Readings about Costa Rica
Take a look at some (at least three) of the following links about Costa Rica. I encourage you to compare and contrast the English and Spanish versions of the websites, especially the more developed Spanish Wikipedia article (if nothing else, it has more and better pictures!).
  • Wikipedia link - English, Español
  • CIA World Factbook link
  • National Geographic link
  • Instituto Costarricense de Turismo link
  • Costa Rican Embassy in Washington, D.C. link
  • U.S. Embassy in San José link

1. Each of the links above have a different author with different purposes and intended audiences while they all seek to portray Costa Rica to the world. Compare and contrast these perspectives in one (or more) of the following areas:
  • People, customs, traditions
  • Government, politics, international relations
  • Natural resources, ecology, tourism
  • Economy

2. Reflect on your mental image of Costa Rica after looking at these sources in light experiences you have had (including conversations with people, readings, or prior travel). What do you expect to find when you visit in an academic capacity? What is positive about Costa Rica? What is negative about Costa Rica?

Write your tasks below:

Amy Kilbridge

The sources seem to have different purposes and audiences. As far as I can tell, the Costa Rican Embassy in Washington D.C. and the U.S. Embassy in San Jose are good sources for information on relations between the U.S. Govt. and the Costa Rican Govt.
both sights highlight Obamas visit in may and the collective support for economic growth. The Instituto Costarricense de Turismo looks appeals to travelers with beautiful pictures of beaches and tourist attractions. National Geographic also appeals to travelers and highlights kayak trips, diving trips to Cocos Island and Rain forest trips.
The CIA World Fact Book is different from the other sights in that it mostly gives facts in percentages - at least the part that I looked at about People and culture. There are some interesting statistics on this page and I learned some things like the fact that Costa Rica has universal access to health care. On the Wikipedia site there were more details about the Health care system, which it says is ranked higher than the United States.
Of course I know that we can't always believe everything we read on Wikipedia but I like learning about things like "Pura Vida," or the good life and the fact that the literacy rate in Costa Rica is 94.9%.
I'm fascinated with the Nicoya Penninsula which was mentioned in Wiipedia and National Geographic. It's a Blue Zone where people commonly live active lives past 100 years old. That's sounds pretty positive to me. And the centenarians usually live with their families and feel useful. That makes sense.
There are so many other postive things: The fact that Costa Rica is a high performer on environmental sustainability. They have plans to be the first carbon neutral country by 2021. They have clean water, universal health care as I mentioned, beautiful flora and fauna, and friendly people. I'm not seeing many negatives. Maybe the Nicaraguans that come to Costa Rica as unskilled seasonal labor. I'm wondering if there are any issues of prejudice regarding the Nicaraguans? That would be something else to learn.

external image costa_rica.gif

Sharon:1. I reviewed the Wikipedia entry, CIA World Factbook, National Geographic, and Instituto Constarricense de Turismo sites on Costa Rica. The Nat Geo and ICT sites both feature Costa Rica’s amazing natural beauty and ecological diversity. Nat Geo also has some interesting articles about longevity, which is appropriate given Costa Rica’s life expectancy of 76. Tourism is CR’s primary foreign exchange earner, and the ICT site provides a lot of detail for prospective visitors. It also features sustainability, though there is not a lot of detail about these programs on this site. Information about other aspects of the country, such as its economy, is sparse on these two sites.
The CIA website provides overviews on every aspect of the country, from its economy to politics to demographics. It is targeted at people who want data and facts about the country, and it lacks the eco-tourism spin of the first two sites I reviewed. However, this is a great site to explore with regards to the MDGs. While CR’s population is still primarily employed in the agricultural sector, I was curious about the high-tech industries moving into CR and the changing role in the economy of its cash crops. Also discussed on this site was the issue of migration from neighboring Nicaragua. I am eager to see how migration into the country and rural to urban migration is impacting CR’s cities and social welfare systems.
Wikipedia is amazing in the level of detail that it contains about CR. I was impressed with the diversity of perspectives represented on the site. While the other three sites have a consistency of approach, Wikipedia’s pages were more detailed, cited, and comprehensive.

