The End of La Pura Vida

As I write this post, I am spending one of my last days here in Costa Rica. I cannot help but have feelings of sadness, excitement to go home, and utter awe at what I have learned. If you were to ask me what I learned in my classes I would say nothing.  In comparison to all of the other parts of the trip outside of class, I have learned so much about the Latin American culture and customs and I have truly fell in love with the places, the people I have met, and my host family.  In my Spanish conversation class, I learned Spanish words and phrases and had to give many presentations. In my international marketing class, I learned a lot about how to work in real world situations by doing many case studies, presentations, and examinations of marketing outside of the class in Costa Rica.  I enjoyed my classes even though they caused much stress at times and made me a bit crazy with such a jam-packed schedule. But as the weekends quickly approached each time, I could not wait to go out and explore the country.  The people, the culture, the food, and the beauty have all amazed me.  I will miss seeing the mountains every morning when I workout or walk to class.

I believe that studying abroad is about studying (trust me I did not realize how much there would be), but also about not getting too caught up in the studying and spending time experiencing the culture and the people within it.  Whether it be spending time sitting outside in a park, exploring the nearby city, or doing something crazy like white water rafting or bungee jumping or rafting that you have never done–I urge you to do this! Make sure you make connections with your host family (if you have one), meet other people all over the world, try new foods, and step outside of your regular schedule.  For me, it was hard to eat rice and beans every day for breakfast and not go to the gym one single day for thirty-eight days. But I know that once I go back to the states, I can continue with my green smoothie and daily workout with the remembrance of such a great experience I have had here in Costa Rica. Caio, pura vida, te amo, Costa Rica 🙂

Tico Traits

While traveling abroad, it is custom to come across many different cultural differences. Here are some that I have observed from the Costa Rican people, known as “ticos”.

1) They throw their toilet paper in the trash because the pipes in most places are old.

2) They shorten everyone’s names. For instance, my name had been changed from “Carolina” to “caro”.

3) They are very comfortable with getting close to each other and even give each other kisses as greetings.

4) Their houses are very close together and it is very easy to hear other neighbors at night.

5) They stay up late (even until midnight) and wake up early cleaning or cooking.

6) Since they are sustainable conscious, they have shower heads that heat to make the water warm.

7) There are no such things as directions in Costa Rica. Everything is relative to one another. For instance, they might say “The house on the right, 200 meters from the old tree, yellow, with a big fence”. Weird, huh? And streets aren’t named either.

8) They have huge sets of keys. I’ve had to use 4 keys to get into my house because of all the gates.

9) It is very common to have rice and beans (Pico de gallo) for every meal.

10) They like to drink coffee at a young age. The nine year old grandson in my house drinks it.

11) They have fresh juice for almost every meal. It’s typically a fruit blended with water.

12) Their groceries here are very expensive due to high import prices…. a jar of Jif is $6!

13) A “fast food” restaurant can take up to 45 minutes to get you your food because of their “Pura vida” (tranquil) lifestyle.

14) It is not uncommon for the entire family to live in one house or the grandma to take care of the grandchild, rather than the mother.

15) Cars do not yield to people.

These are just some things that I have observed, but many things I have observed are very interesting. My Spanish teacher here loves shopping so much that she often gets a brand new pair of sandals delivered to our classroom in the middle of class! I have been enjoying learning cultural differences and adjusting to the Pura Vida lifestyle.

The 12th Most Beautiful National Park in the World: Manuel Antonio

Costa Rica is a vibrant place with many beautiful cities, beaches, and forests. As classes came to an end two weekends ago, I found myself taking a bus to Manuel Antonio in Costa Rica.

This past weekend I had the opportunity to visit Manuel Antonio. On the way to the park, we stopped at the crocodile bridge and saw about forty crocs sitting in the water.  Bear in mind, these were the only crocodiles I could see–there were many more covering the entire floor of the murky river.  It was an interesting site with a couple neat shops nearby where I purchased a typical Costa Rican “batido”, a fresh smoothie made with water or milk and whichever fruits you would like  I paid sixteen dollars to spend my next day, in the national park exploring the nature and seeing the exotic animals. Manuel Antonio is on the top twelve list of national parks in the world—so it is a must to check out while in Costa Rica. You will find monkeys, sloths, crabs, lizards, birds, and many other animals. The water is beautiful and the sand smooth; especially if you visit the less crowded side of the beaches.  After spending all day swimming in the water, I found myself hiking up a trail to see a beautiful view of the ocean.

