Task 10: Let’s Talk Home: U.S.Culture

Here is the best for last: task 10. After spending four months in Costa Rica, learning, absorbing, becoming a part of another culture, it is going to be difficult to return. For many reasons it will be different, people, food, interactions, touching, greeting, gallo pinto, directions, the list continues. The most important though I how much I have learned about myself, and how I will continue to learn about my U.S. culture, having been away for four months. I will finish with some of my own thoughts about how U.S. culture will shock me and what I will continue to appreciate as well. But, until then, here are some other’s opinions about the home culture: U.S.

My mama Tica: 80 years old. I remember asking her opinion on U.S. Culture and her response being very typical. She mentioned that everyone works too much, doesn’t spend enough time with family, and that at the end of the day a lot of people suffer from an imbalance of work and enjoyment. Typical, yes, but I believe she has a point. Along with this analysis of U.S. Culture, she mentioned that it is very expensive to travel and maintain oneself in the States. We then began talking about Costa Rica Culture, and some differences. There is a better balance of work, play, and study in Costa Rica. “For in order to sustain oneself, it is necessary to spend money and do fun things in groups.” Yes, people work hard here in Costa Rica, but it is a different determination where the ends do not always justify the means: meaning that the journey is just as important as the destination. She had a slightly more negative outlook on U.S. Culture, but has experienced it before and made some good points.

My host brother and sister and two Tico college students: varied ages. Asking for a younger opinion yielded much different results. All three, and many more their age wanted to travel to the Untied States, and eagerly. When asked why, they said opportunities and the wild, fun, crazy lifestyles that accompanies the culture. (Interesting points that I will talk about later). They spoke mostly about the opportunities and independence  in a more positive fashion, yet I am not convinced they have enough background information and are dreaming. Dreaming quite largely.

I also asked a lawyer from Nicaragua for an opinion as well. He stated in a very professional manner that there are both positives and negatives within each culture, noting the ability for many individuals in the U.S. Culture who are unable to stop working and relax. People are driven by work and the though of always needing more. During this conversations he also gave many compliments, such as that individuals in U.S. Culture are not afraid to be very individualistic and fight for themselves. This I took to mean that when the individual does something it is more likely to do it for the self than for the greater good, not good nor bad. He was neither positive nor negative, throwing out both cases and many examples.

Bringing all of these examples together yield an interesting result. Age differences play an important part of deciding a cultural desire: perhaps because with age, culture becomes more apparent? or being outside of ones culture makes one more aware? I expected many of the responses I received, not surprised with the opinion/fact that individuals in U.S. Culture seem to work in a disproportionate ratio to how much time they spend in enjoyment. This ties in well with the younger responses as they see the wild, party, music blaring side of the culture. Perhaps it is an uneven balance of work and play that lead to large amounts of work, then a burnout?

As my time experiences and absorbing a different culture comes to an end, there are a few questions that I want to throw out to the public as I make my return. How long can I hold on to the cultural ideas that I like while surrounded by an older culture. An older culture from which I have now made realizations?

This is why we can all appreciate the Pura Vida: reflection is the key to success.

Task 3: Gallo Pinto!

Gallo Pinto!

  1. Rice
  2. Beans
  3. Onions
  4. Cilantro
  5. Salsa Lizano

To create, steam beans and rice together. Adding other ingredients comes later if more ingredients for flavor can be afforded or desired. A person can add onions, peppers, salt, pepper, salsa lizano, or many other ingredients.

Above are all the ingredients necessary to prepare a wonderful dish of gallo pinto! It is not readily available in my culture, but all ingredients are accessible and the recipe will be easy to follow. Perhaps not the salsa lizano, but I am bringing two containers back with me so I can enjoy some homemade Costa Rican gallo pinto.

Gallo pinto is a staple breakfast food eaten very commonly the Latin American countires of Costa Rica and Nicaragua. Most, if not all places in Costa Rica, sell gallo pinto to eat: no matter if you are going to a casado, soda (small lunch place to eat), home stay, or even KFC! Not all gallo pinto is cooked equal however, and sometimes finding one with enough flavor for your tastebuds may be difficult. This is because the other ingredients are independent from its main core: rice and beans, and other things may be expensive.