2. I have never been to Central America, but I have students from Costa Rica at UWC and have friends who have travelled there. I am approaching this trip with very few preconceptions, but with a great deal of curiosity.
I think that Costa Rica’s choice to invest in social welfare and development over a military has led to a more peaceful contemporary history, and that seems to have formed a national identity that differs from its neighbors. How much has this decision permeating into the average citizen’s worldview?
It is clear that the nation is working hard to protect its forests and rich biodiversity and to attract foreign investment. What is the impact (positive and negative) of eco-tourism on the local communities?
The challenges of poverty and inequity, immigration, and uneven economic development must be straining. Balancing development in different regions of the country, particularly urban – rural takes time. How well are expectations being met? I am familiar with rural poverty in India – what will it look like in Costa Rica? How are indigenous communities faring as the country develops?
Finally, I am always curious about gender issues. I am somewhat familiar with roles, issues in Mexico. I think that they will be different in Costa Rica, but will be interested to learn more.

1. I browsed through all of the websites last week trying to figure out what I wanted to discuss. Did you guys read anything about President Obama's visit to Costa Rica? I didn't realize the president of Costa Rica was a woman. I found this article which I thought was really interesting. Okay, back to the task, the overwhelming point to me from all the sites was that Costa Rica provides some of the world's best ecotourism. It is clearly well-known for its environmental sustainability. It was ranked 5th in the world on the Environmental Performance Index, while the U.S. was only ranked 49th in 2012. I didn't like the CIA website because it didn't have much description. From the Nat Geo website, there are tons of adventure trips that would be so cool! This website has tons of amazing pictures and neat trips for tourists. These links made Costa Rica seem very safe for tourists, which is what any tourism website would want. When I clicked some of the links on the US Embassy in CR, it was clear tourists should never leave their luggage out of sight, should not carry passports, but rather passport copies and tourists shouldn't exercise or be out alone (which, I was hoping I could run in the early morning!). Of course, tourists should always be cautious, so I don't think that information was alarming.

2. Everyone I have talked to absolutely rave about Costa 'Rica. A science teacher at my school worked with turtles for a month and and had an amazing experience. Some friends have gone to resorts and a coworker's daughter lived there for a few years. I've heard it's extremely hot, but absolutely beautiful. I think the positives Costa Rica offers are the environment, friendly people/rich culture, great food, and political stability. Some of the negatives are the poverty and economic gaps. I am so excited to learn more about Costa Rica and share it with others!

Nicole1. I explored the National Geographic website and the Wikipedia article. The National Geographic article has great pictures and is geared primarily to people who like to travel and seek adventure. The Wikipedia article has a more general audience and is focused on giving general information, history, and background on Costa Rica. Overall, both websites present Costa Rica in a positive light and mention tourism as an important part of the country. The fact that the country does not have a standing army is a fact mentioned in the brief National Geographic write-up because it conveys the peaceful nature of the country – a huge draw for tourists seeking a safe travel destination. The Wikipedia article focuses first on the history of the country and ends with the cultural component. This shows the audience of Wikipedia is more focused on education, rather than exploration. Overall, pictures are the selling point of any website (for me at least!) and I loved the pictures provided by the National Geographic site. I would love to partake in their adventures as well as see a jaguar!
2. Currently I have a student in my Spanish II class that moved to the United States from Costa Rica three years ago. She is still working on her English but she has been my star student in Spanish class all year! She is a very positive example of Costa Ricans because she is such a hard-working, sweet, respectful girl. She has shared with me a little bit about her family, background, and life in Costa Rica and I am grateful that she has been in my class this year. Her family has its own brand of coffee which I hope to see while I am down there! I have always wanted to travel to Costa Rica because of the diversity in the landscape and the possibility for adventure – specifically zip-lining! I truthfully had never thought about Costa Rica in the academic light until becoming a part of this GPA program. I am eager to witness firsthand what life is like for ticos/ticas and see what Pura Vida really means. I envision their academics as more advanced than what I experienced in Honduras, but I am curious if their emphasis on culture, community, and the arts is as prominent. I do not know if Costa Rica has ever been associated with anything negative in my experience and perhaps this trip shall challenge that. Nevertheless, I have expectations that our trip to Costa Rica will show a country further developed than Honduras and Guatemala but I am curious to see its comparisons with Panama and Belize, which seemed more developed than some of their neighbors.

