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5 Unexpected Quirks in Costa Rica

by Alison Macbeth
Young person walking across a bridge in Costa Rica | AIFS Study Abroad

Everyone has their quirks — and cities and countries do, too! Part of the study abroad experience is learning, understanding (or realizing you will never fully understand), and accepting cultural practices that are different from your own. I’ve experienced many unique differences between Costa Rica and the United States since my semester in San José began.

Costa Rica is full of examples of quirks that I’m not used to as a college student from the United States, but here are a few unexpected differences you might not expect:

Mural in San José, Costa Rica | AIFS Study Abroad
“Todos nacemos maravillosamente diferentes!”
(“We are all born wonderfully different!”)

1. Showers

The Costa Rican shower has its own personality. The temperature and pressure have an inverse relationship. This means that the lower the pressure, the hotter the water. It can take a while to negotiate the shower to get it to your ideal temperature and pressure. You may just find yourself taking shorter, colder showers. Be aware of the electrical wire connected to the heating unit on many shower heads. (Who knew that showers could be so exciting?!)

2. Locks & Doors

I’ve learned that locks are very important in Costa Rica. You will likely have to use a key to get out of your house, as well as into it. It often takes several turns for you to fully lock/unlock the gate.

I think people from the United States are known for slamming doors, which is disliked here in Costa Rica, so be careful when you close your gate or door to do so quietly.

3. Toilets

Throwing toilet paper in the toilet is a big no-no in Costa Rica. I have heard this is because there are old pipes and they will get clogged. Who knows for sure! Just throw your toilet paper in the wastebasket.

4. Windows & Screens

In your homestay, you will most likely have bars over your windows. In the United States, we often associate bars on windows with a place that is less safe. However, there are bars over windows everywhere in Costa Rica.

Underneath the bars there are slot windows that open with a lever. In addition to no locks on the windows, there are no screens. This may mean developing friendly relationships with local bugs, but don’t worry — the bugs in San José aren’t that big!

5. Computer Keyboards

For students from the United States, using a Spanish keyboard can be quite a tricky experience, especially when you need to sign in to your email and have to input the @ sign. The key to getting the “at-symbol” is “Alt+2” or “Alt + Q.” Be warned, this sometimes doesn’t work for Mac computers.

These little quirks of life in San José, Costa Rica for an American college student make the study abroad and host family experience exciting life-changing. What other opportunity do you get to be transported to another country and get to live like a local? The differences may be annoying or unfamiliar to you at first, but I believe it is a wonderful chance to practice open-mindedness and open-heartedness. And maybe you’ll rethink what you think is “normal.”

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