10 things I had to adjust to since being in Costa Rica

To offer a bit more perspective on what my life is like here in Costa Rica, I thought I would write about 10 different things I had to adjust to while in Costa Rica. By no means are these 10 items “bad,” merely, they are different things I have had to adjust and adapt to, which is a part of studying abroad and acclimating to a new culture.

  1. Throwing toilet paper in the trashcan and not the toilet.
    • Prior to coming to Costa Rica, I knew throwing the toilet paper into the toilet was not an option here in Costa Rica due to the plumbing not having the capacity or pressure to get the toilet paper where it needs to go. Many a time when first arriving here, I had to dig my toilet paper out of the toilet because I would forget to put it into the trashcan. Whoops! I know for certain this will be a hard habit to break once I return to the United States.
  2. Having no mirror in the bathroom
    • I am not sure if this is cultural thing, but Sheri and I do not have a mirror in our bathroom. Rather, we have a mirror outside of our bathroom. However, the bathroom mirror downstairs has a mirror above the sink. From what I can deduce, the main bathroom in the house has a mirror while others do not.
  3. Not having hot water to wash hands or dishes
    • When I turn on the faucet in the bathroom or kitchen, only cold water comes out. I wash my hands with soap and the dishes with soap, don’t worry. However, I cannot guarantee that all of the germs have been vanquished, but I do my best!
  4. Bugs are everywhere and anywhere
    • As a result of the climate and windows not having screens, bugs creep into all corners of the house. A normal day consists of me saying “farewell” to at least 5 ants in my rooms. Occasionally, a little lizard will wander in through the window and scurry along the walls and sometimes into my bedroom.
  5. Catcalling happens on the daily
    • As a result of the machismo culture in Latin and South America, catcalling happens on the daily. For someone who does not look like they are from Central or South America, I already attract a lot of stares and attention. Nearly every day while walking to or from school, someone will deliberately honk at me or yell at me. All I can do is ignore the unwanted attention.
  6. Walking by after 6:00 pm alone is not a great idea
    • Unfortunately, after 6:00 pm, I have to take a taxi or Uber to get where I need to be. I am a firm believer bad things can happen ANYWHERE. By no means am I implying Costa Rica is unsafe. When traveling alone, having common sense and being aware of your surroundings are of the upmost importance. Not walking around at 6:00 pm at night is a safety precaution more than anything.
  7. Rice and beans daily for meals
    • Funnily enough, my mama tica does not like to eat rice and beans all the time herself. Additionally, with having lots of experience of hosting students from the United States, I think my mama tica recognizes rice and beans for every meal are not a part of our daily diet. As a result, I do not eat rice and beans for every meal. Rather, I have rice and beans for 1-2 meals per day and most of the time I have the ability to choose how much rice and beans I want to eat.
  8. Bus routes and bus time tables are extremely complicated to understand
    • After studying in Europe where the train and bus schedules are easily accessible via a Google search, trying to plan a trip to another city or area of Costa Rica can be extremely complicated and frustrating. As I have learned, talking with my mama tica or consulting multiple blogs helps find answers and provide some direction.
  9. Unplugging from technology
    • This point is more of a personal choice. I do not have a sim card while in Costa Rica, which has forced me to unplug when I do not have WiFi access or if the WiFi is not working. When traveling in Costa Rica, it is pretty easy to find a place with free WiFi. However, the internet source may not be reliable. Additionally, during afternoon rain storms, sometimes the WiFi at my home or school stops working for hours at a time, which forces me to unplug.
  10. Embracing the relaxing pace and culture that equates to the idea of Pura Vida
    • As someone who is always go, go, go, slowing down and embracing ‘Pura Vida’ has been slightly tough. Ticos do not take life too seriously and stop to smell the roses more often and not. I hope to embody this aspect of Costa Rica culture by being fully present and embracing life during the next two months of my exchange. Pura Vida!

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo

Toucan Rescue Ranch

On Monday, myself and the other Sol students made our way to Toucan Rescue Ranch for a local culture trip.

