With Halloween and other seasonal holidays coming up, my host parents and I have been discussing a lot of what we do and do not believe. Personally I love Halloween as well as Thanksgiving and Christmas, but during breakfast a couple days ago while I was telling my host mother this she told me she does not believe in Halloween. There seems to be a lot changes happening in Costa Rica around commercial holidays from the United States. My host brother tells me that ten years ago there was no such thing as Halloween or even Santa Claus in Costa Rica. Only recently costumes, decorations and Halloween parties have become slightly popular with the younger generation. To my host mom Halloween is a ritual she just does not believe in; to the younger generation “if American farts, Costa Rica farts.” It is a crude way of commenting on how commercial holidays and consumerism from the United States has taken over Costa Rica’s mindset.
A majority of the Ticos I have talked to about celebrating Halloween celebrated this past weekend and about half of them did not know that Halloween is on the 31st of October. My host mother thinks of Halloween as similar to el Dia de Los Muertos – her family does not celebrate that either. However I learned that there is a large Chinese population in Costa Rica who do celebrate Dia de Los Muertos on November 2nd. Again about 10 years ago el Dia de Los Muertos used to be a national holiday and no one went to work, however now most Costa Ricans do not celebrate it and do not take the day off of work. Some even consider it strange that the Chinese population here brings food to the cemeteries to celebrate with their dead.
It is a little appalling to see how much American consumerism has influenced Costa Rican culture. My host family does not, and never has believed in Santa Claus because the consumer tradition surrounding him is also barely 10 years old in Costa Rica. Only now are Costa Rican parents having to tell their children about Santa Claus because even before October was half over Santa-themed decorations infiltrated local stores. While not every store in sight has Halloween or Christmas decorations there is still at least one store even in the smallest of towns that has some kind of Santa or spider web decoration. It is fascinating to see through the eyes of my host family who has been around to see this change and with every new holiday I mention I get the same hesitant answer: “We don’t believe in that.”
Last night I Skyped with two of my best friends at Seatte U, one just began her school year like normal and the other is in the middle of a semester abroad in Quepos, Ecuador. I was ridiculously excited to tell them about my life in Costa Rica, but when we got on the subject of being homesick it struck me how much I miss the family and home I have created at Seattle U. This is my senior year and I knew that if I didn’t study abroad and push myself outside of my comfort zone I wouldn’t know what I really wanted after graduation. What I didn’t expect though was that once I got out of Seattle, the place I’d been making plans to leave for the past year, I would immediately feel a different kind of homesickness that I never felt for my home in New Mexico. I’m guessing the weather is going to be getting cooler soon in Seattle and everything pumpkin-flavored will take over (I got an email from my former employer Molly Moon’s and – holy ice cream – Seattleites are in for some awesome flavors this season). While it all feels a little bittersweet to realize I am missing my favorite season in the states, this is one of the reasons I wanted to study abroad. In Costa Rica the weather feels like an endless summer, I live two blocks from the beach, I get the privilege to call this paradise home – and it feels like the bittersweet homesickness makes it all worth it because I consistently have to practice living in the moment.
It took me 2 years of planning and about 3,427 miles to get here to finally realize what I value the most in my life. Every time I get an inkling of missing someone or something back in the U.S., it’s like an exercise in figuring out who and what is important to me. It is funny how living on a beach has made me realize how much I appreciate living in the city, and how Spanish television really gets me thinking about my film classes at SU. I feel like I’m having the coolest summer vacation; I’m simultaneously having a once in a lifetime experience and getting closer to answering that looming question: “What do you want to do when you grow up?”
I live in Paradise. There is no doubt in my mind that studying in Costa Rica is the coolest thing I have ever done in my life. At the end of my first week here it felt like I had already been here a month. Time in Putarenas, Costa Rica moves extremely slow. My typical day starts when I wake up at 7 and start the day with a cold shower which I never thought I would be grateful for, but on the coast where the temperature always hovers around 86 degrees with a whopping 94% humidity, it is a relief to escape the sticky heat. Before class at 8 a.m. my host mom serves me breakfast which ALWAYS includes the Costa Rican’s favorite breakfast food gallo pinto: which is a mixture of black beans, rice, and various spices. On my way to school I ride my bike a few blocks along the beach, which I live two blocks away from, to get to school which is also coincidentally across the street from the beach.
My days are not very full and the Tico’s (that’s what Costa Ricans call themselves) way of life is so slow and relaxed it took me a couple days to adjust and accept that it is okay to not to constantly keep myself busy. Because it rains here almost every afternoon during the green season, there have already been many afternoons where I spent a few hours on a front porch in a rocking chair simply watching the rain and talking with various members of my host family. I have already had multiple conversations with the other American students at my university here about how we all feel exhausted at the end of the day and mostly need to go to bed around 9:30 despite having done “nothing” all day.
Two things that definitely keeps us busy are navigating the areas around the small town of Puntarenas and swimming in the ocean every day. This past weekend a few of us spent a few days in the larger tourist town of Jaco, which is about an hour bus ride south of Puntarenas. We took surfing lessons and made friends with some International kids who run a hostel there. Everyone I have met in Costa Rica so far has been amazingly hospitable, including our hostel friends as well as some local surfers who were willing to show us around Jaco and convinced us to stay much longer than we intended. Some of us are planning to return to Jaco this coming Wednesday to buy used surfboards to practice on and take with us on our future travels. Apparently anywhere you are in Costa Rica you are probably a stone’s throw away from good surfing.
Even though I have adjusted to doing everything infinitely slower, my interest in traveling has been piqued by my amazing visit to Jaco and I think I will try to travel as much as I possibly can. Plus I have noticed that my Spanish seems to improve every time I am forced into a situation while traveling where I can only use Spanish – funny enough I have also noticed that my English has gotten worse. I am excited to see how much my Spanish will improve, especially since in the span of one week I can communicate more easily with my host parents and am no longer struggling to translate everything they say to me. Sure there are still times when we haven’t been able to completely understand each other, but my host parents are so patient and willing to teach me Spanish that I’m sure within no time this whole communication thing will be a lot easier.
The view of my University from the beach.