When I first entered Costa Rica, there were a couple of cultural changes that I immediately faced. Now that I have spent two weeks in Costa Rica, I feel as though I have finally started to accept some of the norms as parts of my routine.
For starters, as soon as I entered the home of my host family, I was greeted by hugs and a kiss on my cheek. This pattern has continued; I always receive a hug and a kiss before going to class and when I return. This affection is also incredibly common with new people I meet. As I have been introduced to my host family’s extended family, friends of host siblings, and even hosts at a hostel, it has been customary to be greeted with a kiss on the cheek. I have also noticed that there is less of a personal space bubble when speaking while standing up. This was definitely something that took me aback at first, especially when compared the standard in the US.
Secondly, the bathrooms of Costa Rica are very different as well. My family has an electric shower, which is easy enough to use once figured out. The top portion of the showerhead has percentages on it, and you have to rotate that until you find the temperature that best suits you. In addition, it takes a little troubleshooting to find the pressure of water that best suits the temperature that you want. I also found that the water definitely heats up with lower water pressure. In addition to the showers, it is important to remember that you cannot flush toilet paper in Costa Rica. Most places have reminder signs and a trash can next to the toilet, but it is important to do this to avoid a clog!
Also, the drives in Costa Rica are much more hilly than I expected. The sharp twists and turns of the roads make it imperative that you bring motion sickness medicine if that is something that affects you. The right of way for pedestrians also does not apply here. Having lived in Philadelphia, this was not super challenging to get used to, but it is definitely important to check multiple times before crossing a street.
Additionally, the money is different here. It was also harder for me to personally understand the comparison for the value of goods. For example, I had a dinner which was the equivalent of ten US dollars, but also experienced an overnight stay at a hostel with breakfast included for the same price. Overall, I have found that healthcare, transportation, and hospitality costs are much lower than their equivalent in the US, while food and groceries are roughly the same.
Finally, the climate in Costa Rica has been so different. It is incredibly consistent and warm, with daily highs of around 75 degrees and lows of 60. However, the air itself feels very humid and the sun feels incredibly strong. Sunburn happens very quickly, as I realized after my first day of classes. Overall, a strong sunblock, sunglasses, and a hat have become parts of my morning routine.
Overall, traveling to a new country is bound to come with a new culture to get used to, but by asking questions and remaining flexible, it is much easier to accommodate culture shock. I’ve found that by talking about shared experiences with other students around me, I have been able to better navigate all of the new information that comes my way!