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Living in Costa Rica during a pandemic

Living abroad during a pandemic can be challenging, especially when trying to create feelings of normalcy. This can be especially difficult for students because many of us have had to go back and forth between in person and virtual learning and be able to be flexible with situations that are always changing. At a time like this, studying abroad may not even seem like a very safe option since Covid severity levels vary depending on the country. I didn’t think I would even be in Costa Rica right now during a pandemic and I’m very thankful, although it hasn’t been the easiest transition with adjusting to new and different Covid restrictions.

Below I name some of the Covid protocols in Costa Rica. In the United States, many of these measures are also taken but mandates and enforcement vary depending what state or city you are in.

Use of masks

In public places throughout Costa Rica, in the various places I have visited, everyone is required to wear masks, both indoors and in all public spaces. One difference I’ve noticed is that the U.S. is a bit more lenient with mask mandates. In indoor places, it tends to be required, but outdoors, I have seen less people wearing them even if there are other people around. In Costa Rica, many people still wear masks outside if they are around larger groups of people. 

Temperature checks

Every morning before I walk into campus, which is mostly outdoors besides the building with classrooms, I have to have my temperature taken and get cleared to continue on if it’s normal. This also happens any time of day that I decide to leave campus and want to come back in.  This is not usually done where I live in the U.S., in Philadelphia. It didn’t take much to become used to it, but it was something different.

The main entrance to my campus where everyone must have their temperature checked and use hand sanitizer.
The main entrance to my campus where everyone must have their temperature checked and use hand sanitizer.

Hand sanitizer and hand washing

Use of hand sanitizer and hand washing is also enforced more regularly in Costa Rica. We must apply hand sanitizer before entering anywhere.  Once I enter my campus after having my temperature checked and using hand sanitizer, I must wash my hands before entering any building within the university, as all students and staff are required to do. Washing my hands in addition to just using hand sanitizer and having my temperature checked took some getting used to. In Philadelphia, in my experience, hand sanitizer is sometimes available, but you don’t need to put any on to enter public buildings. Typically, either one or the other was required, or neither one. But, I understand the precaution since it would be better to be as safe as possible rather than risking Covid being spread even more than it has. 

The building where all of my classes are held. There is a small sink right outside the front door for us to wash our hands before we enter.
The building where all of my classes are held. There is a small sink right outside the front door for us to wash our hands before we enter.

Business curfews

The hardest thing for me to get used to was probably the fact that every business must close by a certain time. When I first arrived, everything closed at 10pm, then was moved to 9pm about a month later. Right now, it was moved to 11pm. People are allowed to be outside after that time, but all businesses have to be closed. This includes the trains, buses, taxis, and Ubers. In Philadelphia, I didn’t have to worry about a curfew since there wasn’t one, let alone figuring out a way to get home. 

The curfew sometimes has added an extra bit of stress on my friends and I when we decide we want to go out, like to a restaurant for example. We have to make sure we are able to find transportation for everyone in our group early on enough before everything closes. While this has been a slight inconvenience, I have learned to live with it and make sure to follow the restrictions.

Overall, the changes I’ve had to live with between restrictions in Costa Rica versus the United States haven’t been very drastic. I am mostly thankful for the fact that I have the opportunity to be abroad during a difficult and unsure time. If anyone is unsure about going through the application process because of the pandemic, I would say to still try. I wasn’t as hopeful the second time I applied for my program because it was canceled the first time I tried to go. I’m still happy I went through with the whole process because I ended up being able to study abroad. In addition, I think the measures Costa Rica is taking have proven to be effective due to the fact that nobody in my program along with the staff has gotten Covid during my stay here so far. While the restrictions and health measures don’t prevent everyone from getting sick, they have allowed my program and I to stay healthy.

Read about another student’s experience living abroad in Korea during the pandemic.

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