By Cailin Hodgins Guentz, San José
There's so much to plan for once you've made the excellent decision to study abroad, especially in regards to packing. It's essential to strike the balance between packing light and having enough clothes to get by. This struggle becomes all the more complicated if you, like me, are plus size. It feels weird writing a blog about being plus sized. I wear a size 14/16 or XL and find that I can shop in both the women's department and plus size department in most US stores. While clothes shopping can be a little annoying, I can generally find well fitting clothes. So in packing for my study abroad trip, I didn't really think twice about packing just the bare minimum, and planned to buy more clothes in Costa Rica. That was a bad choice. Learn from my mistake, even if you're not plus size in the US, you still could be in Latin America. Plus sizes or "tallas grandes" start at about size 10/12 here. Also consider that most of the clothing here runs a bit short and is meant to be tight. Most stores don't have a plus size department, but some have a smattering of racks in larger sizes. It's not much help to ask the staff if they sell tallas grandes, because they will say yes every time, including at stores that don't sell anything larger than an 8. It happened to me, more than once. The joys of living in an indirect society.
So how can you be proactive about this and make you trip more body loving, and less fashion industry hating? First, I would recommend bringing enough clothing from home to get you by for your trip. Especially swimsuits, as they are particularly hard to find in plus sizes. I did not do this and ended up laughing my way out of every swimwear store after seeing their supposedly extra large bikini tops. If you find yourself in the same position as me and you need to buy clothes in Latin America, there are a few things you can do to make the shopping experience less horrific. Make sure you have plenty of time to shop, at least 2 to 3 hours. I recommend going in almost every store and checking out the situation. Remember that sizes are completely arbitrary and mean literally nothing. I tried on a 2XL top in 2 different stores, one wouldn't even go over my shoulders and the other was too big. Something might be marked as a size that you wouldn't normally wear, either too big or too small, but it might still fit you! Hold it up and gauge the size, style, and material. I've found items marked with the dreaded one-size-fits-all that have fit me as well as jeans 4 sizes bigger than I wear at home. Keep your zen! Have a good sense of humor and keep calm while shopping. You're in a strange land and more so than ever things are going to be weird.
My final bit of advice for plus size ladies studying abroad is to take fashion risks! In Costa Rica especially, people are generally much more body positive. You will see other plus size women in the streets rocking super skinny jeans, crop tops and everything else you could possible imagine. If you're used to hiding in your clothes, now would be a good time to try something new. No one is going to call you our for not having the right body type. And people will probably be staring at you anyways. Why not be fierce?
Cailin Hodgins Guentz is the Spring 2015 CEA MOJO Blogger in San José, Costa Rica. She is currently a Senior at University of Wisconsin - La Crosse.
Read more about our CEA Content Creators.