Gallo pinto is meaningful because it is staple food consisting in its core, of rice and beans. These two ingredients are very filling, very abundant, and over all, it is very easy to make. Its accessibility and ease of cooking make it a desire and common breakfast/meal combination with many other things.

The name Gallo Pinto translates to Spotted Rooster from its speckled appearance of rice and beans!



Task 12: Gifts

This post comes at an interesting time as today is my Birthday! So what is gift giving like in Costa Rica? Well, it is a very traditional practice that exemplifies the warm and immediately trusting cultural interactions.

Giving gifts are quite common within business negotiations: I brought my host family a present as a welcome and ice breaker, it was recommended that we bring soothing unique that exemplifies who we are or where we come from. One should be careful not to gift objects that are common in the culture. For example, giving fruits such as bananas, mangos, mammon-chinos (a grape like fruit with a hard pit) or coffee might receive an eye brow raised response. These products are very common in Costa Rica and are not unique or symbolic of the individual. This idea of individualism is very interesting in Costa Rican culture as it related to gifts and people. Receiving gifts that are from individuals and have individual meaning is important, but as a collective whole, the idea of individualism is not as strong or apparent as in the culture from the United States. (Interesting topic for discussion, but it not quite on track with giving gifts.)

In my experiences with Costa Rican culture, many people valve the small actions and gifts that occur more frequently than large single time gifts. leaving notes also plays a large role in the ‘gift’ or ‘thank you’ giving realm. Once I leave, I will be leaving a thank you poem/gift on the fridge. We collectively decided as roommates to do this action because it would mean more and be more genuine than a physical gift.

My roommates and I decided to take my host brother to the movies as a gift for finishing school. He was very appreciative and told us his gratitude, but did not reciprocate with anything physical, merely giving thanks and enjoying the time spent with us. This is appropriate and very similar to the States. Birthdays are the same manner, ‘thank you’s’ after gifts are seen as being respectful and correct.

As for the wrapping: it is important to note that the color of the wrapping paper is important when gifting a gift. Black and purple should not be used during religious celebrations or events as they are sacred colors significant of other religious idealisms. For this reason, staying away from this color wrapping paper is a safer bet when giving a gift. Green and red are still good to go for Christmas though!

Task 7: Call!

It was pretty nerve wracking calling into a place where I knew I would be greeting in Spanish. It seems very silly, but as I punched the numbers in, I grew more and more anxious. After listening to the different ring tones, a voice answered the phone. I was calling into the bus station to ask about ticket prices and how transportation would work between countries. I was greeted with a ‘hello,’ followed by a ‘my name is _____, and I work for Tico Bus. How may I help you today?’ It was a relatively standard introduction, clear, precise, polite and efficient without loosing sincerity. The conversation developed after introductions, and some difficulties arose. Speaking over the phone is much for difficult than in person. I believe that for myself I am constantly watching how the mouth moves as well as listening to help me determine what is being said, especially with individuals who speak quickly. Having only sounds to base my interpretation is much more difficult and so I was repeating and asking many similar questions to the polite Tico Bus representative. He answered each one without issue, even repeating the answers I didn’t understand. He did not change throughout the conversation, even if it seemed like I was struggling. Compensating for these issues led me to ask questions more often and repeat myself, while also listening harder than I would normally. I focused my ear very intently on the sounds, and less on the overall flow, which I had become accustomed to in day to day conversations. After the phone call ended, my head hurt from all of the focus, and energy expended in listening to each quickly uttered word.

