Studying Abroad In Costa Rica

By Danielle Wirsansky on April 22, 2019

Making the decision to study abroad is not an easy one. And once you have decided to study abroad, you then have to decide where to study abroad. Some students choose the programs their universities have to offer while others are influenced by the kinds of programs available in each locale. Students might also choose based on the native language of the country, its safety, or even its environment.

One such popular place to study is Costa Rica!

If you are one of the lucky students studying abroad in Costa Rica, congratulations! Now that you know where you are going, it is time to prepare yourself for the whole new world you are about to enter. Costa Rica is #10 out of the top ten study abroad destinations for students, so it is quite a popular destination for education.

Before you go haring off to another country for a few months to study, you should learn about Costa Rica and prepare yourself for all the changes you are about to experience. There is quite a lot of information that you should know about studying abroad in Costa Rica. Read on to find out more!

Fun Fact #1: Even though Costa Rica’s landmass only takes up .03% of the planet’s surface, it hosts more than 5% of the world’s biodiversity.

Infographic by Danielle Wirsansky

What is the Local Language?

A very important thing to know before going to study in Costa Rica is that the local language is not English. It is Spanish! Unlike in many European countries where most people also speak English, this is simply not the case in Costa Rica. The people speak Spanish and they expect you to speak to them in Spanish as well. You either need to know Spanish or plan to learn Spanish very quickly once you get to Costa Rica because it will be very difficult to get by if you cannot speak Spanish.

Some of the local people will, of course, speak English—there are exceptions to every rule. And the more touristy an area, the more likely that there will be people who can speak English. But if you plan to live life like a local (and really, still in general), Spanish speaking skills are a must. You cannot go into a foreign country and expect them to speak your language, so start rolling your r’s and get ready!

Fun Fact #2: Costa Rica’s population is comprised of about 4.1 million people.  The capital city is San Jose, which has a metro area population of approximately 2 million people.  The life expectancy there is about 77 years old, which happens to be one of the highest life expectancies in the world.

What is the Weather Like?

Costa Rica is known as a tropical paradise. And for the most extent, it is. The average temperature year round is between 70-80 degrees Fahrenheit, as due to the country’s proximity to the equator, Costa Rica does not really experience a true summer or winter. It is pretty even-keeled temperature wise all year long.

However, what you do need to look out for is the rainy season. Costa Rica has a rainy season that runs from May to November. The country averages about 100 inches a year, but apparently, in some regions, the rain is incredibly heavy. How heavy, you may ask? Up to 25 feet of rain a year! That is a huge amount of rain!

Altitude is also an important factor that will affect what kind of weather you will experience while studying abroad in Costa Rica. And if you are near the rain forests, that could definitely affect the weather you experience as well. Just be sure to do your research and research the places you plan to go visit ahead of time so you can be sure to dress appropriately no matter what the weather may be.

Fun Fact #3: Contrary to popular myth, Costa Rica is NOT an island. In fact, it is bordered by several different countries, including Nicaragua on the north and Panama on the south. To the west, it is bordered by the Pacific Ocean while on the East it is touched by the Caribbean Sea. The whole country is quite small and is, in fact, smaller than Lake Michigan in size!

How Do You Do Your Laundry?

This might seem like a silly question, but it is certainly one that many college students do not really think about. How many ways can you do your laundry? Dump it into the machine with soap and continue. Right?

Not quite right. At least, not in Costa Rica.

You see, electricity is very expensive in countries like Costa Rica and the expense of simply using a washing machine is too great. It is out of the question most of the time. So you have two options. You can handwash and dry your clothes, though many students are vehemently opposed to this idea or do not have the experience or knowledge of how to do this properly.

The other option, which many Costa Ricans do, is using a centrifuge! What this means is that you would still use a washing machine, but instead, it is attached to a centrifuge. And instead of the machine doing all the work autonomously to wash your clothes, you will have to participate and help it along.

Using a hose, you will have to add the water into the machine with your clothes. You will add your own soap and then let the machine run for about fifteen minutes. Then you will drain the water and refill it, this time with water only (no soap added). You will let that run for about five minutes. Then you will move your clothing over into the centrifuge. What the centrifuge will do is spin your clothes very, very quickly. It will not fully dry most articles of clothing but will help them get dryer. This will help significantly cut down the time you have to waste letting it air dry instead. To air dry appropriately, the wet clothing will need to be hung up immediately.

Fun Fact #4: Most Costa Ricans prefer to refer to themselves as “Ticos” (males) and “Ticas” (females).  On the other hand, they often call foreigners “Gringos” (males) and “Gringas” (females).

How Do I Get Around?

This is an important question—how are you going to get around Costa Rica once you get there? You are not like the average tourist. You probably cannot just rent a car and keep it with you while you study abroad (the costs would be sky high). And you should not buy a car just to have while you are studying there (again, very few could even afford that).

So what options are left to students to help them get around this country? Obviously, you do not want to be stranded in one area. Part of the study abroad experience is actually getting to experience the country, which means you will need to get around.

