You Will Never Be Completely At Home Again

“You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart will always be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.”

Living in a different place for a semester can be a challenge, but it is also something that we grow from. We learn about ourselves and the world around us. We learn from others we never thought we would.

The people I have learned the most from are my host family. One might believe that it is just a place where you go back to eat and sleep. Others may think that studying is the only thing that will happen in the family’s home. Some go into a host family thinking they will be like another child of the family. It is ultimately up to the person studying abroad and what they want to get out of the experience.

There are different living situations that you may be able to choose from including apartment style living or the typical college dorm. For studying abroad in Costa Rica, my program only offered a homestay, which I am so thankful for. The other options may have given me the opportunity to meet other students from the states or people from different countries, but a homestay allows me to really immerse myself in the culture of where I am studying.

My first thought about going to Costa Rica was that I would be living in the treetops in the rainforest along with the monkeys and the birds. Okay, so maybe that was a silly thing to think, but I didn’t think “the city of San Jose” would be similar to the city of New York or the city of Boston. There is not much wildlife around except for the mosquitos and the moths, the size of my palm, which fly into my room at night. Unfortunately, there are not many trees around and there are tightly packed neighborhoods that make it feel like you are actually not in the lush rainforests of Costa Rica, but that’s because you are not. But since I don’t take my expectations to heart and I am easily adaptable, I am not upset about it.

You can have expectations about a place as long as you expect them to change along with your travels. Living with a family, I thought they could teach me how to cook and dance and do all of the things that a “typical” Costa Rican does. In fact, they have taught me that the stereotype of a “Tico” (the name they call themselves as native Costa Ricans) is actually quite different from what I had expected.

Trust me, it was not an easy situation to get comfortable with. Before I left I had different expectations that were totally changed when I arrived. I would suggest, if you chose a homestay, or even a dorm or apartment, throw all your expectations out the window of the airplane before landing because there is very little that will fit those expectations. Otherwise you may become easily disappointed.

Living with a “typical” Tica family

In many ways, Costa Ricans are a lot like families in the US. They have dogs, they go to school, they hang out together, etc. My Tica family, in particular, is very close. I have a Tica mother, father and sister. The father is rarely home because he has three jobs. However, my Tica mother, Sandra, and her daughter, Nicole, are very close. They do everything together and are best friends. It reminds me of the relationship I have with my mother. In a way it is quite comforting because it reminds me of what I have back in the states.

And yes, they do have a dog like I do back at home! The only thing is, I can’t pet it because I might just get some kind of infection. It’s quite sad here how they treat their dogs. I do not think my Tico dog, Max, has ever received a bath. He’s so dirty that even with the slightest touch you will receive that smell on your skin. There are many dogs on the streets that do not have owners. A lot are like wild animals here. It’s very sad. Despite the fact that Max doesn’t get bathed, at least he has a home and is not begging for food in the streets.

The biggest struggle for me here, and I think I can speak for most of the U.S. students, has been dealing with “Tico time.” Schedules and time are important to people in the U.S. We always have somewhere to be at a specific time and place. We are always rushing to get things done on time. There are deadlines to complete and people to please. Here, that is thrown out the window. Even with my classes I have experienced “Tico time.” “Tico time” pretty much means that there is no sense of time here. Time does not exist and rarely matters. If the family says your dinner is from 7:30-8 pm expect it to be from 5 pm to 9 pm. If a Tico says to meet with them at 2 pm expect them to be late by at least 15 minutes. It is kind of like a girl’s sense of time in the US. If she says she will be ready in 5 minutes, expect at least a half hour. With school though, you should be in classes on time. Some professors are good at being on time, but others may show up late. That 15 minute rule in college (if your professor doesn’t show up after 15 minutes you can leave) does not apply here. The classroom is very much like this: If an assignment is due and you miss it, don’t stress. You can turn it in the next day for credit or whenever it is a convenience to you. It’s hard to deal with no schedules and no organization, but it is also a very nice break from being stressed all the time. You get to relax here in Costa Rica. Don’t get me wrong, there is work to be done, but you do not have to stress about deadlines like in the U.S. They want you to learn at your own pace so that you can actually understand rather than memorize the material.

