My conscience has been exposed to a different perspective on what it means to be American. Here in the United States, I’m used to “American” meaning a nationality bounded within the barriers of this country, but as I traveled south of the U.S., I was reminded that the term defines numerous other languages and nations, including Costa Rica. San Jose taught me a lot about Latin American culture in many ways; I was able to witness the ways locals define their culture with words, activities, and foods all unique to the country.

The Culture

One thing worth mentioning is the people of Costa Rica. Ticos, as they’re called, are very friendly and respectful people. They often answer a greeting with the phrase “Pura Vida,” a very important aspect of their culture. This term literally translates to  “Pure Life,” and to Ticos, it is a way of life. The phrase can be used to emphasize the everyday blessings of life and is something Ticos say to remind themselves to stay grateful. Ticos are also very community-oriented and are easy to engage with in conversation. There’s no need to try to impress anyone, as it is easier to be yourself in an environment where most people are relaxed and casual.

The Travel

Another noteworthy aspect of Tico culture is that there are a lot of great places to travel to in your free time. All I can say is beaches, beaches, beaches! Costa Rica, no surprise, has some of the nicest beaches, and traveling there is extremely easy and affordable by bus. Besides beaching on weekends, you can also travel to great places for zip lining, rafting, or to hike a volcano. If you decide to stay in San Jose, there are still many opportunities to learn about Tico history and eat at great restaurants. This is one of my favorite things to do while traveling in this country.

The Food

Last but not least… the food. A casado is a traditional plate of Costa Rican food, complete with rice, beans, plantains, a salad, and some form of meat (or not, if you’re a vegetarian). Casados offer a great way of experiencing the country in a traditional way. Other traditional foods worth trying are gallo pinto, empanadas, and ice cream. And don’t forget the coffee! Costa Rica is a main distributor of some of the best coffee in the world; take every opportunity to try the coffee with its fresh, mild flavor.

There’s really a lot to take in under the Costa Rican sun, and it will be a great opportunity for anyone who wants to experience the world through the lens of a different culture. Even with amazing experiences along the way, you will definitely be dealing with culture shock there and when you come back home. However, don’t be discouraged — take it all as a learning experience and an opportunity to witness a different side of America.

Lois Charm is an Alumnae of CEA Study Abroad; she studied Journalism in San Jose, Costa Rica, Spring 2016.