CISABROAD BLOG · October 25, 2018 · 5 Min Read
Pre-Departure Jitters & the “Pura Vida” Life | Student Blog from Costa Rica
Guest Author: Meghan Herrick | Semester in Costa Rica - Universidad Veritas | Spring 2018 | Plymouth State University

Costa Rica for me has been the experience of a lifetime. I no longer wonder why Costa Rica is one of the happiest countries on earth. As a well-traveled person, I would highly recommend Costa Rica to anyone who wants the best experience of their life.


Although I’ve been abroad alone many times before, I’m still hit with the same dreadful feeling (aka Costa Rica pre-departure jitters) every time I leave for the airport.

The feeling of a thousand bricks in your chest, the feeling of uneasiness that nags at you constantly. It is the most terrible and exciting feeling in the world. The feeling of embarking on a new adventure a new experience that had endless opportunities.

But the anxiety still settles comfortably. My flight left at 5 a.m., and to say “I didn’t get a wink of sleep” would be an understatement. And the negative 20 degrees Fahrenheit wind chill did not help my motivation as I walked to the car with my heart racing at the speed of light. I couldn’t even eat breakfast.

But the feeling subsided the instant I stepped on the plane thanks to the help of a very friendly seatmate. From that point on, my 5-hour flight only became more and more exciting.

I couldn’t wait to be in Costa Rica.

costa rica pre-departure jitters
Museum Plaza in San José

It was my first time in San José, but my second time in the country. I was excited because I’d already had a taste of the “Pura Vida” lifestyle before going on my CISabroad program. This is one of the most beautiful countries in the world and I expected nothing less on my second, and much longer, stay.

My professors and classmates have always talked up what it’s like to experience Latin American culture.

As a Spanish major, the majority of my professors are either from or have lived in Latin America. I have always been told that Costa Rica is different from other Latin American countries due to little Spanish influence and a very peaceful history. Because it is an extremely environmentally-conscious country, I expected recycling and compost bins everywhere. The country is also relatively small, which I thought meant that travel would be easy. But the infrastructure is still developing, so it takes a little longer than I would have expected to get to the beaches.

costa rica pre-departure jitters

San José is a beautiful city.

Because San José is a large city in addition to being the country’s capital, I expected it to be a dirty and oversized metropolis, but it is much different. The city is clean and relatively small. It is very fun to explore and has many unique features.

The beach is about an hour and a half from San José so its easy to hop on the bus after class on a Friday and stay for the weekend. Everything in Costa Rica is very cheap except sunscreen which I think they laugh at how much profit they make off of those of us with light skin from sunscreen!

All in all, my Costa Rica predeparture jitters were a mix of excitement and anxiety that were intense, but worth it for all the amazing adventures I have had in Costa Rica.

My homestay experience

The people are so hospitable. I feel like they are just friendly neighbors I’ve known forever. And the food is so simple, but so flavorful. In between meals, I cannot wait until my next because I know my mama Tica will cook something super delicious.

costa rica pre-departure jitters

I think the homestay was the only option for a true exchange and, with it, I have had the experience of a lifetime. Living with a family is a different more pure and direct way of experiencing the culture. You meet so many amazing people along the way and, who knows, you might just decide to stay!

costa rica pre-departure jitters

The “Pura Vida” lifestyle is one I will never forget and I have embraced since the second I arrived.

Even before I got here people would ask me what the “Pura Vida” life meant to me, and to some extent, I didn’t know what to say. Coming from the United States, a culture that runs faster-than-light, it’s hard to say if I would have ever understood if I had not come here.

It’s hard to explain the culture here because it truly needs to be experienced firsthand. I will admit it was very hard to adjust to at first. This slower more relaxed lifestyle is one that I have never felt before.

Signs you’re experiencing Pura Vida:

1. Your professor is late to class.

From the first day, my teacher arrived 30 minutes late with no apology and continued to arrive 15+ minutes late for the rest of the semester. No one was upset, but we were perplexed.

Universidad Veritas
costa rica pre-departure jitters
Classroom space at Universidad Veritas

2. The bus schedule exists but isn’t followed at all.

The Costa Rican public bus experience is one for the books! Everyone should definitely try it, as it is a good way to practice Spanish and meet many new travelers along the way. Often the bus would arrive late, but I usually got where I needed to go in plenty of time.

costa rica pre-departure jitters

3. The people walk more relaxed, like they have all the time in the world.

All these little things made me step back and really think. Why do we need to always rush things?

costa rica pre-departure jitters

At first, I was impatient but, after 9 weeks here, I have mellowed out. I no longer rush my life I step back and try to enjoy everything. It’s been like continuous meditation for 9 weeks and I feel relieved and I feel aware. Its an atmosphere like no other and I am so thankful for every moment I have been here.

Ticos, (what Costa Ricans call themselves) are the happiest most relaxed group of people I have ever encountered and it is a pleasure to be able to live amongst them.


Hopefully, this post has cured you of your Costa Rica pre-departure jitters. Learn more about what your semester in Costa Rica could be like on the Semester in Costa Rica program page.

If you’ve still got questions or are ready to apply, the lovely folks in our Global Advising Center are happy to help.

The CISabroad blog is run by Zoë Crabtree, Jenn Weisgerber, Siobhan Tripp, Emily Negard, and more folks on our marketing team. Head over to the “Meet the Team” page to learn more about us as individuals. On the blog, we share student-written content and information for students, advisors, other study abroad professionals, and families of students studying abroad. Check out our Facebook and Instagram for more from us and our students!