It has been a dream of mine to study abroad in a Spanish-speaking country since high school. I go to a small university, and there are only two sponsored study abroad programs to Spanish-speaking countries: Costa Rica and Spain. Truthfully, a big reason I picked Costa Rica was because the program there was 13 weeks whereas the program in Spain was 10. I wanted to immerse myself for as long as possible. And I had multiple friends on campus who had gone to the program in Costa Rica and absolutely loved it. My love for nature and adventure also compelled me, after seeing pictures and hearing stories. I was not disappointed!
Why did you choose this program?
What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?
Before leaving, I had to attend a "pre-departure orientation" with my study abroad coordinator that was very comprehensive. It helps you think about all the steps you need to complete before leaving the country (calling your bank, figuring out a cell phone plan, buying a power converter, etc.) and offers helpful tips for things like packing, dealing with homesickness, safety while abroad, etc.
SOL also provides a comprehensive handbook online for your specific country with virtually everything you could want to know. That, combined with the advice of my friends who had already experienced the program, allowed me to feel very prepared going into it. On my own, I just had to keep up with the paperwork, and run all around campus to meet with and get signatures from various people. I also had to purchase flight tickets.
What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?
You get out what you put in, so put in everything you have. For me, this means putting yourself out there and making local friends because my best memories from the program were only possible because I met local people and shared life with them. They showed me the cool secret places that tourists don't know about, they invited me to stay with them in their homes and meet their families, they helped me immensely with my Spanish skills, and they taught me so much about their country and culture. That's how you get the most out of your study abroad experience!
What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?
Classes run on a module schedule, so each week you have class Monday-Friday from 8-11 am. Usually, once a week in the afternoon, there is a cultural activity included in the program, such as cooking, baking, traditional dance, coffee tour, chocolate tour, and more. To fill the other afternoons, you may take an elective with local students, such as painting or soccer, or you can go to the mall, explore downtown Heredia, or even take a bus to San José.
On the weekends, sometimes there are planned excursions, such as Parque Nacional de Manuel Antonio, Volcán Arenal, etc. or, if there is nothing planned, you are free to explore on your own! Unless there are activities, you eat 3 meals a day with your host family which is a great time to practice your Spanish and learn more about your family! There is a lot of flexibility and freedom for you to see and do the things that interest you most.
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 think my biggest fear was just the unknown: will I make friends, will I get sick, will I like the food, will my Spanish get better, will I get along with my roommate, will I have enough to do on the afternoons and weekends, will I miss home a lot, will I ever be in danger, will I be able to interact with locals, etc. There are so many unknowns before you embark on your study abroad adventure, but in order to overcome that large fear, I decided to embrace it! The key to success abroad is to positively embrace the unknown. Treat it as a big adventure.
In Costa Rica, everyone lives by the saying "Pura Vida," which means Pure Life. My mamá tica (host mom) compared it to Hakuna Matata, or don't worry. For me, it became a mantra that encouraged me to embrace every part of life, to see every little thing whether good or bad as part of the adventure. It really helped me to have a good attitude in every situation and let go of my expectations. It also encouraged me to let go of my worries and anxieties about the unknown because truly, worrying does not help you, it only makes you miserable. All you can do is take life one step at a time and deal with the unexpected things that come up in the moment.
I began to relish in the unknown, looking forward to the adventures and the memories that would come out of it. I began to embrace the big unknown that is my future post-graduation as well, seeing that as a portal of endless opportunities whether in the states or abroad. The best thing you can do is embrace the unknown, see everything as part of the adventure, and be open-minded to whatever comes your way.
Is there any other advice you'd like to share with prospective travelers?
Here is my two-cents on some pitfalls to avoid when studying abroad: don't spend too much time on social media. It can lead you to missing home or feeling like you are missing out on things back home, which you are obviously not because you are living it up in another country!
Don't ever get too comfortable. Keep pushing yourself further and further out of your comfort zone, trying new things, meeting new people.
Don't just hang out with your US friends and speak in English all the time. Seek out opportunities to speak with locals and learn outside of the classroom. This is what will challenge you and help you grow the most.
Don't settle into a friend group too quickly. Continue to meet your fellow students because everyone has so many different things to offer. Go out of your way to meet everyone because you never know what you might have in common and what you might learn.
Don't sit around in your house too much - there is so much to see and explore!! Take every advantage of it!