All my life I’ve idolized Dorothy Gale, the heroine of L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz book series. As a little girl I envied her chance to visit far away places, to see things she’d only wondered about, and to gain so much wisdom in the process.
This past Sunday, my own chance to visit faraway places finally began! Twizzlers in tow, I said goodbye to my wonderful family in Pittsburgh for five weeks, hopped on two jet planes, and arrived in a city I’ve only seen in photos: SAN JOSÉ, COSTA RICA!
Upon leaving the States, I was tremendously excited and happy, but not without some uncertainty and anxiety about my stay. However, after landing in San José and meeting my “Tica Familia” (host family), my anxiety melted away.
After arriving at the airport and traveling my homestay, in “Barrio Córdoba,” my Papa Tico and Mama Tica met me with a hug and kiss on the cheek, the traditional Costa Rican greeting. When I had written an email to my Mama Tica earlier in the week, she had told me that her mother recently died; the day I arrived marked the eighth day of her passing. As is tradition in the Costa Rica’s Catholic culture, a large family celebration with TONS of food at Mama Tica’s mother’s house was happening when I arrived. Despite the sad circumstances, my Tica Familia was kind enough to invite me. Not even 15 minutes after my arrival, one hand was holding a fresh tamale while the other hand greeted countless cousins, nephews, neighbors, and friends of my Tica Familia. I really had to hit the ground running in terms of my Spanish skills.
The time I spent with my extended Tica Familia that first day reminded me so much of the times spent with my family back home. It was such a comfort to know that even though I’d only just arrived, I already felt like part of the family.
This is a feeling that continues to grow, especially on week day mornings when our Tica Familia’s grandson comes over! After finishing my homework, I get to spend my mornings playing with animals and drawing pictures with my new adorable friend, Santiago, before heading off to class at 1pm. Needless to say, choosing the homestay option has been a WONDERFUL decision!
On Monday, our Universidad Verítas and AIFS orientations began bright and early at the Verítas campus, which has an AMAZING view of the mountains surrounding San José. Our Papa Tica walked us to school in the morning to get our bearings, which was very helpful, given that the super interesting, descriptive addresses here in Costa Rica can be hard to remember! As my Mama Tica was explaining to me this week, although children learn the official addresses of their homes in primary school, everyone just uses directional addresses instead (ex. “Una cuadra al norte, una de la escuela, 25 metros hasta la casa entre dos árboles). Calling a taxi for the first time and explaining the address of our homestay was certainly an adventure in and of itself!
After a morning of discussions about safety, culture shock, and university policy, we embarked on an afternoon tour of downtown San José, visiting the beautiful Teatro Nacional (National Theater), Mercado Central (Central Market), and the Catedral Metropolitana (Metropolitan Cathedral). If it weren’t for the fact that I left my phone on the bus, I’d share how gorgeous our sights were! Pictures from a future adventure downtown are forthcoming.
Having been in Costa Rica for almost a week, my communication skills are gradually improving day by day! I’ve always loved learning languages, so I’m definitely in my element being surrounded by Spanish in my homestay and an additional four hours of medical Spanish four days a week at school. I’m even starting to pick up on commonly used phrases! Besides learning the Costa Rican mantra “Pura Vida,” a phrase that brings a smile to others when wishing them well, saying goodbye, or anything in between, my Tica Familia taught us another phrase at dinner earlier this week, “Panza llena, corazón contento,” which translates into, “Full Belly, Happy Heart!” I think it’s my new favorite saying, in English and Spanish alike!
Eat your heart out, Dorothy Gale.
Until next time, PURA VIDA, AMIGOS!