Technology in Costa Rica (y la muerte de mi computadora)

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In honor of the recent death of my Macbook Air, this post will be about technology in Costa Rica. About a month ago, my computer started getting really hot and restarting itself all the time. Finally, it just wouldn’t turn on so I took it to an Apple store (called iCon here…sketchy, I know) and I found out that there was an issue with the battery and the logic board. The cost to fix the computer was $1,400! So, so long to my beloved Mac.

Back home in the United States, buying a new computer is easy. You just walk into a store or hop on Amazon and it’s in your hands within 48 hours (or less). Because my experiences with shopping have always felt so expeditious, I thought replacing my computer would be a simple task. It wasn’t.

In Costa Rica, electronics are expensive. Due to import costs and taxes, electronics can cost up to 50-70% more than they do in the United States. Purchasing computers, phones, and other electronics is cost-prohibitive for many people who live here and for affordability, people generally opt for items of lower quality. Even if someone were to buy a computer from the US and ship it here, it would most likely get stuck in customs, where they charge you fees up the the amount that the item costs in country.

So, how does this affect life in Costa Rica? Overall, the use of smartphones is widespread and used for social connectivity and communications. But many homes do not have a computer and if they do, they are generally old and outdated. Additionally, technology in schools and for businesses is limited.

Many of the Costa Rican escuelas y colegios (high school) do not use computers in their classes, let alone have computers in the schools. Even schools in more developed regions structure their classrooms around a chalkboard and basic materials. In general, students just do not have the access or opportunities to gain computer programming skills.

So how (and does?) this fit in with the Peace Corps? In many ways! The fun thing about being a Community Economic Development Volunteer is having a broad job definition and spectrum of projects to work on. In regards to technology some examples of the projects we could do include:

  • Teach computer programming classes to adults and students in our communities
  • Help small businesses develop basic websites and social media skills
  • Teach simple mobile marketing and business organization strategies
  • Introduce students to jobs that can be obtained from or require technological skills

Coming from the United States, Peace Corps Volunteers already have a huge technological skill-set that we can share with our host countries. Since arriving in Costa Rica, I have helped my host mother set up a Facebook page for her small pastry business and helped her create labels for her empanadas that she sells. While she is able to manage and maintain her Facebook page, and, for example, a simple website from her cellphone, she didn’t know how to set the page up because of limited computer access.

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Empanada Labels!
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A group of volunteers working with an artist to help her brand her recycled jewelry

 

Peace Corps Community Economic Development Volunteers are great resources for advancing technological knowledge and use in their host countries. Now, only 3 days away from swearing in as an official volunteer, I hope that I will be able to develop projects that advance the technological knowledge in my community.

Before wrapping this post up, I wanted to mention how I finally managed to get a new computer in Costa Rica. I had my mom purchase me a Toshiba Chromebook in the US and send it to me. She sent it using USPS 7-day shipping and it arrived safely without getting stolen or stuck in customs!  On the claim form, she wrote that the items in the package were “school supplies” and made sure to tape the outside of the box REALLY well. Needless to say, I’m grateful to have a new computer here and hope that it will help me serve my community over the next two years!

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