Alumni Spotlight: Ciara Kowalczyk

A Minnesota girl seeking to learn Spanish, and enjoy a new culture!

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Why did you choose this program?

I chose this program because I was looking for an affordable, yet full study abroad experience. I also needed a few more Spanish credits to graduate college with a Spanish endorsement, so going to Costa Rica definitely filled that requirement. Studying abroad through USAC provided me with a memorable experience that didn't break my wallet!

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

I did most of the planning and organizing on my own because I studied through a program that was not affiliated with my university. The study abroad office at my university helped me find USAC and that was about all. Researching, and applying for the program I wanted to study through was up to me, as was staying in contact with the people who were in charge of my program specifically.

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

Be open, flexible, and don't let the mishaps of traveling spoil your trip. On the way to my new home, I had a few minor travel mishaps (like my suitcase breaking open and stuff being scattered everywhere), this experience tested my patience after a long day of flying and waiting around, but in the end, it led me to meet some of the other people on my trip quite quickly!

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

The average day in Puntarenas, Costa Rica is HOT! I typically would wake up around 8 am, my host mom would make me a delicious traditional breakfast, and then I would walk to school (about 5 minutes away). At school, I would socialize with the other participants of the program, have a few classes with native teachers, and then in the afternoon, I would walk back home for lunch.

After lunch, I would walk back to school for my afternoon classes, and then hang out on the beach or do a bit of homework in our small university building. The nights were pretty open, sometimes I would hang out with native friends, or other program affiliated friends, and some nights, just with my host family.

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

My biggest fear was that I wasn't going to make any new friends while abroad. Even though I am generally a very outgoing and social person, for some reason I was terrified that I would not make a single friend on my trip because we were from all over the world. Of course, this fear was broken quite quickly. I was a bit shy the first week or so, but once our classes started I was able to get to know the other study abroad members right away.

It was more difficult for me to make native friends because most of them my age went to a different university a few miles away. My views on this fear changed once I realized that everyone was kind of in the same shoes. No one really knew anyone else before coming here, so we all adapted to one another and helped each other out when needed.

What was your host family like?

My host family was amazing, and I loved staying with them. For one, they were Buddhist (which I have never experienced Buddhism so this was new for me), and two I ended up basically having two host moms by the end of my trip and they both loved me so much (and I loved them both equally as much). They would always call me "princesa" which means princess and never failed to give me good motherly advice before I left the house! I still talk to both of them today (a year later), and hope to see them again one day!