At Toucan Rescue Ranch, employees and volunteers rescue, rehabilitate, and release Costa Rican wildlife. Originally, Toucan Rescue Ranch only rehabilitated toucans. Eventually, the organization expanded and took in owls and other fowl, sloths, monkeys, and other animals. Animals that are injured are brought to Toucan Rescue Ranch as well as animals that have been confiscated as former pets. Today, Toucan Rescue Ranch is a part of a breeding program to expand the toucan, owl, and sloth population in Costa Rica.

Unfortunately, not all of the animals at Toucan Rescue Ranch cannot be released because they have had too much human interaction in their lives. Some of the animals I learned are extremely playful, while others are dangerous despite being in a cage.

The sloths, or “perezosos” in Spanish, were by far my favorite! All of the sloths at Toucan Rescue Ranch are broken down into different “schools” based on their age and interaction levels. The baby sloths are currently in the lowest level of school and are super fast, which you would not expect at all. Additionally, I learned you have to be have special training to be able to touch and take care of the sloths. As I observed, the baby sloths are fast and can easily puncture the skin of a human.

Overall, visiting Toucan Rescue Ranch was super fun! I enjoyed learning about Costa Rica’s unique wildlife.

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo

The Blessing of the Dogs

After studying abroad for a third time, one thing I have learned is to say yes to everything.

The day after my trip to Cartago, my mama tica invited Sheri and I to go with her and the rest of the family to go to the local church. There, the 6 dogs would receive a blessing from the priest.

About an hour later, I assisted my papa tico, mama tica, and my host sister, Allison, in wrangling the six dogs into the trunk of the car. I cannot begin to describe to you the amount of barking a mayhem that took place. My mama tica instructed me to ride shotgun so she and Allison could keep the dogs calm.

During the 30-minute car ride, there was lots of barking and laughing at the craziness of what six dogs in the trunk of a car looks like.

Eventually, we made it to the church and unloaded the six dogs. I was in charge of Lukas (my abuela’s dog). Once the dogs did their business, mama tica instructed everyone to pick up their dogs (besides Baxter the golden retriever) because there were so many dogs and children at the church. Lukas was content for a few minutes and then started to bark like crazy. Mama tica had me switch dogs and I ended up with Luna (one of the schnauzers). Luna lasted in my arms for all of 5 minutes before also barking like crazy. I once again changed dogs and held Sven who calmly laid in my arms.

A religious official (I have no idea who) made their way around all of the dogs in attendance and threw holy water on them. When the official came to Lukas, my mama tica said to put extra holy water on him because he needed it.

Before leaving, mama tica asked the priest for a group photo. This was the final result:

Image preview
Priest with his dog, myself and Sven, mama tica with Lukas (in her arms) and Baxter, papa tico with Bruno (left) and Nefertiti (right) and Allison with Luna

After the photo shoot, we loaded all of the dogs back into the car. Sven sat with me in the front, but eventually made his way back to mama tica during the car ride. She informed me that Sven gets car sick, so she pulled back his ears with a pony tail holder and held a plastic Ziploc bag in front of his mouth for the duration of the ride. I cannot begin to tell you all, friends, how much I was laughing at the whole entire situation.

Mama tica decided we would have pizza for lunch, so we stopped at pizza hut. You can tell in the below photo how enamored the dogs are with her.

Where is mama tica?!

Eventually we made it home–Sven did not get carsick in case you were wondering. I may have only have hit the 1-month mark in Costa Rica, but man did the Pizza Hut pizza taste delicious!

Truly a unique host family experience!

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo

Volcán Irazú and Cartago

On Saturday, I embarked on a Saturday day trip to Volcán Irazú (Irazú Volcano) and the nearby city of Cartago with other Sol students.

The day began with taking the public bus to San Jose early in the morning to catch the only bus from San Jose to Volcán Irazú. After frantically searching a street for the bus stop, our group finally discovered where we needed to be and got onto the bus successfully.

After a lengthy and beautiful 1.5 hour bus ride, we arrived to Volcán Irazú. Luckily for us students, the ticket collector awarded us the Costa Rican citizen price for having our student IDs. Instead of tickets costing $15 they were around $2. Receiving a “student discount” in Costa Rica is a hit or miss as I have learned when going to popular attractions.