You can also venture into town after your day in the park and grab a bite to eat and shop around. I recommend the restaurant called “Burú” for a cheaper cuisine.  Their large casado only costs 4500 mil for a great portion size.  Because the park only allows natural foods in the park, I recommend taking smaller snacks and lots and lots of water.  Oh and one other tip… you need to reapply sunscreen more than once. Trust me, my sunburn will thank you later.  Yes, this burn I have may turn into a tan, but putting a shirt on in the morning has been quite painful.  I hope the pictures I have included further incline you to learn more about the amazing animals and beach!

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Honing in to the Relaxation Factors

I am your typical type A student who loves to do everything perfect to the tee. So, naturally, studying abroad is not the easiest thing for someone of my type… especially in a country like Costa Rica. The first two weeks of classes I had more homework than I had imagined. My first week of adjustment had basic assignments, but the second week was difficult as I had three  Spanish presentations that had to be ten minutes or more… talk about Spanish conversation.

As a constant worrier, the Pura vida (relaxed) lifestyle was much more difficult for me to adapt to. Everyday, I ask my advisor so many questions about where to go, what to do, or worry about being late for something and she responds “Carolina relaja” (“Caroline Relax”).

This study abroad trip has started to teach me to take things as they go. Yes, I have classes and studying and I have to adjust to the new culture. I have so many things to do, yet if I wait to enjoy my time here while I’m comfortable it will be time to leave. Enjoy the culture and leave who you are in the United States behind because every culture is different. If you adapt to it, you will have a great time!


Living the first week of “la pura vida”

“Pura Vida” means “pure life”. It’s the common saying for the Costa Rican people here. I knew that the pure life would be an adjustment and a time for much change. I knew that I would experience culture shock, but I was unsure how. The second I stepped out of my taxi, I had a dose of culture shock. A complete stranger was helping me with my bags, hugging me, and “kissing” me on the right cheek. From there, the noise of the nearby families, the joy of the people, the grandchildren who walk into your bedroom and bathroom to talk to you, and the nickname of “Caro” you suddenly have are all new changes. Rice and beans for every breakfast, fresh fruits, fast talking, and thousands of ants crowding your sink and toilet–yep, I’m definitely in the tropics of Costa Rica.

These changes have caused feelings of interest, stress, excitement, and confusion. Here, Costa Ricans don’t like the word “no” so one must say something in a more polite way. Telling my mama tica (host mom) I don’t like fried chicken or don’t want a certain food has been difficult, especially with such a different diet. For five weeks, I have decided to take it all in and eat by the way of these people, regardless of how different it may be.

Adjustment is a difficult thing, but just like anything else, I must adapt and will do so well as I always have. The first few days of anything is never easy. For instance, I had six hours of classes (four of which are all talking in Spanish) followed by five hours of homework… all on the first day. I have had to remind myself not to worry or fret but take it all in. In times of difference, nobody expects me to know everything but to breathe and enjoy the experience. After, almost five full days of living with my host family, I am sure I will adapt to the change of a slower, more tranquil life. I am excited to sit back, enjoy the food, travel to other parts of the country, and heighten my level of Spanish. ¡Pura vida!


The view from my Spanish class.

The view from my Spanish class.

Tres Días de Aventura

Trains, planes, automobiles, and lots of adventure are the words I would use to describe my first 2.5 days abroad in Costa Rica. Before I embark on my study abroad adventure tomorrow, I vacationed for a few days with some family. Let me tell you– I am already in a bit of culture shock that I am slowly getting used to.

The day I arrived at the San José airport, I realized that I must be quick to act. My luggage from Delta was delayed and I did not receive it until the next day. So tip number one for ya, folks: always bring a change of clothes (shoutout to my advisors for telling me to do this). After sorting on the luggage issue, we stepped outside into the warm humid air with taxi drivers shouting in our faces. Tip number two, be sure you have an official person helping you and never let someone handle your bag–people are quick to act.

