Abstract ideas involve elements or concepts that exist but that one cannot really touch, see, smell, or sometimes even imagine. For me, Costa Rica used to occupy that intangible universe. Despite its standing as a recognized country, I still couldn’t picture it, even with the help of various internet images and videos. Nothing about Costa Rica or Latin America, for that matter, seemed quite real, until I traveled there last summer.
During the ride from the airport to my host family’s house, I realized that the region of San Jose, the capital, looked nothing like the “playas de arena blanca” (white-sanded beaches) I had observed in Google images. All the houses followed a pattern, though this repetition had nothing to do with white picket fences or artistically mowed lawns. Instead, planted in front of every edifice, tall, prison-like iron gates protected the tiny houses against intruders. Inside my hosts’ residence, the room set aside for me seemed smaller than my parents’ closet back home, and the ceiling hung strangely low. At first, I couldn’t help but feel trapped in a place that didn’t fit me.
However, this uneasiness gradually vanished as I made new friends, learned Spanish, and discovered the country. Then, I found myself feeling more and more at home in Costa Rica. Los Ticos (Costa Ricans) proved very nice and helpful; Mita, my host mom, looked after me like my real mother would. Even the metal gates assumed a friendlier face; they became just another part of the landscape. The culture class I took at the escuela de idiomas de Costa Rica in the town of Desemparados introduced me to many more aspects to enjoy about this beautiful and interesting country.
Another part of my seven-week visit that helped me appreciate Costa Rica involved weekend trips in the company of my new friends. We traveled to Manuel Antonio, Puerto Viejo, Monteverde, Liberia, and Punta Leona. Only the inevitable bus transportation sometimes proved a bit uncomfortable, but I loved these odysseys nonetheless. Our bus to Monteverde, for example, became so crowded that half the passengers had to stand. Once the rain began, we had to close the windows which until then had provided our only air conditioning. My friend Aleena and I shared our seats with a little girl because of the overcrowding, and two of my other friends had her sister with them. The entire ride lasted six hours. Yet, despite the rain, heat, and reduced personal space, I loved the bus trip as part of the total adventure.
Along with learning Spanish and discovering a new country, came the new friends who inspired these journeys. We watched out for each other, which I found absolutely wonderful because I value loyalty and trust so highly. We referred to ourselves as “La familia” (the family), a closeness I had never experienced before. We still keep in touch, even though they live in New York and I in Oklahoma.
After seven weeks in Desemparados (near San Jose), the time came to leave. As one might guess, this moment wasn’t the highlight of my trip, but it did carry its own importance. When I arrived home, something struck me: my ceiling seemed so incredibly high, and my house, huge! Some might laugh, but only then did I understand the power of adaptation. My house hadn’t expanded, nor had it magically grown taller. Only my own perspective had changed. My trip to Costa Rica enriched me in many ways; this experience has widened my view of the world while narrowing my intangible world, the unknown.
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