Before leaving for Costa Rica, I religiously studied my program’s “Preparing to Study Abroad” handbook. Some information was helpful, but not all of it was true!
I followed all the tips for packing, memorized the details about Tico (local slang for Costa Rican) culture and even ate rice and beans in preparation for my daily serving of this national food.
But after living in Costa Rica for two weeks, I can now determine which information was fact and which was fiction.
Toilet paper is thrown away, not flushed in the toilet: FACT
The pipes in Costa Rica are very small and are unable to process toilet paper without overflowing your toilet. Thus, toilet paper is typically thrown away in a small trash can next to the toilet, not flushed, to avoid pipe problems.
The wash cycle damages clothes: FICTION
Most Ticos wash their clothes in a small washing machine and then hang them up to dry either inside the house or in the yard. After having my clothes washed twice now, they seem to show little to no wear. However, leaving paper in your pockets will result in the washing machine shredding it into tiny pieces and it sticking to all your clothes. Trust me, personal experience.
Ticos are typically early to sleep and early to rise: FACT
My Tico family usually begins their bedtime routine around 9 p.m. and fall asleep by 10 p.m. This seems unreasonably early to Americans, but most Tico families begin their day at 5 or 6 a.m. as the sun rises and end their work day 2 hours before the sun’s descent at 6 p.m.
Ticos dress conservatively: FICTION
While the majority of Ticos cover their legs with jeans despite the heat, they do not dress their upper body as conservatively. Many women wear tank tops and midriff shirts, either to display their assets or make up for their conservative legs. The college aged students and younger children seem to dress for the weather, so many are wear shorts and skirts now to avoid the summer heat.
San José is dangerous: FACT
Costa Rica’s capital looks like most country’s capitals: busy, crowded and prone to crime. However, San José is more dangerous than it seems. Despite my uneventful visit to the capital, my host mother told me her daughter had her gold earrings ripped out of her ears while boarding a bus. The driver took no action, letting the thief get away, and my host mom had to find a nearby doctor stitch up her daughter’s ears.
Although some things about Costa Rica surprised me and others didn’t, I’m glad I read my program’s handbook. But I would advise future students studying abroad to consult previous students who have traveled on your program, and ask for their advice.