1. I looked at these sites to gather information specifically about the people, customs and traditions. The most notable aspect of the "People and Society" page on the CIA's World Factbook website is that it is, as the name implies, extremely fact oriented. Focusing only on the statistics, it functions well for a student writing a formal paper simply describing the demographics of the nation; however, it offers little insight into the character of the country and its people. For example, I now know that 16.6% of 15-24 year-olds are considered unemployed, but I know nothing of what those young adults may be doing with their time or what style of life they maintain. The website for the State Department (linked to from the site for the Embassy of the United States in Costa Rica) does seem to focus less on statistics and more on information for travelers. This information all seems to take the form of warnings and advisories, describing problems with crime, traffic issues, etc. This does provide more knowledge into the country, but once again hardly describes the character of the country or its traditions and customs (meanwhile offering a singularly negative perspective of the nation). The Visit Costa Rica website takes the opposite perspective, trying to achieve the goal of drawing tourists to the country; as a result, it also does not focus particularly much on customs, but rather primarily on attractions and exotic pictures. The page that I found most useful (though whose accuracy I cannot guarantee as much as that of the CIA's page, for example) in terms of people, customs and traditions would be the Wikipedia page, which describes things such as the 'Pura Vida' attitude, the educational system, and art.

2. My mental image of Costa Rica originates from three primary sources:
  • Stories my mother has told me about living in Costa Rica when she was younger: Her father worked for a fruit company, so his work involved living in Costa Rica, Honduras and other Latin American countries.
  • My own personal visit to Costa Rica when I was in 10th grade: Although my trip was primarily as a tourist (staying at an Ecolodge along the Pacuare River and a hotel near Arenal), we also visited the city of Limon where my mother had lived.
  • Research I performed in high school for projects in my history and Spanish classes: For example, I wrote a paper for my Spanish class about Oscar Arias and the lack of a military in Costa Rica, and did a presentation on relations between Costa Rica and the United States throughout the past century.
Everything I have learned about the country has been extremely positive. I am excited to visit the country in a more academic position (and with a slightly more mature perspective) so as to gain a different sort of knowledge than I had previously been exposed to. I hope to learn more about both its positive (perhaps the quality of education) and negative (crime, as suggested by the website for the State Department) aspects and how they relate to the Millennium Development Goals with the hope of being able to incorporate this new knowledge into my future classroom.

