My host family has graciously opened up their home to 23 female USAC students from three different countries since 2005. They learned about the USAC program and the possibility of sharing their home with foreign students from a neighbor that had a host student.
The Zarate family had two principle reasons for wanting to host. First and foremost my host parent’s love learning about different cultures, my host mom even lived in Japan for two years! Secondly, they wanted their shy daughters to be exposed to new cultures and new ways of thinking. Because, “we bring our personal histories to each intercultural interaction” (Martin and Nakayama, 2013, p. 153); as the family is teaching students about Costa Rican history, traditions, festivals, typical food, and the Spanish language they are learning about the students’ cultures as well. Learning things like; language, recipes, fashion, and games from the students homelands.
My host moms’ favorite part of the experience is hearing about where the students’ lives take them after their trip to Costa Rica. She got a big smile on her face when she was telling me about students who come back to visit her, send her email updates, or send her wedding invitations, and birth announcements.
I am proud to be honorary Zarate family member number 24 and look forward to keeping in contact with my host family through Facebook.
Many items that I see, taste, touch, and smell everyday are symbolically significant to different people for different reasons. Now that I have lived with my host family for almost three weeks I have begun to notice patterns that are symbolically significant and are deeply felt and sensed collectively by all six members of my family. Above is a picture of a red mixer. My host mom uses this mixer to mix batter for cakes that she sells at her father in laws hardware store. This mixer is symbolically significant to my family because it symbolizes teamwork and a desire to interact with family members. It symbolizes teamwork because everyone in the family has a job. My host mom buys all of the baking supplies, each of my host sisters is responsible for a different role in the process of preparing the cake batter, and my host father is responsible for delivering the cake to the store in the morning on his way to work. The mixer also symbolizes a desire to interact with family members. Sitting in the kitchen around the mixer is a time for the busy family of six to come together as a whole and share what they did during the day. According to Martin and Nakayama (2010) “To qualify as a cultural pattern, the activity must have the same symbolic significance for all members of the group; they must all find the activity meaningful in more or less the same way. Further, all participants must have access to the pattern of action.” This mixer is a definite cultural pattern because it holds the same symbolic significance for all members of the family. Everyone finds the activity meaningful in more or less the same way and everyone in the house has access to the mixer since it is centrally located in the kitchen.
History/ Past-Present/ Future Dialectic
“We need to realize that history has a significant impact on contemporary events.” (Martin and Nakayama, 2010, p. 79)
Every town has a past and that past has helped in shaping what it is in the present and what it will be in the future. For Puntarenas its past was a bright and prosperous one. The port of Puntarenas was developed in 1840 when coffee production reached exportable volumes. The port of Puntarenas was responsible for shipping coffee all around the world. Almost 40 years later in 1879 a railroad connected Puntarenas to the city of Esparza and eventually the railroad was extended in 1910 to connect to the city of San Jose. The railroad put the port of Puntarenas out of business and has left the town as more of an in between stop for tourists. The photo you see above is of the pier where about once a week a cruise ship will dock for a few days.
Today Puntarenas has a very relaxed environment which is desirable to tourists. When lounging on the beach it is not uncommon to meet someone from the United States or Canada stopping here on their way to Montazuma or Santa Theresa. Along the Paseo de Tourista there are bars and restaurants that are within a close walk of those getting off the cruise ships. Many of the restaurants have menus in English and Spanish to accommodate the many tourists that come through this town.
Puntarenas has a strong past and is in a transitional phase in the present. It is my belief that the future of Puntarenas is very bright because of the revitalization efforts.
Diversity is everywhere
What exactly is the definition of demographics? Demographics is “the characteristics of a population, especially as classified by race, ethnicity, age, sex, or income.” (Martin & Nakayama, 2010) One interesting thing about studying abroad is getting to experience the differences in age, sex, income, race, and ethnicity in another country. In Puntarenas there are different demographics in terms of age, sex and income, but not as many differences in race and ethnicity. Most of the Ticos are of Spanish decent and many of their families have been here for generations. When walking the streets I see lots of people with the same dark complexions, dark eyes, and dark hair color. However, there are a variety of different age groups and income levels. The difference in age groups can be observed anywhere you go in Puntarenas. The difference in income levels is most obvious to me by the houses that Tico families live in. Some of the houses are large and elaborate, with ceiling fans and internet access and have windows and gates, while other houses are very small and deteriorating with no windows or fans but instead depend on openings in the ceiling or walls for air circulation.
While studying the Demographic Imperative I have been subconsciously studying the Self Awareness Imperative as well. “The most important reasons for studying intercultural communications is the awareness it raises about our own cultural identity and background.” (Martin & Nakayama, 2010) This statement could not be truer, in the process of studying the diversity in Puntarenas I have come across some comparisons to the United States. Food is one of the things that I compare with the United States most. I am not sure why but every meal that I am fed here I try and relate it to a food that I eat in the states. For example yesterday I had “spaghetti con crème de hongo y pollo” but in my mind it was chicken fettuccini. In addition to finding things that are similar I have found several differences in the culture as well. The photo above is of my host mom and oldest host sister Isella, washing dishes. Isella is only one year older than I am and is spending her afternoon helping in the kitchen and learning how to be a good homemaker instead of going to school and getting an education. In the U.S. many young women are told that in order to be successful they must have a college education. In contrast, a successful life in Puntarenas for a young woman is knowing how to clean and prepare a meal. I respect both cultures and I am so thankful that I have taken advantage of the opportunity to experience both ways of life. This experience has helped me not to think about right versus wrong ways of life, but instead different ways of thinking and different priorities. American culture is not superior to that of Tico culture, it is just different and I am sure that I will learn a lot about myself during my time here.