Immediately after getting off of the bus, Sheri (my roommate) and I set of to see the famous crater and lake without the rest of the group who were taking a pit stop at the bathroom. She and I walked the short distance to the fence that ran along the edge of the crater and were met with a spectacular view. With being short, I stood on the fence to snap some photos. Sheri and I both saw tourists hopping the fence to get individual photos, so we decided to do the same.

Volcán Irazú

After grabbing our photos, we decided to walk along the length of the fence. Once again, I hopped the fence to grab some photos not thinking too much about it because the fence was super far back from the edge. I told Sheri to come over to where I was standing so I could snap her photo because in my opinion, the view was much better.

A much better location than stop one, right?

All of the sudden, a truck pulls up and a park ranger jumps up and shouts at Sheri, myself, and another man (who had also followed us over the fence) in English “GET OUT OF THE PARK. THE SIGNS ARE EXPLICITLY CLEAR DO NOT CLIMB THE FENCE.” Sheri and I, both terrified, quickly got back over the fence. Sheri uttered a “Lo siento” (I’m sorry) and we walked quickly back the way we came.

On our way back, Sheri and I met the rest of our group and informed them all to not jump the fence as we had gotten kicked out of the park. To which they all responded with “WHAT?!”

So, for the next 30 minutes, Sheri and I sat at the gift shop laughing at the situation and debating on whether or not we should try to go back into the park by swapping our clothes. However, due to Sheri having a bright yellow coat on and being born with beautiful red hair that is clearly noticeable in Costa Rica, we decided to remain seated. Besides, both of us had amazing photos.

For me, the ironic part of the whole situation was that I am typically a rule-follower and hardly ever get in trouble. Yet 15 minutes into being at a National Park in another country, I get kicked out. Thank goodness I only paid $2!

A while later, the rest of our group came back and were headed for a short hike they had seen some other tourists take. At the top of the hill, we were met with crazy clouds.

Our group quickly made our way back to the public bus for the journey back to San Jose.

Instead of riding the bus all the way back to the Costa Rican capital, myself and three other girls got of the bus in Cartago to explore for the rest of the afternoon.

Our first stop: a small market in San Rafael. In this quaint town, the four of us girls went to a panaderia (bakery) to grab some lunch/snack.

San Rafael, Costa Rica

After exploring the food market, we began the short walk to Cartago. There, we stopped at the famous church Basílica de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles or Basilica of Our Lady of the Angels. Our objective was to go inside the church, but a wedding ceremony was wrapping up.

In the meantime, we went in search of the Santiago Apóstol Parish Ruins. Of course, our group got slightly lost and had to ask for directions. Eventually, we found the ruins and were able to see the beautiful gardens.

At this time, the weather took a turn for the worse and it began to pour. Collectively, our group decided to look for a cafe with WiFi so we could figure out where the bus station to San Jose was located. Audrey, one of the four gals, went into a corner cafe and asked the owner if they had WiFi and promised to purchase food if we could use the internet. At first, he hesitated but then decided to pass along the password to us. He and his wife treated the four of us with the most kind hospitality with water and a delicious dessert sample of what I believe to be was Torta Chilena.

After our snack and having directions, our group made our way back to the church. I snapped some pictures of the inside and then explored the area a bit more while the rest of the group took more time inside the church.

Our group reconvened at 4:00 pm and made the long trek to the bus station. Even though we had gotten directions earlier at the cafe, we still had to stop and ask for directions multiple times. Eventually, our little group found the bus station and made it back to San Jose. From there, we took the bus back to Heredia.

Overall, the day trip was really fun and successful. My one piece of advice: DON’T CLIMB THE FENCE! I cannot say I left a positive impression on the park ranger, but the lesson I learned of breaking the rules left a positive impression on me.

