I suppose I have gotten my fill of everything I expected in Costa Rica—the palm trees misshapen from the unceasing wind on mountaintops, the pastel sunsets that wrap up the warmth of a day in Monteverde, the songs of endemic bird species mixed with the mooing of my family’s calves. Then, there is the clamoring of roosters at three o’clock in the morning and the four and a half hour Sábado Santo Vigil Mass and a corn tamale with beans constituting my dessert at the end of a long field trip. While some experiences are not limited to Costa Rica or even Central America, they are what has defined my memories studying abroad thus far.
As I have written before, I do not think for one minute that this semester would be as rico if it were not for my host family and our shared adventures. From the second day with my family, I knew it would be an adventurous four months. For the entire day, my host dad, brother, a fellow classmate’s family, and I went to a town about 45 minutes away to swim in the local river and visit extended. The day was filled with language barriers, good laughs with my host abuela (grandmother), and a refreshing swim in the river. Yet it would not have been complete if I did not have the bug bites all over my legs and arms.
I have attended Holy Saturday Mass back in the States and knew that it is notoriously lengthy. But nothing could prepare me for the event to come, especially as my host dad is the lead cantor in the music ministry. The music was lively, the congregation was engaged, and the combination of these two maintained my interest as Mass continued into the late hours of the night. It was incredible to see my host dad’s family and friends come together for this holiday that they take so seriously. Plus, Semana Santa is the time for miel de chiverre and jugo de caña, the tastiest of sweets.
Then, there was the time we went shrimp “fishing.” I returned home from class for no more than fifteen minutes when I get word that we are leaving for Guacimal, a town about 30-45 minutes away, depending if you are clambering down or summiting the mountain. Following that, it is impossible to describe. We strapped on our waders and walked down the valley near my family’s grandfather’s farm. The shrimp have this special habit of avoiding light. This meant we could not go in the daylight nor when the moon shone brightly. Even worse, our flashlights were only for walking on solid ground. Placing the light in the water inadvertently scared away the shrimp. And then the rest was history: we hiked up the rocky riverbed, looking for and collecting shrimp along the way. We were out adventuring in the dark for more than five hours.
Eating the shrimp the next day brought a great pride to have found and collected your sustenance. And I learned the struggles when the yield is low and how climate change has polarized the dry and wet season. And with all of these experiences I stepped closer toward appreciating the true tico culture. This cultural understanding is not the next bullet point on my résumé or simply a fascinating story to tell around the Thanksgiving dinner table. It is the formation of my worldview, identifying the differences and similarities between others’ cultures and my own.