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Culture Shock in Costa Rica

Alisha Jayne

Here's how I overcame a bad case of homesickness.

I've always been a bit of a home bird, who loves her home comforts and, most importantly, being near her family.

So when I arrived in Costa Rica, I knew I was going to have a challenging three months ahead of me—but that gave me even more reason to be there.

Getting culture shocked in Costa Rica

I wasn't quite sure what to expect from Costa Rica. Of course, I'd done reams of research before I decided to live there—but I'd never even been to this side of the world before. And it doesn't matter the number of photos and articles you see and read beforehand; the real experience hits the moment you arrive. 

After an extremely long journey, I finally arrived in the small town of Liberia in the north of Costa Rica, where I was greeted by my host family.

Within the first hour, I was swarmed with conversation in an unfamiliar Spanish; entered a house that looked vastly different from anything I had ever seen before; and been handed a plate of rice and beans. I was overwhelmed and started to wonder if I'd made a huge mistake. Only an hour into my new adventure and I was already crying. I excused myself from the table, locked myself in my bedroom and rang my parents to tell them I missed them.

I started to wonder if I'd made a huge mistake. Only an hour into my new adventure and I was already crying. 

I told myself it would get better each day and that I was just experiencing culture shock, which is completely normal.

But it didn't get better—at least not for a while. Each day, new challenges arose. I didn’t have enough hours at the school I was volunteering at to keep me occupied, and I had very few friends and very little privacy from my host family. It all added up to make me feel extremely alone. I just wished that I could go home.

However, that wasn’t going to happen. With everything I do I never give up; I never have done and I never will do. That is what I told myself every night before I went to sleep for the next three months.

A change of mindset

After a couple of weeks of weighing up whether to go home, I turned a new page and decided to develop a unique perspective on things. I put myself out there and decided to focus on the positives of each day.

I was becoming more familiar with life in Costa Rica. I'd developed a routine at the school, and I was lucky enough to be teaching very precious children, who kept the smile on my face every day. I made a new friend (also from the UK), who I decided to go travelling with on the weekends, giving me the opportunity to see the most amazing beaches. I was even becoming used to the innumerable plates of rice and beans I was eating. It was just another beautiful aspect of living by the Costa Rican "pura vida" ("simple life") motto.

Yes, it was a challenge and yes, it was probably one of the hardest things I have ever done. But without challenges like this in life we would never overcome our fears.

By battling through the immense amount of homesickness and culture shock I felt in the first few weeks, it only meant I became a better version of myself. I was starting to understand just how beautiful it is to experience unfamiliar cultures. Most importantly, I learned that everything really does get better with time. After three months of living a lifestyle that made me feel so uncomfortable at first, I realized how capable I was of handling things solo. 

Three months later, I boarded the plane back home. I was crying again, but this time it was because I was sad to be saying goodbye to a life I'd become accustomed to—and because I was so proud of myself. I did it.

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Published in Volunteer Abroad Blogs
Alisha Jayne

Alisha Jayne is a British university student who has volunteered in Costa Rica and Argentina. She has combined her love for Spanish and teaching on this journey through Latin America. Through the highs and lows, Alisha was inspired to start travel writing to motivate others and give a true perspective.

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