As I get excited and yet nervous about my upcoming trip to Europe, I was reminded of my fears when I first moved to Costa Rica. It’s exciting because you are going to a new place with new experiences, but at the same time, it’s mixed with an anxiety and nervousness of the unknown. What can you expect? Will it be difficult? What if something happens? How will you react? And I think this final question is the most important. Your reaction. It’s all about attitude.
1) Language differences. Moving or visiting a place that doesn’t speak your language is scary. How do you communicate? First of all, take a deep breath. There is usually someone who speaks your language and hand signals work wonders. Find a common language or a language that is semi understandable by both sides. I don’t speak Italian or French, but have found that my Spanish works wonders there. I can decipher most written French because of the Latin communalities with Spanish although the spoken language is impossible for me. In Italy, again the similarities between Spanish and Italian were amazing. Having the patience and letting go of frustrations will make the difference. Laugh and try. Trying to communicate rather than just getting angry because no one speaks English, can often get you what you need. I did have an issue once in Italy when I was trying to find an ATM and all of the banks were closed. For some reason, I couldn’t find a word in Italian or a way to fully describe what an ATM was and in the end, the lady that was trying to help me gave me her sandwich so that my children wouldn’t starve. From now on, I will always make sure to know how to ask for an ATM in any language. But it’s all in the attitude. Go with the flow.
2) Living conditions. No hot water? Shared bathrooms? Hamburgers that are terrible? No air conditioning? I won’t go then. Nope, not for me. Oh, come on. If you go to a foreign country hoping for exactly the same experiences that you have in your home country, don’t go! Open your eyes and hearts to new experiences. I admit, there are a few things that I’ve never quite gotten used to in my foreign home, but that’s okay. Learn to take the best of both worlds and live without the things that really are not so necessary. When I travelled to India, I insisted on going to the bathroom with a real Western toilet rather than a hole in the ground. After seeing the filth of the toilet, I was very happy to pee over the hole and I could see the benefits of wearing a skirt rather than pants. There is a reason that everyone uses the hole in the ground. And seriously, who goes to Latin America for a good hamburger? Try the patacones or arroz con pollo instead. Attitude. Go with the flow.
3) Cultural differences. Kisses on the cheeks? 1 or 2? Wimpy handshakes? Eye contact? Space between people when speaking? Take off your shoes? Cross your legs? Don’t? Observe and practice. Obviously, there might be some cultural differences that you just can’t get used to or can’t accept. But many are just not a big deal and showing that you are trying to adapt goes a LONG way. After 18 years in Costa Rica, I still forget to greet everyone in the room with a kiss on the cheek both on arrival and departure, but I am working on it. Does it kill me to do it? NO. When I was younger, I felt angry at having to cover my head when walking into a Russian Orthodox church. American females just did NOT cover our heads. What a young, naïve, and conceited 20 year old I was. Did it kill me to respect the culture? No. Luckily I was older when I went to Dubai and India and decided to have the Indian style pants and tunics made for travel so that I would not insult the people around me. When the ladies, often in full burkas, looked at me and nodded their heads in appreciation, I knew I had made the right decision. I had found the right compromise between covering myself completely and wearing shorts even though other Americans who had been there told me I could wear anything I wanted. And to be honest, the pants were the most comfortable things I have ever worn. Again, attitude. You won’t be a local, but at least you can try to respect and try things that come up. Go with the flow.
Perhaps moving somewhere permanently requires a bit more adaptation than just a trip, but attitude goes a long way in either case. Be open to trying new things. Sometimes you will reject certain cultural practices (I will never be able to function on “Tico Time”) but other practices you might actually find enjoyable and adapt them into your everyday life (I’m still working on the greetings, but I think it is a fabulous thing). I’m still nervous about my upcoming trip, but I have learned a lot over the years about acceptance of other cultures and I’m really excited to add to my experiences. The right attitude will allow you to enjoy your experience way more.
To answer your questions on living in Costa Rica or look for a home, contact Tina Newton with Tristan & Newton Real Estate through email , on Facebook or the website. She tries to put home buying and cultural living experiences on the blog as often as possible.