Feeling at Home in Costa Rica
This morning I drank gourmet coffee that cost $2.50 a pound, and yesterday I dug slippery globes out from furry red orbs for an afternoon snack. Sometimes when I open my refrigerator or peruse my cupboards, I am astounded by what I find – and what I don’t. Welcome to Costa Rica, where “normal” is nothing like what you’re used to!
Food is a big part of my life; I love to cook and taste new flavors. That slimy globe? It’s called rambutan, or mamon chino locally, and it’s one of my favorite discoveries. There are many others including creamy soursop, fuzzy guaba, peach palm fruit, and gooey passion fruit, to name just a few. Since I’ve lived in Costa Rica, my kitchen has completely transformed – and what was once wildly exotic has become my new normal. Every time I make sour mandarin lemonade or add salt to homemade sour cream I’m reminded that I no longer live in the States, and of how lucky I am to experience these differences.
Living abroad opens your eyes to new worlds. I’m still surprised at how similar the “big things” are: I get English-language TV channels, buy groceries at a chain store, and have high-speed Internet at home. But it’s the details I notice, and food is a constant reminder of what we take for granted.
Culture is ingrained in us, even if we don’t recognize it; that’s why almost everyone experiences culture shock when moving abroad. Our clothing, hand gestures, facial expressions and mannerisms tell a story – our story. And when everything else around you is different, you sometimes feel out of place.
Thankfully, that feeling passes. There’s a fine line between feeling different and feeling wondrous. Today, when I go to the local farmers’ market, I can marvel at the selection without feeling overwhelmed. I know how to tell when passion fruit is ripe, which plantains will be sweetest, and if the watercress will be crunchy and faintly spicy. No longer an exotic vacation destination, Costa Rica has become my home, and its produce, my sustenance.
Learning to navigate my new home – to discover its eccentricities and surprises – has been a joy. Costa Rica has become my default culture. When I visit friends and family back in the States, it’s the little things that give me pause: hot water in public sinks, pricey public transportation, and $3 avocados at the supermarket. For me, straddling the border between two cultures is a privilege and a pleasure; I am so thankful to experience the world as only an expat can.