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Costa Ricans – What makes Ticos Tick? Culture Shock and Cultural Adjustment

November 30th, 2014

crdanceWhen I first came to Costa Rica (hard to believe that it was back in the past century… late ’90s!) there were two groups of ex-pats here. A few took the time to really learn the language and the culture… others, (maybe most),  not so much. This has changed greatly and for the better.  More and more people with whom I come in contact not only have learned to communicate in Spanish, they are taking more time to learn the “why things are the way they are” part of ex-pat life.

Living here can be a real challenge, and while I cover the language and the culture shock stuff as part of my tours, in the early days, not a lot of people took me seriously.  The Internet portrays a very different place than the REAL Costa Rica.  Not bad necessarily… just different. Interested in this topic?  Read on…

This Blog post is  directed to those who may wish to live here and the importance of learning about what makes Ticos (Costa Ricans) tick. It certainly also applies to those already living here who want to learn more about their adopted country. I also want to mention that culture shock is alive and well and lives right here in Costa Rica. Learning the language is very important of course, but there is a ton written on that and basically, if you want to learn, you can and will. Culture shock is another matter and catches even the most worldly traveled folks off guard.

Years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Eric Liljenstolpe who teaches people how to cope with life in Costa Rica. He has a small business, Global Solutions Group Costa Rica and offers his time to businesses, teachers and families who are seriously interested in taking their knowledge and appreciation of Costa Rica culture to a higher level. I decided to write about this because the folks who are now attending my tours seem FAR more interested in just escaping their home country. However, what Eric teaches will absolutely help you to adjust to things here in Costa Rica, because frankly, there is stuff here in Costa Rica that makes you nuts. As I mention on my tours: “Abandon all logic ye who enter here.” Apologies to Dante.

If you are a Type A personality, this time with Eric should be a required course before ever moving here.

Many years back, Eric wrote a nice article about culture shock in Costa Rica,  Check it out here.

Here are a couple of excepts from that article:

Culture Shock is a temporary psychological disorder that occurs in individuals adjusting to life in an unfamiliar culture. It happens when a person finds that the ways that they have always done things no longer work in a new culture. Transportation, the money used, sense of humor, language, sense of propriety, right and wrong and common greetings are among the many things that change when a person comes to Costa Rica.


Many foreigners who decide to make Costa Rica home come with a naive perspective about the trials that await them. They believe that because they have had a wonderful time here as a tourist or on language learning forays, that the transition to full-time life in Costa Rica will be smooth.

My experience with hundreds of new residents in Costa Rica shows me that this is not case. Even if an individual has successfully adjusted to other foreign contexts, such experience does not guarantee that life will be easy in Costa Rica. Culture Shock is not like the chicken pox—you aren’t immune simply because you’ve experienced it before

What well-adapted Costa Rican residents know.

Be flexible and curious in the face of new information and ways of living.

Don’t complain. When encountering behavior that is frustrating, give the benefit of the doubt

Assume good intentions and wait to be proven wrong.

Be proactive about getting information, getting involved and getting help

When feeling a little depressed or frustrated about life in your new home, remember that it is a temporary condition and you will get through it.


I understand that maybe not everyone will want to increase their knowledge of cross cultural adjustment to a higher level, but for those who do, I’d suggest that you contact Eric to inquire about his family or individual workshops.  They are eye-openers!  PS:  The 408 US number no longer works.

For others who prefer to be “booked learned”, here is a dandy:

The Ticos, and I will quote from the blurb,”… traces the development of Costa Rica’s culture and institutions. The authors describe how Costa Rica’s economy, government, educational and health-care systems, family structures, religion, and other institutions have evolved, and how this has affected the people’s lives.”

Sadly, the Biesanz family has not updated the book since 1998, so the most recent political and perhaps some cultural changes are not current.  Still, a classic for those wishing to learn about the Ticos and it maintains its value for those who wish to learn and know their adopted culture.

2 Responses to “Costa Ricans – What makes Ticos Tick? Culture Shock and Cultural Adjustment”

  1. Sarah on December 2, 2014 9:58 am

    As a long-time resident of the country (1990), I really appreciated your post. In my opinion THE TICOS is one of the finest books ever written about Costa Rica and Costa Ricans. It is balanced and very fair and should be required reading for any starry-eyed expat considering immigrating to the country. Great piece. “Assume good intentions and wait to be proven wrong.” Perfect advice (and sometimes hard to remember).

  2. Janie on January 20, 2016 6:56 am

    Thank you for the book recommendation. After five years of full time living in Costa Rica we are well adjusted. Nevertheless I am always interested in a deeper understanding and appreciation for the culture. I have personally changed for the better since living here.

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