One of the best ways to get to know a culture is through the locals, you always hear this before visiting any country, and it could not be truer. But when you live with locals, eat with locals not just for a week but for a year, everything changes. I’ve become a different person since I started my exchange year in Costa Rica just about 2 and a half months ago. I moved from Budapest, Hungary to this small town in Costa Rica. It was a pretty big move after living in the capital city of Hungary, but the bigger the move the more culture-shock you experience and the more involvement you get in the culture.
Just like the month before, September went by very fast. It’s like I blinked and it was already October. Crazy how my arrival feels like it was just two weeks ago, but at the same time I feel like I’ve been part of my Costa Rican family since years. My sisters here have become my best friends. With one of my sisters in particular we spend a lot of time together, we go to the same school and also share a room together. Not only that but we do every activity together like going to fiestas or even just going to the local supermarket, I’m surprised she hasn’t gotten bored of me yet. I’ve always wanted a sister and now I got not only one but two. The best part is that we’re all the same age; we share mostly the same interests so we understand each other and can easily open up to each other. I honestly have such an amazing relationship with my family, I couldn’t ask for anything better. I can talk to them about anything, when I have any problems I don’t hesitate to discuss it with them, and they’re always there to help me to find a solution.
Something interesting I’ve noticed is how different they think of a 16, 17 years old teenager here than in my country. In Hungary I went to school by myself every day, I went shopping with my friends, I was pretty much relying on public transportation as the only way to get around. I’m very independent in Hungary, if I want to do something, I will get up and take the bus, metro, tram. Here I’m never alone. Between school and my home I don’t even have to walk 100 meters because the school bus takes me to my destinations. Occasionally the parents pick us up from school, if it’s necessary, but there’s no way you could go home without the school bus or them. If we finish classes at 2pm, we most likely have to wait until 4:30pm when the school bus takes us home. It frustrates me sometimes that I can’t do anything about it, but it’s just the way things are here and I have to accept it. Also the parents are very very protective over us and always want to make sure we’re safe. Sometimes I feel so awkward when we have to wake them up during the night to pick us up, but they don’t seem to mind. The other day I wanted to go to the mall, but it’s a bit far and I didn’t want to bother them so I said I would take the bus, but it was an ultimate no no. They are happy to take me, they don’t want me to experience any inconvenience by taking public transport, which I don’t mind at all actually. In Hungary moving away after finishing high school is much more common than here. Here children live with their parents until they are married, it doesn’t matter if you’re 35 years old or even 45, you will live with your parents, no question.
Then there was my birthday not long ago. I was so thankful that I got to celebrate my birthday here. I’ve never really been a huge fan of big celebrations, but when I told my family I really just want to spend the day just us and nothing more, to them it was like I stabbed them with a sword. Ticos (Costa Ricans) love celebrations, big celebrations with lots of people, but of course they agreed to my request. The night before, we went to a Bingo night to one of the local schools with one of our cousins, I keep meeting new cousins I’ve never met before every week, because they have around 70… I know it’s crazy for me too; I have 2 cousins in Hungary. But anyway, I really enjoyed the night; I even won something, and got to eat delicious donuts. Around midnight before my birthday I was woken up by the sound of guitars and singing. You can’t even imagine how embarrassed I was in my squared pajamas and striped shirt standing in front of 2 guys singing a serenade for me. I couldn’t stop smiling and blushing, it was one of the sweetest things I’ve ever received. I really thought serenades only happen in the movies, but it turns out it’s a very normal thing in Costa Rica. I’ve been obsessing over churros almost since the day I got here, and my family literally got me a cake of churros…SERIOUSLY THE BEST BIRTHDAY PRESENT EVER. In the afternoon some of our neighbors came over, actually they are more like family than just neighbors or friends. We barbecued, ate cake and talked. It felt like a summer barbecue with my family in Hungary, it was such a strange feeling, but this means that this place is really like my home now. After that one of my really good friends came over, we went into the city with her and one of my sisters. I had such an amazing birthday, thanks to my family and friends!
By Panna Laura, AFS student from Hungary to Costa Rica. Panna is one of the young deserving students who received the Changemakers scholarship to participate in a year-long school exchange program with AFS.