A Costa Rican Christmas Season

Katie Kitchen ’14 spent the second half of this year in Costa Rica. She tells her story about what it was like and how her friends prepared for the holidays.

(See the original story Inspired to Teach in Costa Rica here: http://live-thomas-more-university-moreover.pantheonsite.io/?p=838)


Without having to wait until after Thanksgiving to get focused on Christmas, Costa Ricans can start preparing for “the most wonderful time of the year” even earlier than we do.

That’s one thing I marveled at during my recent experience of living abroad in Costa Rica.

I also enjoyed the cultural experience of seeing friends take part in their holiday traditions, such as making tamales – to sell or to bring them to family gatherings, which often take place at the beach. Kids from the school where I taught and friends from my basketball team told me that Christmas is a time to head to the beach and enjoy the warm weather. To me, this was crazy – they don’t associate Christmas with cold or snow! They celebrate the holidays during their hottest weather of the year. It was hard for it to feel like Christmas for me, even with the snowmen, reindeer, Santa, and Christmas lights that were displayed around town.

One that that was very familiar, however, was that the holiday season is all about family and togetherness. Costa Ricans are very close knit with their families. While playing on the basketball team, I observed that everyone’s family always came to support them, and I felt a bit left out. But it was heartwarming to experience the embrace as they each took me in as part of their family.  It really helped me to feel like Costa Rica was my home away from home.

Living abroad can be a difficult experience because it is so different. To say that life in Costa Rica was a complete culture shock would be a large understatement. Upon arriving there in July 2014, I quickly saw what my life was going to consist of for the next six months. No air conditioning, no car, no dish washer, no dryer, and the grocery store was a mile away. Quite different from the comforts of home!

Needless to say I knew life here wasn’t going to be easy, but this was what I wanted: living with the bare minimum for an extended period of time. Aside from all these struggles, it was definitely worth it, and I am so happy with my decision to travel back to Costa Rica after my first trip.

Some things that I experienced in Costa Rica were some of the most amazing things I have ever encountered. The country is ecologically diverse, yet simplistically beautiful – it was breath-taking! From seeing crystal blue water beaches, to breathing in the air of the rainforest, to standing at the very top of a volcano. I was in awe!

Katie with her teammates

Katie with her teammates

As far as my experience of playing basketball in Costa Rica, it was great to have this experience in addition to teaching at the school. Although it was a professional team, players were not paid. We actually won the Costa Rican national championship, which was very special and a memory I will definitely cherish forever.

Katie with students in Costa Rica.

Katie with students in Costa Rica.

Here’s a glimpse into my typical work day in Costa Rica. I arrive at the school around 7:15 and worked in each of the three classrooms throughout the week. I would assist with assignments, sometimes substitute teach if needed, and work with the kids who needed extra help. I would assist the kids who struggled with test taking and other aspects of learning to ensure that they were not behind.

As the work day drew to a close around 1:15, I would then go to basketball practice (which was a few times a week). It was very difficult to find transportation since I did not have a car and my other teammates lived 45-60 minutes away. So, I took the bus to San Jose then had a friend meet me there for a 30 minute ride to practice.

My Spanish fluency improved greatly while I lived abroad. My basketball coach barely spoke any English so I was forced to become more advanced with my Spanish at practices and games. The kids at school and most of the girls on my basketball team were bilingual, which made things easier.

Not many teachers can say that they taught students in a foreign country. Teaching at the school was a job that I looked forward to every day. It was never the same, with first graders you never know what your going to get – you always have to be on your toes!

I became very attached to the kids and leaving them was one of the hardest things I have ever done. It was hard to think that I was in their life for such a short yet meaningful time, yet I will not be there to see them grow up. I will always keep them in my heart , and I was happy that I got to wish them a Merry Christmas before I left!