San José and Chicago: City Life


As someone who was born and raised in a city, all I’ve ever really known is the ups and downs of urban life. I used to imagine living in the countryside, or at least in the quieter out north suburbs of Illinois, romanticizing the peace of silence and solitude. After having the opportunity to study within a suburb like area for college however, I can say for certain that I cannot see myself living outside of a city, but, after my time in Costa Rica, I CAN say that I have found a new appreciation for life in nature and the serenity that accompanies it.

Although I have fostered a new appreciation of non-urban life however, within my study abroad program, I have had the opportunity to study and live within the city of San José. San José is a bustling urban landscape that although similar in many attributes to any regular city, has its own charm and personality. The best point of comparison I have of course, really mainly relies on Chicago, the city I was born and raised in.

To start, when first arriving in San José, one of the city features that really struck out to me were the streets; compared to Chicago, the streets are a lot more hilly, and thus the car rides a lot more (for lack of a better word) “undulating”. The first few weeks, when taking transport in the city by car or bus, I was often left with an odd feeling as I shook in the cushioned back-seats with every bump we passed. The driving in San José can be a bit abrasive and bumpy, which may be part of the reason why so many people still drive manual cars as I have come to note from ubers and taxis; as my host dad described, manual cars make him feel more engaged and in control while driving. I have gotten quite used to these pothole bump induced rides, but I never cease to be amazed at the way big cars like buses are able to navigate the sharp turns and small lane spaces available as their real-estate to drive on on some streets. Driving in San José is definitely quite the feat that I may come back to try and accomplish.

In regard to culture, San José also has a more homogenous feel than Chicago, in the sense that most people are marching to the same beat. Yes the neighborhoods are a bit different, but unlike Chicago, the difference isn’t as drastic when traveling between them in certain areas;. When considering downtown San José, the lively streets in one of the main downtown centers are also always packed full with people walking in focus, with a clear journey in mind to their destination. Accompanied on the way are the street vendors and a few performers, lined up across the sidewalk pavement floors, advertising their products and serenading the passing crowds. It has reminded me a lot about my neighborhood back home in Little Village, but on a larger scale; I found comfort in this lively similarity and have grown to appreciate the busy, engaged nature of my streets back home. In my eyes, it has given me a bit of a sense of what my parents have told me so much about how growing up was like in Mexico. I hope to visit family there someday.

To return to my original train of thought, one of my favorite aspects about the city is the ease of access to the lush and greener surrounding provinces. As described in a previous post, these other areas are easily accessible and for the most part, just a bus (or two and a ferry) away. Transportation itself comes out to be very affordable, thus making it easy to escape from the buzzing city life into the green forests and sandy beaches that Costa Rica is so well renowned for. Life in these non-urban locations differs quite a bit, but even with these differences, a clear sense of local pride for being Costa Rican is as equally expressed. These differences to what I know of cities in the states have opened my eyes to what makes cities so full of character in their own regard. With new inspiration, I hope to be able to explore more cities worldwide in the coming future.