Other exchange students
This past week was Semana Santa, so in other words, it was spring break for us. Everyone in our program (there are 14 IFSA students in Costa Rica for the semester and two more that are in their second semester here) had travel plans. A few people went to places alone, one group traveled outside of Costa Rica, and I went with a group to Tortuguero and Puerto Viejo. There were six of us total, and the initial trip to Tortuguero lasted half a day.
It concluded with a one hour boat ride to Tortuguero, which speaks to how secluded and isolated it is. The main road is a large sidewalk and there were no cars. The beach was never crowded, although the ocean was too rough to swim in. After a few days, I recognized people as we walked around the town. Tuesday morning, I unfortunately woke up with a headache due to a lack of food the day before. So I missed the beach day by trying to sleep it off, but after lunch, everyone else wanted to take a nap. Since I was feeling better, I decided to go to the beach alone (which was less than five minutes from the hotel- and it took less than 10 minutes to get from one shoreline to the other). It was so relaxing since there were not many people and at one point, a dog decided to hang out with me for five minutes. On Wednesday, we went on a canoe tour in el Parque Nacional de Tortuguero. We saw lots of birds and a two different points, we were a few feet away from caimans.
We left Tortuguero Thursday morning and spent half the day traveling to Puerto Viejo. Puerto Viejo was basically the opposite of Tortuguero as far as tourist destinations go. Tortuguero was secluded, very little people (even though there were tourists), no cars. Puerto Viejo was crowded and is a popular destination for Semana Santa. And while I think the beach in Tortuguero was more beautiful than any in Puerto Viejo, the ocean was nicer in Puerto Viejo because it was relatively easy to find a good place to swim.
Now, going into the trip, I thought that our group was probably relatively cohesive. But as in all groups (even small ones) there were tensions that slowly got worse as the week went on. First, let me give a little context. Out of the 14 of us, there are very clear tensions in the group. It is easy to tell who does not get along with someone else. Lines and groups formed relatively quickly since we spent so much time together in the beginning. But for Semana Santa, it seemed that the two main groups had divided. However, even within ours, there was tension. It was mainly little stuff that slowly increased as the week went on, but the important thing is that it did not prevent anyone from enjoying themselves on the trip.
This is also kind of a teachable moment as well. Some people think that when they go abroad, they will meet and become great friends with awesome people. While this is not necessarily wrong, I think it is important to realize that just because you are abroad, it doesn’t mean that people will leave stuff that leads to social problems and tensions in the U.S. My advice? Don’t force friendships, especially if you don’t make friends right away anyways, like me. Be yourself and focus on enjoying your time during this awesome experience. Chances are you will develop friendships and they will be natural ones since you have not forced anything (this is what I have done, and I have become friends with other IFSA students). And if you don’t, that’s okay too. Remember, you only have a few months to take in as much of another country as possible and that may mean you don’t have enough time to develop very strong friendships. And instead of trying to build friendships with other exchange students, try to build relationships with your host family and with native students. They are the ones who can really show you what their country has to offer.