Adjusting to a new place and culture can be pretty jarring. One thing that can always make it easier, though, is being received with open arms by your new community. When Tori and I were finalizing the details of our pre-departure agendas, we were given the option to stay in a Homestay for the first two weeks. CIEE heavily recommended we take this opportunity, and we both decided it would be an excellent way to get to know the local community.
I think I speak for both of us when I say we could not have been more fortunate with our host family. At around 8:00 pm on our first night in Costa Rica, we were dropped off at the house of Oliver and Marielos, and they welcomed us with such incredible hospitality. Although that first night was a bit awkward and we might have seemed like zombies (we were jet-lagged and tired, especially Tori who had just flown in from Spain and was still 12 hours ahead of the local time), over the coming days we would get to each other so well.
Oliver and Marielos live in the small town of San Luis, which is around a 30-minute walk to campus, straight up a hill for most of it (Tori and I got into serious shape those first two weeks). Even though we traveled to campus for our internships every day, we would always eat breakfast and dinner at their house. During this mealtime—or when we would watch the news or a movie at night—we would have long discussions. These conversations ranged from sharing life experiences and stories to local customs and cultural tips.
Tori and I stayed in their children's rooms, who are all grown up now and have moved out. They raised three kids, two sons, and one daughter. One of their sons is away at university in San Jose, and we were fortunate to be able to meet their other two children. We briefly met their older son, who lives and works in San Luis, and we have gotten to know their daughter, Marta, quite well as she frequents campus often. She also lives in San Luis and is an avid fitness instructor and runs Zumba classes in San Luis and occasionally campus on Thursday night.
Oliver has worked in the U.S. before, doing a few manual labor and construction jobs in the North East. Now he uses those skills around San Luis and neighboring towns, as well as tending to his livestock—they have a small animal farm where they raise and utilize the produce of cows and chickens. Marielos is an artisan, and she makes a variety of wares from jewelry to blankets that she sells at local markets. We accompanied her and Oliver to one of these weekend markets as well as to other local activities such as community soccer games.
Overall I am so glad that I decided to stay in a host family. They were beyond welcoming, and I learned so much through our many incredible conversations. They taught us about Cosa Rican customs, history, and culture that I am glad I knew and could take note of as I started to become more involved in the wider community. I would strongly suggest to anyone else if they have the option, spend some time with a local family, you won't regret it!