1. I skimmed all of the sites, but focused on the Spanish and English Wikipedia sites and the U.S. Embassy in D.C.
  • I read the English Wikipedia entry first, and found many answers/explanations for the thoughts I shared in Question 2. The English Wikipedia site seemed to portray Costa Rica as a politically stable, peaceful country that is unique in comparison with other Latin American countries. The Spanish version of the Wikipedia site seemed to portray similar things, though more details were provided in every category, especially concerning the indigenous and political history of the country. The Spanish version did seem more vocal and ‘proud’ (and they should be!) of the spots CR has secured on international rankings/indexes. The U.S. Embassy site seems to prep nervous Americans for travel to CR by highlighting the safety/peacefulness, political stability, and natural beauty of CR. Highlighting these topics on the ‘About Costa Rica’ page sounds like successful tourist marketing to me!
2. I have to be honest: I don’t have much of a mental image of Costa Rica.
  • I live on the Jersey shore, and now and again I hear people say the surfing is really excellent in CR, so I picture beaches. I’ve also heard from a bird-watching customer at my diner that the eco-tourism industry is well-established…so I imagine a booming, environmentally-friendly, tourist-friendly country. Finally, an autistic student I had 3 years ago was obsessed with the Quetzal…the national bird of Guatemala…but I’ve heard you can find them in CR as well! So I also picture quetzales =)
  • In studying the Culture and Literature of Latin America, both in the states and abroad, I don’t think I ever read about Costa Rica. I can’t name famous Costa Rican artists, writers, actors, or politicians. I took several Colonial & Latin American history classes, yet I know nothing of the conquest of Costa Rica, her indigenous people, or how Costa Rica gained independence. In studying contemporary issues in Latin America, I’ve studied coups d’état, land struggles, forced disappearances, civil wars, indigenous movements, political unrest, etc…but these issues were never discussed in relation to Costa Rica. It makes me think that Costa Rica has ‘laid low’ historically…and experienced a degree of peaceful prosperity in recent years. (my mental picture, it may not be true!)
  • This is not to say that Costa Rica does not have amazing artists, or a rich history, or contemporary struggles. It’s just that Costa Rica was largely ignored in my Spanish Literature and Culture undergrad program…and I am ignorant on the subject…something I hope to fix before our trip and during our trip! While visiting in an academic capacity, I am looking forward to learning about the history and culture from the ticos themselves…and I hope to raise awareness for Costa Rican culture beyond surfing and tourism (my mental picture)

1. I explored the sites from both the American Embassy in San Jose and the Costa Rican Embassy in Washington D.C, as well as Wikipedia’s English and Spanish Version, and every other site listed. No, I’m not an overachiever; I just wanted to find out as much as I could about the country. National Geographic, Instituto Costarricense, and the Costa Rican Embassy offer insight into the natural environment, culture and points of interest. The authors of these sites portray Costa Rica as a paradise of natural beauty and harmony. In contrast,the American Embassy and Cia World Factbook provide facts and details that establish a real-world perspective of life in the country. During my cursory investigation, despite varying viewpoints, I did not uncover contradictory information. Case in point: the first group of sites I mentioned contained beautiful pictures and verbose descriptions. The latter group of sites use facts presented in a straightforward manner, but when interpreted still reveal an amazing country (compare your mental images of the pictures I referenced to the descriptions in the “Demographic Profile” at this link of the CIA Factbook.).

2. Over the years, I have cultivated a positive image of Costa Rica primarily based on insight from Costa Rican friends and students. I used to tell everyone that I planned to retire there because it was the safest, friendliest and most beautiful country Spanish-speaking country. I still admire the country, but wonder about human rights, especially for women and children as well as socio-economic issues that compromise quality of life.

I am thrilled that I have the opportunity to see first-hand everything that I have been told and I look forward to learning more and establishing a new and deeper perspective through my experiences this summer.

1. I thought all of the websites gleaned interesting and helpful information, and it was useful to me to be able to skim through all of them in one sitting to be able to compare how differently they presented the information. I was interested to find the difference between the Spanish and English versions of the Wikipedia sites. Having skimmed through the Spanish site, I found that it focused much more on the history of Costa Rica and important historical figures; whereas, the English version contained more information regarding the current demographics and ways of life. The CIA World Factbook website was very well organized and easy to sift through, however, organized in a way that would be beneficial for a student writing a research paper on Costa Rica looking for hard facts. I preferred the National Geographic site to the rest because I am a very visual learner and being able to see the pictures of the landscape and place it with a bit of information was an easier way for me to gather the information. I felt that all of the websites portrayed Costa Rica in a positive light, but the tourist websites expertly represented the aesthetic appeal of the country. Hopefully we can go to La Fortuna Waterfall!

