There is a popular quote among study abroad students: “Travel like a tourist but live like a local.”
To me, this quote captures the essence of studying abroad. As students in another country, we want to take advantage of seeing new places and experiencing different parts of where we are — in my case, Costa Rica. Whether that’s going to Manuel Antonio National Park and seeing the sloths and monkeys, going to Monteverde to experience the longest zip line in Latin America, or taking a day trip to local volcanos or beaches. There is a plethora of “touristy” things to do. But at the end of the day, we live with a local family and go to a local university, which allows us to be separate from just being a tourist.
Some of my favorite experiences in Costa Rica so far have been doing things that locals do, like going to the market with my host mom. She always takes the time to explain the different things she considers when cooking a traditional meal. I also enjoy attending the local mass — it’s two minutes from my house and it’s a good way for me connect with my host community while maintaining my personal relationship with God. Also, I have found it enriching to experience local restaurants and clubs where I can get to know different ticos and become familiar with some of the different dances and songs that are popular among people my age in Costa Rica.
I have learned some important cultural and social cues while studying abroad in San José, such as saying “Buenas!” when I pass people on the street, or responding “Estoy bien por dicha” when someone asks me “¿Cómo estás?” These are things I can only learn living among locals instead of visiting as a tourist in a hotel or resort. Similarly, my tico family has been a cultural oasis. I have learned so much Costa Rican history, local recipes, jokes in the tico culture, and more.
Besides my tico family, my university has a lot of opportunities to learn about Costa Rican culture outside of the classroom. For example, Every Monday I go to conversation club where I get to spend two hours with locals practicing my Spanish and making new friends. These have become people I hang out with after school and on the weekends. Additionally, there is dance club where we learn the salsa, merengue, bachata, la cumbia and much more. What I have learned in dance club has come in handy at the local clubs — I am able to talk with the local ticas and show off my dance moves, which is always a fun!
Overall, it’s true that traveling like tourist can be fun. However, at the end of the day, being a student abroad allows you to live like a local. You can eat, sleep, and breathe the tico culture. As a study abroad student, it is essential that you fully embrace the Costa Rican culture.
To anyone who wants some advice when traveling to Costa Rica or any other country: Remember to take new risks and challenge yourself. ¡La vida es una aventura!