When American teenagers imagine their perfect summer, they usually incorporate, waking up at odd hours of the afternoon, playing video games, hanging out with friends, and mostly doing nothing. However, this is not the type of vision that I have, someone who needs to be constantly occupied and whose greatest fear besides heights is boredom. In the midst of my busy schedule, my parents launched an idea that would come to fruition months later during June 2011. With their 25th anniversary looming, and a pair of 50 year-old birthdays, my parents decided to take a trip to Costa Rica and I decided to come along, sacrificing a week of work during the summer and the cost of plane fare in order to immerse myself in a culture that I had only skimmed over in Spanish class. After 8 days in the country I realized what a great decision I had made.
When we arrived in San Jose airport, it finally struck me that we were in a foreign country, one that despite being a very tourist-friendly destination had a primary language that was not English. Having just completed Spanish 3, I expected to use what I had learned in class. Although for me, speaking the language itself is akin to a boxer attempting to locate something in a dictionary taped to his opponents forehead-the words are hard to find. In the taxi ride over to our hotel, I attempted to engage the driver in some conversation, however I understood only a quarter of what he said and was immediately cowed into silence. Despite this, I continued to engage drivers, waiters, attendants and native speakers over the next week and the interactions I had were the most memorable parts of the trip. For anyone visiting a foreign country I strongly advise them to attempt to speak the language in any limited form they can. The locals appreciate your effort and you can experience a greater level of immersion than you normally would.
Traveling to a foreign country requires an adjustment period, usually of a day or two, in order for one to start enjoying themselves, and stop worrying about their itinerary and what’s going on at home. I advise any international travelers to plan a light first day, as opposed to one full of sightseeing and excursions, which tends to leave vacationers overwhelmed and second-guessing their decision to leave home. On a trip to the UK in 2005, my parents had the fantastic idea of walking over 10 miles through London to see the Magna Carta, however it just left us tired, hungry, and silent. Promising to not make this mistake again, my parents planned a light day of zip-lining in 100% humidity and traveling 3 hours by car on unpaved roads, something akin to sailing on a 10 foot dinghy in 50 foot seas. However once we reached the cloud forests of Monteverde we were mesmerized by the wildlife and enthralled at the sheer beauty of our surroundings. In the 3 days we dabbled in all sorts of experiences from the relaxing and informative tours that took us through a local coffee plantation and cheese factory, to the crazy horse-riding, jungle-at-night, adventures that left us wanting more. For travelers who are trying to discover the true identity of a place, spending enough time in the area to make friends is a must, because when you look back through your pictures you won’t just see the image itself, but a whole other photo album of sights, sounds, and syllables. I made that connection and will always seek it in the future.
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