Category Archives: A13: Family

Multiple Families

According to the Oxford dictionary, there are multiple definitions of the word “family.” These include:

  • “A group consisting of parents and children living together in a household”
  • “A group of people related to one another by blood or marriage”
  • “A group of people united in criminal activity”
  • “All the descendants of a common ancestor”

My original family

These are just some of the definitions of what family means. However, when I think of what a family is, many ideas come to my mind. According to these definitions, unless the people are blood related, they are not a family (minus the group of people united in criminal activity..). What does this mean for children that are adopted? What would this mean if I had a gay uncle who had a partner for 30 years but wasn’t able to get married? Would I not be able to consider him family? Or what about the stepmother that I had for a few years? The truth is, I never considered her family, although she would probably be seen as part of my family by society. My mother was kicked out of her house by a cruel father and stepmother, and began to live with an older woman for the rest of the time that she grew up. She was much more of a mother to her than her real mother, who battled issues with alcoholism and still does to this day. I consider this woman to be family, so much so that I call her my aunt. I actually have many people I am not blood related to that I call cousins, aunts, and uncles. When I used to have two dogs, I considered them family. My own family that I live with at home only consists of me and my father, so the plurality of the first definition when it comes to “parents” and “children” would suggest that my father and I are not a family. I believe that families can change over time. Mine certainly has changed from me and my parents to me and my dad after my mom passed away, and thats not including the rest of my family. Richard Bach once said, “The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s life. Rarely do members of one family grow up under the same roof.” While Richard Bach and I clearly have a different view about the family than the Oxford Dictionary does, we also have a very different idea about the family than society in general.

My tiny family

My tiny family

There are certain programs set in place to help families who have low income in the United States. The viewpoints on what makes up a family differs between the public programs, but for the most part, the family is very similar to the first definition given by Oxford. Families that involve unmarried couples, single parents, gay and lesbian couples, adopted children, or children that were not born from the mother in the family have a bit more trouble with these programs. A “normal” nuclear family in the middle class has the most luck when it comes to Social Security, welfare, immigration, and so forth. Some programs are more reasonable with their definition of the family, but even then, they are still getting much less in comparison to wealthier, more “of the norm” families, in which there is a husband that works and a mother that stays at home with the children (Sugarman). If the family home had a single mother, and sons and daughters who had long graduated college, I can only imagine how little support they would get from programs, and they would probably be viewed negatively by society, since we have grown up in a country where living with your parents after you graduate college is looked down on. Even a survey that asked “families” what their major family strengths were was biased. This survey asked questions specifically to husbands and wives (Otto). This entire article is titled, “What Is a Strong Family?” I think the real title should be “What Is a Strong Nuclear Family?” instead.

Costa Ricans appear to have a bit of a different view on what the family is. I think that they see their families as the second definition given by Oxford: “a group of people related to one another by blood or marriage.” While the “ideal” family in the US consists of a mother, father, and some children, there doesn’t appear to be a specific “ideal” family in Costa Rica. Households in Costa Rica could contain grandparents, parents, cousins, grandchildren, and even great grandchildren. Clearly, there isn’t as much of a negative connotation associated with people living with their parents. It is actually very common for adults to live at home until they get married, merely because the families in Costa Rica are very close. They do not mind being around each other all the time, because they believe in family unity (“Family Values,” 2012). In fact, if a Costa Rican leaves the house before getting married, there are probably going to be people suspecting that the family doesn’t have a very close relationship. This is changing more and more, but there will still probably be people thinking this (“Family Values”).

I would say that my host family consists of just my “mama tica,” Emilia, and me, but I don’t really see that as being true. Yes, we are the only ones that are currently living in her apartment, but I believe her family, and my host family, is much bigger than that. She has at least two sons, both of which have moved out and have gotten married. She has two grandchildren – one from each son – and one to be born within the next few months. Both of her sons did not leave the house until they were each 38 years old. Emil, her youngest son, did a lot of studying, but his real reason for not wanting to leave the house was because he didn’t want to leave her alone. Her husband died 20 years ago of some sort of problem with his brain. Therefore, Emil not leaving made a lot of sense; he didn’t want his mother to be lonely, especially because he probably knew that she wasn’t going to look for anyone else. She told me that she never wanted to be with anyone else, and that she was fine living alone since she grew up as an only child. She does like being around people, though, which is a big reason she is a host parent through ISA. She also has a cleaning lady come twice a week, and I think that she comes less for the cleaning and more for the company, especially since Emilia has told me that she thinks of her as family. Her sons’ families often come over to Emilia’s apartment, where they combine to make one bigger family – one that I feel very much a part of. One of Emilia’s sons’ names is José Manuel. José Manuel’s son’s name is also José Manuel. When I was taking my Spanish class in March, my teacher told me that this is very common in Costa Rica. For José Manuel’s (her grandson) birthday, Emilia, older José Manuel, and I went to the arcade at the multiplaza. I felt very much so part of the family on this day. Her other son has given me rides before and even brought me some lunch today when I wasn’t feeling well, so I can’t even imagine how actually being blood related to each other must be in terms of feeling like they belong in their family.

My host mom, my real dad, and I

My host mom, my real dad, and I

I would have to say that my family is quite different in the United States than my host family. While the same amount of people lives in the house (my dad and I/my mama tica and I), there are various things that are different about the entire family. Then again, our family is quite different than the typical American family anyway. While Emilia has family members at her house all the time, my father and I never do because the rest of our family lives too far away. The majority of the family on my dad’s side lives in Florida, and the different family members there are always visiting each other. I think that if we lived in Florida, our family would be more similar to Emilia’s. Different from a typical American family, I live with a single father. My father’s job involves a lot of traveling, so throughout high school we actually lived with different families so that I would not be alone when he was gone. At these times, those families were my families as well. I think that in general, families all have at least thing in common. Families consist of at least two people who may or may not be blood related, inside a bigger family that may or may not be blood related. Within this bigger family, there are multiple families that may or may not overlap with the same people. I have a family here in Costa Rica, in Greensboro, in Canada, in Florida, and at Elon. To me, family doesn’t have to be by blood and blood doesn’t have to mean family.

Works Cited

Bach, Richard. “Quotable Quote.” Good Reads. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 June 2014. <>.

“Family.” Oxford Dictionary. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 June 2014. <>.

“Family Values.” Costa Rica. N.p., 13 Mar. 2012. Web. 18 June 2014. <>.

Otto, Herbert A. “What Is a Strong Family?” Marriage and Family Living 24.1 (1962): 77-80. JSTOR. Web. 17 June 2014. <>.

Sugarman, Stephen D. “What Is a “Family”? Conflicting Messages from Our Public Programs.” Family Law Quarterly 42.2 (2008): 231-36. JSTOR. Web. 17 June 2014. <>.

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Redefining Family

Being so close to the end our trip, family has been on my mind a lot lately. I think a lot about being reunited with my own family, but also about leaving the family that has hosted me so graciously while being in Costa Rica. Now I love my host mom, but the family I was referring to in Costa Rica, is the new family of friends that formed in our common experience. In writing this post I want to look at what makes a family a family, and why there are connections with people who are not blood related that feel as if they are.  friends-and-family

So what the heck is a family? Most governments and dictionaries define families as a group of two or more people related by a common ancestor. Australia’s government defines family as “a group of two or more people that are related by blood, marriage (registered or de facto), adoption, step or fostering, and who usually live together in the same household. This includes newlyweds without children, gay partners, couples with dependents, single mums or dads with children, siblings living together, and many other variations. At least one person in the family has to be over 15.” (Australia Bureau of Statistics) This definition is very specific and while I like the fact that it specifically mentions homosexuals as being able to have families, I cannot help but think this definition is very limiting. What about two orphans under the age of fifteen? Are you telling me that they are not “family”? These questions are what prompted me to do some more looking into the definition of family and as it turns out there are too many definitions to count.

Family Outside the Dictionary Definition

According to Sandra L “a family is not just a group of people with a mother and a father and sibling or so. A family is a group of people that care for each other no matter what situation! It’s to love one another even if we have imperfections and make mistakes.” Eunice adds, “they help teach what is right and try to give you the world. They give you the best moments like when they spoil you or maybe just give you a cuddle. So what is family ? They are your life so keep them and treasure the moments you spend with them.” Lastly, Xela puts it simply as “A family is a group of people who take care, love you unconditionally, and who raised and molds you.” (New York Times)

Throughout my experience in Costa Rica I see Xela’s definition as being most true. I have multiple different families in Costa Rica. I have my host mom who loves and takes care of me. I have my roommates, my friends, my Elon people, and the Arcaro’s. They might not fit the government’s definition of family but they are all groups of people who care about my well-being and me. They help me grow, and teach me new things everyday. Surprisingly, many of us here only have one host parent and missed out on the whole tico-family experience. After spending the weekend in Playas del Coco, I realized that I did not miss out on having a tico-family. I have one. They may be a bunch of gringos, but tico in that we shared the tico experience together. Friends can be and are family.


