When I first came to Costa Rica, I wasn’t sure what to expect. As a 42 year black woman studying abroad for the first time, I was really hesitant to connect with people. The fear of being judged was over whelming. Black. Woman. Older. Not to mention being a lesbian in a very catholic domineering country.
Meeting with the students from my program wasn’t easy. All of them under the age of 24. All of them ready to get their party on. All of them white, with the exception on one other than myself. When I told them my age noone believed me. The phrase “black don’t crack” really does apply to me and sometimes it’s hard for me to believe that I am 42. 42. Wow!
Studying abroad as a 42 year old black woman is a big deal. A lot of women who have decided to attend college at an older age do not have the opportunity to study abroad. A lot of women who attend college right after high school don’t have the opportunity to study abroad, truth be told. But here I sit, in Costa Rica. Enjoying the sound of birds and howling monkeys and water falls and the occasional sound of a car driving by. I am enjoying the food and the tico’s and over coming the struggle/fear to speak Spanish. I am enjoying the view and the rain and the radiant sun and the feel of black sand between my feet. I am enjoying life, pure and simple.
It’s not easy. Sometimes I wish I could be around other people around my age. Hanging out with 20 something year olds can be a little mind boggling. But I roll with them when I can. Enjoy a cigar on the beach of Jaco with the guys, go zip lining in Monteverde with the girls, laughing while riding a speed boat for the first time with a crew who was just as happy for me as I was for myself. I roll with them and they roll with me. And when I feel the need to be a lone, I take the time for me. I say my prayers and give thanks.
This may not be for everyone. I know being an adult, living on your own, not depending on the help of mom and dad but of self and self/wife/husband puts a lot of things into perspective and picking up to leave for 3 to 5 months maybe even a year is not feasible let alone trying to go somewhere for two weeks. So having this opportunity at this time with these people with a loving wife in New York and a family in Chicago that supports my decision to be here makes being here a lot easier.
But I will say this, if you have a chance to see the world, do it. If you have a chance to step out of your comfort zone and experience something you have never experienced before, do it. I don’t mean doing something that it harmful to your body but something that is good for your soul.
When we first arrived here, we were told in orientation that we will have to “get a little uncomfortable.” Things in Costa Rica are different and if we don’t open our minds and learn to be more flexible, being here can be torture. Life is like that. Get a little uncomfortable! Don’t let age slow you down. Don’t use age as an excuse. Use it as a weapon! Experience is one of our greatest teachers.
When I arrived in Costa Rica, I wasn’t worried about watching television. Well, I was, kind of.
In the States, everyone was gearing up for the season premiere of Scandal. There were Facebook posts, pictures posted, and guesses about what would happen during the premiere. People prepared buffalo wings and chips and soda as if it was the Super Bowl and I was going to miss it all. Granted Costa Rica is Costa Rica. It is one of the happiest places on earth, ecologically sound, cost effective, and not to mention there is an abundance of fruits and vegetables, some of which I have never tried until now. But this was Scandal. One of North America’s most watched television shows. And I wanted to be amongst the thousands of people watching it.
Here’s what I didn’t know about Costa Rica, English is not a language spoken often. Maybe at the resorts, but in regular neighborhoods not so much.
My use of the Spanish language was basic, at best. In my mind I could put together a speedy reply to a question but I have since learned that English is a lazy language. What I mean by that is this, for example, in Spanish there are two ways to use the word “for” para and por. And it’s the same for many other English words. To say in Spanish ‘I like fruits and vegetables’ you have to make sure the verb agrees with the noun. So if the noun is plural, the verb is plural. That requires too much thinking! In English, the sentence will sound like ‘I likes the fruits and the vegetables.’ Which of course makes no sense in English but in Spanish it makes a lot of sense, which is why I believe the English language makes us very lazy as speakers. But I digress.
So Thursday arrived and I have read post after post on the “Count Down to Scandal.”
Let me say this, my host family is wonderful. Only the daughter speaks English, which really forces me to speak Spanish. But in Spanish class before coming to Costa Rica, I didn’t learn how to ask, “What channel does Scandal come on?” That was mistake number one. Mistake number two was not finding out before hand if people watched Scandal here! Here is how the conversation went:
Me: Que channel es ABC?
My host mother: ABC?
Me: Si. ABC. Scandal. Tu miras?
My host mother: Scandal?
The house servant: Scandal?
Me: Si. Scandal. Greys Anatomy. Channel ABC. Que sabes?
