Costa Rica is completely different than I could have imagined.  The country is filled with hills indistinguishable from mountains.  San Jose is vast and expansive with few high rises sprinkled around and a traffic congestion that might rival Atlanta’s.  The people are approachable, hardworking, and genuine.  In Costa Rica, there is this can-do attitude that finds new ways even when the resources may seem scarce.  The is a strong culture behind this do-it-yourself mentality that drives the work ethic of Costa Ricans.  Anything that they don’t have and can’t afford they make.  Anything they can’t make they find a friend willing to make it for a favor.  These favors are where the neighborly friendliness really shows.  Before I came to Costa Rica, I expected to find many bad qualities, but instead, I am met with many more of the good.

The country side is charted with a mix of paved and  unpaved roads – some of them so steep they seem nearly vertical in the bus that carried us.  These roads curve and wind in a natural way around the mountains as not to disturb the habitats of the Costa Rican wildlife.  The biodiversity here is part of what drives one of Costa Rica’s biggest industries, Ecotourism.  Between the jungles are the farms, many of which are actually hard to distinguish from the wild flora.  Instead of clearcutting the trees and grading the land to make it easier to farm, The Costa Rican’s work in harmony with what nature provides.  They use barb wire wrapped around live trees instead of fence posts to enclose their pastures.  Trees are left in the fields to shade the livestock and fix the nitrogen in the soil.  Small towns dot along the mix of paved and unpaved road in the valleys between the hills that could be mountains.

The city is jammed packed with tight streets and history.  Soccer fields occasionally break up the buildings, most of which are three stories or less.  At any time of day or night kids are practicing soccer in dirty collared shirts or the jerseys of their favorite professionals.  The hotels we’ve stayed in have old charm and architecturally pleasing.  Most of them are run more like bed and breakfasts and we get to know their owners.

Walking around the business in town, the shops in San Jose, and the farms in San Luis, I noticed that many things were made by hand out of whatever was on hand.  I made the joke that Costa Rica must have lax Fire Marshals and no OSHA laws but I was actually amazed at some of the ingenuity behind all the do-it-yourself builds.  Home improvement projects, entire buildings, or some specific coffee processing equipment – nothing was too hard.  There was a pride in the people to work with their hands and maintain a certain self-sufficiency.  They would only causally mention their handiwork in passing if at all because humility was also a large component to Costa Rican culture.  Costa Ricans did not want for much of the frivolous things in life but only wanted what they needed.  Family and personal relationships was very clearly more important than materialism.

I had a lot of negative preconceived notions about Costa Rica and Central America.  I was pleasantly surprised to see most of them were dispelled and replaced with admiration for a hardworking country.  In many ways, as Americans, we had a lot to learn from Costa Ricans on this trip.  The language barrier was hard, and even though I speak no Spanish I feel like I was able to pick up on a lot of this.  Actions speak louder than words and the kindness and willingness to teach that the Costa Rican’s showed us on this Study Abroad experience was unparalleled.