We all know the rest of the saying, “You never know what you’re gonna get.” This quote has never held more truth for me than for this journey on which I have recently embarked. Like several other students studying abroad with AIFS, I signed up and left home not knowing anyone I was about to spend the next 4 months with, including with whom I would be living, not knowing what classes I’d be taking and not knowing much about the culture besides what I had read. I was leaving the comfort of the life I knew so well and diving into the unknown. Call me crazy!
I arrived in San Jose, Costa Rica 6 days ago and was immediately welcomed with smiling faces, warm hugs and a super excited staff awaiting our arrival at the airport. I then piled into a bus with 13 other students who I’d only seen on Facebook, and we rode to our university where we were met by our host families. The first thing my Mama Tica did was hug me and kiss me as if I was her own daughter and welcome me to her home country. When we got to her house she showed me my room, gave me a brief tour and fed me – always a positive! I fell asleep that night in my new room without an ounce of homesickness or discomfort, as if this place was my home. And now, a few days later, I feel that it is.
The kindness of the people here is so exciting. My professor, on day one, told us our class was a family and since then she has continued to treat us as such. Our Resident Director and Assistant Resident Directors have included us in everything they could possibly include us in. People at the local gym notice if I’m struggling with something and come unprompted to assist me, ask my name, and wish me well. Waitresses happily explain what fruit is in each juice eventhough I ask every day. People on the street pause their own lives to give us directions, always with a big smile on their face. And my new Costa Rican family cares about my every need. I’m starting to wonder what this mysterious culture shock concept is, because as of yet, all I have experienced is love and happiness from everyone I have encountered.
I have come to the conclusion that that I most certainly picked the right box of chocolates. As I continue to eat them, I know I may pick one out, bite it and find it isn’t at all what I’d expected. I also know the way I respond to that is what truly matters. Getting lost in San Jose (well, lost is a relative term) in the rain this afternoon could have been an awful experience. But in the words of a fellow student, “The best way to explore is to get lost.” And the best way to learn is to find your way back. Every experience can be a good one if you look at it with an open and optimistic mind. I thank God every day for this opportunity and can’t wait to see what other chocolates are in this box! Stay tuned and I’ll give you a little taste.