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Pura Vida: My Experience in Costa Rica

by Haley Tolitsky
AIFS in San Jose, Costa Rica

Last Updated on June 21, 2019 by Haley Tolitsky

Places and People

I cannot believe my time in Costa Rica is ending. It was a month full of learning, practice, exploration, and fun. I have been to many beautiful and amazing places like Manuel Antonio National Park, Arenal Volcano, Basilica de los Angeles in Cartago, and the beaches and mountains of Jaco. I have seen many different animals, plants, and places that I could only see in this country. I have met many Ticos (people from Costa Rica) and have made many friends from different parts of the world. There are aspects of life in Costa Rica that I will miss, but I’m also excited to return to America and see my family, my friends and my pets.

My Education

After living and studying in Costa Rica, I’m confident that I can speak to anyone in Spanish. I’m not afraid to order my food at a restaurant, ask for directions, or to talk with a new person in Spanish. At Veritas my classes were easier than I thought they would be before coming to Costa Rica, but I learned a lot. It is interesting to learn Spanish in a different country when Spanish is the first language of the professors. I have also learned many words and sayings from Costa Rica that I would not have learned at a university in the United States or other countries. For example:

  • Con gusto, which means with pleasure, is used instead of saying you’re welcome.
  • Macha is a girl with blond hair.
  • Chiva means cool.
  • Soda is a small, usually inexpensive restaurant with typical food of the country like a café. There are thousands in Costa Rica.
  • Casados are a typical dish of the country for lunch or dinner with meat, fish or chicken and rice, beans, salad and sometimes plantains or potatoes.
  • Por dios is a popular saying like OMG.

I would never know these sayings and words if I did not study in Costa Rica. Overall, I learned a lot in my classes and from talking to different Ticos. My Spanish has improved tremendously this trip.


I thought the food would taste bad and spicy before I came to Costa Rica. However, the food is very delicious and usually not spicy. Much of the food in Costa Rica is fresh and made from local ingredients. Ticos buy their food from supermarkets or farmers markets. The woman of the house usually prepares and cooks food for the family. The food has influences from many countries.

It is common to eat rice and beans every day with any meal. Rice and beans together are called gallo pinto. Meals for breakfast include: fruits, juices, bread, pies, eggs, and pancakes. Lunch and dinner are very similar and often include: gallo pinto, a type of meat and a salad. Popular dishes are: rice with chicken, seafood or shrimp, empanadas, pasta, ceviche (fish), meat stew, tamales and chicharrones (pork). Coffee is a large export, and I drank it every day. There are many fresh fruit juices, such as blackberry, mango, pineapple, papaya, starfruit, and strawberry.

In my opinion, the food of Costa Rica is healthier than the food of the United States, because it is very fresh and there are plenty of fruits and vegetables that are easy to buy in the markets. There is not much processed food. Overall, I enjoyed the food of Costa Rica, which was a relief, because I am a very picky eater.


I enjoyed learning about the culture of Costa Rica in my classes, talking with Ticos, and going on excursions to different places. A part of the culture that I do not like is the way men stare at, speak to, and yell at the girls here, especially girls who are traveling here. Men treat the women very poorly and often say inappropriate things. In the market of Carthage, I had to leave the market because the men were so rude, and I was so uncomfortable. When my friend and I walked along the streets, men often whistled or shouted. It is a part of the culture, but it bothers me a lot. I really like many other aspects of the culture here such as the regional history, the friendly and talkative people, the buildings of San José, and my host family.

Living with a Host Family

I think it is necessary to live with a host family if a person studies in a foreign country, especially if they are learning a new language. My host family was very small; I lived with my Mama Tica, her two dogs, and Jessica. My Mama Tica was very loving and kind. She cooked breakfast and dinner daily and cleaned my clothes. Every day, I talked to my Mama Tica about her life, culture, my classes, my experiences, and more. I practiced my Spanish a lot because my Mama Tica did not speak English. She helped me with my pronunciation and fluency a lot. I would not have learned as much about the culture of Costa Rica if I had not lived with a host family. I have a strong relationship with my Mama Tica, and I will miss seeing her every day. It was a huge part of my experience in Costa Rica.

What I Have Learned About Myself

This trip was an experience that I will never forget. I was homesick at times, but I kept busy with my classes, friends, trips, etc. Now, I am proud of my fluency in Spanish and how much I learned this trip. I am more independent and adventurous. I have an open mind, especially about other people and their cultures. I want to travel to many different parts of the world and explore the cultures and places. Also, I want to continue to improve my Spanish for the future. This experience has changed my life for the better, and I am very grateful for this opportunity.

Haley Tolitsky studied with AIFS in San José, Costa Rica during Summer 2016.

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