I am not the only person seeing friends becoming more like family. Sociologist Ray Pahl from the University of Essex is quoted as saying “I believe that the nature of our social glue is changing. We are increasingly socially and culturally determined by our friends. This was not the case 200 years ago when the family provided the central social co-ordinates.” (Pahl) Our biological family is no longer the determining factor in building our personalities and telling us right from wrong. While our family will always be there this does not mean we cannot make new families based on common experiences. Being in Costa Rica has taught me to love and have a new respect for the word family.


Works Cited

Australia Labour Force. “What Is a Family?” Australian Bureau of Statistics. Australian Bureau of Statistics, 28 Sept. 2011. Web. 22 June 2014.

Pahl, Ray. “Friends Are Now ‘Family of Choice”” The Independent. Independent Digital News and Media, 14 Aug. 2000. Web. 22 June 2014.

Schulten, Kathleen. “How Do You Define ‘Family’?” The New York Times. The New York Times, 24 Feb. 2011. Web. 22 June 2014.

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We are family, I got all my sisters with me

The difference in gender roles in Costa Rica is a topic about which I have become exponentially fascinated. The more time that I spend in Costa Rica and the more that I analyze this topic and apply it to different situations, the more I seem to want to learn about it. So far, I have dissected how the difference in gender roles takes part in the politics, culture, and play of Costa Rica and how it compares to the same institutions in the United States. An institution that I have yet to dissect, though, is family.

Screen Shot 2014-06-19 at 2.11.28 AM

My siblings and me!

What comes to mind when you picture family? Probably something similar to the family in which you were raised. What comes to mind when you picture an American family? An incredible stereotype of a “typical” American family is the classic portrait of a mother, a father, a daughter, and a son—all with blue eyes, blonde hair, and sickeningly perfect smiles. This stereotypical nuclear family stems from the communist scare during the time of the Cold War in the 1950’s. Since then, nuclear families, such as these, were considered to be the “traditional” American family (“Family Structure in the United States,” n.p.). A nuclear family is “a term used to define a family group consisting of a pair of adults and their children. This is in contrast to a single-parent family, to the larger extended family, and to a family with more than two parents. Nuclear families typically center on a married couple” (“Nuclear Family,” n.p.). I come from a nuclear family that almost fits this mold perfectly—the only difference being that there are two daughters and two sons. I have a mom, a dad, two younger brothers, and a younger sister. We are all blond, played soccer when we were kids, have a pet dog, and my mom even used to drive a mini-van. Needless to say, I feel like a cookie cutter. Even though this is only a surface-level description of my family and we have aspects that make us very unique, there is no doubt that we fit the “typical,” “traditional,” American family mold.


In more recent history, though, this two-parent nuclear family has become less prevalent and alternative family forms have become more common (“Family Structure in the United States,” n.p.). There is now a greater understanding that any group of people living together in a household can create and call themselves a family. “The variations of family structures and definition are almost endless, but they have certain qualities in common: Family members share their lives emotionally and together fulfill the multiple responsibilities of family life” (“The “Perfect” Family,” n.p.). Census Beaureau’s Current Population survey that was conducted in 2002 to see the types of households in the United States shows that only 7% of the population had traditional families at that time. Since then, social movements such as the feminist movement and the stay-at-home-dad have continued to develop, contributing to the shift in makeup of a typical American family. Alternative family forms have also become more widespread due to influences including “divorce and the introduction of single-parent families, teenage pregnancy and unwed mothers, and same-sex marriage, and increased interest in adoption” (“Family Structure in the United States,” n.p.).



Along with these changes in the typical American family, traditional family roles have also adjusted. The old-fashioned roles within the family were that the father was the breadwinner url-5and dominant decision maker who provided for and protected his family and the mother was the housekeeper who would do the cooking, cleaning, and caring for the children. With the social movements and influences that have become a larger part of American society due to the influx of population diversity and economic changes, many families with different—non-nuclear—make ups have family members that take on different roles. In my family, for instance, my dad does almost all of the cooking (the only time my mom prepares meals is when my dad isn’t home or is too busy to cook, himself). Additionally, my mom calls the shots. Whenever a decision needs to be made, my mom usually has the final word. There have often been times that I would ask my dad for permission to do something and the answer would always be along the lines of “Honey, I have to check with mom first.” When I compare my family and the families of my friends to one another, not one of them is the same. Even though there are certainly great deals of American families that are still rooted in tradition, the progressivism of change in the family unit is continuing to grow until, one day, the changes will become universal and the whole world will be one without cookie cutters.

In Costa Rica, the structure of the family unit is much more traditional. “Traditions are also shaped by gender differences. In Costa Rica there is an underlying male chauvinism, which they refer to as “machismo.” Men and women are expected to act differently from each other and to respect their roles” (“Traditions,” n.p.). When I was living in Monteverde in 2010, my host family followed this tradition. To them, assuming their gender roles was the normal way to lead url-8their lives. My host father ran the family night tour business while my host mother was a stay-at-home mom who prepared all of the meals, washed and dried all of the laundry, and did all of the household chores. The roles were very defined. Even though that was four years ago, I can still see that today, in 2014, gender roles in families are still highly prominent. Brogan Boles discusses some of the challenges that she sees in her current host family, which stem from the male-dominant culture. She recounts, “In my house, my host dad literally does whatever the hell he wants whenever the hell he wants to do it. There really isn’t much of a formal decision-making process that occurs… at least not one that includes the rest of the family. Most nights during the week, he will come home around 9:00p.m. after a night out at the billiards club with friends and Maritza [(her host mom)] will have made dinner hours ago not knowing where he was or when he was going to be home. Sometimes, I just think he’s pretty darn selfish and it frustrates me” (Boles, personal communication). Another example is, at my internship placement at the Hospicio de Huérfanos in Guadalupe, San José, the “house parents” are almost entirely women. In one of the houses, there is a “house dad” whereas, throughout the rest of the orphanage houses, there are only “house moms.” The kitchen staff is also entirely composed of women. Although women have a natural and biological mother instinct making them nurturing people, the fact that most of the staff at the orphanage are women completely aligns with the traditional expectation for gender roles and division of labor.

It seems to me, though, that Costa Rica is becoming more progressive. Similar to many aspects of Costa Rican life, I think that the country is taking its lead from the United States. Since Costa url-6Rica is a country where ethnic and religious diversity are not as great as the United States, it makes sense as to why they are more behind in their perspective of gender roles in the family. It seems to me, though, that progression is occurring. Single-parent households are becoming common with 50% of marriages in Costa Rica ending in divorce (“Dating & Relationships,” n.p.) and the large amount of unwed mothers raising families on their own. My current host family is a single-parent household. This means that my host mom takes on both the role of the male and the female in the house. She works from morning until evening, every day in addition to preparing meals for the family, cleaning the house, and taking care of the children and dogs. Many of my peers are in single-parent host families as well, which leads me to believe that Costa Rica is right behind the United States in following suit.


With family being the most important agent of socialization (Arcaro, lecture), the structure of a family should not be the most critical factor. Only when the structure of family is no longer a point of criticism will gender roles become trivial. Family is love and support so it should not matter who does the cleaning or the working—as long as the goal is to support and love one another, the division of labor and structure of the family should not matter.




Angier, Natalie. “The Changing American Family.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 25 Nov. 2013. Web. 17 June 2014. <>.

Arcaro, Tom. “Agents of Socialization & Cultural Universals.” GST 336. ISA Office, Zapote, San José. 03 Apr. 2014. Lecture.

Biesanz, Mavis Hiltunen, Richard Biesanz, and Karen Zubris Biesanz. The Ticos: Culture and Social Change in Costa Rica. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc, 1999.

Boles, Brogan. Online interview. 17 June 2014.

“Dating & Relationships.” Costa Rica Information. Property Shelf, n.d. Web. 16 June 2014. <>.

“Family Structure in the United States.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 15 June 2014. Web. 17 June 2014. <>.

“Nuclear Family.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 15 June 2014. Web. 17 June 2014. <>.

“The “Perfect” Family.” HealthyChildren. American Academy of Pediatrics, 09 July 2013. Web. 16 June 2014. <>.

“Traditions.” Costa Rica Information. Propertyshelf, n.p. Web. 17 June 2014. <>.

