Home Costa Rica 10 Things I’ve Learned in My First Month Abroad

10 Things I’ve Learned in My First Month Abroad

by Caroline Baker

10. How to take a taxi.

I am from a small town where I can walk, ride my bike, or drive a few minutes to get anywhere I need to be, so the concept of taking a taxi is a totally new one. I learned quickly that it is a skill I have to master if I want to do anything while I’m here. At first I thought, why take a taxi? The walk is long but I like fresh air. Then I realized there were components such as safety and lack of sidewalks to consider – also new. The thing with taking taxis as a “gringo”  is you need to be aware of the distance and expected cost of the ride or the driver may take advantage of your lack of knowledge and rip you off.

The key is to know your surroundings and make sure the driver can tell you are not a dumb American.

9. Don’t let the weather stop you.

It is currently the rainy season here in Costa Rica so every single afternoon the sky opens up and pours for a few hours. Generally by this time I am walking back to my house or have already found shelter – and once I am here, I don’t want to leave. There have been several nights my friends were going out, or there was an event at the university that I had planned on going to, but was held back because I didn’t feel like going out in the rain. By now I have realized the rain isn’t going to stop, so why should it stop me?

Opportunities like this don’t last forever so you have to make the most of every moment, rain or shine, literally.

8. It’s okay to look dumb as long as you’re trying.

Okay so I’m not fluent in Spanish. I can hold a conversation but often it is choppy and scattered with incorrectly conjugated verbs and mispronounced words. At first I was uncomfortable with making these mistakes because I thought it would make me look silly, but let’s be real. There’s no hiding the fact that I’m not from here, and the locals aren’t expecting me to be perfect.

If you don’t put yourself out there and try, you’re never going to learn.

7. Bugs happen.

I spend my summers as a camp counselor living in the woods, surrounded by dirt and bugs, no problem. But there is something about finding them in your bedroom that makes it all the sudden totally unbearable. I recently had a little ant problem in my room and was very frustrated and distraught about it. I was upset it was in my room and put the blame on my host family. The next day I found my purse full of them and realized the pack of gum I’d had in there weeks before had left a residue that was attracting the bugs. Thus, it was my fault.

Don’t jump to conclusions and blame the country, the culture, the host family, because it just may have been your mistake.

6. If someone tells you not to drink the water, don’t drink the water.

My mama tica told me on day one not to drink the water outside of the city. I heeded that advice and drank bottled water each weekend away just to be super safe. One weekend I ran out of water late the last night and didn’t want to buy another bottle. I assumed since all the other Americans had been drinking the tap water all weekend and were still alive, it wouldn’t be a problem. It was a problem. All 6 of us were sick for the next week and I sure won’t be making that mistake again.

When someone gives you advice, they generally have a reason for advising you.

5. I’m ruining fruit for myself.

Costa Rica has the best fruit I have ever eaten. Bananas? Better. Grapes? Bigger. Mangoes? More flavor. Pineapple? Juicier. And then there’s all the fruits I never knew existed. Each morning my mama tica puts out a platter of 5 or 6 fruits all cut up to feast on (along with all the other delicious foods she makes) and I eat far more than my daily serving. So basically what I’ve realized is the apples and oranges I’ll find in my cafeteria back home are going to be quite the disappointment upon my return.

Try everything, even if it’s weird looking.

4. It’s okay to let someone take care of you.

Since going to college I have become very independent. I do my own laundry, I clean my own room, I make my own food, I drive myself where I need to go and I generally don’t ask for help. So moving in with a host family has been one of the biggest adjustments of all. Every morning after I leave, my mama tica makes my bed and takes my laundry. At first I really didn’t like the idea of her touching my stuff and I wanted to clean my own belongings, but I realized this is something she wants to do and I shouldn’t feel guilt about not doing it myself.

You don’t always have to do it all – it’s okay to ask for and accept help.

3. Loneliness isn’t always a bad feeling to have.

At home I am incredibly close to my family, very involved in my church and always surrounded by my friends. So needless to say I have felt very alone since I have gotten here. I have made many friends in my program but not having a best friend to fall back on has been a weird thing for me. However, this is the first time I have had no one relying on me, no one counting on me to figure everything out. For the first time I am able to be just a tad bit selfish and focus on me – to think a lot and to learn who I am. In just one month I feel I have already grown so much and realized a lot about the way I live. If I wasn’t doing this adventure alone, I would never feel the need to branch out and take the next step.

Each challenge presents a wonderful opportunity to learn and to grow.

2. You are not always right.

In fact, often times you are going to be wrong, at least in the other person’s eyes. And the concept of right and wrong is relative. What we may consider strange in America, kissing your professor for example, is something totally normal and even expected in many cultures. I have met people of all different backgrounds with different beliefs, practices, opinions and lifestyles, and what makes any of them wrong and my way right? Everyone thinks they are right – that’s what makes it his or her belief. This goes for people, cultures, religions and lifestyles. Sometimes you just flat out won’t win their vote and that’s okay.

“Seek to understand them before you seek to explain yourself.”

1. Get uncomfortable.

This has been the most important thing I have learned since diving into this new life. If I am comfortable, that means I am not pushing myself. If I am not pushing myself, that means I am not making the most of my time here and learning and experiencing as much as I can. Sometimes people laugh at something I said because I made a mistake, but that doesn’t mean I should stop talking. Sometimes I’m surrounded by people who are very different than me, but that doesn’t mean I should relocate to be with like-minded people. There are opportunities every day to step out of your comfort zone and by doing this, new worlds emerge.

If you don’t get uncomfortable, you aren’t pushing yourself. GO GET ‘EM TIGER.

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