I had another experience communicating with an individual over the phone, interesting yet again. I had bought my bus ticket and was ready for my grand adventure! But in order to get to the bus station I needed to call a cab/taxi. The only downfall? It was 4:45 in the morning, and a phone call would not be easy. Dragging my mind in linguistic overdrive I punched the numbers and listened for the pick up. She introduced herself much like the Tico Bus representative, “good morning, my name is_____, and I am on route to pick you up.” 4:45 plus a groggy mind, and a fast spanish speaker threw me for a loop, but I took a deep breath and focused. I am sure that my face was a dark red from concentration. I remained calm and though to what would be logical questions to ask from a cab/taxi driver, which helped very much. I needed to explain where I lived, which from a previous post can be very complicated. However forethought paid off in the long run, even when asking to for the driver to repeat herself.

The take away: everyone has their own linguistic abilities and tones, which can be even more difficult to understand over the phone. Even though it may be more difficult, thinking about what other people may ask or say can be a great form to help yourself in a conversation. Also, never be afraid to ask for someone to repeat themselves.



Task 9: Directions

When I received my host family information in the email, my address was along the lines of this: Barrio Cordoba, 100 meters past the pharmacy on the right hand side of the street, the house is yellow. Directions in Costa Rica are not as forward as they are in the States but have their own set of guidelines and rules.

While preparing for a weekend outside of San José, it was necessary to buy tickets. I had no idea where to but they tickets, other than ‘the bus station.’ We left for downtown asking for directions along the way. Many responses included, “100 meters down the street, then take a left and walk 300 meters, when you reach the restaurant take a right and the station will be there.” The majority of direction conversation followed this process. I eventually got to the bus station and bought my tickets, but not after asking many people, multiple times for directions. Each time they were very helpful and willing to repeat the directions, just to be extra clear. The only other questions we received were, “are you from the United States?” They were probably curious because we didn’t know where anything/any location was.

After learning more of the landmarks and neighborhood layouts, directions actually became much easier. I asked my mama tica for directions for a good casado. She told me to head towards the highway, take a right at the corner store and walk 250 meters until the Casado Shop appears on the left. It is an interesting development and change in how I locate things. Here is why: The streets run in evens and odds from the central avenue, both north to south and east to west. On top of having only numbers, the streets are not straight, but rather very curvy and windy. For this reason the directions are not number based, but rather location based. It is much easier for the populations to know where a building or monument is and go from there (because it is so common knowledge) than numbers.

I find it very interesting to see how the streets and landmarks help everyone to identify specific spots. Names vs. numbers, locations and directions. It all seems like another language!



Task 2: Introductions

Hello! How are you?

Introductions in Costa Rica as similar to those in the United States, yet have some customs different as well. Introductions, either for the first time or when meeting up with someone usually begin with an ‘hola’ followed by a hug and kiss on one side of the face. It was a big difference from home since physical contact with others (especially those you have just met) is very limited. The physical distance is also very different when talking and interacting with other individuals. I have noticed that when talking with friends or family, there is a tendency to touch each other more often during conversation. For instance, when someone turns and says, “mire” or “see here” they might give a touch to the arm to focus and bring more attention. I remember being out with friends, in Nicaragua, and a friend leaned over and placed his for arm on my leg, continuing conversation. In that moment I laughed to myself thinking that this would be frowned upon or regarded as invasion of personal space. I now have since changed my opinion, and find it reassuring that individuals are listening to what I am saying. It also seems to parallel conversation in terms of how they are explaining what they want to say. The space between people conversing is also very close, it is something that has grown on me.

Outside of the physical differences in conversation, questions usually follow a similar patterns to those in the Untied States. To begin is the usual ‘hello’ followed by a ‘how are you?’ After the point where the conversation or introduction might normally end, the conversation in Costa Rica transitions into something that usually happened right before. For instance, one might ask if they had just come from class, or if it was someone that they already knew, how class had gone. I had no negative reactions from the questions they asked, nor was I surprised at any point. I will note that the interactions here seem more genuine as well as thankful.

I wonder how I will transition in conversation when I return? Will people be off put if I touch them while asking a question? We will find out!

Task 8: Music and Dance

The universal language of music stretches beyond cultures to hit you with the right chords. Here in Costa Rica music takes an interesting mix of cultures and forms. There have not been any major Costa Rican artists since the late 70s, early 80s, leading many individuals to listen to popular United States  pop and hip-hop music. This is very apparent when riding in taxis, since all the popular hits (old and new) are very common.

