My body floats among the depths of San Jose. I am here, cradled in the solace of my homestay. I wrap myself in the blankets of welcome my Costa Rican family gives me and I breathe. I breathe in the air. This experience. Life. How privileged for me to live amongst another group of people, absorbing all I can from them. This study abroad experience is not just about advancing my Spanish and sight seeing, it’s about witnessing the humanity of others—the quality of life, the daily routine, the laughs shared, the locations valued, the conversations. We find a connection in our humanity.
Currently, I am on the other side of the world. Technology has brought me here. My mother’s lifetime of hard work has brought me here. My scholarship donors and financial aid have brought me here. I am forever blessed. It’s interesting to notice how the earth makes the same noises all across. Yet, there is a different kind of quiet here. An ambience that whispers safety, comfort–that tells you it’s okay to feel at home. Even the crickets here sound nicer than those who ring in America. It is a different kind of oxygen. A bright kind of darkness. The air is lighter, I can breathe freely.
Travel tips that may seem common sense but are necessary to follow:
1. Bring a lot of stomach medicine. It is true what they say about your body needing time to adapt to the climate, the food, and the daily routine of a foreign country.
2. Get a good nights sleep the day before you leave. I failed to do this. My flight was at 5:45 a.m. so I had to be there around 3 a.m. Being myself, I decided to just stay up all night—surprise, surprise, sleep deprivation will really mess with you. As we were stuck in Fort Lauderdale in layover, I passed out on top of my suitcase. Sitting up. That’s right, Medina at it again with her professional art of falling asleep too easily in public places.
– Side note: The total plane ride from Ft. Lauderdale to San Jose was only three hours, but time seemed like forever. I was in and out of sleep—that is to say, in and out of watching us float above the clouds, seeing nothing but mixes of blue and white hues until the plane neared Costa Rica and the green mountains and red house tops were added to the picture. I explained this to Gviana (my homestay roommate), but sometimes when you are so tired, everything seems extra “3D” to you. Hyperaware of senses completamente—I was not ready for it. PLEASE SLEEP.
3. Don’t forget your favorite sweater that you reminded yourself to bring with you five times but ended up leaving on the sofa anyways. You will be cold and you will miss it.
4. Speaking of cold, research the climate of the area. Although I was aware that the days would be hot and sunny and the afternoons would bring heavy rain, I failed to remember that rain brings cold fronts. This also means you should not lose your umbrella on your first day at a local bar either.
5. Bring a travel blanket–preferably the dark blue soft one your brother bought you a few years prior. It makes things more comfortable on the plane and also at your homestay (or other place of residence). Here, the blankets are much different and “less comfortable” than those in America (thin and not as fluffy as it should be).
6. Also, don’t forget the nice water bottle you purchased for the trip in the car. If you do, go back to the car and get it. You will miss it.
7. If you haven’t flown before, bring nausea medication. I was not only exhausted, but I also had the worst nausea while flying thousands of feet in the air. If you have anxiety, bring medication for that as well (just in case). I was fortunate enough not to garner fear in this aspect of the journey to C.R. but you can never be too careful!
8. Don’t buy a phone from the ladies at the store in the outlet mall because they will lie to you about it being able to function in the U.S., won’t give you your money back when you try to return it, and then make you “trade it in” for stuff that they tripled the price of.
9. PACK SNACKS. PACK SNACKS. PACK. SNACKS.
10. If you ever travel to Costa Rica, DO NOT rent a car. The way these drivers move is crazy. You think Tampa, Florida has horrible drivers? In this pueblo, everyone tries to get to where they need to go as fast as they can get there, and they don’t mind being reckless.
11. If you travel, please learn at least some phrases and basic parts of the language before arriving. You will learn a lot while you are here, but it makes the experience so much more gratifying when you can connect with the people of the country through conversation. I was fortunate enough to have already been fluent in Spanish prior to my arrival. Still, a Spanish-English dictionary is always useful!
12. If you’re in a homestay, bring a small gift for your family. It does not matter what it is, but it helps show your appreciation for them being so generous as to offer you a space in their house.
13. Ask how to use the shower before going in because you will end up being in a predicament where you’re trying to coach yourself into being okay with an ice-cold shower until your roommate hears you struggling and runs to help you.
14. Write about your experience. Try to include every detail. It will be beautiful to look back on and remember.
15. Take lots of photos and videos. You will regret it in the future if you don’t. These are the types of memories that last forever, that you keep close to your heart, so it is amazing to have it documented.
16. Appreciate every moment—this goes a long way. Whether its raining, or you don’t feel good, or maybe you got lost and are stuck in the middle of nowhere, stay positive! You’re in a beautiful foreign country and it’s all part of the experience. Sometimes its okay to get lost—and through that journey, maybe you’ll even find yourself.
17. Google all others.