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Work-Life in Costa Rica vs. United States


Growing up in the United States, there are certain expectations, rules, and customs one must follow to be considered acting as a “professional,” but one thing I’ve learned being a film intern in San José, Costa Rica is that “acting professional” is a relative concept.

While I miss the “natural” pace of the workflow that I grew up with, Costa Rica has offered a unique and exciting experience to how I think about organizational culture. In addition to that, it has made me think more in depth as to the kind of company I’d like to work for in the future.

As a recent college graduate with a Bachelor’s degree in Communications and a minor in Spanish, I’ve been able to learn the ins and outs of interpersonal and group interactions. My love for learning about new backgrounds, interpersonal dynamics, Latin American culture, and the Spanish language are just some of the reasons why I decided to come to Costa Rica for an internship.

Traveling to Costa Rica and working full time as a Film intern has opened my eyes to new ways in which the world works and lives on a day-to-day basis.

William during his Film internship in Costa Rica

Workplace Interaction

When looking at the work culture in the United States, it seems to be more conservative in the way that things operate and in the way coworkers interact with each other. Of course there are always slight variations at each workplace, but for the most part, it seems to be the same when I asked my roommates about their experiences. In Costa Rica, the relationships they seem to have with each other are more of a family dynamic than just standard coworkers. Oftentimes when I’m observing them, they playfully tease each other, almost in a way that siblings would. They also seem to know and are more involved in each others’ personal lives.

Casual Vibes

My coworkers often laugh about something that happened on their vacation or lunch outings they went on in the past. When it comes to my previous work experiences in the United States, the people have been a lot more distanced and kept to their private lives. It is also common for them to get little gifts for their birthdays, play soccer in the backyard, or even video games during their lunch break.

Also, when it comes to how they talk with each other, their word choice and language is very informal. They will call each other “man,” “dude,” or as they say it, “mae.” Not to mention that language is way more loose here, even in professional work spaces, so they may even throw a swear word in here and there to emphasize the passion behind their words. However, it is never in a negative light.

William Roy - AIFS Abroad Internship Program Participant - San José, Costa Rica - Film Placement - with Coworkers
William with Coworkers in Costa Rica

Attire at Work

Finally, the last thing that has stood out the most to me so far when it comes to cultural differences is the way that they dress. Particularly with my internship, many of my coworkers wear streetwear and even shorts to work. The way my coworkers interacted and dressed in previous roles were way more conservative and less personal.

Looking to the Future

After being exposed to the many different work environments, it has encouraged me to look for a similar work setting after returning to the United States. I feel that by having a looser work environment, I’m able to be myself and do my best work, allowing for more creativity and efficiency amongst myself and my coworkers. 

Coming to Costa Rica, I have been able to experience a different level of interaction and a unique perspective of what work life is like. I also learned that professionalism wears many different faces and that is something that I will take with me wherever I end up. I believe that this experience has also made me become more adaptable to new cultures, which I feel will help me in the long run in both a personal and professional setting.

If you are considering studying abroad or doing an internship in another country, I strongly consider you to do so — not just for the pretty beaches and good food, but for an opportunity that could change your perspective and life for the better!