When talking with my tico brother, he seems to listen to the usual young, angst, teenage-hormone drive, United States music. Don’t get me wrong, some of it is good, but a lot of it has many negative connotations and Unites States party culture and wrong impressions within them. Most of the lyrics he doesn’t understand, so I feel a little better, but it opens another great discussion on populate hit music and its influence (even outside the United States). Young individuals seems to identify closely with the hip-hop culture from back home.

College students who I study with also listen to popular hit songs from the States, but also have more selective ear. When going out with friends they indulge their ears in more ‘traditional’ music. I mean to say that they listen to music with specific beats for dance, such as the bachata, merge, salsa, and tango (not the rave, fist-bumping, mosh-pit jumping). This type of music steers the dance and the cultural connections between dance and music. It is popular upbeat music that allows for another type of conversation on the dance floor.

It is an interesting relationship between music, dance, and cultures. I feel that the United States does not have a ‘traditional’ dance or even a music that connects its various diverse culture. Perhaps having a smaller country and a more homogenous population can makes this happen. The specific types of music and dance are very apparent however. I enjoy watching and trying to learn these various dances, but it is more difficult than it looks!

Task 11: The Life of a Tico Student

My time here can be summarized in the plates of gallo pinto and the amount of spanish conversations I have enjoyed with Costa Ricans. Studying at an Arts University has provided many opportunities to talk and engage with students from San José. I engaged with some students to learn about their lives outside of their studies. Before I explain the conversations, I want to give some background information: according to law, youth under the age of 18 are not allowed to work or have a job. Along with this education is extremely important and is regarded very highly. Most students also live with their families until they complete their education (high school or collegiate) at which point they would move.

My first conversation happened with a graduating photography student. She lives with her family and drives to school: an alternative to living in San José without a car. Employed by the school, this student spends some of here weekend time working with classes taking pictures. I met this individual while on an excursion with indigenous people, where we exchanged information. Living at home, working during the week and some weekdays, she mentioned having little time for friends on the weekends, but spends a large amount of time interacting with them at school (for lunch, or between classes). She has a great balance between work and friends, emphasizing school and work while finding time for them in-between. To top, she is also a worldly traveler, spending a large amount of her high school time in California!

My second conversation with an academic peer followed the perspectives of a upperclass film and production major. During this time he was working on producing a film with a deadline and for this reason did not have much time for socialization. Again, he said that he spends a large amount of time with his friends at school. He lived in an apartment in San José, away from his family, but would eat with them during the week occasionally. He didn’t have a job, but rather dedicated his time to his studies. When having free weekends, he mentioned that his friends would do similar things that we would in the States: go to bars, see a concert, play video games late into the night.

Both of their responses warrant some critical thinking. I think that their lives are very similar to the lives of student Stateside. Education is taken very seriously and when we do have time we enjoy spending it with friends in social settings. Some work, other do not, some spend more time with families, and others not so much. The variability is similar to home with other friends.

I do however, think it is interesting to reflect on the differences in weekends I have between Costa Rica and the States. There have only been two weekends during my entire time that I have not had a field trip or excursion around the country. The time and balance of time is much different: is it because Drake has prepared me well for other classes? It is a better mix of work and play? Does the culture support a better mix? What do you all think?



Task 6: Slang

One of our first days of class we spent a significant amount of time talking about slang and its use in Costa Rica. We were required to talk with our family about slang and its meaning. Having only learned spanish in an educational setting, out teacher wanted to share some slang/street slang so we would not stick out more than we already did in an new country. Here are some examples.

Tuanis: “cool” -used in general conversation with friends

Yodo: “black coffee” -used in a casual setting when ordering

Bretear: “to work” -can be interchanged with trabajar (to work)

Pura vida: “Pure life”-an expression used to signify that you are doing well or that everything is good. Used in everyday conversation to explain how things are going/how one is feeling.

