Volunteer Abroad - Costa Rica, Volunteer Abroad Programs

Tuning In…Costa Rica’s Culture, Customs and Language Almost Clear

by Hannah Nevitt, Greenheart Travel Volunteer Abroad Participant

Embarking on my third month here, I am now starting to feel a part of this culture, and a connection with the Costa Rican people. I went to La Fortuna to celebrate Halloween with some of my local friends. It was an interesting experience to see tourists in town speaking English. It hit me when I realized I felt no connection to them. They were foreigners, and I did not put myself into the same category. But it was easy to stare. Their clothes, their blonde hair and blue eyes…now I understood!

So many times I recall people staring at me. At my clothes, my hair…I was different. Did they dislike me? What were they thinking? What were they saying? I didn’t know.  It reminded me of how an exotic bird must feel like in a cage. Everyone looking at it, staring at the vibrant colors, perhaps it is the first time they have seen a bird of that variety? They may not understand its language, or its most imminent needs, but they stare at it because it looks so different. They just can’t help it.

I felt the same way; it had been so long since I had seen foreigners or listened to conversations in English. It was quite surreal, but I caught myself looking along with my Costa Rican friends. Forgetting that on the outside, I must appear the same way.

The interactions with my Costa Rican family have also started to make an impression. In fact, the thought of leaving them one day is almost unbearable! Preparing “Gallo Pinto” with my host mother, or playing cards with Senior Ramon, our equivalent of a soft-hearted “Godfather,” (because he owns most of the land here and is the pinnacle of the 10 families of siblings!) are short moments in time I have come to cherish.

I think my living here is starting to impact them too.  My little host brother, Dario (7) patiently waits for me to come home each day so we can play soccer. For my birthday he gave me several cards of Christmas trees that he made in school. Along with a hug, and a kiss to the cheek, he gave me a small school photo of himself. He wanted me to add it to the pictures on my wall of my brother and twin sister from the States. A gesture so small, yet so precious; he gave me what little gifts he had to offer. They are treasures.

I am now experiencing the transitions. Even the language is becoming a huge part of my life. I am to the point now where I can make casual conversation and communicate relatively what I would like, except with some grammatical errors. I am on the brink of fully understanding; it is exciting and frustrating all at the same time.

It is as if I am listening to a radio station that isn’t quite coming in. It’s fuzzy. There are moments of clarity and moments of static. I am constantly playing with the dials. I am waiting for the sound to come in clearly. I so desperately want to be tuned in to this language. Until then I will be patiently waiting. Waiting for when the language will be music to my ears…and I will understand every word.

The culture, the customs, the language…the way of life here in Costa Rica has started to make its impact. With each new day, new experience, and newly conjugated verb…I am one step closer to full immersion, and one step closer to tuning in.


About Greenheart Travel

CCI Greenheart Travel is personally invested in providing cultural immersion programs that change lives, advance careers and create leaders. We achieve this by partnering with organizations and governments overseas that empower their local communities through experiential learning and practical development. We provide others with the same positive travel experiences in which we ourselves engage. Through travel and cultural exchange, we help individuals reach their full potential, leading to a more tolerant, peaceful and environmentally sustainable world.


One thought on “Tuning In…Costa Rica’s Culture, Customs and Language Almost Clear

  1. I think this guy must have been a foreign exhange student or one who has been visiting for so long that he forgot what it was like to be different in another country. It is good that he acknowledges the differences in others who are different but he should not stare at others to make them feel uncomfortable and it is wrong to label others just because of the way they look. I think it is good that he is learning from these cultures and is keeping an open mind.

    Posted by areed | April 16, 2010, 1:02 am

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