Now at this point, they have only known me for 4 days and before this the only things they really heard me say in Spanish are hola, bien, y usted and no me gusta so I am sure they were just as shocked to hear me speaking as I was.
Another student from Costa Rica came down stairs and he tried to help. But between my broken Spanish and the fact that they don’t watch American television, I was on the crooked end of the stick on this one.
At some point the student understands me, takes me up stairs and together we figure out which channel ABC was on. And just in time, at 8pm, Scandal comes on!
Watching television in Costa Rica isn’ t easy. And living with a Costa Rican family isn’t easy when there is no one else in the family to save you when the pronounciation of hombre vs hambre becomes blurred. But some how we muddle through it and make it work.
It’s been 4 weeks now and my Spanish has improved. Being in a Spanish class for four hours everyday has a way of doing that. There are plenty of televisions in the house and no one watches the same television that I do so the channel doesn’t change. I only watch it on Thursday’s and it helps me feel not so a lone.
Being a study abroad student in a country whose language you are not fluent in is a challenge. But if you keep your eyes open, immerse yourself in the culture and learn to laugh at yourself, it is a challenge worth taking. Some people never have the opportunity to study abroad. Some people are too afraid to leave the city they were born and raised in let a lone live in another state or country. But living abroad should be on everyone’s bucket list. Adventures and all.
First let me start out by apologizing for the typos. Typing in the dark is something that I don’t do well but for some reason I like to do it.
Secondly, one of the craziest experiences in Costa Rica, besides the cat call, the prostitution, and the well trained dogs (more on this in another post, I promise) is the fact that Costa Ricans, for the most part, do not wear athletic clothing outside like regular clothes. They look at American funny when the see us in yoga gear or sweatpants going to class. Its much like the way we look at people who wear their pj’s to the store or to class. And now I understand why. Work out clothes were made to work out in! Go figure! LOL. But here we are with our luggage stuffed with yoga tops and bottoms, sweatpants and basketball shorts looking like we are the craziest bunch of Americans to have arrived at Universidad Veritas! There is an unspoken rule here in Costa Rica, walk like you are know where you are going even if you don’t look like it. Otherwise instead of people speaking to you slower so that you understand, they will speak louder and then you look like a weird dressing American who can’t hear and who doesn’t know where they are going. And trust me, you don’t want to have that experience.
Which leads me to my third topic, empanadas. There is this stand on campus. (I started going there because I didn’t want to get lost trying to find a spot to eat. Those who know me know that I am horrible with directions! You can turn me around in a couple of circles and I would be lost for several minutes.) So any way, there is this stand on campus that I normally go to when I don’t want to spend a lot of money. Food is relatively cheap here. You can get a nice cansado between 2000-3000 mil but that’s only if you have time to get it. There is this thing they call “Tico Time” (more on that too in another post. But for those of us in certain communities you can already guess what they mean by that.) and if you are in a rush you may not want to go to a neighborhood soda for lunch. (Soda’s are homestyle restaurants that serve cheap but sometimes good food. You just have to know where the good ones are.)
Anyway, the guy at the cart sells empanadas for 900 colones. (This is less than 2 dollars in the states). They are really good. They are not made the same way they are made in the states. In the states I have had them mostly deep fried with a flour tortilla. But here, they are made with cornmeal. He puts them on his grill and stuffs them with your choice of mayo, ketchup, mustard, hot salsa, bbq sauce, and Costa Rica’s version of slaw. When I order mine I say, “empanada de pollo por favor.” If he doesn’t have chicken, I ask for bistek/carne. And because my spanish was really limited when I first arrived (I didn’t know how to say the names of the condiments) and he doesn’t speak english, when he asked what I wanted on it I said “todos, pero un poco. To which he quickly corrected me “un poquito todos” I didn’t know what it would taste like. I am not big on condiments. But I am here to tell you I am a believer now! The empanadas are so good and filling. As a student here, my Mama Tica is responsible to feeding me breakfast and dinner. ( I should say the maid is responsible for cooking my breakfast and dinner) So lunch is on us. I am trying to really pace myself monetarily. There is so much to do and with the way our weekends have been going I could end up broke before the end of this month if I am not careful. So food is the last thing I want to go broke paying for.
So if you are ever in San Jose and you are studying at Veritas remember these three things: Typos are going to happen no matter what, wearing your work out clothes when you are not working out is like wearing your pj’s when you are not going to bed, and always keep 1 mil in your pocket just in case you see the man at the cart. (Oh, and 1 mil isn’t one million, 1 mil or 1000 colones, is equivalant to $2.00)
Until next time, remember to take your umbrella.