Wood, Kirsten. Rep. 1-18, 22 Sept. 2006. Web. 17 June 2014.

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The Family Business

For the past two and a half months, I have been an intern at Escuela Castro Madriz—a public elementary school on Barrio Cordoba in San Jose.  For most of my time at the school, I have being assisting an English teacher in instructing her classes.  The first lesson that we taught the children was about the different types of families: nuclear families, single-parent families, multicultural families, extended families, and adoptive families.  I was glad to help teach these concepts to the students, of course, but found myself wondering why this concept was being taught instead of those that the students would most likely use in everyday conversations with English speakers—like how they are feeling, the weather, or how they feel about the latest sports event.

My cooperating teacher happened to agree with me, and said that several other topics that she is required to teach are those that her students will not find themselves using in a typical conversation.  The curriculum is created by the Ministry of Public Education, who has determined that English is a necessary subject because such knowledge will “help the students face life and work situations which require an average command of English, with the desire that this preparation will allow them to participate actively into the challenges of the global economy for the benefit of the country” (Araya and Gonzalez).  At first, I did not understand how learning how to say what kind of family you have has anything to do with international business.  But, after a little research, I learned that it is the “entrepreneurs [who] create a connection with the customer by bringing their own personal touch to the sales process” who are most successful, and the most personal aspect of peoples’ lives that can be shared across cultures is family (Hochwald).

Taking a page from the Costa Rican curriculum, I figure that it is useful for my future career, though it not be in business, to learn how to make these personal connections across cultures.  Although families are cultural universals, differences exist within each individual unit, and differences exist in the roles of each individual member.  The particular family unit in which I grew up differs greatly from the one with which I have been living in Costa Rica—most simply, my American family is a nuclear family while my Tico family is a single-parent family.  Dr. Gianna Durso-Finley, a professor of sociology at Mercer County Community College in New Jersey, spent time living with a family in Costa Rica, and, following her experience, wrote an essay evaluating them, using various sociological perspectives.  Intrigued by her words and wanting to learn more about the particular perspectives she speaks of, I was inspired to not only use the perspectives she mentions in her piece to evaluate my Tico family too but also go a step further and use the same perspectives to evaluate my American family, so that I may conduct a fair comparison of the two.

The first lens Dr. Durso-Finley uses in her piece is that of Structural Functional Perspective.  This “interprets society as a structure with interrelated parts.  Fucntionalism addresses the society as a whole in terms of function of its constituent elements, such as norms, customs, traditions, institutions etc.” (Subedi).  In the context of Dr. Durso-Finley’s analysis, as well as the one that I will conduct of my host family, the family unit is the main structure and the individual members are the interrelated parts that make that unit function.  In my Tico household, the physical home itself is centered about the family business—a salon, and the persons making up the family include my Mama Tica, her three daughters, her one son, and us—her “Gringa hijas,” Angie, Shirley, Sarah, and myself.   All members of my Tico family—even us Americans, who are not related to the Espinozas by blood—have a pivotal role in maintaining the family’s wellbeing.
1908019_10201242723508520_3644789572697395159_nMy Tico mother, one daughter who lives in the home, and two other daughters who have moved out of this home into their own, work in said salon.  Without each of the daughters helping out, the business could not be sustained.  According to Chris Norris, the Head of Policy at the National Landlord’s Association, “deciding to take in a student can be a useful way to supplement income and help to make ends meet” (Dugdale).  That is just what we, the Gringa hijas, are doing—helping the family subsidize the income from the salon so that they may maintain their standard of living.   And, last but definitely not least, Jose, my Tico brother, is the only member of the family who speaks English.  So, he acts as a main channel of communication between the Tico family and us four Americans, as our Spanish skills are barely good enough to speak about much beyond the superficial.

1185050_10200741309310013_715306162_nDefining how each member of my family in the United States helps our unit function will not be as easy, as we do not have a family business.  In my Tico home, all members are, very directly, helping contribute to the family’s financial stability.  In my home in the United States, my father and mother work and use their earnings to fulfill the family’s basic needs, but my brother and I do not.  My mother likes to tell us that our function is to keep her sane–how sweet.  My father says that he often mentions us to his business associates, as he believes, and aforementioned points reason, that making a personal connection increases chances of closing deals.  So I guess that my brother and I, in a roundabout way, are actually contributing to the financial stability of our American family as well—especially since I recently learned one of the daughters of my Dad’s most recent business associate will be coming to Elon in the fall and will probably be coming to me for advice.

The second lens used in the piece is Symbolic Interactionist Perspective, which involves identifying and defining the roles of all of the members in the family and observing how the members interact with one another and affect those roles.  Before describing those roles, it is important to clarify that “a role is not a person—e.g. the role-title son designates (a) a genetic and ancestral relationship with parents and grandparents, and (b) set of social responsibilities (‘sons should obey their parents’)—not the male who accepts them” (Gerlach).  In my Tico home, the responsibilities that go along with the roles of mother and child are, it seems, a bit different than those in the majority of Tico homes.

In San Jose, I live with a single-parent family.  Such families—“female-headed households, mostly single mothers and their unmarried children—and often their daughters’ children as well—make up about 20 percent of all households.”  The majority of Tico homes (53%) house nuclear families—“parents and their unmarried children.”  Mama Tica’s ex-husband is sometimes at the house to visit with his children, but he is not considered to be a part of this family by any of the members in the households.  Because there is not a father living in the household, he cannot be referred to as being the head, as they often are in Tico homes (Biesanz).  In my host home, Mama Tica raised the kids, makes the rules of the house, and owns the business—she is both the caretaker and the head of the household because she needs to be.  Also, the children working in the salon is not typical of Tico homes, as “two or three generations ago, …many children [stopped] taking adult roles…[and] working with their parents” (Biesanz).

In my American home, my father is present, as is my mother: we are a nuclear family.   In Costa Rica as well as in the United States, “fathers are often referred to as the heads of the households, [but] mothers do far more to raise children” (Biesanz).  This is true in my American home–mostly because my mothers’ work schedule happens to align perfectly with my brother’s and my (well, when I still lived at home) school schedule.  Although they share in terms of earning money and contributing to raising us kids, my mother is definitely the caretaker of the two and my father the breadwinner.  Aside from a few tiffs here and there, my brother and I show respect for our parents, as our roles designate us to, because we are grateful for all they have and continue to give us in terms of monetary, physical, cognitive, and emotional support.

Social Conflict Perspective discusses how “power, property, and privilege are passed from one generation to the next” (Durso-Finley).  In general, I believe that this is true—for example, I am able to reap the benefits of a white, upper-middle class female because I was born into and supported by a white, upper-middle class couple.  From my observations, the same holds true for my Tico family.  By observation of her material goods, cozy home in Zapote, and the fact that she has food on the table for, at the very least, seven people each night, Mama Tica belongs to the middle class.  Her biological children have inherited such status as if it were a genetic trait.  The daughters all dress well and are able to participate in leisure activities, such as going to bars, out to dinners, or shopping, when they please.  Jose, although he earns his own money outside of the family business, is able to do such as well—although, his leisurely activities mostly consist of buying and then constructing a new package of Legos.

Although there are some very obvious differences in the structure of my Tico home and my American home, numerous similarities exist as well.  From my Mama Tica, I am able to find the nurturing that I get from my American mother and the business skills I see in my American father.  Although I am here, living in the Espinoza house, because my being here helps bring more money into the house, I have been welcomed in, with open arms, as if this were my own home.  Mama Tica put in the effort to make a strong, personal connection with the other Gringa hijas and I, and I know I will give her a rave review because of it.  This review will, in turn, promote more host students to be sent to the home, continuing her host-student source of income, allowing for the family to maintain its standard of living.  So, it looks like family does have something to do with facing the challenges of the global economy–kudos, MEP.


Works Cited

Araya, Karla Araya, and Gustavo Cordoba Gonzalez. Teacher Knowledge in English Language Teaching: An Analysis of Its Socio-historical Construction in the Western Central Region of Costa Rica. Revista. N.p., 15 Dec. 2008. Web. 13 June 2014. <>.

Biesanz, Mavis Hiltunen, Ricahrd Biesanz, and Karen Zubris Biesanz. The Ticos: Culture and Social Change in Costa Rica. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Google Books. Web. 18 June 2014. <>.

Dugdale, Karen. “How I Took in a Foreign Student to Help Pay Bills.” The Guardian: n. pag. The Guardian. Web. 18 June 2014. <>.

Durso-Finley, Gianna. “Family Function with a Focus on Gender in Costa Rica.” N.d. Mercer County Community College. Web. 13 June 2014. <>.

