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5 Tips to Deal with Culture Shock and Homesickness in Costa Rica

Posted by Katie on February 16, 2018
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The decision to move to Costa Rica is almost always an extremely joyous one. After months, or often years, of considering a long-term or permanent move to Costa Rica, the decision to take the leap is accompanied with a sense of freedom, happiness, and optimism. Your first few weeks in your new Costa Rican home will be just as exciting. Your head will be spinning with the tropical colors, exotic meals, and breathtaking natural views at every stop. The people are friendly and the beaches are enchanting, so what’s not to love?

Surprisingly, most new-comers to the Costa Rican expat scene do not report any feelings of homesickness or culture shock. Costa Rica has an extremely friendly culture and the lifestyle is comfortable, adventurous, and affordable. The first sensations of homesick are actually reported among people residing in the country for over a year. Once life becomes a bit more predictable and you feel more at home in your new city, longings for your home-country will start to make their way into your heart. Fear not, this does not mean the expat life isn’t for you. Everyone at some point will experience both homesickness and culture shock, and this is only natural as you change countries, languages, and daily culture. As Costa Rica becomes your true home, these feelings will subside, but there are some steps you can take to aid the process. A piece of your heart will always be in your country of origin, but you’ve decided to make Costa Rica you new home, and we’re here to help.

1. Keep Home Close

You’ve moved to a country with an entirely different culture, architecture scene, and housing style, so more likely than not, you didn’t bring a lot of furniture or art from your home country. Costa Rica prefers rocking chairs over couches and hammocks over heavily-cushioned lounge chairs, so it’s best to leave your home furnishings in their country and purchase all new décor once you’ve hit the ground. This doesn’t mean you have to leave everything, however. Frame pictures of your favorite people and places on your wall. Bring your favorite piece of art or kitchen serving dish with you. Make your favorite “mother’s recipe” dishes and play your favorite music. You’ll be concentrating on integrating into life in your new country, but this doesn’t mean you have to leave your old life behind.

Take the opportunity of moving to merge your two homes together. While you’re packing to go, figure out what of your personal items can be used in your new home, the rest will be given away. There is no need to keep a storage closet of old things in your country of origin, this will just serve to make your move seem temporary and reversible. Instead, slide into your new life head-first. Dive into Costa Rican living and bring with you anything that will make you happy and remind you of the incredible life you’ve led. Merging your “old life” with your “Costa Rican life” will help you feel at home more quickly.

2. Educate Yourself on the Local Culture

If you understand the culture and history of your new country, this is absolutely no reason for shock. Let yourself be surprised by the wonderful details of Costa Rican life you find along the way, but don’t let these cultural differences shock or confuse you. Cultures develop strategically, so all the little odds-and-ends you’re noticing have been developed for a certain reason. Let yourself understand the history and culture of your new home before passing any judgement.

Your local counterparts in your new city will have spent their entire lives developing a bond with their home country. They will have sat through countless national history classes and will have read all the local literature. You, as a new-comer, are going to need to put more effort into creating this bond. Ask for book suggestions to help you understand the country’s history of development. You may even inquire into which books have been listed as national required-reading books for public high schools. If an entire country of people has read a certain book, you’re going to want to get your hands on it. Work on understanding Costa Rica, the bond will come quickly enough.

3. Find True Friends

When you first arrive, it may be way too easy to mesh with the other new-comers in your town. Other new expats will want to explore the city in the same way, will understand your language and culture, and will have similar interests and ambitions. After a year, however, you’ll start to notice that other new-comers stay in the country for 6 months to a year, and quickly leave. Your friendship will be great, but it will be difficult to replace your circle every year or so.

Once you’re comfortable in your new home, try making more permanent friendships. Join a gym, take a dance class, and get an after-work cocktail with your coworkers. You’ll start to meet locals and other permanent residents who can share a more meaningful, long-term relationship with you.

Here in Costa Rica, making friends is more important than ever. You’ve moved to a country with a very familial culture, and family and relationships are important to the style of living. Make friends who will become your new family. You’ll share weekend drinks, holiday meals, and endless beach time together. Your new circle of friends will include locals, expats with much more experience in the country than you, and people from your own country and culture. This diverse, inclusive group of friends will do wonders for making you feel at home.

4. Make Home Trips Regular

Make your trips to your home country regular, but not necessarily often. Have an approximate plan in mind to visit once every 8 months, every year, or however often fits your lifestyle and financial restraints. Having these planned visits will ensure you don’t burn out in your new Costa Rican home. Returning to your home country for a visit only after feeling burned out and fed-up with your Costa Rican life will only serve to fuel your homesickness. Decide on a frequency for home-visits and in the meantime, take advantage of every second of your Costa Rican life. You’ll get used to the schedule, look forward to your vacations, and more fully enjoy your new home.

5. Make your New Home your Real Home

In the end, your goal is to live long-term or permanently in Costa Rica, so make it your real home. This means moving in totally, buying your own furniture, making permanent friends, getting a job, and indulging in your hobbies and pleasures. Your Costa Rican life will be just as multi-dimensional as your life in your old country, but you’ll need to put more work into making it so.

A common mistake many new residents make is to live like a nomad for too many years. They rent furnished apartments and never fully commit to their new homes. Your transition will be much easier if you decide to fully integrate into your new living situation. Above all, you want your move to bring your happiness and comfort, so make sure your living situation enables that. Twinges of homesickness will continue to arise at unexpected moments, but as soon as you commit to your Costa Rican life, you’ll quickly find your new, true home.