Friendships in Costa Rica
I am a 23-year-old Deaf woman. I grew up on a ranch in southwestern Montana and am currently a student at the University of Montana in Missoula. This summer I participated in a Mobility International USA (MIUSA) program designed to develop leadership, motivation and friendships between Americans and Costa Ricans.
Our delegation included 12 delegates with different types of disabilities from different states in addition to three exchange leaders and two American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters. I could not have fulfilled my goal of learning about disability rights in Costa Rica without the help of the ASL interpreters, group leaders and the other delegates. Together we realized that we share common problems and that we can work together to solve these problems in the future. As a result of this experience, I found that I truly enjoy communicating with and helping others.
There are 3.4 million people living in Costa Rica and I was amazed to learn that there are only 8 Lengua de Señas Costarricense (LESCO) interpreters in a country that includes 44,000 Deaf people. LESCO is the sign language of Costa Rica. It was amazing to discover which signs in LESCO and ASL have similar hand movements. I’ll never forget when a group of delegates, ASL interpreters and I went to McDonald’s in San Jose for a ritual Friday night gathering of the Deaf community. I was surprised to see more than 100 people signing in the warm night air. LESCO is different than ASL but I understood most of the people I signed with by watching their signs, body language and gestures. That night I learned that all it takes is patience and openness to develop lasting friendships with Costa Ricans.
A key component of our cross-cultural experience was time spent with homestay families. My homestay family was wonderful – it was like having a second family. My homestay sister was a 12-year-old Deaf student named Rebeca. Rebeca’s foster mom is proficient in LESCO and Rebeca often interpreted what I signed in ASL to LESCO. Then my host mother would tell other family members what I had said! It was fascinating to watch this process unfold and to know that they understood what I was saying. That did not, however, stop my family from teaching me Spanish! Rebeca and I had fun communicating with one another in ASL and LESCO and I learned to speak a little Spanish with my homestay parents. Much of this communication took place over dinner each evening when we feasted on rice, pinto beans, chicken or fish, fried plantains, bananas and fruit nectars. Each evening my dad gave Rebeca and I chocolate candy as well. My family took such joy in sharing things with me and I with them. In the mornings, I was treated to rich coffee sweetened with milk and sugar, homemade mango juice, bread and butter and banana, pineapple, watermelon, papaya and mango fresh from the market.
The last night with my homestay family was one of the most memorable nights of my stay in Costa Rica. Every Friday at Rebeca’s elementary school in Alajuela, hearing and Deaf parents and their Deaf children get together for Deaf Bingo! The room was full of families having fun and they were surprised and excited to meet Rebeca’s new American sister. Her friends eagerly asked to know the ASL signs for animals and colors. The following evening we said farewell to Costa Rica and to our new families and friends. My family treated me like a well-loved daughter and sister and I will never forget them.
I feel lucky to have had an opportunity to learn about life in Costa Rica and that, as a Deaf woman, I am not alone.