I have been thinking of some things that I wish people had told me before I arrived, so I thought I would share with anyone else who may check here before studying abroad in Costa Rica!
1. Packing: Do NOT listen when they tell you to underpack because many of the same things are available to purchase in CR.
Everything here is WAY WAY WAY more expensive. I mean like $5-8 per bottle of shampoo/conditioner (yes even their brands) expensive. Once I left the airport, I never had to haul all of my luggage around anywhere, so as long as you can carry it in the airport you should be fine.
Here are some things to make sure you bring PLENTY of:
–Sunblock 30 SPF or higher. This stuff is like $20 per small/normal size bottle here, and even if you’re like me and NEVER burn in the States, it is inevitable if you don’t wear sunscreen here.
–Mascara/eyeliner. $22/bottle of Covergirl here. I found one knockoff brand in La Fortuna thankfully that was only $4, but obviously doesn’t work very well. The only brands I have seen are covergirl and loreal parís. Eyeliner is $10-15 per pencil too. Ouch.
–2 pairs of tennis shoes. The sidewalks here eat your shoes, especially sandals, so you will need two pairs of tennis shoes if you plan to be here longer than a month or two. Dont even think about buying some here unless you want to drop $150.
–Shampoo/Conditioner. $5-8 per bottle.
–CLOTHES. My goodness I way underpacked in regards to clothes. I was so proud of myself before I came for not overpacking and then regretted it for sure! Remember that you are LIVING here. Bring comfy clothes, workout clothes, a couple dresses/going out clothes, and normal outfits. Laundry is done 1-2 times per week so for example if all of your workout clothes are dirty then you are out of luck or have to buy more to get by.
–Book (or download ebooks): Honestly I do not read that much back home but you find that you spend a good amount of time in transit here, not just on the plane rides. It will help take your mind off of the busses.
2. There are a lot of American fast food restaurants here. Everywhere…its so strange to see. Wendys, McDonalds, Burger King, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, Carls Jr, Popeyes…the list goes on and on. I would not recommend Burger King though because I know a few people who got food poisoning from BK… yuck.
3. Ticos (the locals).
In my experience the Ticos other than those who are in your host family are not particularly friendly. In fact the older they locals are, the friendlier they seem. Cab drivers will usually try to make conversation, but students your age just ignore you. If you really want to try and make local friends then do not be in groups of foreigners and you need to be able to initiate conversation.
I have met students here from Mexico, the US, etc. who speak Spanish well enough, but have yet to be able to actually make Tico friends. The students at my school are very self-focused and just seem to care about their arts (fashion, photo, architecture, etc). So MY advice would be to not spend all of your energy trying to make local friends to hang out with. Sure try and talk to them sometimes and interact when you can, but they also like to cancel last minute so don’t take it too personally if you aren’t making any local bffs. Instead enjoy time with you host family, new friends, and roommates. Find other people from the same program and start talking!
Also, they walk EXTREMELY slow for the most part. Like impossibly slow. So sometimes you just need to pass them and not worry about being rude, or you will be 15 minutes late to wherever you are going and will most likely have to stop multiple times on the sidewalk in order to not run in to them.
4. San Jose is kind of ugly, and if you go outside of San Jose to travel chances are lots of people will try to speak to you in English unless you look like a local. I was shocked as to how much English people tried to speak to me when I traveled on the weekends. If you respond in Spanish though they will often times switch back, at least to some Spanglish.
So to those reading, do not just think that Costa Rica is horrible and people are not friendly. While there is some truth to that, it is not necessarily true for all people here. I have met many friendly locals and I have the BEST host family ever! I personally just would have been happier and felt more prepared if someone had told be some cold hard truths before I arrived.