As Flight 0971 descended into Costa Rica, I thought I was entering a land completely foreign to me. With a language that I barely understood and a group of people I had never met, I wasn’t sure how I was going to fit in.
I immigrated to the US from Taiwan when I was 8 years old and I thought that experience would make my transition during study abroad easier. What I didn’t expect was how many similarities there are between two countries so far away.
Here are some things about Costa Rica I found were extremely similar to Taiwan:
Yes they both eat rice a lot but also the way dishes are prepared brought me memories from back home. A lot of proteins and carbs are prepared in stew form which was very similar to dishes in Taiwan that can be eaten with rice. Not only that, it was awesome to see “mom and pop” shops (“sodas“) on the side of the street that prepare authentic food. Each soda you visit makes their cuisine with a sprinkle of family history and love.
Oh to see the colorful money again! All Colones bills were in the mil divisions which is also very similar to the big bills of New Taiwan Dollars. One thing that I realized from my travels in Taiwan is the mental math one must do as well. With the increased dependence on using actual money instead of credit cards for daily transactions, I had to pull out the good ol’ mental math skills I’ve kept locked away from being in the US for years.
Public transportation is a major deal in Costa Rica as well as Taiwan. With only 225 Colones (around 40 cents), you can get around easily from downtown San Jose to the rural mountains and the volcano Poas.
However, the biggest similarity is the bus schedule: there is none! Natives typically have an idea how much time will pass between buses and have learned to just wait patiently. This return to patience and a slower pace of life was wonderful to experience again.
Ahhh the smell of exhaust and the sound of honking early in the morning! Traffic in San Jose was just as crazy as I had experienced in Taiwan. There are too many cars and too little space. Not only that, traffic laws here and in Taiwan almost seem like friendly suggestions instead of the actual law. People speed in the oncoming lane in order to pass slow driver, taxi drivers weave through traffic as if they were in Grand Theft Auto and pedestrians run in the middle of the street with cars whizzing past. The charm of urban city life is all the same when it comes to traffic and crazy drivers!
You can find a little piece of home, whether in the cuisine or the landscape, that will make your trip feel less daunting. No matter the location, people all over the world deal with some of the same everyday problems and experience the same wonderful joys.