With my final days encroaching upon me within my study abroad experience, I believe I have yet to reflect or speak about some of the downsides, or for lack of a better “single” word to describe it, the misfortunes that can happen while away. Perhaps misfortune is not the right word, more so inconveniences that in my experience, have seemed to have fallen upon me during this last month while away, and all of it mainly pertains to my access to service and a phone, as well digital devices. Out of this comes awareness of increased caution however, so in the end I hope that if you are reading this, you get out of it a better idea on how to avoid these situations.
To start, when I began my study abroad, one of the first things that I was aware I would not have and would slightly inconvenience my stay is service in the country I am studying. One thing I didn’t know, that will serve you well to know about being in another country, is that if your cellular service provider does not cover you in said country, oftentimes you can buy a sim card within the region you’re staying to get some sort of service. However, in order to be able to insert a sim card into your phone, your phone must be unlocked by your provider or wherever it is you purchased the device.
From my understanding, when you buy a phone from most service companies, these phones come locked and are only unlocked after you have had a certain amount of time with the phone. That was the case with mine, which I had gotten brand new just four months before coming to Costa Rica. The policy for Cricket, my phone and service provider, is that you have to have had your phone for at least six months of paid service before it can be unlocked. Thus, I ended up with a locked device that was essentially unusable unless it was connected to wifi, which was not always the case as I soon came to find out, and which left me in quite the predicament given that uber and other cars can only be accessed through wifi or sim card data and calls. I also say “was” because I eventually lost this phone in Panama, but more on that a few sentences down.
Going back to my unusable phone, and having not researched the prices of prepaid phones before coming, I was left with the only option of buying a whole new pricey phone in San Jose to get sim card access. As a word of advice: 1. Check if your phone is unlocked, and 2. If not, you can buy way cheaper pre-paid phones before coming in. Once this sim card fiasco was over, the faithful Panama trip came in which I lost my phone while out at sea. It’s important to note that my phone also served as my wallet, so along with it I lost my debit card and ID cards. Not a fun experience. Fortunately I still had the backup phone with data, so I canceled my card and was able to stay in contact and move around safely (uber available to order in case lost); unfortunately this phone only lasted me one week before it decided to combust from the charging port, rendering it unchargeable. Luckily my purchase came with coverage, so I was able to get it replaced, but that took a whole two weeks of being phoneless while it was sent out to a repair shop. Here I sit today however, thankfully with my phone and a few colones left (which my roommate thankfully let me take out, otherwise I’d have no cash left on me to get me by these last few days).
Ultimately, it has been a rollercoaster of events that have made me much more aware of all the things that can go wrong. I’ve learned it’s always important to have back up plans in case of these situations, to be more careful, and that a good practice of patience can come a long way. Most importantly however, I was able to deal with the situation, get help from great people through communication, and found it was not the worst case scenario, and ultimately did not let it sour my experience during my last few days.
Image 1: Panama Bird Island
Image 2: Panama Playa de las estrellas