Are My Opinions Developing or Developed?

San Jose Travel Blog

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A shopping street in San Jose

Several nights ago, I met up with some friends from work, from Babson, and from Costa Rica at a local pub. Two of my friends began to argue about whether Costa Rica is a developed or a developing country. As expected, the foreigners tended to take the “Costa Rica is developing” side while the natives took the “Costa Rica is developed” side. This is definitely not the first time I have heard an argument like this taking place. It makes me wonder why there is such a large emphasis in society on these two terms. Why must each and every country be classified by one of these words? What do the words ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ even mean when describing a country? Most importantly, who has the jurisdiction to make this classification?

Returning to the discussion of development in Costa Rica, the foreigners argued that the country is developing because it is a work in progress, but it does not yet compare to their home countries, the big economic global superpowers.

A local store
On the contrary, the natives argued that the country is developed because it has been a work in progress for a long time and that there are positive changes, globalization and the effects of Westernization visible all over. This stance shocked me! Since when have the words ‘developed’ and ‘American’ become synonyms? People here in Costa Rica seem to measure their development progress by the visible American influence here- how many fast food restaurants there are, how many radio stations play hit songs in English, how many movie theaters have movies with English sub-titles, how many restaurants can serve pizza and burgers instead of beans and rice to cater to American tourists, how many stores can sell American brands of clothing and shoes, how many stores accept US dollars, the list goes on… As much as I do admit that I miss home and I miss many of the components of my daily life in America, this realization does not make me proud to be an American.
Lots of familiar signs...
I am glad that we are viewed as a superpower, as something to strive toward; however, I am unhappy that other countries are losing sight of the richness of their individual cultures in an unstoppable quest to reach American standards and norms.

Although it most likely does not sound terribly enticing to spend a night out having a debate, the entire experience was obviously very interesting and thought-provoking for me. I learned a plethora about Costa Rica’s economy, government, and interaction with other countries. I found out that, contrary to popular belief and trends throughout Latin American nations, agriculture is neither the main export nor job here in Costa Rica. In fact, according to the CIA World Factbook, the labor force in Costa Rica by occupation is divided as follows: 14% agriculture, 22% industry, and 64% services.

A texmex restaurant (no joke) in Dominical
Also, the country’s main exports are electronic components, medical equipment, bananas, pineapples, coffee, melons, and sugar. This economic shift toward technology and services accurately displays the nation’s progress in terms of development.

Another interesting thing that I learned from this discussion was the impact that traveling has on an individual’s perception of a country. The people who were arguing adamantly against Costa Rica’s role as a developed nation had not visited many other countries in their lifetime thus far. As I think about the variety of countries, both developed and developing, that I have visited, I recognize the importance of having this point of comparison, this scale on which to measure my opinion of a country. The United States, Canada, and Russia are very developed countries with visible economic dominance, tourism, and quality of life for residents. This can be seen in the high prices, the never-ending demand for goods, the well-maintained streets, the innovative technology, the public transportation system, etc. Serbia and Hungary, in my opinion, were not entirely developed, but also could not be entirely classified as developing. Both countries have a great deal of tourism, rich historical sites, and expensive sought-after locations; however, for me, the main indicator that these countries are both on the rise was the abundance of construction taking place in them both. The growth of capital goods, structures, and the improvement of facilities and locations in urban areas are clear indicators of economic growth.  Ghana and El Salvador represent developing countries to me. While visiting, I witnessed a lack of food security in many households, a lack of existing sanitization, electrical, and other integral facilities, and a general disorganization among the streets, the currency, and the education system. I think that these observations have enabled me to form a fairly comprehensive measurement scale in regard to a country’s progress and development; however, this scale does not take into account an integral component: the peoples’ happiness.  

When looking exclusively at the residents’ happiness, my development scale can be reversed: the people in Ghana and El Salvador are the happiest while the people in Russia and the United States are unhappiest. I am sure you are shaking your head in disagreement as you read this, but bear in mind that this is merely my opinion and I am very open to criticism (comment away!)  To continue, I believe that the people in the ‘developing’ countries are the happiest because they lack certain blinding, societal forces such as greed, materialism, competition, and urgency. In Ghana, for example, the pace of life is very laissez-faire. For a punctual, impatient American tourist, this change can be irritating; however, the people there function very well within this system. The classes, appointments, and scheduled taxi cabs all have a standard deviation of an hour in either direction- class at 10 am could cause students to come as early as 9 am and as late as 11 am. This lack of specific scheduling eliminates a visible amount of stress and pressure from an individual’s day. Thinking about my personal life, I cannot find a way to relate to this system. If I show up one hour late to class, my grade is penalized. If I miss an appointment, I often need to go through quite a process of phone calls and calendar dates to reschedule. This demand for punctuality and attendance, although it facilitates organization, undeniably creates a great deal of stress. Why do you think the ‘developed’ countries like Russia and the United States have so many more Yoga studios, Pilates DVDs sold, and spas than the ‘developing’ countries? Yes the developed countries have more capital available to facilitate this; however, they are obviously abundant because they are catering to the people’s needs. As the people in these developed countries have more and more needs, stress, and anxiety, their level of overall happiness decreases. The more external stimulants that are present- pressure at work, financial stress from credit, loans, etc, cut-throat competition, and an unavoidable greed for that which others have and you do not- the more difficult it is to truly find happiness. For me, this belief presents an interesting contradiction. How can the countries with the better quality of life have fewer reasons for people to be happy? Perhaps the people in these countries are more aware and less naïve of their surroundings, opportunities, successes, and failures. This acute awareness can lead to a more direct relationship between one’s every-day tasks, interactions, etc and one’s emotions.

At this point in my life with my present travel repertoire and my abroad experiences, I would say that my overall view of development comes down to this: development is in the eye of the beholder. For example, for one person Ghana is developed, especially relative to other African nations; however, for another person Ghana needs a lot of work, especially relative to the United States. As the beholder, I wonder where I would place Costa Rica in my aforementioned list of countries, on my self-created development scale. Do I think that the country is developing or developed? The better question is: why does this matter? The reason that I am in Costa Rica is because I am trying to make a difference, to contribute in a positive social manner to the people here. I feel better about what I am doing knowing that it will be making a difference and contributing to a society in need, a developing society, rather than one that is already developed  and essentially able to help itself. With this in mind, I would classify Costa Rica as developing, but I would place it in the middle-range on my scale alongside Serbia and Hungary. This country is growing and its growth is apparent and undeniable.

Africancrab says:
Quite interesting indeed, development is overrated.
Posted on: Jan 11, 2012
vances says:
Yes, quite thoughtful...most modern countries have done a terrific job of 'developing' unhappiness!
Posted on: Jul 10, 2010
fransglobal says:
Very interesting. Thanks.
Posted on: Jul 09, 2010
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A shopping street in San Jose
A shopping street in San Jose
A local store
A local store
Lots of familiar signs...
Lots of familiar signs...
A texmex restaurant (no joke) in D…
A texmex restaurant (no joke) in …
San Jose
photo by: Isoinspira