Learning the Costa Rican way

Last Updated 20 March, 2015

After a semester studying abroad in Costa Rica, sophomore communications science and Spanish double major Michael Reimer recalls the “main highlight was being able to join in the rhythm of life and really connect with my host family, the people, and their culture.”

Michael was in a Latin American studies program taught by two head teachers – one who was even a former Costa Rican Supreme Court Judge. For most of the semester all 24 students lived in the capital, San Jose, with host families. Michael says he connected well with his host family. “They now consider me a member of their family and regularly message me on Facebook. I had two host brothers and a single mom who was an amazing cook. In Costa Rica, food means love, so when I told the mom I wanted to learn how to cook Costa Rican food it meant the world to her.”

While studying in the capital city, daily guest speakers—most of them notable community figures—would lead discussions on varying topics about Latin America. In the afternoons, the students walked to a language school and practiced Spanish. Later, during 10 days spent in Nicaragua, Michael learned much about their history, including the Iran-Contra Affair. “We were even given a lecture by a former rebel leader from the country’s revolution, who now heads the political party in opposition to the current party in power.”

Since Michael also chose to focus on international business he visited many local businesses and corporations. “We met a small business that does graphic design work for video game companies around the world, conversed with a man comparable to America’s Andrew Carnegie, and diplomats from the U.S. embassy who promote business with the States. It was intriguing to see the multiple facets of international business and the ways they affect Costa Rica.”

The last month Michael spent in a national park living with a family from a rural community of 30 people. “Every family had their own coffee plantation cut right out of the jungle. During the dry season they hire migrant Nicaraguans or Panamanians to help harvest.” Mornings were spent working on the farm and at his host family’s restaurant. Afternoons involved playing soccer or helping cook dinner with his host mom. At night he and his family would watch “Looney Tunes,” “Duck Dynasty” and “The A-Team” in Spanish.

Michael, a former soccer player, recalls that playing soccer with his older host brother was a highlight. “After day one they stopped calling me ‘Gringo’ and started calling me ‘Hannah Montana’ as my soccer nickname since I told them I was from Montana. At the end of my time there I actually grew quite fond of the name because they would say it with affection and respect.”

“Another highlight was learning how to Merengue and Salsa dance with my Costa Rican family and friends. Everyone there knows how to dance. Every family gathering, party and holiday involved dancing. My friends didn’t have an Xbox Kinect, but just for fun we would sometimes hook up their TV to YouTube and dance to recordings from the game ‘Just Dance.’”

“By sharing in others’ lives I was able to learn their value systems and try to walk in their shoes. It made me more understanding and now I have a better ability to meaningfully connect with other people I couldn’t have before,” says Michael. “My world was completely opened up, and I love that. By living outside of the U.S. it allowed me to examine our country from a different perspective, see what we chose to live for, and better understand our value system.”