The Instituto San Joaquin de Flores in Heredia, Costa Rica was my perfect haven for traveling outside the U.S., learning the Spanish language, and learning about the world around me. This friendly town in central Costa Rica embodied just about everything I was looking for in a study abroad experience: a safe location, a beautiful setting, home stays with local “tico” families, and an affordable price. During my four month stay, I was able to make the most of my experience by living with a welcoming host family, taking classes in Spanish at the institute, volunteering teaching English at a local elementary school and travelling extensively throughout the country.
Arriving in Costa Rica for the first time wasn’t easy because I was filled with a whole jumble of emotions; sadness about leaving my family behind, excitement about finally living my dream of studying abroad and anxiety about being a whole new, unfamiliar place. Thankfully, while experiencing these typical culture shock emotions, the staff members on site in Costa Rica were there to guide me every step of the way through this rollercoaster of a ride. They provided safety information, numbers I could call in case of an emergency, and general information we would need to know while still acclimating ourselves to the country. One of the greatest gestures API made was providing the incoming students with a calling card to make the first call home just to check in with our families to let them know we had arrived safely!
The Spanish-intensive classes I took while at the Instituto San Joaquin de Flores were a very important part of my transition to a higher level of Spanish fluency. They were taught in Spanish and my classmates were all students from the U.S. Although sometimes it can be nice to be integrated with local university students from the host country, I liked that the professors at the institute were able to cater to my needs as a native English-speaking student. The school itself was set in a beautiful location right in the center of town. One of my favorite parts was grabbing fresh fruit and Costa Rican coffee that was prepared for us each day before class!
One of the most memorable aspects of my study abroad experience in Costa Rica was my home stay with three wonderful people who I have grown to care deeply for. I lived with a young woman and her two children, a son, who was four years old, and a daughter, who was eight. I found that by breaking out of my shell and really making an effort to make conversation with them, my Spanish was able to improve immensely! The family really made me feel welcome in their home as they invited me to many family events and gatherings which really gave me the opportunity to experience genuine Costa Rican culture. I also got to try typical Costa Rican food on a regular basis as my host mom would provide three meals for me each day. As someone who considers herself to be a picky eater, I was surprised by how much I loved the country’s food. Although I might have been a little too daring when I decided to try “lengua de vaca” (better known as cow tongue!), I would give anything to have another homemade batch of “gallo pinto,” a meal of rice and beans typically eaten at breakfast.
Aside from all of the aforementioned assets, I will never forget the country’s overall beauty! It was incredible to see such a diverse landscape. Well-organized API excursions, along with my own travel adventures, took me to the waterfalls of Montezuma, the beautiful beaches of Manuel Antonio and Puerto Viejo, the nearby Poas Volcano, and the unforgettable cloud and rain forests of Monteverde, just to name a few! API even included an international excursion to Panama where we were able to see the Panama Canal! For those who love adventure, zip-lining in Monteverde is a must! All of these exciting travel experiences introduced me to new friends, broadened my cultural awareness and played a key role in my own personal growth. I would whole-heartedly recommend this program. In my opinion, it is one of API’s hidden gems!