I recently went on the Studying and Teaching Abroad in Costa Rica two-week trip. Before leaving, since it was my first time studying abroad, I asked several of my well-traveled friends what they thought I should do to prepare myself for my trip. Almost everyone I talked to recommended that I should become familiar with the culture before flying off. I’m Puerto Rican so I assumed the culture would not be that different from my own, but I took their advice and did some of my own research. (Good thing I did!)
Before I even purchased my flight, I checked out some books from the library that called out my attention. I picked books ranging from fiction to non-fiction, memoirs and children’s books. The book that helped me the most was called “Culture Smart! The Essential Guide to Customs & Culture” by Jane Koutnik. It not only helped me prepare for my trip, but it also ran through a bit of Costa Rica’s history –this was extremely eye-opening for me because it gave context to the museums I went to and the way of life in the country. This series is also available for several other countries around the world if you’re interested.
Because of this book, I knew coming into Costa Rica what the locals considered rude and how to make the most of my trip by avoiding those awkward situations. What I didn’t know was that this newfound knowledge would be used during my first week. You see, I took a taxi with a friend to go to our school. After talking with the driver and getting some great recommendations on hidden local treasures we should explore, we arrived at our destination. My friend, wanting to quickly cross the busy road, slammed the door closed behind her. The taxi driver was offended that he had helped us and we had slammed his car door. Having known that slamming a door was considered rude in Costa Rica, I apologized profusely and explained that she did not know it would be offensive to him. He was understanding of our situation and let us go without a fuss.
Getting to know the country you will be visiting is extremely important. If I had not known, we would have offended the helpful driver. While living in a foreign country, it’s imperative that you remember that you are being an ambassador for Americans. If we had not noticed that slamming a door was rude, we would have run the risk of having the driver think that Americans can be clueless and ill-behaved. Therefore the best advice I can give to anyone looking to study abroad is to research your target country before taking off. This way, you can make the best out of any situation and out of your study abroad experience. Safe travels!
(Landing in San Jose, Costa Rica)