Cars are very expensive in Costa Rica and so many Costa Ricans themselves do not own vehicles (and if they do, they are often much older models). How do they get around? Via public transportation.

Buses are the most common option to get around on in Costa Rica. They are usually very crowded because so many people are using them to get around and this can make them a little bit hot and uncomfortable to ride around on. However, it is the cheapest option and it will certainly help you to experience the country like a local. You cannot purchase a bus pass and must pay each individual fare.

Another option is the train. The trains can help if you have farther distances to travel. The train network in Costa Rica was heavily damaged in an earthquake a few years back and they are still trying to rebuild the lines. The trains are more limited than buses but can still help you get where you need to go.

You can also take a taxi. Uber is also an option, however, the popular travel app has not yet become quite legal in the country yet so you run a risk of getting in trouble should you choose to use Uber while in Costa Rica. It is probably a safer bet to find a different form of transportation unless you are in a tight spot.

Another great option is to simply walk! Walking is a great way to learn a new place and to experience a culture and city. You will see and hear things you never could have otherwise. And best of all, it is free and good for your health!

Fun Fact #5: Costa Rica has seven active volcanoes—out of more than 121 volcanic formations in the country! One of these active volcanoes, Arenal, is in the top ten most active volcanoes in the world while Poas Volcano has the second widest crater in the world.

What is the Currency?

Costa Rica actually has its own currency, called the Colón, which derives its name from that of Christopher Columbus. Available in paper or coin, you will definitely want to get your hands on some paper money just to look at it because it is supposed to be beautiful to look at. Each bill depicts different colorful nature scenes that depict the different flora and fauna of the country.

However, even though they have their own currency, most places and people just use American dollars. There is no pressing need to exchange money, though you might want to do so just to take a look at the beautiful paper bills.

One American dollar bill is about equal to 600 Costa Rican Colón.

Fun Fact #6: Costa Rica is made up of seven provinces including San Jose, Alajuela, Heredia, Cartago, Guanacaste, Puntarenas, and Limon.

Photo by Luis Quintero from Pexels

Do You Need to Tip?

A question many travelers have is whether or not they need to tip their servers and guides. Of course, it depends on where you are going. In Costa Rica, tipping is not usually necessary as they include a sales service tax that covers what the tips would cover, so it is already included.

You still can tip though, especially if someone has gone above and beyond in the call of duty. The average daily wage for labor is only $10, which is the highest in all of Central America, so your tip will always be appreciated. The average tip in Costa Rica is 10%.

Fun Fact # 7: As mentioned before, Costa Rica has a significant percent of the world’s biodiversity. One kind of biodiversity Costa Rica certainly has a lot of is insects and bugs. There are about 750,000 species of insects and about 20,000 different types of spiders making Costa Rica their home!  In addition, more than 10% of the world’s butterflies live here.

What is the Government Like?

It is important to know that the Costa Rican government is a democratic one. They hold presidential elections every four years and have no standing army. The current president of Costa Rica is Carlos Alvarado. It is also significant to point out that Epsy Campbell is the first female afro-descendent vice president in Costa Rican history. She is also the second female vice president of African descent in the Americas, following Viola Burnham. The last general election was held in 2018.

Fun Fact #8: Rice and black beans are a huge part of the Costa Rican diet. In fact, they are pretty much a staple served at every meal—even breakfast! Rice and beans mixed together for breakfast are called gallo pinto. But other Costa Rican staples include bread, chicken or meat, vegetables, salads, and fruits.  

Costa Rica is an exciting, beautiful, diverse place. There is so much to do, so much to see, and so much to learn—not only about this beautiful country but yourself while you are there. But be sure to keep a good head on your shoulders when studying abroad there so that you can have the best experience possible! 

Danielle Wirsansky graduated from FSU with a BA in Theatre, a BA in Creative Writing with a minor in History, and an MA in Modern European History with a minor in Public History. While a graduate student, she served as the Communications Officer for the History Graduate Student Association and President/Artistic Director of White Mouse Theatre Productions. She studied abroad in London, England for the Spring 2015 semester at FSU's study center for the Playwriting Program and interned for the English National Theatre of Israel in Summer of 2015. Her first musical, City of Light, opened as part of FSU's New Horizons Festival in Spring of 2016. She has also won the MRCE and URCAA Research grants from FSU. In the past, she served as the Marketing Director for the FSU Student Theatre Association, the intern for the Holocaust Education Resource Council, and the research assistant of Prof. Nathan Stoltzfus. She has previously written for Context Florida (Contributing Writer), USA Today College (Contributing Writer), Sheroes of History (Contributing Blogger), No(le)Reservations (Contributing Blogger), Female, Reloaded (Arts/Entertainment Editor) , I Want a Buzz Magazine (intern), Mandarin Newsline (youth arts update columnist), Distink Designs (Guest blogger), (associate editor), (associate editor), Spark TLH (Contributor), the Tallahassee Democrat (contributor), Elan Literary Magazine (Head of Marketing), and the Improviser Newspaper (Opinions Editor). Danielle has been lucky to be writing for Uloop since 2015 and to have served as the FSU Campus Editor since 2015.

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