After the long journey to Costa Rica, all the students on the trip were greeted by their host parents at the Universidad Latina de Costa Rica. It was all hugs and smiles as we got off the bus to finally meet our Tico families. When my roommate and I arrived at the homestay, our host mother showed us the house, cooked us a meal, and made us feel at home. I was told that Ticos are known for being friendly, but I was blown away by her care and generosity. I barely know any Spanish, so I was expecting our interactions to be distant and awkward. Instead, I was surprised that I could engage in some basic communication through hand gestures and the basic Spanish I do know. I took French in high school, so at some points I find myself saying “oui” instead of “sí,” but overall I think that my understanding of the French language is leading to a better understanding of the Spanish language. I am already starting to pick some phrases up, and it is only the first day!
Today, we took a walking tour of Heredia. The city itself had a lot more hills than I expected, and the architecture was a lot different than what I am used to. I loved seeing the different plants and flowers that are so different from those in in Pittsburgh. I get the sense that Ticos really value their city, and have a strong sense of community where they live. All the houses are very open, and you often see people interacting and talking to each other on the streets. The parks were all kept very clean, and there was a lot of activity going on: children were running around, vendors were selling shaved ice and other goodies, and there was a band playing in the center of the park. I can tell that Ticos have a respect for their city and a strong bond between each other.
When I woke up this morning, I took a look out of the window to see what the view was like outside the room. It is a beautiful landscape with mountains, flowering trees and…a large “Office Depot” sign. Something that really surprised me about Costa Rica is the presence of American chain stores. Walking through Heredia, I saw a lot of American fast food chains mixed in among the “sodas” and small Tico businesses. There were far more of these than I expected. I think that I came into the country thinking it would be more isolated from American culture, but I found that there are more large American chain stores in Costa Rica than any other country I have visited. This is most likely due to geographical proximity to the U.S., but the extent of Americanization (which is not necessarily a bad thing) surprised me a lot.
Finally, the fruit is amazing in Costa Rica! It is much better than I even expected. It is a lot fresher than the imported fruits we get in the U.S., which makes it a lot more delicious.
I am so excited for the adventures ahead! ¡Pura Vida!