Gerlach, Peter, MSW. “Resolve Family Role and Rule Problems.” Self Help. N.p., 26 Feb. 2014. Web. 18 June 2014. <>.

Hochwald, Labeth. “How to Make a Personal Connection with Customers.” Entrepreneur. N.p., 5 Dec. 2011. Web. 13 June 2014. <>.

Subedi, Devi Prasad. “Structural Functional Perspective in Sociology.” N.p., n.d. Web. 13 June 2014. <>.

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Family is my everything.  And to be completely honest, I have been anxiously awaiting this post for the past three months simply because I love to talk about it.  The broad interpretation of family is defined as, “a group of people affiliated by consanguinity (by recognized birth), affinity (by marriage), or co-residence/ shared consumption” (“Family,” n.p.)… but to me, family has always been more than that.  I am insanely fortunate to come from a supportive and loving family that I absolutely adore, and because of this background, family has served and will continue to serve a greater purpose in my life than simply being blood relatives.  In class, Dr. Arcaro spoke of the definition of family as being in transition saying, “it continues to change and evolve over time and throughout different cultures,” (Arcaro) and to an extent, I agree.  As I continue to grow and change, the support and advice that I seek from my family members also changes.  This will forever be in a constant state of transition, but my definition remains the same throughout: family is the foundation; family is a lifestyle; family is everything.

IMG_0206Now, I may be a little bit biased here, but I think that my family totally rocks!  I have two happily married parents, a younger sister, a younger brother, and wouldn’t change a thing.  The five of us are all different and similar, and even more different or even more similar depending on the circumstances, but this is exactly what makes our family structure unique.  In fact, according to an article titled Household Change in the United States, “The number and characteristics of household members affect the types of relationships within the household” (Jacobsen, Mather, Dupuis, n.p.)  Having a younger sister is very different than having a younger brother, just as having a two-year age gap is very different than a five-year age gap.  That said, I am more similar to my 16-year-old brother than I am my 18-year-old sister, which helps balance the structure.  It would be very easy for my brother to be excluded or isolated being the only boy and further away in age, but because he and I are so similar I have always been motivated to include him in things.  This allows the three of us to interact and function as a team rather than individuals or twosomes.  Most of my favorite childhood memories include the two of them (and my parents), thus inspiring the first element of my definition of family: family is the foundation.

Screen shot 2014-06-17 at 10.38.27 PMWe have spent the past three months talking endlessly about culture.  The different elements of culture, the different interpretations of culture, the different reactions to culture, and now, we save the most important component for last.  In my opinion, family is the foundation of culture.  The way I was raised influenced my beliefs on what is right and wrong, which influenced my decisions and the way I acted, which influenced the things I got involved in, which influenced my own individual perspective of the world, which influenced the person I am today.  In a research study titled, Marriage and Family in the United States: Resources for Society, Notare and McCord stated, “…the family has long been understood as the fundamental unit of society, the foundation from which religious, civic, and legal organizations naturally develop and flourish” (23).  I credit most of my character to my family.  In the past 16 years, the four of them have taught me to be selfless, to be humble, to be grateful, to be kind, to be myself, to work hard, to try new things, to listen to others, to be respectful, to feel comfortable in a variety of situations, to be open minded, to follow the golden rule, to be loyal, to laugh at myself, to not take anything too seriously, to love often, and so much more.  Notare and McCord further constitute my belief by saying, “[Family] is the greatest social educator of children.  It is the institution that most effectively teaches the civic virtues of honesty, loyalty, trust, self-sacrifice, personal responsibility, and respect for others” (24).

The next two elements of my definition of family go hand in hand.  Family is a lifestyle meaning, family is the primary element of culture that defines me.  Sure, my socioeconomic status, my religion, my political beliefs, etc. are inherently a part of who I am, but on the totem pole that of cultural influence, family surpasses them all.  I am such a family gal; always have been, always will be.  The family dynamic or structure that I value is something that I will strive to continue when I have a family of my own one day.  I want my children to grow up in a loving and supporting home that fosters an unbreakable relationship, extending beyond simply being blood relatives… just as I did.  In this world, family is one of the only things that a person cannot choose; it is a process designated by fate.  Understanding family as a lifestyle helps me realize just how amazing it is that of all the people in the world, I was paired with these four goofballs, and that there is so much more to it than being born into the same household.  Family is everything.

In coming to Costa Rica, I was over the moon excited about living with a host family.  I mean, being the family gal that I am, what more could I ask for than to leave one family back home in the States, only to be welcomed by another here in Costa Rica.  The description of my host family included a few sentences about Maritza (my host mom) and what she liked to cook, one sentence about her husband and one sentence about her youngest son, Gustavo.  Needless to say, I did not have much to go on, but I knew that I would make the most of whatever it turned out to be.  In fact, I was unrealistically hoping that I would become best friends with all of them.  I guess you could say that dream sort of came true…

Upon my arrival, I very quickly realized that in my host family, Maritza is EVERYTHING.  She is the personality, she is the glue that brings everyone together, she is the cook, she is the cleaner, she is the hands on deck, heck, she’s the energizer bunny!  When I first arrived, it was hard for me to watch her slave away all day starting at 5:30 in the morning when she wakes up to make her 30 year old son breakfast and pack his lunch for work, until 9:00 in the evening when she is cleaning dishes in the kitchen waiting for Jorge (her husband) to get home from the billiards club.  Maritza and I often use the phrase “Que frustre!” to jokingly describe a situation that is less than ideal.  One evening at dinner, Maritza chuckled and said, “I need more hours in the day.  I have a tough job because I have to wash the clothes, cook and clean all day and run a lot of errands.  Que frustre!” and while I laughed in the moment, I went to my room after dinner and dwelled on just how frustrating her role actually is.  I was not used to the woman being solely responsible for all the household duties, nor did I agree with the mentality.  The description of my host family included a husband and a son, so where are they?  According to an article from the Costa Rican Star, “… [women] have also struggled to let us know that motherhood should not rule out their rights to pursue ideals and activities that others members of society are entitled to” (Lopez n.p.).  While times are changing, it is still very common for the female to take care of the household while the male acts as the sole breadwinner- something I did not know before arriving. All in all, my host family did not embody the all for one and one for all mentality that I was used to, and while I may not agree with Maritza’s role in the family structure, it still felt good to be part of a family.

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The final scene from one of my favorite movies (Cheaper by the Dozen) that defines family in the purest way.

Now, do not get me wrong, Maritza is everything I could ever ask for in a host mom, and then some.  She welcomed me into her family with open arms and never looked back.  She has provided me with endless laughs, food, information, care and love.  Maritza is my family away from home; she’s the BFF I was hoping to make.  She provided the foundation, helped me establish the lifestyle and acted as the everything.  From day one, Maritza has made me feel very comfortable and welcome in her home.  She makes an effort to include me, helps keep me up to date on all the Costa Rican happenings and helped me create a set of norms for my time in Costa Rica (the foundation).  As time progressed and Maritza and I developed more of a relationship, she helped me establish a lifestyle that I was comfortable with.  She showed me around Zapote, told me where to go to buy my first weekend bus ticket, took me to the mall with her and set specific meal times so that I would know when I needed to be home (the lifestyle).  And each day, she acts as the everything.  She bends over backwards to make sure that her family and I are accommodated and happy.  On a rainy Monday, I can come home to a neatly folded pile of clean clothes and a hug from Maritza and instantly feel my mood lighten (the everything).

Family will always be my everything, but everything takes on a different meaning depending on where I am.

Works Cited:

Arcaro, Tom. “Family.” GST 336. ISA, Zapote, San Jose, Costa Rica. 10 June 2014. Lecture

Delgado Vargas, Maritza. Personal Interview. 12 June 2014.

“Family.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 15 June 2014. Web. 18 June 2014. <>.

“Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.” The Golden Rule []. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 June 2014. <>.

Jacobsen, Linda, Mark Mather, and Genevieve Dupuis. “Household Change in the United States.” Household Change in the United States. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 June 2014. <>.

Lopez, Jaime. “The Changing Roles of Modern Women and Mothers in Costa Rica.” Costa Rica Star News Current Events Noticias De Costa Rica RSS. N.p., 13 Aug. 2012. Web. 18 June 2014. <>.

Notare, Theresa and McCord, Richard. “Marriage and the Family in the United States: Resources for Society.” United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in the year 2012 in Washington D.C. Print.


