Interpersonal Relationships; Lessons Learned in Costa Rica, Part I

There’s something about being in a foreign country that exaggerates the good and bad of interpersonal relationships; perhaps we make crazier decisions or maybe we see their impact more clearly in unfamiliar situations.  Whatever it is, I feel I’ve learned a lot of the type of lessons that can’t be taught, only experienced.

  • I have a core group of essential people in my life.  I’ve never sorted this out for myself before, but being separated from literally everyone I have ever met in my life without the chance of seeing them no matter how much I want to has clarified it for me.  These are the people I know will never fade from my life, no matter how far away our roads run.  I care about and love other people, but my mother, father, sister, and best friend form an intimate part of who I am, and being separated them sometimes hurts in an almost physical way.
  • Relationships take more time to build than I thought.  I’ve always thrown myself into friendships without thinking about “building” anything; it’s something that happens organically and takes its own time.  However, being faced with a deadline of separation, whether it be ten months or ten days away, means that I–and potential friends–automatically calculate whether a friendship is worth it.  It has made it hard to hang out with people who weren’t either conveniently around me (i.e. in my classes or family) or completely worth the effort.  I think this is one reason it’s been so hard for us exchange students to connect with Ticos.  Given a few months, the foreigners always leave, and it’s almost like we never existed.
  • Relationships take less time to build than I thought.  In my travels, I have met a plethora of people I only spent a couple of days with; turns out it takes very little time to recognize and connect with people who are worth knowing.  I met a handful of people who I immediately became friends with and wish I had the opportunity to spend more time with.  Unfortunately, they all live a few states, countries, or an ocean away.  Maybe one day.
  • Outsiders are often the most willing to reach out.  I usually have the ability to integrate myself into groups fairly easily since I’m social and outgoing by nature.  I now understand how it is for shy people, because the language/culture barrier made it almost impossible for me to enter a group without someone reaching out to me.  Sometimes no one reached out, but the times someone did, it was often someone who didn’t fit in completely either, for whatever reason.
  • Girl friends should be valued so much more than they are.  At home, I have a lot of guy friends, but my closest friends are girls.  Here, most of my friends ended up being guys, and I don’t really like the arrangement.  Sure, inter-gender friendships are fun and exciting, but they’re often more complicated and draining.  I read somewhere that good girl-girl friendships make for good life but boring TV because they tend to be consistent and positive, and relatively conflict-free.  Close girl friends provide a steady support for the rest of out crazy conflict-ridden lives, whereas close guy friends, romantic relationships, and family issues provide the riveting turbulence.  So, although my instinct upon meeting new people is to scout out the interesting guys, I’ve had enough turbulence to last me a while.
  • Actions have consequences and I can’t force someone to do what I want.  I’m a relatively conflict-free and agreeable person, but like I said, my life here has be full of turbulence.  Also, I’ve been stripped of my power to manipulate the world around me using words, and I realize people will believe what they believe and do what they want, regardless of what I want them to believe or do.  You would think I would have learned this around elementary-school age, but I guess the stakes weren’t high enough.  It took losing a couple of people who mean a lot to me to wake me up, and it’s a lesson I wish I hadn’t had to learn the hard way.
  • Not all strangers are potential friends.  Luckily I had no specific serious experiences to teach me this, but I’m afraid I’ve become a tad more cynical about strangers.  I’m used to being open to the world and greeting people with a smile and sometimes a greeting–hello, I’m Southern.  Here, though, I got enough catcalls and stares that male strangers became more of a potential danger than potential friends.  I learned to avert my eyes and ignore people I passed on the street and examine the motives of any male who befriended me.
  • Every human is flawed, which makes for a beautiful world-wide puzzle.  Flaws are easier to see in an unfamiliar context, in myself and in others.  They make people combine and repel each other in unpredictable ways and provide the human lucha, the struggle or fight for what is right and pure, good and ideal.

After a year spent fighting for every word, or sitting back and observing when I couldn’t find the words, I’m interested in how my hard-won lessons will manifest when I’m comfortable and back in my own culture.

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