For someone that has never left the United States of America, studying abroad should seem like a frightening concept. I came to the conclusion that books, documents, and online tutorials were limited in their educational capacities. Rather than trying to build up an expectation for what this experience would be like, I consciously decided to go into this culture with an open mind – completely ready for the challenge ahead.
Upon arrival, my group clamored to baggage claim, breezed through customs, and hopped on a bus that would take us to the Elon University Center – where the thirteen of us would be studying for the next four months. We had half an hour to relax before our Costa Rican families arrived to retrieve us. Excitement overwhelmed me as I imagined my home-stay family. All of a sudden I was a kindergartener again, waiting for my mom to pick me up in the car pool line – except I did not know a single thing about her. Tales of her cooking glory had been passed down to me as I waited, so naturally my excitement grew. Finally, she arrived. The traditional Costa Rican greeting is to lean in and kiss each other on the cheek. The language was a huge barrier because I did not have the vocabulary to conduct a casual conversation, but she understood. We called for a taxi, and were on our way. The bright red taxi was caught in traffic for the majority of our excursion, and the driver would honk at fellow taxi-drivers when they would pass us on the opposite ends of the road. Although I did not understand what he would shout out of his window, I could tell they were friendly exchanges. The roads were not the most elegant site as they appeared to be gashed open in part due to plumbing replacements. My eyes were darting from one thing to the next as I took in my surroundings. Hooters and McDonalds should not have surprised me, but I was caught off guard by the immediacy of their presence. Another disturbing sight was the barbed wire and metal gates encompassing every house that we would pass. I had just entered an entirely different world. The taxi driver made his last left into my neighborhood, and finally, we had arrived.
As Noemy and I approached the jailed entrance to her home, my mind began to gallivant across the possibilities that could lie at the heart of this place. The final key turned, and we crossed the threshold into her humble abode. There were tile floors, pleasant furnishings, hardwood ceilings, and multiple rooms that seemed to be puzzle-pieced together in a somewhat methodic manner. At that moment, I learned that Noemy was lending her home to three other students as well. I would be living girls from central Costa Rica, Japan, and Peru. I was overjoyed at the chance to take in so many different perspectives.
Currently, I have been living here for two weeks, and have never felt more at home in a place that was not my own. This house has a summer camp feel to it, and the area is much different than any I have ever experienced. Throughout the afternoon and into the night, sounds of cars accelerating, sirens ringing, and dogs barking are fully audible through my paper thin walls. When I glance out of my bedroom window at night I can see the city lights from the other side of the mountain that San Jose sits upon. During the day, my view is composed of a mismatched conglomeration of colored tin foil roofs that are without separation. Doña Noemy, cooked a delectable meal of arroz con pollo with beans and vegetables the first night, and has continued to amaze me since.
In a matter of fourteen days, I have witnessed certain universal constants. Whether it is something commercial, such as Hooters or McDonalds, the relational nature of people, or the simple interactions that make us quirky as individuals – some things are noticeably consistent. The differences that are so apparent (ex. language) are so minute compared to the nature that brings us together. Once upon a time, I heard a the phrase, “Growth is always two steps outside of your comfort zone,” and that could not be more true. The diversity that should separate us appears to be bringing us together, and as we all strive to learn more about each other, we grow.