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The Fam and Mi Familia Tica

All semester we’ve been talking about culture and the various institutions and cultural universals that shape it. In the rubber band ball of culture (Bolin & Basirico, “The Joy of Culture”) the family is at the center. As Will Durant writes, “Family is the nucleus of civilization.” Every culture builds itself around the family unit because every human has one. These families look different from culture to culture, but they are all the main social institution that propagates cultural norms and values to the next generation. For me, and for most people my age, my family has determined the way I interact with every other social institution we have discussed, be it religion, politics, play, or the economy. My host family in San Jose has shown me how they too act as agents of socialization, both for their own children and for the new gringo members they welcome each month.

One of the main aspects of family is their structure, or their number of members and the positions of those members (Georgas, “Family: Variations and Changes Across Cultures”). George Murdock’s definition of family begins, “a social group characterized by common residence, economic cooperation, and reproduction” (Georgas). At least one parent and child are inherent in this

Mom, Pop, Buddy, and Sis

definition, though this can vary greatly from culture to culture and from generation to generation. Familial structure is also closely related to other social institutions like religion, laws, education, and the economy. Religion and laws dictate which types of families are allowed. For example, Islam allows men to have more than one wife, while most Christian denominations do not allow polygamy (Georgas). However, a Muslim man in the US would not be allowed to have more than one wife legally (“Polygamy Laws”). Depending on the breadwinner(s) education level and therefore profession, they may have many or few children (Georgas). Familiies have become more muti-racial and unions between people of different belief systems have grown (Angier, “The Changing American Family”). The numbers of single mothers, same-sex parents in America have risen over the past decades, while divorce rates have decreased in recent years (Angier). In Costa Rica, the number of single-mother households has continued to grow (Gindling & Oviedo, “Single Mothers and Poverty in Costa Rica”) and it remains illegal for gay couples to adopt children (Belonsky, “Costa Rica Squashing Queer Adoption?”). Both countries are navigating what these shifts in familial structure mean for them.

The other main aspect of family is its function, or how the family meets its needs to survive as a group (Georgas, “Family: Variations and Changes Across Cultures”). The definition and appearance of families have changed over millenniums, but their function remains the same: provide food, shelter, clothes, and emotional support for the members. This boils down to making sure the kids survive to adulthood. Every family does this in a different way, depending on where the family is located, the number of members, the occupations of those members, and their beliefs. But that’s not all a real family is right? Some parents may provide simply the means for their children to survive, but I would hesitate to label that a true, loving family, regardless of the biological relationship between its members. Families are bonded by something stronger than blood: the common enduring of hardships and celebration of triumphs in a loving environment.

Natalie Angier reports that “When an informal sample of 52 Americans of different ages, professions and hometowns were asked the first thought that came to mind on hearing the word “family,” the answers varied hardly at all. Love! Kids! Mom! Dinner!” (“The Changing American Family”). We know how important our families are in who we become, and the American media has long-portrayed families as Rockwellian, so most people describe family in this positive way. Angier interviewed various people about family and many responded with answers reflected how central it is to their lives. Twenty six year old Rob Fee responded more honestly with, “It’s almost like a weight, a heavy weight” (“The Changing American Family”). Families are hard. They are the first humans we interact with and they experience all of the times we fail to do so appropriately. Our parents and siblings understand more about us than we want to admit as young adults, and know just how to enrage, sadden, and cheer us.

My family in North Carolina (aka “the fam”) consists of my parents, older half-sister, and younger brother. They are largely responsible for who I am today and the way I look at the world, so blame them if you don’t like it. Both of my parents have been employed longer than I’ve been alive, and they encouraged me to get a job as soon as I was legally able. This has meant that we have always lived comfortably and I have enough of my own money to pay for my expenses in Costa Rica and at Elon. My social class is an ascribed status that I inherited from my parents (Arcaro). My mother also groomed me to follow her and her parents as a member of the Presbyterian Church. My family lives in a pretty liberal town where our opinions are in line with the majority of the people around us, and they enrolled me in every available extra-curricular activity. Money, religion, politics, and play: all have been heavily influenced if not determined by family. Every time I interact with a social institution, I reflect my upbringing.

My wonderful hermano tico

I’m lucky enough to have been placed with a wonderful host family in San Jose. My Mama Tica has four children, two of which still live in her home. They do more than keep me fed and dry. My 12 year old host brother has done more to make me feel comfortable, safe, and competent here than any other individual. He is used to answering students’ questions and calming their fears because his family has hosted students since he was three years old. He and my Mama Tica have helped me adapt to and socialize with Costa Rica for the past four months. She has pointed out the places I can buy my groceries and which store offers better prices for the goods I need. This information helped me navigate my first forays into Tico commerce. The main indicators of their religious beliefs are exclamations of “Santo Dios!” and “Gracias a Dios.” My host mom did offer to accompany me to church if I ever wished to go during the week since she usually went on Sundays when I was out of town. Though I never took her up on the offer, her comments made it clear that she would support students of any faith in her house, but was willing to share a bit of hers with them as well. When I questioned her about her political opinions during the election in early April, she replied that all parties were corrupt and she didn’t bother much with politics for that reason. Since she rarely has any sort of news program on the TV or discusses politics, I am only aware of any political happenings because of my Veritas course professor. As for play and leisure, my Mama Tica took my roommates and I out to a bar our first week here, and usually invites us along when she goes out with her friends (I haven’t gone with her since because we did not return home until 3am that first night). It was she who told me that Imperial was the beer of Costa Rica, before I could figure it out from all the bar signs and tank tops. My host brother is always ready to show me the latest Vine videos he finds funny or watch a good movie on TV, while my host nephew will occasionally ask me to play soccer with him in the small backyard. These gestures keep me close to the family and make me feel truly at home in San Jose. Money, religion, politics, and play: my interactions with each institution here have been influenced by the way my host family interacts with that institution.

Though my American and Tico families differ in structure and function, they have both kept me alive and thriving in their respective environments. They have socialized me and taught me how to interact with the culture around me. I am incredibly excited to return to my home in North Carolina and the promise of strawberry pie, peach cobbler, and chocolate cake it brings, but I know I’ll miss my Mama Tica’s gallo pinto con huevo, and platanos maduros.



Angier, Natalie. “The Changing American Family.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 25 Nov. 2013. Web. 17 June 2014. <>.

Arcaro, Tom. “Achieved vs. Ascribed Status.” GST 336. ISA, Zapote, San José, Costa Rica. 4/10/2014 Lecture

Belonsky, Andrew. “Costa Rica Squashing Queer Adoption?” Queerty. N.p., 20 Sept. 2007. Web. 17 June 2014. <>.

Basirico, Larry, and Anne Bolin. “The Joy of Culture.” The Joy of Culture: A Beginner’s Guide to Understanding and Appreciating Cultural Diversity. New Jersey: Pearson, 2009. 1-34. Print.

Durant, Will. “Will Durant Quote.” BrainyQuote. Xplore, n.d. Web. 16 June 2014. <>.

Georgas, J. (2003). Family: Variations and changes across cultures. In W. J. Lonner, D. L. Dinnel, S. A. Hayes, & D. N. Sattler (Eds.), Online Readings in Psychology and Culture (Unit 13, Chapter 3), Center for Cross-Cultural Research, Western Washington University, Bellingham, Washington USA

Gilndling, T. H., and Louis Oviedo. “Single Mothers and Poverty in Costa Rica.” IZA, Jan. 2008. Web. 17 June 2014. <>.

“Polygamy Laws: State Statutes Against Bigamy” US Marriage Laws. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 June 2014. <>.

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Who has the power?

As many of you know, I have  experienced many highs and lows throughout my time with my Tico family. I had one of my best friends leave to move to another house because of how my host mom had been treating her, which left me alone with my host family for three weeks to having a new girl I never knew before sharing my strange host family with me. However, maybe what confused me most about my host family was HOW different they are from my family back home.

By no means would I consider my family back home—“normal” per say, but what family actually is? A family is defined as “a social unit living together (“Family”).” So could I technically have been classified as part of the family from the get go here in Costa Rica? Here I was taking up residency in a new person’s house having to learn about their way of life. Perhaps the largest structural adjustment that I had to make was who was in charge. In my home in the United States my dad is in charge of everything; in Costa Rica, my host mom runs the ship. Both of these figures serve as the “head of the family”, or the one person generally favored to be in charge (Rosenthal).

I used to warrant my dad’s power of control to his ability to drive a car, since my mother does not drive. My dad used to be the responsible for dropping me off/ picking me up from school no matter how early or late that would be, then running to the train to go to work from 9-5, only to have to return around 7pm for dinner and relaxation time. When it came to the weekends, if I needed money I would ask my dad, my dad did all the grocery shopping and my dad paid all the bills and if there was ever an argument he handled it. However, my mother did the traditional activities of a housewife, she did all the cooking and cleaning and would walk to the nearby public school to serve as security guard for half the day.  I never pictured my life at home as abnormal and perhaps the biggest question I have now is why?

