Final Thoughts on Leaving Costa Rica

View from the window at the San José airport

The first adjustment:  nearly everyone spoke English to me at the San José airport.  Like some of the more tourist-oriented towns, the prices switched to dollars.  While I understood when the airport staff converted to the prices to colones, I still wondered why they said “thousand” instead of “mil” for the amount.

The size of a movie poster at the Dallas airport threw me off, too.  Being able to understand every single word around me – whether I wanted to or not – overwhelmed me.  While I understand quite a bit of Spanish, I can still screen out the meaning if I’m not concentrating on the person speaking.

At times, I’ve found adjusting back to the United States to be more difficult because I expect it to feel more familiar.  After all, I’m home.  I’ve missed this place and the people.  Why then, am I wishing that I could walk to the park in Heredia?  Or that I could walk through the door and see the smiling faces of the customer service staff at Intercultura?  It even feels strange not to be a foreigner anymore.

Now that I’m back in San Diego and still have fresh memories, let’s rewind back to the final Friday.  Graduation, a ceremony done for all departing students, was sweet.  Since it was the end of the semester, there were several heartfelt goodbyes for students who had been there for several months.  Everyone gave a short speech, thanking the school’s staff for their time.  It felt a bit unreal.  Several weeks ago, it felt like I had all the time in the world.  At that moment, however, the time was slipping away.

After graduation and before my final afternoon class, I explored the stalls of Christmas market at the local park with a new friend.  Artisans and retailers alike had their wares displayed, everything from jewelry to bubble wands.  We bought some jewelry, then my friend realized that I hadn’t been to a local bakery chain.  “You must have this experience before leaving Costa Rica,” she said, and I tried something that resembled a danish with guanabana jelly and cream cheese.

In my class that afternoon, we watched a movie, La Lengua de Mariposas (simply titled “Butterfly” en inglés).  It was the first time I had watched a movie in Spanish with Spanish subtitles.  I was amazed with how much I could understand.  The more I learn, the more I realize how much more there is to learn – more vocabulary, more time to practice and implement what I have gained within these past few weeks.  The movie was sweet, sad, and profound.  We discussed the film, and then wrapped up our class with several parting activities.

“…Que tenga más confianza, y esté mas feliz.  Que le vaya bien” were some of the parting wishes of the teachers and staff.  I took a few last pictures, lingering for a moment on details of the school setting:  the decoraciónes navideñas, the flowers in the courtyard in the last light of the day, and the welcoming lobby of the school.

Courtyard at Intercultura

I took a deep breath, taking in the sights and sounds of the school, then walked the blocks back to la casa for a final time.  For all the challenges I have faced throughout this experience, I truly believe that it has been worth it.  I have not only grown as a person, but I have also realized how much I want Spanish to continue to have a place in my life.  I truly love the language, and I am certain that it will open up doors for me both personally and professionally.

If you have the opportunity, I highly recommend taking yourself out of the context of your own culture and language.  Whether you have two weeks, a month, or several, it can be the experience of a lifetime.

¡Pura Vida y Adiós!

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