Educators Programs in Costa Rica
Costa Rica has stunning landscapes at every turn. Its geography is one of the most biodiverse in the world. Reams of animal and plant species living within its jungles, beaches and mountain areas. But that is not all that sets Costa Rica apart.
The nation is also known for being a happy place to be – literally. For four years in a row Costa Rica topped the Happy Planet Index, coming in first place out of 152 countries. The reasons include its strong social networks, investment in health and education, and its commitment to environmental protection.
Costa Ricans have reaped the benefits, in many cases living long lives. In fact, Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula is one of only five so-called Blue Zones in the world. These areas have residents who often live more than 100-years.
The appeal makes Costa Rica a perfect place for student travelers. The nation’s capital San Jose is only about a five- hour plane ride from major U.S. cities like New York. Since it’s in the Central Time Zone there aren’t many problems with jet lag. Plus, the landscape provides many opportunities for adventure, and the welcoming people enjoy sharing their culture. This combination gives students many opportunities to experience aspects of life they won’t see elsewhere.
Costa Rica has a population of about 5.1 million people and is about the size of the U.S. state of West Virginia. It’s bordered by Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the south. The Central American nation is divided into seven provinces: Alajuela, San Jose, Heredia, Cartago, Guanacaste, Puntarenas, and Limon. The country includes about 79 islands.
Spanish is the official language, but there are a number of people in tourist areas who speak English. Still it’s helpful to have some Spanish phrases ready to go. Here are a few that may help:
- Hello: Hola
- How are you?: ¿Cómo estás?; Good: Bien
- Good morning: Buenos días; Good afternoon: Buenos tardes; Good night: Buenos noches
- Welcome: Bienvenido
- Goodbye: Adios
- Please: Por favor
- Thank you: Gracias
- Excuse me: Perdón
- What is your name? ¿Cómo te llamas?;
My name is ___. Me llamo ___.
- Where are you from? ¿De dónde eres?;
I am from ___. Yo soy de ___.
- Do you speak English? ¿Hablas inglés?
- I don’t understand. No entiendo.
- Where is the bathroom? ¿Dónde está el baño?
- How much is it? ¿Cuanto vale ___?
While traveling you may hear Costa Ricans call themselves ticos and ticas. This came about because of their habit of adding tico, tica, ico and ica at the end of words. This means small but also is meant in an endearing, friendly way. So they may use words like perrito and chiquita for dog and girl rather than just perro or chica.
You may see signs for a soda while on the road, which is not a reference to a drink but is the word for a small restaurant.
While in your accommodations, keep in mind that a “c” on a faucet may stand for “caliente,” which is hot not cold. You don’t want to burn yourself!
Pura Vida – This phrase is heard frequently in Costa Rica and sums up the laidback, friendly lifestyle in the country. It means pure life, but it’s used in a number of contexts. Pura vida may be the response to ¿Cómo estás? Or it may be used for hello and goodbye.
In addition to Spanish, some descendants of Africans in Limón province speak Limonense Creole, which resembles Jamaican English. Plus, there are few indigenous languages spoken in the nation that are part of the Chibchan language family, including Bribrí, Cabécar and Térraba.
There aren’t too many social norms in Costa Rica that differ from the United States, but here are a few to keep in mind:
- Being late: The pace of life is slower in Costa Rica, so punctuality is not king. In fact in Costa Rica, locals may expect you to be just a little late for a dinner engagement or social gathering. Because of this, don’t be upset if people aren’t precisely on time.
- Bathroom rules: In many parts of Costa Rica you’ll need to put toilet paper in a wastebasket next to the toilet rather than putting it in the toilet.
- Single-use plastics: These are banned in the country’s national parks, so don’t try to bring a plastic water bottle. Instead, students should have a reusable water bottle.
- Shoes: Don’t put your shoes on the furniture. You may have that rule at home too, but regardless, it’s a good thing to keep in mind while in the country.
- Respect for older people: Of course it’s important to be respectful towards everyone, but this is particularly the case for older people. Greet elders first. Let them begin eating first. In general, allow older people to take center stage whenever possible.
Costa Ricans often eat white rice and black beans. It’s a major part of the diet and is incorporated in many meals, including breakfast. Popular dishes include gallo pinto, which is a rice and bean dish often served with a slightly sweet and spicy lizano sauce. An egg may be added for breakfast.
You also may try casado, which often includes rice, black beans, plantains, salad, a tortilla, and an optional protein source such as chicken or beef.
In addition to rice and beans, there are many types of tropical fruits in Costa Rica. You’ll get a chance to try them in various juices. Plus, Costa Ricans love their Arabica coffee, which is both enjoyed at home and exported.