Apparently my situation is pretty common. According to Rosenthal, the head of the family is given two main responsibilities: giving advice/ problem solving and exercising financial responsibility. While growing up my dad helped me get through conflicts in school or with classmates. Additionally, he served as the backbone of financial responsibility. To this day we still go over checking the credit card statements receipt by receipt. But, maybe the primary starting point was what I had seen and been told for years: the man is in charge. Now, this could stem from two main influences the media and the bible. The bible states, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. (Ephesians 5:22-24).” Is it because of these fundamental teachings that men have taken the power of control? Even with the feminist movement in stride, the fundamental teachings of Christ hold us to our traditional values. In a recent study, it was found that 3/5 of people responded that a male was in charge of their household (Rosenthal).  But perhaps the greater influence for this acceptance of male dominance in the household stems from the media children grow up with. In a typical football game, men are shown interacting with their children more than women on television commercials (Kaufman). That makes sense the average person watching a football game is usually male. But what is so strange is this new idea of a “family man” has surfaced. No longer is the male figure viewed as the bread-winner he has taken on a more sensitive role listening to his children, teaching, and reading to them (Kaufman). Does this mean that little kids are more likely to view their father as the more likeable one and if so is this supporting women to break from their traditional house duties and go to work in the job force. Yet, there is still such a divide between male and female employment. It seems the roles of a family by outside influences are changing quicker than they actually are happening in reality.

Maybe the first warning sign should have been the wording on the ISA portal: “You will be living with Senora Olga and her family.” My first impression was okay, this makes sense, Costa Rica was advertised to me as a host mom and not a host family. What I didn’t expect was what I would enter into. When my old roommate and I were contemplating leaving, we discussed why our host mom hated my old roommate and not me. It turned out that I had ended up jiving with my host mom and she was more comfortable with our host dad. Naturally you wouldn’t think there was a problem: wrong. The reason for this division was the tight ship that my host mom runs. To give some background, my host mom owns a restaurant in a nearby city, owns two houses, takes care of study abroad students all year round, and serves as the head of the household. For a while I had a hard time figuring out just what my mom did too. Throughout my time here, we have had a maid who does all the cooking and cleaning. This frees up most of her schedule to focus on business duties. She is constantly on the phone giving orders to either our housekeeper or to her employees in her restaurant. But maybe what is unique about my host mom’s power is that she is deemed “head of household” by force and the power she seems to derive from others in her family.

Perhaps one of the most significant factors is how her power influences her relationship to her daughter and son. Her daughter is currently planning a wedding. On multiple occasions, I have overhead heated discussions about who was going to pay for what and how my host mom prefers if she would wait. Thus I have also overheard my host sister tell my roommate how she was struggling with money for two years and her mom wouldn’t help her out. She was completely alone. My host mom gets so caught up in her stuff that she doesn’t really care about anything else. Yet, she ended the conversation with “but she’s a good person.” I remember overhearing this and thinking wow what a horrible thing to say! And then sugar coating it at the end, as if to say I am perfectly happy with this. Do children always feel obliged to listen to their parents and characterize them in the best light? Throughout my time here, I have seen so much behind the scenes work, people will talk about each other behind their back and the study abroad students are the innocent confidants. So why do they accept my host mom as their position of authority? It comes down to the same principles: money and support. My host mom is bringing in the most money out of her restaurant. She is the one who forces people to attend school. She is the one who gets things done. She is the one who sets the boundaries. She is the one to let all her children stay with her as part of the nuclear family (Hausman).She is the leader.

As Rosenthal comments, any good nuclear family must have a head or someone in charge. In both my host family and my family back home, I have always been closer with the person in charge. And I find this an interesting outtake. Is it because this person has all the power we follow them? Is this so imbedded in our culture and every culture down to the fundamental teachings of the Constitution stating our given freedoms or is it the old family adage that we should respect our elders? Power is a tricky tool to measure, but with the family it seems to take on a more localize role of government. Instead of controversial parties, you have the rebellious child against the parents; instead of elections you have natural stratification; and instead of corruption you have deceit. Family has evolved to be one of the most complex institutions: combining the powers of economics, religion, and politics.


“Family.”, n.d. Web. 17 June 2014. <>.

Hausmann, Ricardo, and Miguel Székely. “Inequality and the family in Latin America.” (1999).

Rosenthal, Carolyn, and Victor Marshall. “The Head of the Family: Social Meaning and Structural Variability.” The Canadian Journal of Sociology 11: 183-198. JSTOR. Web. 16 June 2014.The Head of the Family: social meaning and structural variability

“The New Role of Men in the Family.” Online video clip. Youtube. Youtube, 29 Jan. 2014. Web. 16 Jun. 2014

“9 Bible Verses about Man As Head Of Household.” What Does the Bible Say About Man As Head Of Household?. Good News Publishers, 1 Jan. 2003. Web. 17 June 2014. <>.

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L, Is For the Way You Look, At Me

“I might not know as much about love as I say I do, but now I know why everyone wants it, because it’s the closest thing we have to magic.”

200_sThis quote comes from one of my favorite movies, Aquamarine. Sure, it’s a silly teen chick flick about befriending a mermaid, but this quote has remained one of my favorites since I originally saw the film. Love is a powerful force that drives individuals of many cultures to find a partner to hopefully share a life with. Although dating, marriage, and sadly, divorce customs may be different among cultures, many of them are created from, engrained in, and products of the quest to find this kind of magic we call love.

The beginning of any relationship begins with courtship and dating. Costa Rican culture still emphasizes old-fashioned dating rules, with most Ticas expecting romance and good manners from men. 37% of Ticos and Ticas believe that the man should ask the woman out and pay for dating expenses, such as meals and trips (A Tico Guide, n.p.) Surveys indicate that typically, Ticas are open to dating men who are five years older or younger, (Foreign Misconceptions, n.p.) and 65% of Ticos and Ticas do not believe age matters when it comes to love. Young couple celebrating with red wine at restaurantA particular survey done by La Nacion, found that Ticas value “nothing more than loyalty and fidelity in a man, followed by a desire than a man be a good soul mate.” 29% look for partners who are responsible and romantic. Emotional maturity was mentioned by 14% of the Ticas surveyed, physical attraction by 9%, and parenting skills at 8% (A Tico Guide, n.p.) In terms of women’s physical preferences, the majority is more partial to men who are taller than 170 cm (about 5’6”.) Most women surveyed also prefer brown or bronzed skin tones, dark hair, brown eyes, and a medium build. They tend to dislike infidelity, ungentlemanly behavior, lies, laziness, and procrastination. 83% of Tica women would not consider dating men who are financially incapable of caring for a family (Foreign Misconceptions, n.p.) When Ticos were surveyed, 34% also expressed the desire to find a good, faithful soul mate. 15% of Ticos said homemaker skills are important to them as well. Economic stability was at the very bottom of their preferences (A Tico Guide, n.p.) The dates themselves tend to be very classic, such as dinner, a movie, or a picnic (University of Kentucky, 3.) Online dating is not common in Costa Rica; there are no websites such as This is due to the fact that postings on a website or in a newspaper are often associated with prostitution. Whereas an American woman might be able to post an ad about herself, saying she likes to cook and give massages, this would be immediately interpreted by Costa Rican men as code for prostitution. Ticos and Ticas are famous for their possessiveness and jealousy, especially because of the high rates of infidelity in the country (“Dating & Relationships,” n.p.) “Machismo has fueled relationship infidelity,” (“Customs and Etiquette,” n.p.) leading to extremely close watch on partners, such as the installation of car tracking devices. These car tracking machines allow partners to see where the car has traveled, how long it was there, and when it left online at any time of the day. After a few dates, it is typical for the significant other to call more often and see what their partner is doing, whom they are with, and how much time is spent doing such things. Once the relationship is declared official, there is no more flirting, receiving calls from, or even looking at a person of the opposite sex without getting into a large argument with the new boyfriend or girlfriend. Tico and Tica relationships are typically very intense and require spending immense amounts of time with them (“Dating & Relationships,” n.p.)

In the United States, “dating” is “widely recognized as two people who are romantically involved and spend their time together.” Like Costa Rica, many American men and women expect the man to ask the woman out on the date. However, as the United States moves towards a more progressive twenty-first century, women are often encouraged to ask the man out instead (Dow, n.p.) Similar to Costa Ricans, Americans are eager to find their soul mates, but to an even bigger degree.

