My sixth week in San José is coming to an end, meaning that my time here is halfway up. It’s bittersweet to grapple with my simultaneous homesickness and the sense of comfortable normalcy my life here now holds.
“Ay, el tiempo pasa muy rápido,” my host mom says nearly every week as she realizes how long we’ve already been staying with her. I feel the urge to tick as many things as possible off an unwritten bucket list but I try to remind myself that every moment here is valuable, whether I’m on the beach in one of Costa Rica’s most beautiful spots or simply sitting with my friends at school, drinking coffee and studying, as I’m doing right now.
As I reflect on the last six weeks, here is what I’ve learned so far:
Look up. When I go to Thursday night dance classes on campus, I’m always reminded to take my eyes off my own feet and look at my partner’s face. Dancing salsa comes a little easier when you’re focused more on moving together with the music rather than not tripping. This is a good tip for hiking, too. Costa Rica is famous for its dense rainforests – meaning that animal species here are usually high above your head in the canopy. Ironically, its hard not to trip over your own feet or a tree root when you’re walking through the jungle trying to spy a sloth, but it’s well worth it if you do see one.
Let go of some of the things you usually rely on as part of your routine. I love a scalding hot shower at home, but that’s rarely an option here. I’ve learned to accept tepid but not freezing. Costa Ricans are also not fond of iced coffee – it’s not Europe, so it can be found in some more Westernized restaurants, but seven times out of ten you’re going to have to settle for a steaming hot mug. Ticos don’t throw ice into everything like we do in the States.
Don’t be hard on yourself when learning a language. This one is much easier said than done, but as a perfectionist I truly had to learn this the hard way. I’ve gone many times with my mouth shut rather than attempt to say something I fear will be conjugated incorrectly, or that I lack the vocabulary for. Not anymore – I try to start speaking first and figure out the rest later. It helps that here I often don’t have the option to speak English or to not speak at all, especially when trying to order food or get around the city.
Learn to be okay spending some time alone. This one is from my friend Krissy, who doesn’t have a housemate at her homestay, but I think it’s applicable more generally. Living in another country requires a certain level of independence and resourcefulness that can be uncomfortable at times. Everything is unfamiliar here at first – even just figuring out where to buy soap can be a thousand times more complicated than it is at home. You need to navigate language barriers and differences in cultural norms, and oftentimes you learn by trial and error, and often you navigate those learning experiences by yourself. However, I will say that I love my community of friends here and I’m never truly alone.
I’m not trying to impart any life-changing realizations here, but I do feel like I could tell my pre-study-abroad self some things I didn’t know before I got on the plane. Everything feels a little higgledy-piggledy here at times and it feels good to remind myself that every day I’m doing hard things, and succeeding.