2. What little information I have of Costa Rica has stemmed from the Spanish Intern that is working with me this semester. He traveled to Costa Rica for a high school Spanish trip and became very close with the host family with which he stayed. He has gone down to visit them a few times since high school and has nothing but positive things to say about the landscape of Costa Rica and the hospitality of the people. I knew from pictures that it was a beautiful country rich in biodiversity, but I did not realize the capacity with which the country has worked to try to maintain and preserve their unique landscape. My intern has mentioned that when he went down to Costa Rica he observed the classroom where his host mother taught and said that the resources for the students and the condition of the school were poor, so I am eager to see if this has improved since his visits and if this is the norm in other areas of Costa Rica. I also loved reading about the “Pura Vida” slogan and way of life, and I am really looking forward to experiencing this firsthand.


1. All of the websites above were helpful in learning more about Costa Rica from several different viewpoints. I browsed each site and noted some key observations from each source. I began with Wikipedia for the general overview. The English version of the Wikipedia page is far more basic than the Spanish version. The Spanish version goes into much more depth about the different periods in history of Costa Rica (much of which was new for me). It also give much more depth on culture and includes more modern culture including the arts/sports and other entertainment. Both did mention the 2012, 1st place rating on the Happy Planet Index and their efforts to lower the overall ecological footprint of the country. The two pages convey the biodiversity of Costa Rica and the emphasis on conservation.
A common thread linking all the pages is the presence of quality of life. (I will be excited to experience some of the "Pura Vida" this summer)
A few of the pages note the army being abolished in 1949. The money saved has contributed to the advancements in social welfare. I learned that the literary rate is 95% and that public education is in the constitution. According to the Costa Rica Embassy in Washington, D.C., Costa Rica is ranked 32 in the world in terms of education and is the highest in Latin America. Along with education, health and life expectancy have improved drastically over the last 40 years. The same sight actually had a video promoting medical tourism as their health care options are more affordable with a high level of quality and state of the art facilities.

According to the CIA World Factbook, there are between 300,000-500,000 immigrants (both legal and illegal) from Nicaragua who are seeking out the social welfare offerings of Costa Rica. This would be comparable to the U.S. and Mexico and would be interesting to explore this parallel more. I found it very interesting to see the video and read some of the press release of Obama in Costa Rica with President Laura Chincilla. It was interesting to hear about the shared values of democracy, freedom and human rights. I will have to read more in depth, however, at a glance, many of the shared values deal with global development and align with the MDGs we will be studying this summer.
Lastly, the National Geographic and the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo were much more centered on tourism (a huge part of the economy in CR). These two really help capture the paradise that is Costa Rica (beaches, rain forests, volcanos and wildlife). These sites did highlight the sustainability factor and the numerous ecotourism offerings. My favorite site was the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo as it was well organized with drop down menus, travel tips and a variety of visual and multimedia componets. I actually printed of some for the brochures and handouts for my students and a colleague traveling with students this summer! Very helpful from a travelers perspective and educational for first time travelers! If you haven't, check out the 360 feature under Multimedia. There are some great posters for your classrooms too! Teachers love freebees! ;)