What men and women view as their "must haves" in significant others in the US.

What men and women view as their “must haves” in significant others in the US.

A recent study among Americans in their 20s who have never been married showed that 94% of them wanted, first and foremost, a soul mate spouse (Kelleher, 1.) Online dating is a much bigger presence in the United States than in Costa Rica: One in ten Americans have used an online dating site or mobile app, and 38% of those who are currently “single and looking” have used online resources to find a partner (Smith, n.p.) Internet playing a factor in dating in the United States turns out to be huge, as 33% of unattached adults 21 and older would cancel a date because of something they found while doing Internet research on their date. Both men and women answered that teeth were the most important physical quality in a partner. 63% of American men said their top “must have” is their partner being someone they can trust and confide in. 77% of women chose the same, but 84% of women chose “treats me with respect” as their top “must have” (Jayson, n.p.) According to the 2013 US Current Population Survey, roughly 40% of Americans married a partner whose age differs at least four years (U.S. Census Bureau, n.p.)

In most cultures, the step following a certain amount of courtship is usually marriage. Marriage is a valued institution in Costa Rica, with the country having one of the highest marriage rates in Latin America. Families pay visits to each other to display formal agreement on their children’s marriage (University of Kentucky, 4.) In Costa Rican weddings, there is lots of food, family, and music. Typical Costa Rican food, such as plantains, seafood, and gallo pinto, is served. Dozens of extended family members usually attend, with elopement being extremely uncommon (Hubbard, n.p.) It is viewed that the more guests that attend, the more blessings the couple will receive. “In Costa Rica, families are close knit, and it would not seem like a real celebration if both families could not be present at the wedding” (“Five Costa Rican,” n.p.) Music ranges from traditional Latin music to Top 40 (Hubbard, n.p.) Brides wear long gowns made of black silk, accompanied by a lace veil. The groom wears a white shirt that is hand-embroidered by the bride as a symbol of the devotion and care the bride is giving to her husband. It is also typical for the groom to give his bride 13 gold coins, symbolizing the respect for the familial and spiritual duties of the groom and his new role as the provider for the family. The coins also represent Jesus Christ and the 12 apostles (“Five Costa Rican,” n.p.) For a wedding to be official, the couple needs two legal age witnesses. If a couple plans to marry in the Catholic Church (as most Tico couples do,) they must take a pre-marital course, usually lasting about eight months, and the witnesses must be Catholic (Encuentra, n.p.) All other religions are not authorized to perform marriages that can be inscribed into the National Registry and have legal value. If a couple is not Catholic, then they must go through with a civil marriage, one performed by a family judge or lawyer (Pacheo, Marin, & Asociados, n.p.) The minimum legal age for marriage for both men and women is 18. But, with parental consent, children can marry at the age of 15. Although this used to be somewhat ordinary practice, early marriage rates have been steadily falling over the last twenty years. In 1986, nearly 20% of girls ages 15-19 were married, divorced, or widowed. In 2007, the number had fallen to 10.8% (“Gender Equality,” n.p.) Typically, women marry in their early twenties and men marry somewhat later. Unmarried adults usually live with their parents. (University of Kentucky, 4.) In 1995, Costa Rica passed an act ensuring equality between men and women in marriages. However, “custom dictates that women take responsibility for educating children and domestic responsibilities” (Gender Equality, n.p.)

Marriage is also a large staple in American society. In fact, “no other Western country has such a high degree of marriage promotion as the United States.” In a 1999-2002 World Values Survey, only 10% of American respondents agreed with the statement, “Marriage is an outdated institution” (Fustos, n.p.) vintage-wedding-cake-toppersIn spite of the fact that there are few American wedding traditions that originally derive from the United States, there are many customs followed in American weddings. However, wedding types vary much more in the United States than they do in many other countries, such as Costa Rica. Usually, the bride wears a white dress or gown, along with “something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue.” The groom typically wears a black and white tuxedo. Uncooked rice is sometimes thrown at the newlyweds as they walk down the aisle, symbolizing fertility. The size of American weddings greatly varies and there is a current rise in elopements (Sipher, n.p.) Like Costa Rican ceremonies, American weddings can have all types of music played. Generally, the age of marriage in the United States is 18, with the only two exceptions being Nebraska (19) and Mississippi (21.) Most states allow minors (usually age 16) to marry with parental consent (“Age of Marriage, n.p.)

Teen pregnancy is highly prevalent in Costa Rican society. The Latin America and Caribbean region ranks second in the world in terms of teenage birth rate, with 1 in 4 moms in the region being adolescents (IFA, n.p.) According to the regional Ministry of Health in Costa Rica, 177 of the 750 births registered by San Jose in 2008 were to adolescent girls who did not use birth control for fear of their parents finding out they were sexually active (“Dating & Relationships, n.p.)teen-pregnancy-487x750 Each year, 14,000 teenagers become mothers in Costa Rica, which makes up 20% of births (IFA, n.p.) Teen pregnancy is much due to the lack of communication about sexual education. In religious households, the topic is altogether avoided; in more open homes, the topic is still quite controversial. If parents do talk to their children about sex, it is usually them threatening their children to not get or get a girl pregnant, instead of actually educating them about sex, birth control, and smart choices. Additionally, in the private and public school systems there are not sex education classes (“Dating & Relationships, n.p.) Last year, the Costa Rican Health Ministry and the United Nations Population Fund launched an initiative to reduce the number of teenage pregnancies. The campaign, called, “It’s not going to happen to me—decisions have consequences” broadcasted on television and radio, encourages young women and men to make responsible and safe choices. It integrates sexual education, promotes rights of teens, and advocates for safe, non-abusive relationships (IFA, n.p.) The higher rates of teenage pregnancy have led to a proportional increase of Costa Rican households headed by single mothers. In 1990, single mothers ran about 13.4% of households, but in 1996, that number became 22.5%. Nowadays, single mothers run over 30% of Costa Rican households (“Dating & Relationships, n.p.)

In the United States, one out of every 10 women aged 15-19 becomes pregnant each year. Of these pregnancies, five out of every six are unintended. This rate is so high due to the fact that only one out of three sexually active women always use contraceptives. The two most common explanations for this behavior are “believing that the risk of pregnancy is small, and failing to anticipate intercourse” (Trussell, 262.) The teen pregnancy rate has declined in the United States, dropping 27% from 1991 to 2000, and birth rates dropped 33% between 1991 and 2003. A study done by John Santelli found that the contraceptive risk index declined 34% overall and 46% among adolescents aged 15-17 years. Improvements included an increase in condom use, birth control pills, withdrawal, as well as a decline in nonuse. The overall pregnancy risk declined 38%, with 86% of the decline attributed to improved contraceptive use (Santelli, 150.) In 2012, 24% of American children lived in single mother households (“America’s Children,” n.p.)

Because Costa Rica is a Catholic country, one would be led to believe that divorce rates are fairly low, but they are not. Almost 50% of Costa Rican marriages end in divorce, despite the laws that require at least a three year marriage before one can ask for divorce (“Dating & Relationships,” n.p.) If a couple wishes to divorce by mutual consent, the couple must present a Notarized agreement of dissolution of marriage. It must at least include child custody and parental visitation agreement, the amount of child custody payments established, an indication of spousal support to be paid, and agreement on the division of assets of the marriage (“Divorce by Mutual Consent,” n.p.) A non-mutual divorce is known as a Sanction Divorce. This means one half of the couple broke the social family contract by participating in at least one of the following activities: adultery, attempted murder of any family member, selling the children into prostitution, rape, or anything that deeply hurts the other physically or verbally. divorce-lawyer-for-menWhen one of these instances occurs, the couple is granted a divorce immediately, even if it has been less than three years. A major reason for divorce in Costa Rica is that many Nicaraguans, Colombians, Canadians, and Americans use marriage as a way to gain Costa Rican residency and simply divorce after the three years are up (“Dating & Relationships,” n.p.) Additionally, many relationships and marriages end due to infidelity, as a mistress was once, and often still is, considered a source of pride due to “machismo” culture (“Customs and Etiquette, n.p.) The mother almost always gets custody of the children unless she signs her rights away or there is concrete proof she is unfit as a caretaker (“Dating & Relationships,” n.p.) Divorced women must wait at least 300 days after the dissolution of their previous marriage to remarry; this is punishable by a fine (“Gender Equality,” n.p.)

