Being from an urban city going into a study abroad program can have its pros and cons. My program is located in Heredia, Costa Rica, which is a pretty urban environment. Being a short drive away from San Jose, the country’s capital, definitely adds to the amount of bustling activity. Living in a city setting like this for the next few months can be hard to get used to for some.
But what about people who are from urban cities? How do they adjust?
I can’t speak for everyone, but I can share what my experience has been so far. I am from Philadelphia and have lived there for a decent amount of my life. I’m used to hearing honking, loud motorcycles, a lot of traffic driving on the streets, and a lot of people in close proximity to each other to name a few things. Going into my program, the last thing on my mind was how I was going to adjust to a different environment in the sense that Heredia is urban. I had traveled to large cities in the past in different countries and it wasn’t something I dwelled on very much.
Experiencing what it’s like to live in Heredia right now, I’m not going through much shock because a lot of the environment is similar to Philadelphia. This can be one advantage you may have coming from an urban city. You may feel more comfortable with navigating around the area and just adjusting to the environment in general.
At the same time, it’s also important to not become super comfortable to the point where you don’t listen to any advice your program gives you. During my orientation, my program director mentioned many city-like characteristics of Heredia and things we could do to be cautious. The first thing they mentioned was all of the various loud noises. Some people are used to living in more quiet places, so the loud noises may be new for them. Then they went on to talk about keeping our belongings safe, which left me wondering if they were just trying to scare us. We were told it’s best to not carry your phone in your pocket, to carry your bag in front of you if you have one, not to wear excessive jewelry, and not to carry all of our money on us at once. This is to prevent us from becoming victims of petty theft. Coming from a city where petty theft happens all of the time, and me not having to take any of the safety precautions they recommended, I became a little bit too comfortable. I haven’t been robbed since I’ve been here, but after my program director explained why they tell us those safety measures, I understood a bit more. Simply being American in a foreign country can make you more of an easy target for petty theft. It doesn’t matter where you come from. Environments vary from country to country. I had to come to terms with the fact that even though Heredia and Philadelphia are both urban cities, they are in two different countries.
Besides safety precautions, there were also recommendations from my program that could help us become more comfortable in the new environment. Many people wanted to join gyms, which is a good way to learn your way around because you’ll have to figure out how to get there. You’ll also come into contact with other Costa Rican citizens, which can also make a new environment seem more normal or something that you’re used to. They’re exercising and going about their daily lives just like you are. Something else I have seen students do in my program is find places with Wi-Fi, like cafes, to do some homework. These are just two examples, but maybe finding things in your new environment that you are used to doing at home will help with adjustment and allow you to connect more with the city you’re in.
While being from an urban environment and studying abroad in one can have its advantages, such as being able to adjust faster or feel more comfortable getting around, I recommend taking into consideration whatever advice your program gives you about navigating the city in your everyday life. You want to be able to make the most out of your experience as possible. All of the advice and information is meant to prepare you, and I know for me I am still enjoying myself but I also feel more ready for what’s to come than I was when I first arrived. Being prepared can allow you to get the most out of your study abroad experience.