Costa Rica is known for its colorful currency called the colón. It’s named after Christopher Columbus, who is Cristóbal Colón in Spanish. The currency’s bills feature animals such as monkeys, sloths, hummingbirds, and butterflies.
Different denominations of the bills come in different sizes to help those with visual impairments. The options are ¢1,000, ¢2,000, ¢5,000, ¢10,000, ¢20,000, and ¢50,000, though some small vendors don’t appreciate being given the bills with larger denominations since it’s hard to make change.
There also are coins of 5, 10, 25, 50, 100 and 500 colones. One U.S. dollar is approximately 550 colones, though exchange rates vary. U.S. dollars also are accepted in many parts of the country, as are debit and credit cards.
When buying items, keep in mind that haggling is not the norm in Costa Rica. Therefore, a listed price is usually the actual price.
The rainy season in Costa Rica lasts generally from May – November, so you may see a sprinkle or two. However, often the rain is brief. Plus, it makes the landscape beautifully green during this time of year.
That said, different regions of the country have different weather, despite the nation’s small size. Areas surrounding the Arenal Volcano are drier from June-August. Here is an overview of expected average conditions in the country:
|High Temperature||87 F||86 F||86 F|
|Low Temperature||74 F||74 F||74 F|
|Monthly Rainfall||11.4 in.||16.7 in.||12 in.|
|Monthly Rainy Days||16 days||20 days||16 days|
The Costa Rican government has taken many steps to protect the nation’s environment. Because of that, it’s considered one of the top nations in the world for ecotourism.
95 to 98 percent of the electricity in Costa Rica is generated by renewable sources. More than half of this energy comes from hydropower. In addition, the country has a Decarbonization Plan in hopes of making the country carbon neutral.
The small nation contains 6% of the world’s total biodiversity, so controlling air and water quality is crucial for the local environment. To protect indigenous species, Costa Rica has preserved 25% of its land. In comparison the United States has preserved 13% of its land.
Costa Rica has tens of thousands of species of flora and fauna, including a few hundred endangered species. These include the hawksbill and green sea turtles, the Central American squirrel monkey and the great green macaw.
Students are likely to see various birds and butterflies while they’re in the country, such as hummingbirds and beautiful blue morpho butterflies. Lines of leaf cutter ants carrying bits of leaves walk in trails through many parks, as well.
If you’re lucky you’ll see howler monkeys or maybe hear their low pitched growling sounds in the morning. With the help of a local, you may also spot a sloth, though they are sometimes hard to find in the trees without assistance. Another animal to be on the lookout for are coatis that wander through parks and neighborhoods. Nothing is guaranteed though. Seeing a particular animal often involves being in the right place at the right time.
Education is free and mandatory in Costa Rica. This has resulted in a 97% rate of literacy in the nation. In 1948, the nation eliminated its military after a short civil conflict. It invested the money in education, the environment and healthcare. That said, the country does have a large problem with its national debt, so there are only so many funds to go around.
Costa Rica recognizes Roman Catholicism as its state religion. Due to this, the government contributes to the maintenance of the church. Most of the churches in Costa Rica face west so the people inside can face east towards Jerusalem and the rising sun.
The majority of Costa Ricans are Spanish descent, However a percentage of the population are of African or Chinese descent. The nation also has a small number of indigenous people, representing less than one percent of the population. This includes the Bribrí and Cabécar, and they are often among the poorest people in the nation.
Other Fun Facts About Costa Rica
- Costa Rica means “rich coast”. Some accounts say the name was given after Christopher Columbus sailed to the nation on his last voyage. Afterwards, he apparently reported the locals were wearing large quantities of gold jewelry.
- The fact that the indigenous population in the region was small worked in the country’s favor. Spain deemed the nation did not have many people available for forced labor or a ton of gold, so it tended to leave the area alone.
- The capital of San Jose only started putting in street signs in 2012 since the locals tend to use landmarks for directions.
- Costa Rica is said to be the most politically stable country in the region.
- Ox carts were once used to transport coffee beans in the country and remain symbols of the nation’s rural past. In the 20th century, people began painting them in elaborate designs, landing the carts on UNESCO’s intangible cultural property list.
- Costa Rica elected their first female president in 2010 – Laura Chinchilla Miranda, who served until 2014.
- Costa Rican children take their father’s last name and their mother’s last name when born. Most people also have a middle name, giving them four names. When getting married, women generally don’t take their husband’s last name, but instead keep their same name for their entire life.
- Not surprisingly, like many other countries around the world, soccer is the most popular sport in Costa Rica.
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