We had a driver from the retreat we planned to stay at pick us up in a van and little did we know how harsh the roads would be. Just to give you a rough estimate… it took us 3.5 hours to drive a bumpy 140 kilometers or 87 miles. It was from that moment, I learned this trip is going to teach me patience and to rely on a whole lot of dramamine. I’m not kidding when I say these roads we went on felt like I was on a roller coaster at Kings Island. But, alas, we made it to our retreat near Monterrey, Costa Rica as the sun went down (which is about 5:30 here). We had had a delicious meal and were quickly in bed after some cool showers.

Thursday, we were greeted by the rising sun at 5:30 am and awoke to set out for breakfast of pancakes, bacon, and eggs (try eating any of that when you don’t eat red meat and are allergic to eggs… thank goodness I brought protein bars). Our full day of canyoneering, waterfall rapelling, horseback riding, swimming, and visiting an indigenous tribe was amazing. The rainforest is incredible and I even left the middle piece of my right big toenail in the waters… thank you Delta for delaying the arrival my close-toed shoes. Regardless, the day filled with adventure and Costa Rican food was amazing.

Friday, we set out to hike to the base of the Arenal Volcano.  Our 1.5 hour hike was breathtaking, rainy, and the most amazing experience yet. We visited a local “soda” to eat local cuisine. My avocado salad, fish, and vegetables were filling and delicious. Although, the “black bean” soup of my relative was made simply of eggs and black broth which looked rather alarming.

I could write of my adventures thus far forever but it’s only been two full days of interpreting Spanish for my mom and frying my brain at attempting to learn more words and speak the language myself. The “ticos” here are extremely friendly and I know once I fully adapt I will never want to come back. The tranquility, adventure, and peacefulness has made everything feel and look like a utopia. And, friends, I have not seen one mosquito yet… but I have seen monkeys! Embrace the spontaneity and be okay with being uncomfortable. If you act like you know what you’re doing in a place you’ve never been, you’ll feel at ease. Cheers to 35 more days of la pura vida (the pure life) y jugo fresco (fresh juice).

Escribiría pronto (I will write soon).


Our hacienda (little house)


La Fortuna waterfall


The town of la fortuna


Arenal Volcano


Hiking to the Arenal Volcano

Preparing for el viaje de mi vida

El viaje de mi vida, or “the trip of my lifetime”, is quickly approaching and I have been planning for it for over a month.  I remember sometime at the end of May, I sat down on my computer writing a 2 page list of things I needed to take, which bag to put them in, what I needed to buy, travel tips, and packing tips.  You could say…uh… I went a bit overboard, but I’m a planner–what can I say? Finally, the week has come where I will travel to the rainy, hot, humid, but relaxing country of Costa Rica. For three days I will set out with some family where we will stay at a resort and go on an excursion and then on July 2nd, I will begin my five week study abroad trip!

All I can feel right now is a mixture of nerves, excitement, unexpectancy, and anxiousness but I know that with all of the planning I have done, I will have a blast once I finally arrive! All of the preparation I have made for this trip has done two things: made me unbelievably ready and a bit anxious since I have been preparing for SO long. I believe that planning has a lot of power, but I urge you not to allow it to make you go crazy.

I have done all of the planning and packing that I can and now I am ready for a month of spontaneity, 28 hours of classes a week, and adventure! If there are any tips I could offer as far as packing goes it would be these:

1) Research the culture and weather to decide on what to wear.

2) Roll everything tightly and organize your clothes in your suitcase so things stay wrinkle free and are easy to find.

3) Pack some of your favorite snacks and put a jar of peanut butter in your checked bag.

4) Start packing your clothes at least a week ahead of time so you don’t over-pack.

5) Leave room for things you may bring home from the country.

6) Relax!!! If you go into it with a positive attitude you will be ready to go 🙂

I cannot wait to share all of the memories I create and journeys I go on with each of you and I hope everyone reading this gains something out of it and develops or gains a stronger passion for travel and adventure. Pura vida!!  (the popular Costa Rican saying for “Pure Life”)