Thursday, October 15, 2015

Perceiving Culture by Sarah Nuss

Having spent the past month at a biological station in the rainforest, going to San Jose for our two weeks at the Costa Rican Language Academy (CRLA) could not seem like any more of a contrast. At first, the shift from tranquil nature to buzzing city was overwhelming, especially because I have never really considered myself a “city person.” However, once I caught up with pace of the crowds, noises, and overall lifestyle again, I was able to see a whole different aspect of Costa Rican culture that we hadn’t experienced yet.
            I started off by trying to immerse myself in the tangible cultural things around me. Almost immediately after arriving at my host stay I was generously pulled into a boisterous family birthday celebration, full of dancing and singing Spanish music, and of course lots of Costa Rican food. After classes at CRLA, I jumped into merengue lessons and tasted food from cooking classes. I practiced Spanish both in class and with my homestay. I had an incredible time participating in some of the (maybe more stereotypical) parts of a “tico’s” life. 
            What really stood out to me however, were not the tangible things that many people associate with culture, but rather some of the discussions that I had during my classes at CRLA. In our small, three –person class, we often talked about pervasive modern themes in order to practice our Spanish. Not only did I learn a lot about the language, but I also learned some of what to me seemed like the more interesting and important parts of Costa Rican culture through our discussions. For example, we spent one day talking about different perceptions of various issues such as abortion, gay marriage, veganism, and drug legalization. In a country that proudly wears the label of one of the happiest countries in the world, it was interesting to hear a Costa Rican’s perspective of some of the problems and underlying sentiments in the country that can often be hidden under the surface.           
            Although these themes are common to many countries, and our teacher’s opinion is not representative of the entire population, I felt that my mind was opened up to think beyond the surface value of “tico” culture. Thinking about how the people around you perceive the world is an incredibly important aspect to culture that often gets overlooked.  Even though I had a great time experiencing the food, music, dance, and other aspects of tico life, I hope to be able continue learning about some of the less tangible aspects of the culture in Costa Rica throughout the rest of my time here.

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