My exchange year in Costa Rica (July 2017- July 2018)

Everything started long ago, since my mom had been an exchange student in the States, so it was just meant to be: I had to go too. Why really Costa Rica?
First I applied for the UWC (United World College) but unfortunately I did not pass the entry test. On that occasion I found out about this fabulous country. That is how my journey with AFSAI, an Italian organization for exchange
students, begins.
Whatever I had studied or learned and no matter how much I had tried to be prepared for this experience, the minute I landed in the airport of San José I found myself thrown into a completely new world, nature, people, food, smells, tastes, perfumes, buildings, way of life and culture. All my senses were at work to try as fast as possible to get adjusted to
my new life.

My host family was quite poor and a plate of rice and beans was my daily lunch, dinner and often breakfast, too. But I was there and everything depended on me and my own ability to understand their culture. So I did and jumped right into this fantastic lifestyle. At first the language was a small obstacle, but day after day I managed to make myself understood and to understand the people I had around.
The high school I attended was next to the slums of Cartago, the first and former capital of Costa Rica. This is why I was in regular contact with the people of the slums. I learned that many times it is not having things and money that brings happiness to people. These families lived with nothing at all and yet they surrounded me with love and affection.
It did not take me long to feel part of this large family and unique country. I remember the day the new president was elected and all the population was so cheerful that we all went out and celebrated until morning. I was
a “Tico”!
It took me a few months for my Spanish to be fluent but when I arrived at that point it felt amazing. At school I made a lot of good friends, but what was great was also the relationship between us students and the school staff. Just as much I found at the local gym I attended regularly in the afternoon: the athletes there made me feel as if I had lived there all my
life. Every day when I entered the gym I had to give my entry password, but the owner learned it by heart in a short time. I felt like I was a close friend of him.
I never felt homesick even though it was my first time so far away from home and for such a long time. I have to admit that not everything went smoothly. Once I was robbed in the streets by two armed men; another time in the grocery store in the neighbourhood I experienced a theft by four guys with a helmet on and pointing guns at the cashiers. I knew that walking in the streets alone was not always safe. However by living there you learn how to move around and try to avoid rough situations.
I also had the fortune to visit some of the most breathtaking natural reserves: huge tall trees, monkeys, mangroves growing everywhere, sloths, green Aras and never ending sand beaches, where even stray dogs were part of the Caribbean culture!
Costa Rica. It is a completely different world. In a minute you become part of it. Part of this big family. Now I am officially a real Tico.

Pura vida Mae!