One of my favorite things about Costa Rica is the food! The family rarely eats out and I have never seen them eat any freezer foods. They always prepare and cook meals that are very tasty. The food is always so fresh! My favorite part is the fruits. Nothing fresher! Although this sounds healthy, their food is very greasy. They practically eat every meal with rice and beans, which is a lot of carbs. The good thing is, it always fills you up! Also, if you aren’t easily filled, they will be happy to give you more! But most of the time seconds is not necessary because their portions are gigantic. Make sure you have enough room because they expect you to eat it all. If you don’t, they may ask you why you hate their cooking!

So many carbs! But so good. Pasta with refried beans and rice!

So many carbs! But so good. Pasta with refried beans and rice!

Definitely expect to get teased if you aren’t fluent in Spanish, but enjoy getting made fun of! Make a joke out of it! They will like you more if you laugh along with them. I have made so many mistakes in Spanish (I came here knowing the very basics). Most of the time they help you with Spanish, along with a few laughs. It is a great bonding experience because even though you may not understand the language, you find a way to create a fun and happy relationship.

I have had the opportunity to go out with my Tica mother and sister. They are so much fun to hang out with! One night we went to the grandfather’s house for his birthday. I met the whole family and we sang karaoke and danced. Another night I went out to a bar with Sandra and Nicole and then after went to a karaoke bar. Being open to things and saying yes when they invite you anywhere is a must. It really helps you enjoy the experience as a whole. Even though most weekends you will have trips to explore the country, I would suggest staying back a few weekends. This is the time when you really get closer with your family, along with having some time to relax. Don’t worry, you won’t miss out on anything! You are growing a lifelong bond with Costa Ricans!

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Nicole, Grandfather, Sandra.

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Nicole and me.

A few last mentionable things are the safety tips. Being in Costa Rica is beautiful and a life changing experience, but it can also be a lesson learned if you are careless. There are pickpockets and robberies you have to be aware of. It is best to walk in large groups and to be aware of all of your surroundings. Most of the robberies I have heard about were of people not being smart. Don’t walk home at night; take a cab. Don’t listen to music through earphones while out in public; you will get your devices snatched. Don’t look suspicious, blend in and walk like you have a purpose. In other words, don’t look like a tourist. My friend and I almost got into a predicament with a guy that had a knife, but we were aware of our surrounding and got to the closest security guard we saw. They called a taxi for us and we ended up being safe. Don’t walk around being worried all the time, but also do not walk around careless. Just be aware of where you are and who’s around you and you will be okay!

My time so far in Costa Rica has been amazing! There are negatives and positives, but mostly positives! Just go into the concept of studying abroad with an open mind and be easily adaptable. It is such an eye opening experience and you will never forget it!

Celebrating Day of the Dead with a few U.S. students.

Celebrating Day of the Dead with a few U.S. students.

Allie Lessard is a student at Endicott College and an official API Student Blogger. Allie is studying abroad with API in San Jose, Costa Rica.

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  1. Arielle Augustin says

    Hey Allie!
    I enjoyed your blog. I’m considering going to Spain with API, but I don’t know if I would rather stay in a hostel or with a host family. I’ve had friends who’ve stayed in hostels and they loved it. I feel that living with a family will allow me to discover places not usually visited by tourists and improve my language skills tremendously. However, I part of me wonders if I would be missing out on making and going out with friends. If you could email me more about your perspective I would be very grateful.

  2. Hi Arielle!

    That’s a very great question! My opinion would be to stay with a host family. I am not sure how it is worked out in Spain, but I got to do a survey before I left on the type of host family I would like and if I would like to live with a host student and or other international students. I got a host student and she was great! I met so many of her Costa Rican friends and she showed me a few places that I wouldn’t have got to see if I was with all international students. The best part about this is that you will meet so many people at school and you can choose to travel with them on the weekends. I am not sure about the host families in Spain, but I am sure you will be able to travel with them as well! If not, I am sure you can meet their family and friends and learn a lot more about the culture that way.

    Staying in hostels is fun. They are tough though because once you usually meet those people, those are the people you will go out with all the time. That is not necessarily a bad thing, but you do not get as much of a cultural experience as you would living with a host family. You won’t get to experience the every day life of how a person in Spain lives.

    Like I previously mentioned, you will meet so many people by going to classes. Since I did not live with any international students, classes is where I met all my friends and those are the people I would travel with on the weekends.

    If you have any other questions feel free to email me directly at [email protected]. I would be glad to answer any other questions and glad to hear what you decide!

    Thank you,
    Allie L

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