Chiva: “good, cool, interesting”-used in general conversation with friends

Quedar como la tortuga habladora: “a person who talks a lot”-would not use in a professional setting, but merely among friends in a casual setting

Tener el chance: “to have the opportunity”-used in all occasions, not offensive

No pegar los ojos: “cannot sleep”-another phrase to explain that someone cannot sleep, used in all settings, no-offensive

Estar hecho leña: “to be full, to have enough”-mostly used with friends or well known acquaintances, used when full of: food, liquor, drugs, annoyances.

Estar hasta el copete: “to be fed up with something”-used with friends, not the nicest way to express this idea


Some of these came as a surprise, but most of them seemed relatively normal. Some other phrases do not have a direct translation, and it makes sense to have an alternative. Most of them were new to me because I have had most of my experiences in an educational setting. It was nice to learn them though, and they have come in handy! Along with learning the words and when to use them, we watched two videos that were quite funny and informative. I would recommend you take a look! Here are the links:

Gringo Pinto

Hablo Como Tico


Task 1: In Contact, Costa Rica and Nicaragua

A few weeks ago I have the privilege to travel to Nicaragua and work with some close friends in a small mountainous community. Although I am currently studying in Costa Rica, the bus easily takes passengers between borders in exchange for some quality time on a frigid bus. Everything went smoothly, including bus hopping for thirteen total hours of cramped space and a different dialect of spanish. The real story begins on our return trip to Costa Rica: the border was closed. Over the few days in Nicaragua many Cuban individuals passing through Costa Rica and Nicaragua on their way to the States were detained between the two borders. Without proper documentation, and political relations between Cuba and Nicaragua, hundreds of individuals were stuck. This left the bus unable to pass through to Costa Rica, and we were not alone. Military busses and helicopters zoomed past as we waited for news about when the border would reopen: but to our dismay there would be no passage for many days. We then returned to our respective cities in Nicaragua and awaited news of passage. So what does this have to do with task #1? The relationship between Nicaragua and Costa Rica has had its ups and downs, many individuals traveling between for work and leisure. Political tensions and ideologies pass over, and it seems that everyone I talk to has an opinion about the relationship and government.

Usually political questions, “such as which party do you support”, are a no conversation zone, but I had someone else break the ice and start the conversation. With a friend, I came to realize that in Nicaragua, the revolutionaries, or Sandinistas, often take the name Sandino. This was made very clear to me from a friend, with such a last name, and a blunt confrontation that he and his family were revolutionaries. (Election materials and propaganda are starting to emerge all across Nicaragua, and the history is very important to understand moving forward.) In Costa Rica there is a well established democracy, similarly in the United States, but I have never had this type of interaction before. It is an interesting balance of history, action, current events, and political stability.

During my time in Nicaragua, there also arose an interaction with a governmental head, their interaction was critical and even more interesting. The lead individual from the States was asked, quite bluntly: “what are your political affiliations?” just as the conversation started. Eventually the governmental head responded, “we cannot work with any group that is not a revolutionary.” This is another example of the political strictness and history that has circulated throughout and even affects (as it should) other outside individuals attempting to work.

When I returned to Costa Rica after my time in Nicaragua, I began to ask questions to my Mama Tica (Host Mother). She has her citizenship in Costa Rica, but was born and raised in Nicaragua. We talked about the history and political developments over breakfast (a nice way to begin the day). She became very engage, holding her own political views and opening discussion about the past history and the implications it has today. It seems that everyone has a point of view, and perhaps I was comfortable enough or just lucky to have multiple individuals unload their views, as it seems not common for this to happen. I had no problems understanding as she was very clear, and elaborated on the political development of the revolution. She told me that the true colors of a person often become clear as after they take power: often becoming corrupted while they platform for a revolution and change. Even more interestingly is that election time is within a year in Nicaragua. I hope that everyone is safe and holds true to what they believe.

I would encourage everyone to read and learn about Latin American history as it is a very complex and often confusing mix of opinions, revolutions, wars, and political relationships. Nevertheless it is extremely important to understand for traveling and working.