Similarly to Costa Rica, between 40 and 50 percent of married Americans divorce (American Psychological Association, n.p.) Courts in the United States recognize two types of divorces: absolute and limited. An absolute divorce occurs when the court receives evidence showing misconduct or wrongdoing on a spouse’s part. This legally terminates the marriage and changes both parties’ statuses to single. Limited divorces, or separation decrees, terminate the right to cohabitate, but do not change the parties’ statuses nor does it officially dissolve the marriage. As of October 2010, all states have enacted no-fault divorce statues, which do not require evidence showing spousal misconduct (Cornell University, n.p.) Click here for an interesting infographic on more divorce statistics in the United States.

The culture of love is more similar between Costa Rica and the United States than one might originally think would be the case. In both cultures, men and women seek one individual to fulfill the concept of a “soul mate,” that is, “a person with whom one has a feeling of deep or natural affinity” (“Soulmate,” n.p.) Preferences towards physical characteristics are different in the two cultures, but the internal characteristics of respect, responsibility, and fidelity are favorable to both. As to be expected, Catholicism plays a large role in Costa Rican weddings, but the Catholic values do not seem to follow afterwards. The fact that Costa Rica has a higher teenage pregnancy rate than the United States is shocking. One would think that because of the strong Catholic culture, citizens would participate in less premarital sex. However, teenagers will be teenagers, but because of the fear in place of parent’s disapproval, Tico teens refrain from using birth control. If Costa Rica follows in the United States’ footsteps, like it has in many other aspects, and becomes a secular nation, I believe teen pregnancy rates will decline, as the topic of sex and birth control will become less taboo. Additionally, the United States has the morning after pill, illegal in Costa Rica, which prevents many potential teenage pregnancies. It is also surprising that Costa Rica would have a similar divorce rate as the United States as a Catholic country. Unfortunately, because of the “machismo” culture, many Ticos indulge in mistresses, hoping to “look like a man.” However, this only results in unfaithful and unhappy marriages, which lead to divorce. Considering both Costa Rican and American singles want to find their soul mates, a saddening number of relationships end miserably in both countries. A push towards secularization and a pull away from “machismo” will hopefully result in a more loving Costa Rica, because, as The Beatles so accurately sang, “love is all you need.”



AFP. “Costa Rica Launches Campaign to Curb Teen Pregnancy.” The Tico Times. N.p., 15 July 2013. Web. 16 June 2014. <>.

“Age of Marriage in United States of America.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 21 May 2014. Web. 16 June 2014. <>.

“America’s Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2013.” Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, 2013. Web. 14 June 2014. <>.

“Costa Rica-Customs and Etiquette.” Costa Rica. N.p., 16 Apr. 2012. Web. 16 June 2014. <>.

“Costa Rica.” Livestock 18.5 (2013): 164. Culture Grams: World Edition. University of Kentucky. Web. 16 June 2014.

“Dating & Relationships.” Costa Rica Information. Property Shelf, n.d. Web. 16 June 2014. <>.

“Divorce and Separation: An Overview.” Divorce. Cornell University, n.d. Web. 16 June 2014. <>.

“Divorce By Mutual Consent in Costa Rica.”, n.d. Web. 16 June 2014. <>.

Dow, Derek. “Dating in the United States.” Todo Alemán, n.d. Web. 16 June 2014. <>.

Fustos, Kata. “Marriage and Partnership Turnover for American Families.” Population Reference Bureau, June 2010. Web. 16 June 2014. <>.

“Gender Equality in Costa Rica.” SIGI: Social Institutions and Gender Index, n.d. Web. 16 June 2014.

Hubbard, Kirsten. “Costa Rica Wedding Traditions and Customs.” Central America Travel., n.d. Web. 16 June 2014.

Jayson, Sharon. “What Singles Want: Survey Looks at Attraction, Turnoffs.” USA Today. Gannett, 5 Feb. 2013. Web. 16 June 2014. <>.

Kelleher, Mary. “Study: Americans Seek Soul-Mate Spouse.” ABC News. ABC News Network, 13 June 2014. Web. 16 June 2014. <>.

Lopez, Jamie. “A Tico Guide to Romance and Relationships for Valentines Day.” Costa Rica Star, 14 Feb. 2012. Web. 16 June 2014. <>.

Lopez, Jamie. “Foreign Misconceptions About Dating Women in Costa Rica.” Costa Rica Star, 10 Jan. 2014. Web. 16 June 2014. <>.

“Marriage and Divorce in Costa Rica.” Encuentra 24, n.d. Web. 16 June 2014.

“Marriage and Divorce in Costa Rica.” Residency CR. Pacheo, Marin, & Asociados, n.d. Web. 16 June 2014. <>.

“Marriage and Divorce.” American Psychological Association, n.d. Web. 16 June 2014. <>.

Santelli, John S., et al. “Explaining recent declines in adolescent pregnancy in the United States: the contribution of abstinence and improved contraceptive use.” American Journal of Public Health 97.1 (2007): 150.

Sipher, Devan. “Like Romeo and Juliet, With a Happier Ever After.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 22 Nov. 2008. Web. 16 June 2014.

Smith, Aaron, and Maeve Duggan. “Online Dating & Relationships.” Pew Research Internet Project. Pew Research Centers, 21 Oct. 2013. Web. 16 June 2014. <>.

“Soulmate.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 14 June 2014. Web. 16 June 2014. <>.

Trussell, James. “Teenage pregnancy in the United States.” Family Planning Perspectives (1988): 262-272.

U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, 2013 Annual Social and Economic Supplement, Table FG3. Married Couple Family Groups, By Presence Of Own Children Under 18, And Age, Earnings, Education, And Race And Hispanic Origin Of Both Spouses: 2013.

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A13: Family


What is a family and what does it do?

You have lived in Costa Rica now for well over three months and I am sure that you have noticed a great deal about your hosts. For this week’s discussion and for your last cultural universal/major institution post I want you to describe your Tico family and then compare and contrast this to your own (or to what you consider to be a typical American family). Why are some things the same? Some different? What cultural forces have shaped these similarities and differences? How are sex/ gender roles the same or different? How is social class a factor in family life? How are generational and age group interactions different or the same?

Take some time to research some academic definitions of family and a bit about the form and function of families in different cultures so as to provide a robust backdrop for discussing your family here and at home.

Some items to focus on can include:

  • Makeup of the “family” as in who is considered “family”
  • Describe the styles and levels of communication between members.
  • Topics of conversation, both casual and serious
  • What are the norms of behavior and interaction regarding meals and mealtimes?
  • Division of labor in terms of household chores like cleaning and cooking
  • Are there curfew policies?
  • What forms of address do members use?
  • What are the power dynamics: who makes decisions, etc?
  • What are  the weekly routines you have noticed?
  • What leisure activities do family members spend their time on?
  • What is the level of access to media tv, newspaper, magazines, radio, etc.
  • What is the level and expression of religiosity
  • Household decorations:  where, what kind, etc.?
  • Celebrations of birthdays, anniversaries, holidays and so on:  describe these
  • Extent of a true “pura vida” perspective and attitude?
  • How are finances handled?
  • What priority appears to be placed on being a “good” family member?
  • How are (or not) are family members outside the home communicated with?  treated? involved?
  • How are romantic relationships manifested?  Is affection shown between married couples?  Engaged couples?
  • How does dating work?

Be mindful to be respectful and culturally appropriate if you feel a need to ask questions of your Tico hosts about any of the above. Just by passively observing the past months I am sure that you can comment on most of the questions above.


  • Due by midnight Tuesday.
  • Late posts will be downgraded at least one letter grade.
  • Comments to at least two colleague’s posts by  Wednesday 11:00PM EST.
  • At least three citations: at least one from text and/or other assigned reading, and at least two from outside academic sources.  
  • List references at the bottom of the page (MLA format).
  • At least one photo and/or video link.
  • Minimum 0f 500 words (excluding references).
  • Grade will be based on quality and quantity of response to the post prompt including adherence to the above benchmarks.
  • Infuse your post with the cultural information you are learning/have learned in class; use specific concepts we have discussed.
  • Have a good (roughly equal)  balance between description and analysis, that is between the ‘what’ and the ‘why’
  • In sum what I am looking for is clear evidence that you have listened and taken notes in class, you have read the embedded links, you have done some deep and creative research -including academic sources [disciplinary based journal articles, professionally based web sites, books written by academics and/or experts], and you have taken the care and time to make sure your post is well written and organized.

Categorize this under Assignements/Assignment 13 before you Publish.



Tom Arcaro

Tom Arcaro

Tom Arcaro is a professor of sociology at Elon University. He has been researching and studying the humanitarian aid and development ecosystem for nearly two decades and in 2016 published 'Aid Worker Voices'. He is currently working on a second book tentatively titled 'Local Aid Worker Voices.'

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