2. My mental picture is a ecological paradise! It seems like a beautiful country. It sounds like people value the earth and have made tremendous efforts to preserve ecosystems. With nearly 1/4 of the country protected, it has to be gorgeous. I realized that the country is fairly politically and economically sound and that this has lead to great advances in business, technology and health. I was very impressed by the social welfare offering of the country and the quality of life . This has to be appealing to people struggling in less developed nations and I'm sure the illegal immigration has a strain on the social welfare system.
I spent time kind of analyzing the “overview” or “introduction” information of each site – which I feel says a lot about the intent and purpose of each site. I then proceeded to compare their portrayals of the government and international relations. I noticed with the over view that both the Instituto Costarrocense de Turismo and the National Geographic sites were trying to just draw in visitors, since tourism is the country’s main source of income. That being said, they always made it a point to mention the political peace and stability of the nation, as well as the rich biodiversity that the nation has to offer. The intention of the two embassy sites is obviously meant to portray the peaceful cooperation of each nation; for example the Costa Rican embassy in Washington mentioned in its first few lines the “tradition of negotiation over confrontation, social development over military, and tolerance over hostility.” Highlighting the main draw of the nation, they called it the “Birth place of Eco tourism” and really emphasized the constant stream of (United States of) American and Canadian citizens into the nation to visit the many environmental sites. Finally, Wikipedia’s whole introduction seemed to emphasize, not only the peaceful political stability of the nation, but the nation’s vast attempts at environmental sustainability. They dedicated several lines to the many successes the nation has had as a world leader of eco-friendly practices.

As for the information provided regarding the government and international relations, the only two sites that mentioned anything of conflict with the Costa Rican foreign policy were the CIA Factbook and Wikipedia – mainly because these two sites have the intention of providing complete background on the nation (I feel), compared to the tourist based sites, which would only provide brief background information for people who intend to visit as tourists, and the embassy sites, which would wish to emphasize the peaceful relations as they pertain to the political and economic relationship between Costa Rica and the United States. Where all of the sites mention the development of a peaceful Democracy, some go into more detail about the transition from colonial control to a militaristic government, which was finally overthrown in 1948, during one of the few (and brief) instances of violence in the nation’s history. Most of the sites even talked about the dismantling of the national military in exchange for spending on social programs, such as education and healthcare, and the layout of their Democratic political system.

Prior to reading anything about this nation, I had limited information about it. I knew that it was home to lush biodiversity and was made aware, through a colleague who had traveled there numerous times, of the negative stigma that surrounds the Nicaraguan immigrants. Upon reading the CIA Factbook and Wikipedia, I was made aware of what seems to be the only source of foreign hostility for Costa Rica. I was interested to see the source of most of their immigration comes from Nicaragua (with other small percentages of refugees coming in following government abuse, uprisings and civil war in other Latin American nations, including Columbia, Chile, Argentina, and El Salvador) mainly for economic reasons. Many Nicaraguans enter Costa Rica for seasonal agricultural work and some stay in order to benefit from the social programs provided by the Costa Rican government – which is a source of tension between the nations, as is the dispute over access to the San Juan River (which provides a natural border between the two nations). The only other foreign policy shift that stood out to me, was Costa Rica’s break of diplomatic ties with Taiwan, in exchange for allegiance to China for the economic connection. I thought it was kind of curious that China “showed their appreciation” by paying for and constructing a state of the art soccer stadium…

1.I explored all of the sources; to my eyes they all seemed to have some common information about these perspectives. However, some sources have more explicit information in some areas than others. For instance, all of the links with exception of the National Geographic share in deep the country’s history, governmental, and political status of Costa Rica. In contrast, the National Geographic link shares the most images and videos of the country’s beautiful ecology and natural resources. Moreover, the Costa Rican Embassy in Washington, D.C and the U.S Embassy in San Jose links share the most information about both countries international relation and current events. Over all, most of the links portray Costa Rica as an amazing country full of beautiful beaches and coastal landscapes that one must take advantage and enjoy while they visit.
2.In regards to my image of this country right now, the only thing that comes to my head is beautiful beaches and rain forest landscapes. The people to guilt for this are two of my college friends who studied abroad this past spring semester in Costa Rica. They posted so many pictures of themselves in the beautiful beaches and hiking the evergreen rain forest of the country. However, after going over these links and getting to know more about this country’s history, political structure, people, society, etc. I can say that something positive about this country would be the fact that their literacy rate is 94.9% and something negative would be the high rise of people who are consuming crack cocaine in the country. Nevertheless, I am thrilled to have my first hand experiences in this country starting from June 12. I hope to improve my knowledge of this beautiful “paradise country”.