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo

Driving and traffic in Costa Rica

I have traveled to 19 countries in my 21 years of life and Costa Rica without a doubt takes the cake on the wildest driving ever! Here are 5 things I have noticed about traffic in Costa Rica:

  1. A double-yellow line does not equate to “no passing.” Rather, a double-yellow line is a road divider. If the driver does not appreciate how slow the vehicle in front is driving, said driver will pass on the double-yellow line. I have been in a bus and the bus driver has passed a car going too slow when there is a double-yellow line.
  2. Motorcyclists will weave in and out of traffic to get to the front of the waiting traffic line. Motorbikes are a popular vehicle of transportation in Costa Rica for their gas efficiency and for the ease of food delivery. I am amazed at how brave the drivers are when darting in and out of lines of cars. If I were to drive, I would be on edge and stressed trying to check my blind spot constantly.
  3. Slamming on the breaks or last-minute stops are a given. There has been more than one occasion where I have been in an Uber and needed to close my eyes to avoid watching the driver nearly hit someone.
  4. Stop signs or red lights are optional (sometimes). There have been many times where a car or two speeds through an intersection during a red light. For a pedestrian like me, this means look both ways before crossing the street MULTIPLE times.
  5. Is traffic stopped in front of you? Honk. Did someone cut you off? Honk. Is a person laying in the middle of the road (yes I have seen this happen while in Costa Rica)? Honk. When walking in Costa Rica, the honking of cars is a symphony because drivers honk at anything and everything whether their reason is legitimate or not.

I do not think I could ever drive in Costa Rica. Next time I complain about traffic in Indiana, I will remember how lucky I am that the “busy” or “chaotic” traffic does not even come close to Costa Rica.

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo

September 2019 Book Review

Today, I am doing something a bit different! I will be reviewing the books I read for the month of September.

With a lot of lengthy bus rides in Costa Rica and needing to decompress at the end of the day from Spanish, I have been doing a lot of reading.

Reading is a passion of mine and I love to share great reads with friends, hence the reason for this post!

For the month of September, I read 5 books:

Without a Country by Alse Kulin

Without a Country follows the lives of a Jewish German couple, the Schliemann’s, and their move to Turkey prior to the start of WWII. The book covers the family’s struggles of adjusting to Turkish culture and the challenges they face as the war progresses in Europe.

This is the second book I have read by Alse Kulin — I read The Last Train to Istanbul earlier this year. I loved how this book spanned multiple generations of the Schliemann family and offered a different perspective on WWII.

Naturally Tan by Tan France

I am a HUGE fan of Queer Eye on Netflix. When I saw Tan France had written a memoir, I knew I needed to pick it up and read it. Naturally Tan covers Tan France’s life from the racism he endured as a Pakistani in England to his self-discovery as a fashion guru to coming out and meeting his now husband.

While reading the book, I could feel Tan’s personality in the writing that is emulated on the show. In my opinion, this made the book feel very authentic and real.

The Dressmaker’s Gift by Fiona Valpy

This book happened to be an Amazon Prime “First Read.” The Dressmaker’s Gift bounces between present day and WWII spanning three generations of one family. The main character, Harriet, moves to Paris to follow in the footsteps of her grandmother in the fashion industry. While in Paris, she learns about her grandmother, Claire’s, history of working for the resistance during WWII.

The Sun and Her Flowers and Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur

Books 4 and 5 for September were poetry by Rupi Kaur. Kaur has a gift for putting words together to pack a punch regarding feminism, immigration, and so much more! I plowed through both books very quickly and having a feeling I will read re-read them both again. If you need something quick and beautifully written, I highly recommend both books!

What books did you read for the month of September? What should I add to my to-read list?

Follow me on Goodreads here to see what I am reading and marking to-read!

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo

Welcome to my house!

Welcome to my house!

A little bit about my house…

  1. Sheri (my roommate) and I have the whole second floor to ourselves. Upstairs, there is a bathroom we share and a nice sitting area with large windows. We also each have our own bedrooms.
  2. My abuela and her boyfriend live in the apartment attached to the back end of the house. Their dog, Lukas, frequently comes over to visit. Sometimes, abuela cooks lunch if my host mom is out.
  3. There is only tile in my house. No carpet.
  4. A lot of Costa Rican homes have bars on the windows to deter thieves. My family doesn’t have any bars on their windows. Instead, we have a fence that surrounds the property. The gate leading to the front door has to be locked at all times. This goes for the portion of the gate that crosses the driveway. For additional protection at night, two additional locks are locked on the front door.
  5. The roof is composed of corrugated steel, which I think makes the perfect sound to lull you to sleep when it rains.
My Costa Rican Bedroom

What other questions do you have about my Costa Rican house or Costa Rican houses in general? Leave a question down below!

