Incredibly, my time has a study abroad student has come to an end; I have been back in the States for nearly three weeks and can hardly believe it. And sadly this will be my parting post as a student blogger with IFSA.
My last few days in Costa Rica after traveling in Panama were short and flew by. I spent my time getting some last minute souvenirs for some of my friends back here in the States, retrieving all of my final grades from the university and visiting people.
Two of my favorite memories from those few days in Heredia both involved some of the students from the Biology program there at the university. The first involves the whole of the Ecology class apprehensively waiting for the final grades to be posted. It was taking a long time for the professors and assistants to finish all the final grades, so we spent the time chatting amongst ourselves. I will very much miss the camaraderie of those fellow biology students. The other special time was when my lab group and study buddies from that same Ecology class took me out to dinner at a Caribbean restaurant in San Jose. There were some others there as well. It was a good time.
Of course there were the goodbyes to my family as well: Amalia, Alberto, Mariann, Sophia, Victor, and little Isaac. I spent some time visiting with the directors from IFSA as well. Those two ladies had become so dear to me that I almost wanted to call them Aunt Teresita and Aunt Yanori. Many of the goodbyes to other IFSA students happened right before I left for Panama, but there were still a few hanging about Heredia. One of those goodbyes was to Carli, the only other student who had stayed for the academic year with me. It was a tough goodbye after spending so much time together, experiencing so many new things together, and ultimately after seeing each other grow and change so much as individuals over the course of the year.
It’s funny the things you want to do and see when you know time is short. I remember thinking, “I really want to go see the girls from my plant class last semester one more time” or “Oh, I want to go to one more Wednesday two-for-one movie in the mall” or “I would really like to go sit in the park and people watch one more time” or “I never went that one museum or wildlife refuge. I really want to go there.” They are weird funny things and some of them I was able to do and some I was not able to do, but I tried my very best to live those few days to the full.
I studied abroad during my junior year in high school and I distinctly remember the tearful goodbyes when I left my classmates at the international school. This time, however, as I said all those goodbyes I did not shed one tear. It is not like I am in any way proud of this; it’s just the way I reacted this time and to be perfectly honest it is very unlike me to respond this way. Maybe it happened this way because I am older or maybe it was just a strange defense mechanism to the pain of leaving.
Re-entry is a very strange process. Most students experience what is called reverse culture shock. Everyone knows that during the transition into another culture there is a lot of culture shock, but what many fail to think about is the fact that this can happen when transitioning back into one’s “home” culture after being in another culture for a long period of time. Some cultural habits and customs have been dropped or traded for others while away, but now must be picked up and dusted off and put back in use. This can be personal space, mannerisms, a different language or any number of things.
Most noticeably amongst my reactions to being back home is my general evasion of people, even friends sometimes. I fear the idea of having to put into words all the experiences and feelings that I have acquired over the course of a year. Questions like “What was your favorite thing about Costa Rica?” are superficial at best and expect a one-sentence answer. In my way of thinking this deserves a ten-minute exposition. My feelings are very mixed; a part of me is sad when people didn’t even notice that I was studying abroad and that I have changed, but another part of me also wishes that I could just slip into my home life as if nothing had changed and no time had passed.
There are of course the humorous and awkward cultural mistakes that happen too. Shortly after I arrived home I nearly found myself making the mistake of kissing someone on the cheek—a very normal greeting and farewell gesture in Costa Rica. After conversing with a friend I found myself instinctively grabbing her arm as she turned to leave. Already in motion, I realized what my subconscious was doing and quickly, gracelessly, turned the almost-kiss into an awkward hug. I quickly slipped from the room embarrassed, silently scolding myself, remember, you are in the U.S. They don’t do that here!
I have also found it nearly impossible to not say “chau” as a farewell. Right now, “Bye” sounds like the most unnatural and ridiculous sounding word in the English language. And although perhaps unnoticeable to those around me, I occasionally think of the Spanish word before the English one when I am conversing; sometimes I have trouble locating the English one at all in the sea of words tossing about in my brain. One the very rare occasion one of those Spanish words will slip out along with the English. I feel sure that this is more confusing to my brain than the listener. My confusion from this stems from the following question posed: am I supposed to continue speaking in Spanish or should I go back to English? My once very fine ability for spelling has since gone to pieces as well.
After a few weeks of being home it is getting easier I think. I am sure I will still be caught by moments of nostalgia for a long time. But that is as it should be. Such an experience should be remembered with fondness.
And now, the time has come for me to bid farewell to you my readers, whether faithful, occasional, or here for the first time. I hope you have enjoyed my blog posts—mere tales of gringa in Costa Rica. So here is a kiss on the cheek and a hearty, “!Chau! Espero que le vaya bien.” (Bye! I hope it goes well with you.)