Brittany Alford — The Challenges of Expat Life in Costa Rica (Part 2 of 3)

Brittany Alford with her local Costa Rican friends (Photo courtesy Brittany Alford)
The Color Purple 2023

Culture shock

Hopping off the plane in Costa Rica, Brittany Alford eagerly awaited the new experiences she would encounter during her stay. However, once she landed, she was overwhelmed by the differences she would already encounter. Alford had been on vacations in other countries before, but living in Costa Rica as an expat presented itself with its own set of challenges.

Culturs — Upon arriving in Costa Rica, what was the first thing you noticed about the culture?

Alford — When we got there the most stressful part was in the airport, everyone wanted to take you somewhere even when we already had something booked. Then when we stopped to get food after leaving the airport, a local man offered to watch our car for $20. It was at that moment I knew that I needed to be more mindful of the fact that I was in a different country.

Culturs — Did you experience culture shock? How long did it take you to adjust?

Alford — So, the first week my family came with me. We made a vacation out of it so they could see where I’d be living and how we would communicate. As soon as we settled in, I bought a cell phone with minutes. Also, it was interesting that not everyone loves America. I was sheltered to this. It took a few months honestly to adjust to the culture shock, but it was so exciting at the same time.

Culturs — What was the hardest obstacle to overcome in becoming an expat?

Brittany Alford selfie with surfboard (Photo courtesy Brittany Alford)
Brittany Alford with her surfboard in Costa Rica (Photo courtesy Brittany Alford)

Alford — There were MANY obstacles for me. Learning the language was the biggest. Understanding the theft too, I was robbed multiple times. One time I was robbed I was left with no money, shoes or bike. It was petty theft, I never felt threatened, really. When my house got broken into that scared me but I was never hurt in the process. Learning how to travel on busses and how to get around cities I had never been too was also an obstacle I had to overcome. There were many more obstacles but another one was getting sick with Dengue. It’s a sickness you get from mosquitos, similar to malaria. I was so scared because there is no treatment and the medical treatment wasn’t very advanced. I gave my poor family grey hairs while I was away that year. I also got stuck at the border of Nicaragua with no money and had to hitch hike most of the way back. My life there was wild.

Alford and settling in

After soaking up the last bit of time with family for the next three months, Brittany was finally settling into her new life in Costa Rica. Since she was in Costa Rica to study Spanish and pass her last class, she was assigned a university in Samara. Through the university in Samara, she was assigned a “host family” that she would live with for the duration of her time in the country. Not knowing any Spanish, it was difficult adjusting to living with a family that she couldn’t easily communicate with.

Culturs — Tell me about your housing situation; did you rent an apartment, stay with someone?

Alford — I lived with a family for almost three months. When my family dropped me off at this strange family’s house that didn’t know any English, that when it really hit me. I really had no idea what I was getting into. They didn’t know how to say my name, “Brittany.” They called me Christina, my first name because it was easier for them to say!

Culturs — Describe a typical day in your life while living in Costa Rica.

Alford — When I was still in school, I would wake up, have breakfast with the family and spend the day at school. When the school day was over, I would go surf at the beach for hours on end. That was my escape.

Read Part 1 of Alford’s story here. Check out Part 3 tomorrow!

Brittany Alford with friends (Photo courtesy Brittany Alford)
Brittany Alford with her local Costa Rican friends (Photo courtesy Brittany Alford)
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