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo

Knowing Your Limits

An important part of college, as I have learned, is knowing your limits. I think its important to push yourself as an individual to challenge yourself, but not at the expense of your mental well-being or capabilities.

Well, I went to my new class on Monday, Latin American Film. The professor was surprised to see me because my name was not on the roster. However, the email I had received from Sol months ago said my second class would be Latin American Film. The professor said no biggie and we continued on with the class. Since I was now unexpectedly a class member now, the professor was 1 short of workbooks and syllabus, which made me feel uncomfortable.

After disbursing the class materials, the professor started to go through the syllabus. She read the requirement “20-25 minute presentation” and I internally began to freak out. Since I had only completed Advanced I, the rest of my classmates in Latin American Film had finished Advanced II; therefore, their Spanish is much better than mine. I felt intimidated thinking about trying to speak in front of better Spanish speakers.

As the class went on, I began to feel more and more uncomfortable due to my lack of confidence in my language abilities. Immediately after class wrapped up for the day, I emailed the Sol director to ask if I could switch to Advanced II.

Luckily for me, I was able to switch. On my second day of class/first day in Advanced II, I immediately felt comfortable because I was back with my classmates from Advanced I and the class was focusing primarily on speaking.

I am so glad I had the ability to change my schedule. When learning a foreign language, it is so important to be in a welcoming environment where you feel comfortable to mess up. For me, that place is Advanced II.

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo

A Sunday in San Jose

During my first “free” weekend, I decided to relax on Saturday and then head to San Jose with other Sol students on Sunday.

Our whole group successfully managed to get onto the bus. However, I made a poor decision on where to stand.

Let’s flash back to the first time I rode the bus for the Heredia city tour

During this momentous first bus ride, our Sol directors told us to not stand in front of sensors found near the doorways of the bus. The sensors count the amount of people who get on and off the bus. I presume the total number of people is balanced against the cash fare collected for the day.

Flash forward to Sunday, September 29, I stood near the door and crossed past the sensors because there were not many open seats. The bus driver (thinking that I do not understand ANY Spanish) begins to pantomime that I cannot cross back across the sensors to go sit in an empty seat. He does this a few times, which starts to annoy me slightly, because I do understand Spanish (to a certain extent) and realized my mistake. Everyone on the bus is staring at me and another Sol student (who made the same mistake). Yes, I realize I am a dumb gringa. Forgive me! For the duration of the 30-minute bus ride, I had to stand. Lesson learned!

When we arrived to San Jose, we made our way to the San Jose sign for a quick photo opportunity.

Bienvenido a San Jose

After snapping photos, our group walked to the Jade museum where we spent the next couple of hours looking at sculptures and learning about how Shaman used Jade for healing properties. I felt the Jade museum had the perfect amount of information available to read.

The reading and waking through the museum made everyone hungry. Since our group was large, part of the group went to a sit down restaurant for lunch while myself, Sheri (my roommate), and another Sol student went in search of what I like to refer to as “market food.” As we walked down the street, all three of us smelled bread wafting in the air from a Columbia Panaderia. Impulsively, our group of three went to check out the food and ended up with a suburb lunch of carbs. I chose a bread item stuffed with refried beans and cheese, a fruit juice consisting of pineapple, maracuya (passion fruit), and banana, and a delicious layered pastry similar to baklava (layered bread with custard in the middle and topped with powder sugar.) For a $7 lunch, I was thrilled with the outcome.

Our foodie group decided to explore after lunch since we had some time to kill. We headed to a nearby park where we found a cute bridge and some neat mosaics in a tunnel.

After our brief exploration, we headed back to meet up with the rest of the group. By this time it was late afternoon, so collectively we decided to check out the Pre-Colombian Gold Museum. This museum had a temporary exhibit about the development of Costa Rican currency and artifacts with information relating to the Pre-Colombian period.

By the time we exited our second museum of the day, everyone was tired and ready to head back.

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo