Alumni Spotlight: Alexandra Hanton

Alex is an Economics and Spanish student at Loyola University in Chicago who studied abroad for a semester during her junior year.

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Why did you choose this program?

I knew I wanted to study in Latin America. I stumbled across this USAC program and picked it because of the low price. I also loved that Heredia is centrally located, but not in the big city. It makes it easy to get around the country, without the craziness of San Jose. Plus there are fewer people from the U.S. in Heredia than in San Jose, so I could get to know the local culture better.

What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

There was not a whole lot that I had to do on my own. USAC helped with housing, flights and airport pickup, my visa, some trips, insurance, and more. They made it so easy, which was perfect for my first time abroad.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

Be prepared for it to be hard at first! The first few days and nights will probably be scary, especially if this is your first major experience abroad. Relax as much as possible, and remember that almost everyone feels the same way you do at first.

It will pass! Just ride it out and begin making yourself as comfortable in your new environment as possible.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

Every morning I would wake up and eat breakfast with my host mom. I would go to school either on the bus or walk (about 2 miles) depending on the weather. Classes are three hours long in either the morning or afternoon, so you don't have more than two classes a day.

On days when I only had one class, I would use the extra time studying on-campus or at a coffee shop nearby. I would eat lunch that my host mom packed for me at the university. In the afternoons and evenings, I might go to an activity hosted by USAC, take a dance class, study at home, or go out with friends from the program. I usually ate dinner that my host mom made at home. During the weekends, I usually traveled with my friends.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

I was really terrified that I would not be able to make any friends while I was abroad and that I would be lonely in a foreign country. This was so far from the truth! I made some of the best friends I have ever had who I will definitely stay close with for years to come.

The program is really conducive to meeting people because it is small - my group was about 26 - and you take classes, study, travel, etc. with them.

Be open and willing to make friends, especially at the beginning, and it won't be hard! Don't be afraid to talk to people you wouldn't normally at home - that's the point of studying abroad, and those are the people who ended up most shaping my time in Costa Rica.

What's the number one takeaway from your study abroad experience?

My time abroad gave me so, so, much, but the biggest thing is that it helped me to start realizing the type of things I want to spend my time doing and the time of people I want to spend my time with.

I learned so much about myself during my time in Costa Rica and gained the confidence to pursue the things that make me happy;

For example, I am spending another semester abroad directly enrolled at a university in Mexico City! This is something I never would never have imagined myself doing before USAC and Costa Rica. The friends I made there continue to push me to find and do what makes me happy, even a year later.

I am so grateful for this experience, for Heredia, for the people I met, and for USAC for giving me this life-changing experience!