Honestly, leaving to study abroad made me more nervous than I expected. I’m not usually someone who worries much, but a pit in my stomach started to form the night before I left. That was the first time I started to worry about the language barrier (I know very little Spanish and I wasn’t sure how much English my host family would speak), making friends and missing home.
The only feeling to describe it is fear. Not knowing what was to come. I was scared! It’s been a while since I’ve experienced that emotion this intensely, and that is exactly what confirmed I was doing the right thing. I was leaving what I knew, what was comfortable. There’s a time in life to be comfortable, but I am not yet there. I was comforted by the clarity in the emotion I was experiencing; It was obvious why I felt this way and very natural. And simultaneously, I knew it would be totally fine.
It’s only been a few full days day here, but I immediately felt at home. My host mother (Mama Tica) does not speak a lick of English, and that’s proving to be just what I need. I sought out Costa Rica in hopes to learn a new language and the only way for me to do this was to be thrown into a situation where I’d have to figure out how to do so. I’m keeping an open mind so whenever I make mistakes, we can all laugh about it (and there have been plenty of laughs).
At home, I never tried to speak Spanish to a native Spanish speaker if I didn’t have to. Now that it is absolutely necessary, I am realizing that communicating despite a language barrier is so possible. The capacity of humans to understand each other when we take the time to listen and learn from one another is really amazing.
As with any relationship, the relationship with my host mother is taking a lot of work. And I really appreciate it. We are building a really strong relationship, with the foundation being a mutual trust, respect and appreciation for one another. As I headed to my room to go to sleep on the first night here, my host mother kissed my cheek and explained the important place God has in her life. She said she thanked Him for sending me to her and promised that I would be protected here. I could understand only half of what she said, but that was all I needed to get the message.
Of course, I’ve been making plenty of Spanish errors, but I’m trying to skip over the embarrassment phase that people speak of. Today I was practicing my Spanish with a man who works at a jewelry kiosk in a local art market. It was pretty comical because I was repeating the same phrase “How much can I buy this ring for?” over and over again until I got it right, but kept mistaking the word ring (anillo) with rice (arroz). I’m giving myself the benefit of the doubt and attributing that to the fact that every single meal consists of rice, so it was only natural that rice was on my mind. I never knew so many combinations and variations of rice and beans existed. As in, I didn’t think beans would be served with breakfast but sure enough, I was given a slice of bread this morning smeared with black bean sauce. It was surprisingly really delicious.
Anyway, this man selling jewelry was so kind and patient with me; he helped me work through the fragmented sentence I was desperately trying to form, despite how absurdly long it took. He was just glad I was making an effort to learn his language. No embarrassment needed. He actually made me a “Pura Vida” ring (rice?) right then and there to commemorate my time in Costa Rica.
I’m making an effort to speak Spanish with the locals (ticos) everywhere. Yesterday I told my taxi driver to correct any mistakes I was making. Right away he laughed and told me that I needed to be careful when saying “there is so much traffic” because the word for drug trafficking is very similar to the traffic on the roads. It turns out I was saying “I’ve experienced a lot of drug trafficking while in San Jose.” Mixing up the word for “ring” and “rice” is one thing, but this one is definitely something I won’t mess up again.
Same goes with directions. I’ve definitely made my fair share of mistakes in that regard. As someone who is already extremely directionally challenged, only using landmarks and North, East, South and West to describe a location (as they do in Costa Rica) rather than street names or numbers, is quite the obstacle. The first time someone told me to go West to get home from school, I think I stared at him blankly for a solid minute. But as with the other difficulties that come along with living in a new country, I’m living and learning and loving every second of it.