A language-learning holiday to Costa Rica
When and where exactly were you in Costa Rica?
I was in Miramar from February to June 2013. It’s a small town close to Puntarenas on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica.
How did you live out there?
I had accommodation with a host family. There was the mother and two sisters, who were 17 and 20 years old. We lived in a small house where I had my own room.
How did you come up with the idea to go to Costa Rica?
I had never been to Latin America and I also wanted to improve my Spanish, so Costa Rica seemed a good choice.
Had you ever spent a long time abroad before?
I once lived in Paris with my mother for three years, so I knew what it would be like to spend a long time in another country – but I had never travelled alone before.
What did you like most during your stay in Costa Rica?
I experienced many wonderful things, and that was great. The people were very nice and the overall environment is extremely impressive with all the plants and animals you find.
Could you paint a more precise picture of the environment there?
There are many different areas in Costa Rica. I was in the north, where there’s a lot of rain forest, so you always come across a few wild animals. I once saw an enormous iguana in front of my house that was at least half a metre long. There are no real seasons in Costa Rica apart from the rainy season and the dry season. At one point in the dry season, it was 45 degrees Celsius.
What was a normal day like for you?
During the week, I was in school from 7.30 a.m. to 3 p.m., but I also had to travel for an hour in each direction on the school bus. In the evening, I went to tae kwon do practice at a small martial arts school; I trained there every day. Unfortunately there was not a great deal to do, so I did a lot of sport.
Did you make friends quickly?
Yes, it was easy to connect with people in my new class. My classmates were very happy to welcome someone new, and they were also very keen to make contact with me. At the start I was the only exchange student, but another one came along later in the year.
What kind of school did you attend?
It was a bilingual private school. However, all the teaching was done in Spanish apart from English lessons.
So how well could you understand people? Did you already speak some Spanish?
No, not really. I had learned a little Spanish at school in Germany, but I quickly realised that it wasn’t going to help me much in Costa Rica. I learned fast, though. I could understand everyone very quickly – after all, I was hearing people talk nothing but Spanish all day long. I got better and better at speaking after that, but my pronunciation is still not perfect.
Were you ever homesick?
At the beginning I didn’t feel homesick at all. It felt more like an extended holiday without my parents. Towards the end I did start to experience a little homesickness, but it was okay.
Thinking back about the experiences you had, what was most special about your stay?
I definitely learned to be independent – without my parents and without any help from others. My mother was simply too far away and I couldn’t rely on the local partner organisation. Actually, I had to change my host family, which required managing and organising many things by myself. That was probably the most important experience for me.
Thinking about the country and the people, what are the biggest differences to Germany?
Well, Costa Ricans don’t pay much attention to time. If you agree to meet up at 6 o’clock, it might be 9 o’clock before everyone has arrived. People in Costa Rica are much more open than in Germany: they greet each other more warmly and are a lot more welcoming towards foreigners. They are extremely interested in other cultures.
Was the food in Costa Rica very different to German food?
The food I had with my host family was very repetitive. Three times a day, seven days a week, they would eat rice with beans, something they call gallo pinto, which is the national dish of Costa Rica. If I was lucky, there might sometimes be a little ketchup on the side. My host family hardly ate any fruit, even though they had a lot of fresh fruit growing in their own garden – including bananas, star fruit and avocados – so I ate them.
What would you recommendthat people take with them from home to Costa Rica if they want to visit the country?
A computer. I lived in a very small town and there were sometimes moments when I had nothing to do. A computer can be really useful at times like that – especially if you want to keep in touch with your friends in Germany. That also makes it easier to fit back in when you return home.