pura Vida lifestyle because they are more laid back and take care of each other without the need of an overlying force to threaten anyone. My host mother believes that having no army is a good example to set for the world however with the tension in the international community right now she thinks it puts Costa Rica at risk of an attack. Nicaragua has fired cannons onto Costa Rica and the Ticos only have the police force to counteract any major military engagement.  Costa Rica is an internationally recognized neutral country however I don’t agree with the complete absence of a standing military. It places too much responsibility on the police force for protection, which isn’t nearly strong enough to combat their neighboring countries militaries.

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