Well so far everything has been fantastic! I didn’t have any problems traveling and navigating the San Jose airport was much easier than I had anticipated. Its actually not as big as I imagined, in fact its probably smaller than Lambert. Going through immigration, currency exchange, baggage claim, and finding my group went smoothly and was rather uneventful. It was raining when I arrived, as it does every single afternoon in the “winter”, but otherwise the weather wasn’t too bad. I got to meet several other students in the program, there are about 30 total, 15 or so of which are studying in Heredia. After many students had arrived, we Heredians boarded a charter bus to travel about 20 minutes to Heredia. Both cities are situated in a valley so they are surrounded by mountains, except in the direction of the ocean, and it is absolutely gorgeous!
We were dropped off at our university where our host families were waiting; my house mate, Frances, and I were greeted by our “mamatica”, Darias, and her sister. She immediately embraced us and gave us a very warm and lively welcome. She informed us on the drive to our house that she had a prior engagement for the evening, so soon after we arrived we were left with the housekeeper, Laurita. She is an extremely nice woman, that immediately fed us a very delicious snack, but she speaks absolutely no English and her accent is well…a little hard to understand, which led to a pretty entertaining evening. After getting settled in, she made me some coffee, which was probably the best I’ve ever had, and we attempted to make small talk. For dinner, Laurita served us some very well-seasoned Tilapia with rice, kidney beans, beets, salad, and a very interesting drink called “Fresca” that is very popular here and is made fresh everyday from various fruits.
I have to admit, it was a little overwhelming coming into an environment where everyone speaks full-speed Spanish, but I can typically get the gist of what people are saying. I’m not sure if Darias speaks English or not, but she sure hasn’t since we’ve been here! At breakfast today we got to meet our host dad, Carlos, and he is hilarious, not to mention very nice. We ate Gallo Pinto, which is a mixture of rice and black beans served with eggs, along with cantaloupe, bread, coffee, and orange juice. Although Darias sometimes speaks quite rapidly, conversation with the two of them is very easy and enjoyable. After breakfast, Carlos walked us to the university, where we went to San Jose for an orientation. It was pretty boring because it was mostly information that I had already read, but it was nice spending time with the other students.
Back in Heredia, some of us went to a mall nearby, which was quite interesting. The stores themselves weren’t really unique and it was all very similar to the U.S., it was just kind of weird/nerve wracking that everything was in Spanish. Most of the people were very nice and patient when we made mistakes or needed something repeated, but once again, none of them spoke English. We took a taxi back to the house and lucked out that our driver had lived in the U.S. for a couple years, so the conversation alternated between Spanish and English. One of the craziest things here definitely has to be the driving! First of all, there are no street signs or house numbers, so an address is read something like “from the Central Bank, 200 meters south, 40 meters east, the brown house with fence” (that is my address by the way). Also, nobody seems to believe in turn signals, checking blind spots, or obeying stop signs, and apparently pedestrians never have the right of way! I’m just glad I wont have drive while I’m here.
Anyway, overall everything is better than I could have hoped. Our house if very comfortable, and the family is extremely nice. Carlos told us earlier that they hosted seven or so students a year for the past twenty years, which explains why they are so good at it. Today we also met their youngest child, they have three, and his wife, then Carlos’ brother and his wife came over for dinner and a movie. Additionally, the food here is incredible! Everything is fresh and local, and it seems like most of women, at least the two I know, are very good cooks.
I need to start getting ready for the first day of classes tomorrow, but first I want to share a quick tidbit that Carlos taught us at dinner. Apparently, the word gringo, which is a slang, usually somewhat derogative, term used for North Americans originated in the war between Mexico and the U.S. because the uniforms were green so people started saying “green go”. He also noted that Costa Rica and the U.S. have always had a good relationship, so its not a bad word here, just descriptive. Similarly, they refer to themselves as Ticos. OH and just one more thing that I’ve noticed; usually to say “your welcome” in Spanish you say “de nada” which translates to ‘of nothing’. In Costa Rica, however, anytime I’ve thanked someone they always respond with “con gusto”, which means ‘with pleasure’. 🙂