Costa Rica Study Abroad: Puntarenas Week 1

I can’t believe I have already been in Costa Rica for a week! The time has flown by!  It’s going to be hard returning to Iowa winter and my normal classes in just over two weeks.  I’m not going to call it the “real” world because my swing dance adventures and adventures abroad are no less a part of the real world than my work/ school life.


I am in Puntarenas Costa Rica for a three week study abroad program through the University Studies Abroad Consortium (USAC).  Instead of taking classes through a university, USAC has their own center in Puntarenas.  I am taking Advanced Spanish II in order to brush up on the Spanish I haven’t used in 4 years.  So far I am remembering a lot more than I expected!  I am also taking a Dance of Latin America class.  There is no AC in the space where we practiced so it is quite sweaty work!


My Host Family

My host family is extremely sweet here in Costa Rica and I share them with another student in the program.  I have a host Mom- Kathia, a host brother- Steven, and a woman named Roxy helps with the cooking and cleaning.  They are all extremely patient when I am talking with them in Spanish.  Kathia knows I am trying to improve my Spanish and has a good sense for when to correct me and when to let me be.

Lunch is Costa Ricans’ largest meal of the day.  It typically consists of some meat, rice, and beans.  I haven’t had too many beans because my host sister doesn’t like them.  I have had chicken and fish.  I also had what was probably ox-tail soup.  For dinner I have had pasta with a really good white sauce with ham, and a hotdog decked out in lettuce, mayo, and ketchup.  The fruit here is amazing because it’s super fresh and local.  I have had pineapple and papaya so far.

Costa Rican houses are very different than houses in the U.S.  They are much smaller and really vary in their set-up.  Some have front patios where people hang out.  Our house opens into the kitchen where we spend most of our time socializing with the family.  Me and the other USAC student have bedrooms rooms upstairs and a bathroom pretty much to ourselves.  There is no air-conditioning in my room so the window stays open 24-7 along with the fan.  It’s not too bad at night, but it gets pretty hot during the day!  The average temperature during the day is around 90.  If you walk next to the beach, it isn’t terrible but if you are in town on the sidewalk you are going to sweat a lot!

Life in Puntarenas

Right now a lot of people are taking their holiday vacation between Christmas and New Years.  People spend a lot of time outside in the shade, and at the beach.  There are food vendors all along the beach.  Souvenir vendors become more common as you approach the pier where cruise ships come in.


It might just be because people are on vacation, but life seems to move at a slower pace here.  Everyone in Puntarenas walk at a pretty leisurly pace.  I have yet to see anyone in a rush.

Here in Costa Rica there is a saying, Pura Vida (Pure Life) that encompasses this idea of “the good life,”, “take it easy”, “this is the life”, etc.  Pura vida isn’t said here in Puntarenas all that often.  It’s more common in places with a lot of tourists like Montezuma or Monteverde.


During my first full Sunday here, I spent the morning just relaxing outside with my host Mom.  While I was reading the newspaper, a large lizard (a black ctenosaur) even came out from under the gutters to hang out with me!  After we grilled outside, I went to the beach to hang out with some friends until about sunset. Pura vida, indeed!

My lizard friend

New Years

For New Year’s Eve, most of the families head to the beach to barbecue meat, wait for the New Year, and watch the sunrise.  There are also fireworks.  My only regret during this trip (so far) was not spending New Year’s Eve with my host family.  Instead I met up with people from my program and we hung out at a bar for a little bit.  While it was great to hang out with them, I wish I had experienced a local New Years.

Fortunately, the evening of New Years, my host family went out near the lighthouse (~20 minute walk from our house) to have another barbecue.  My fellow host-sister and I met up with them and then got to just relax with their family while we ate.  I spoke Spanish with my host mom’s daughter-in-law, who was super patient and kind.  Although I did not experience New Year’s Eve the local way, I am glad I got a taste of it that next night!



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