Last Updated on June 21, 2019 by Karla Alba
Costa Rica without the tico experience is no Costa Rica at all. During my first two weeks here, I stuck with what I was most comfortable with: the English-speaking Americans from my program. I went out with only them; I ate and explored only within my comfort zone. Needless to say, in the States I am a lone soul who enjoys self company. But here in this new land, my normal introverted self has extroverted.
Spanish is my native language, so I am fortunate because communicating was not the problem. It was knowing how and when to approach a tico, or a Costa Rican native, where I became tongue tied. Should I say hello, hola, or ¿que tal? Should I speak Spanish, English or a stylish mixture de los dos? I learned from my roommate, who is probably the most outgoing kid I’ve met thus far, that a simple ‘hi’ goes a long way.
In social settings, I’ve watched Natasha, my roommate, wander off out of sight. This is a trait I often worry about, because we are in an unfamiliar place. But after searching the room, I’d catch a glimpse of her casually walking up to a group of ticos and saying “Hi, soy Natasha.” She is immersed with friendly smiles. I found this admirable and it motivated me to get out there and make some friends. The next morning, with Natasha in mind, I introduce myself to a tica at Café Frances, who come to find out is originally from Dominican Republic like me!
Later, after making acquaintance with a young vibrant tica named Ale, Natasha and I are invited to a party hosted by Veritas film students in San Pedro. I was hesitant, mostly because I did not know the area or what I was going to walk into. Questions clouded up my head, which sprung doubts and reluctance. I based my assumptions on what I have witnessed in the States, all while forgetting that I was in a new place. I reminded myself of the new friend I made that morning and how quickly we exchanged Facebook information to possibly set up a coffee date.
Our ride pulled up to a small yoga house surrounded by students indulging in cigarettes. As soon as we stepped out of the car, we are welcomed with smiles and invitations to go inside and make ourselves comfortable. We walk past different groups of ticos and different conversation; every one of them pausing to say hola or welcome. Ramon, a nice young tico, approaches us and immediately engages in casual conversation, asking our names, field of study and about our experience in Costa Rica so far.
A familiar song plays in the background and Ramon grabs our hands and says “Let’s dance!” Song after song we danced and shouted the words with these friendly ticos, sharing shy smiles and welcoming laughs. The music changed from American to French to Spanish, and for each song a different tico or tica would grab me a show me the steps. “It’s in your hips, feel it,” they’d tell me. And I felt it. My feet introduce myself with words I was too shy to say, my hips welcomed the new conditions being taught and my hands connected with that of a tico, a new culture. We’d smile at each other, compliment each other’s grooves and move. They’d tell us to look for them on campus and even invited us to the next party.
Traveling puts you in a new place physically, but it is up to you to break out of your shell and be in a new place mentally. While being abroad you have to try new things, dance to a different beat or even drink a different taste of coffee. By making friends with the locals, you’ll learn the true meaning of culture. Thanks to Costa Rica for Pura Vida, the new motto to live by.
This post was contributed by Karla Alba, who is spending her fall semester with AIFS in San Jose, Costa Rica.