Swanson School of Engineering Study Abroad Scholarship Blog Post Five: Being an American in Costa Rica

Hi, my name is Leanne Boody. I am a rising sophomore in the Swanson School of Engineering. I participated in Pitt’s Plus3 program studying in Costa Rica for two weeks to learn more about the country, with a focus on the coffee and banana supply chain.

When first arriving in the airport, it became clear there were some obvious visual markers making us foreigners. For one, almost half the people on our trip were blond, blue-eyed and at least two inches taller than the average Tico. I knew as foreigners there was a target on our backs making us easy to pick-pocket. I also knew we would be representing our country, school and the Plus3 program. Ultimately, I chose to avoid the American stereotypes by not being super loud, but I can’t say all locals were thrilled to have to deal with us, especially when all 25 of us would show up in a small ice-cream parlor. I think being a tourist, especially an American one, just means having to stay aware of your surroundings. If you’re at a culturally important site, stay quiet. If you’re on a company visit, pay attention and ask relevant questions. If you’re in a rougher part of the city, wear your backpack in the front of your body. Staying mindful while in a foreign country is an easy measure to take to improve the treatment you receive from the locals. 

As someone who spoke little to no Spanish, I didn’t have too many one-on-one conversations with the locals. However, when it comes to interactions with people on the street, the phrase “gringa” was a common one. I can’t say I enjoyed the excessive amount of cat-calling that was common in the extremely macho society that exists in Costa Rica. This part of the trip most affected my understanding of what being an American means to these people. Based on the American media that’s made its way into Costa Rica, Ticos believed that one night stands were more common in the US, and that therefore made the women of our group appear more available than we were. This made me conscious of the messages I was sending outwardly, and allowed me to see the flaws in our movies and TV shows which communicated this message to the Ticos. I can’t say I’m too proud of the image they had of us, but I’m hopeful our actions on this trip left them with a better impression of Americans. 

Leave a Reply