Several Shades of Gray

Perhaps everything in ones life can be measured with something as simple as the sixth-grade mathematics.  We learned of an object known as an open line segment.  This theory may sound too simple to be accurate, but upon closer inspection, one may find clarity in his/her circumstance. Too often do individuals obtain ideas throughout their lives, and place them on either Point A or Point B.  This black and white mechanism disregards the difference and the beauty that can be found in each moment because on an open-ended segment, the answer cannot be found on the two opposing points, but rather in the space between.

On this segment, people will never fully have one trait or another, but rather some degree of that characteristic.   The gray area that exists between the opposite ends of the segment is where one’s reality lies, for the perfection of an ideal composes the opposing points.  When one polarizes the complex nature of social situations, he/she creates a stereotype that places an idea of a person or thing into the box of an ideal.  It is necessary to examine that which cannot be defined because if we do not, then we gain a satisfied yet inaccurate judgment of others rather than a well-rounded understanding.

On this studious adventure of mine in Costa Rica, I have discovered that when my reality changes – all that I am left with are my philosophies – the ideas that compose the nature of my existence.  What I know about the world becomes somewhat invalid because I cannot view this new place through the same social lens, so my ideas have been whittled down to the original figures of love, persistence, positivity, and other things that are inherently human. When one says that they want to study abroad because they would like to find out more about themselves, I believe that is essentially what they are describing.  Because when one’s surroundings change, it is true character that will stay the same.

The past month has filled me with insights that have begun to expose the shades of gray surrounding many of the prevalent social issues, such as social health care, education, and gay rights.  Continuing to discover the specifics of these things has been a motivating factor for me recently.

Social Health Care

In brief, this country is run on a social health care system in that everyone – including those that work here from Nicaragua have access to it.  During my first weekend here in Costa Rica, my group and I went on a tour of a coffee plantation, and explored the park of a legendary waterfall.  Our tour guide, Gustavo, shared his thoughts about this feature of Costa Rican politics.  He used to be opposed to the system, but his sister was then diagnosed with a terminal case of thyroid cancer.  Not many survive from this ailment, and because of the health care system – she was not only able to receive a treatment that cured her, but also was able to receive substantial financial aid.   Something that she would have spent the entirety of her life without paying off was reduced to something that the government took as their expense.

My home-stay mother can offer another perspective on this topic.  Her view is more negative due to the fact that many qualify for the same degree of assistance that there is not enough present to adequately handle problems that arise.  As she sees it, if she were to get sick, it may take three years to receive satisfactory attention.  The complicated nature of this issue is apparent – and as controversial as it may be – there is no black or white answer.

Education

Costa Rica is known for their phenomenal education system, but every system has its flaws.  Upon arrival, I believed that the system must be very respectable because the government of this country does not have an army – it chooses instead to finance its educational institutions.  As a result, the literacy rate is much higher than that of other countries, such as the United States, and it places a great deal of pride on these facilities.

Today in class, we discussed the experiences of several education students that have been working in the school systems now for about a month.  Notably, they have been working at selected private and public institutions in a small radius within San Jose.  They offered several takeaways:

1)   Without going into excruciating detail – the standard of literacy is sufficiently lower here than it is in the United States.

2)   English classes are highly valued – especially in private schools.

3)   Religion is present in the classroom in that occasionally – one must be Catholic to teach, and the teacher leads “prayer time” at one or multiple points throughout the day.

Another interesting point that can give a powerful look into the occupational nature of this country is an exit exam that students take after their high school experience.  The idea is somewhat like the SAT in that it includes questions that are non-major related, and is indeed a standardized test.  However, the outcome of this evaluation does not just give one a number to submit on a college application.  It actually limits one’s future occupation.  For example, if one does not achieve the score necessary to study communications, then that option is not a possibility.  One can take additional classes to become more proficient on the exam, and then take it again.  This, however, assumes that one will have the necessary resources.  Every society has constructs that control the success of individuals within its population.  I view this exam as a factor that sustains a socioeconomic cycle.  If one grows up in an underprivileged neighborhood, then there is an excellent chance that the educational capacities of that area will not be equal to that of privileged areas.  Immediately following high school, young adults take this exit exam, and have their possibilities minimized to some degree.  The underprivileged population may never gain the ability to study for a higher paying profession.  Comparably, in the United States, if one receives a bad score on the SAT, community college can be an alternative.  From there, one can enter into a more highly ranked institution.  Opportunities to step beyond the constraints of social class are more easily accessible in this regard.

Gay Rights

Before I begin – I should discuss my misguided initial impressions of this country. I had not yet experienced the social environment, therefore, my views were uneducated and ensnared by a stereotype.  Homosexuality was a word that I thought would never be mentioned in my household.  The opposite has proven true.  I have found that not only is it acknowledged, it is supported.   I am aware that my household may be an exception to the majority, but I never thought I would be living with a house of avid advocates.  Many individuals in my Costa Rican home are actively aware of the present social movements, and this has been a great resource to jump-start my regional education.

Weeks ago, I traversed to the Congress building where I received a tour.  Laura Chinchilla is the current President, and is the first woman to hold the position.  She appointed her version of “the cabinet” to establish the priorities of her presidency.  Those topics are discussed over the course of several months, and I came at the right time to hear about a few of them.  Gay rights, however, did not make it to her list.

The state of the human services agency that is run through the government may function gloriously, but my experience indicates that the leadership is somewhat unpopular at the moment.  This organization exists to protect people against the social inadequacies or injustices that government produces.  Currently, the man who is in the director’s chair believes that there is a cure to being gay.  He has proposed this cure, and has received government funding for its implementation.  The LGBTQIA group, or “Los Invisibles,” which is an easy translation, feels that their rights have been infringed upon.

In response, the LGBTQIA community organized a rally in the middle of San Jose that several members of my household and I attended.  It was made public via the news, etc.  Upon arrival, I expected there to be protest against the rally.  I expected this event to be dangerous to attend.  There was no noticeable protest – and in this place where I thought anger would be present – all that was visible was a peace-seeking community that had gathered to celebrate their difference.   We, as a single unit, marched to the Ministry of Human Rights.  Chants that were first sung into a microphone were then echoed by the moving mass.  As we proceeded, I witnessed the looks of hope and happiness displayed across the faces of the crowd.  My family and I stood next to a motorcycle that honked the rhythm of our Spanish chant.  The character of this populace possesses an indomitable spirit that seeks to enlighten a people, and revolutionize a legal system.

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For if one chooses to see in black and white, he/she will gain a perception that will satisfy, but not exemplify existing complexities.  If one could merely see in these two colors, his/her image would lack the depth that shades of gray provide.  This country is struggling with the concepts related to health care, education, and gay rights, and much of this can be observably attributed to people living inside of a social box.  If one matures without the ability to question, he/she will inevitably become a product of the surrounding environment.  It is by starting the difficult conversations with people that one will find new and exciting perspectives that may challenge what he/she believes.  I advocate for these conversations – because even if offered a perspective that contradicts one’s own – it produces a more open mind, or a deeper understanding of a previous belief.  Hiding from difference will only continue ignorance, while embracing it promotes a future that can speak and operate across it.

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Filed under Central America, Dan in Costa Rica

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