The safety and security of Costa Rica has been a topic of conversation since I began planning for this program.
One of my moms informed me of an incident many years ago that resulted really negatively for a Kansas girl, and questioned the safety of traveling here. This lead me to do quite a bit of research, both through the Office of Study Abroad and on my own.
I found that many people surrounding me who have never traveled to Costa Rica or to other countries outside of the US felt Costa Rica is dangerous or unsafe. However, those who have traveled to Costa Rica and other countries talked about how extremely safe Costa Rica is, and how rare a major incident is.
As I have spent the last 7 weeks here, safety has been on my mind; however, I have never felt extremely unsafe or in danger.
Last week, a friend and I were studying at Starbucks when a random dude asked us if he could sit with us. We were so shocked we muttered out a “sure.” This was one of the weirdest interactions I have had my entire time here. He was really nervous to talk to us and shaking and stuttering. Part of me thought about the fact, that he was communicating with us in OUR language, not HIS. However, as the interaction felt more and more odd, I moved my phone into my lap and my backpack at my feet, in case this was a set-up to be robbed. My friend, Anosheh, asked if he was dared to talk to the only foreigners in the room when he responded ‘no, that he talks to new people for fun.’ We learned he is 17 and odd things about his ex-girlfriend and his desire to go to college. Additionally, he shared (more than once) about his view on safety in Costa Rica.
He told us Costa Rica is a dangerous country and we shouldn’t be out at this time of night. It was around 7, but was already dark (it gets dark here at like 6 every day) ((that’s winter, friends)). He talked about how likely it was that something bad would happen and that he believed Costa Rica was more dangerous than his home country. He and his family moved to CR from Colombia for more opportunities. Having been here for 6 weeks, I was surprised by this conversation because I haven’t felt in danger while here.
The next day in class we talked about safety and security in Costa Rica (ironcic, huh?). My professor asked each of us how safe we felt Costa Rica is. For me, Costa Rica is nearly the same as other countries, such as the United States. Areas like San José, where 1. 4 million people live, are similar to any other large city in the United States. In fact, five US cities are listed as “The 50 Most Dangerous Cities” while CR has zero. After a discussion about how we ‘extranjeros’ perceive CR, my classmate and I explained our interaction with the dude at Starbucks and how many times he warned us about the dangers of Costa Rica.
Our professor went on the explain that many people live in fear that CR is a dangerous country. Oftentimes, people hear about the extreme situations and generalize them for a whole country. Not only do North Americans do this for other countries, but people do it for their own country as well.
I asked my host family if they believe Costa Rica is dangerous or safe, and they told me CR is no different than the US. Having talked about this, learned about it, and living it: Do people live in fear because they’ve been told to be afraid, or because they have reasons to be afraid?
Disclaimer: I realize that CR isn’t a perfect country, and there is a possibility for unperfect things to happen, but CR isn’t an extremely dangerous country that I have found some people to believe.