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Shared Space

Everyone knows about the college dorm experience: shoving a year’s worth of clothing, shoes, cleaning supplies, and ramen noodles cartons into already cramped quarters that you then must share with another person. I considered myself an experienced college girl when I flew to Costa Rica, ready to begin my semester abroad, but I was also dreading sharing space with another person again. This was my year to become independent, albeit under the house rule of a Tican mother, and I at least wanted my own space.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that in Costa Rica, bedrooms are considered very personal places where others seldom trespass. Though my room may have looked small, I thought it would be a nice, private place for me to be alone when I need to focus. Plus, it would give me a sense of normalcy and independence while having a roommate would make me feel like I was eight and sharing a room with my sister again.

There was a dresser to store my clothes, notebooks, and other miscellaneous items, a desk at which I can use my laptop, a bed in which I can sleep. Really, what more do I need?

 A panorama of my room. It's approximately 10 feet by 10 feet.

And in the weeks since I first saw the simple space that would be my only personal space in a culture of close conversation, cheek kisses, and carefree embraces, I realized that I didn’t need that space for more than storage, studying, and sleeping. Without a window to the outside world in my bedroom and with a house without much space to move, I craved sunlight and was compelled to travel to other places like the CEA San José office, the Universidad Veritas, Mango Park, and a local café. I began to use the kitchen at CEA’s office, I bought a membership to a gym that is only a few minutes’ walk from my Tico family’s house, I attended a few free film showings at Veritas, and I located the closest supermarkets for grocery shopping. My world was expanding by the day as soon as I got out of the house.
 Our first cultural encounter at the welcome day at Veritas.

At this time of year in Wisconsin, I would probably be holed-up in my dorm room, surfing Tumblr or taking notes on the tomes that my professors call “textbooks.” I would be working on homework all weekend and worrying about the next test. I would whine it’s too cold, go straight from school to work to home over and over again without thinking I should do anything more.

That is why it’s taken me nearly a month to realize that I live in Costa Rica now. Now, but not forever. It’s warm, it’s beautiful, and it’s bursting with life for me to explore. I can travel with friends, I can talk with Ticos, I can swim in oceans, I can create stories of my own through what I choose to do and not just what happens by chance. The internet has always made me happy, because it modifies my routine life, gives me something different to see every day.

But since I moved to a different country—a change that I thought would be my wake-up call to loving life while living in paradise— I still found it easy to lose myself inside the Internet. Maybe I didn’t want to lose touch with those back in the States, or maybe I didn’t want to face the big changes that come with being somewhere new and unknown. Whatever the reason, I wasn’t fully appreciating this world…until now.

 On my first excursion with Tico Viajero to Montezuma and Curú. This is my kayak buddy, Katie.

Since I’ve begun going on more excursions and seeing more that Costa Rica has to offer, I’ve found it harder to concentrate on a digital life. It might be because it’s so difficult to get good Wi-Fi reception, or because doing something new every day becomes addicting, but whatever the reason, I’ve learned that you can make anywhere your home: you can be comfortable there (with your own room and everything!), but you can also be too comfortable there.

Your personal space is important, but the shared space—the big world outside your window—is the most important. You have to remember that every place you live is temporary: the people are temporary, the sights are temporary, the experiences are temporary, but once you choose to do something, the memories will last forever.

Gabriella Cisneros is the Fall 2015 CEA MOJO in San José, Costa Rica. She is currently a sophomore at UW-Milwaukee.

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