Academics Classes Costa Rica Daily Life Field Work Nyah Tinsley Temple Semester USAC

Taking classes abroad vs the United States

The process of making sure all the classes I’m taking abroad got approved was a bit stressful and required some moving around. At this point during the semester, I am happy with my course choices and am glad everything was able to be figured out. During my time abroad, I have picked up on some interesting similarities and differences between classes I’ve taken back at Temple compared to my classes in Costa Rica. Below, I will compare and contrast my courses in the United States versus abroad to give you an idea of what to expect if you’re interested in studying with the program I’m in called USAC. 

Frequency and duration 

I have heard from some of the program directors and professors that the way our classes are set up this year in Costa Rica is due to Covid. For example, my classmates and I only have class four days a week, Monday through Thursday, and then Friday is one of our days off. The program did this to limit our contact with people on campus to help limit the spread of Covid. This is one change I don’t mind too much since it gives me more time to work on assignments as well as travel and experience the country.

My teacher going over essay topics in one of my classes.
My teacher going over essay topics in one of my classes.

Something else that is different is the amount of time we spend in classr. Normally in the U.S., my class times range from about an hour to 80 minutes. Here in Costa Rica, each one of our classes lasts for three hours with ten minute breaks every 50 minutes. Although my class duration is not my ideal amount of time to be in class, I’m thankful we only have two classes a day at the most. This way my day can be more spread out and I won’t get as burnt out compared to if I had three or four three-hour classes back to back, for example. 

Class options are limited

If you’re considering studying abroad, be prepared for the possibility that there may not be a large variety of courses compared to your home university. When I was trying to decide what classes to take while abroad, there were quite a few options on the USAC website and many of them seemed like they would qualify for credit at Temple. To my disappointment, many of my first choices were canceled due to the lack of students in the program signing up for them. At Temple, there is not an infinite number of classes available to choose from, but there are significantly more options. This is most likely because USAC is a specialty program whereas Temple is a university. USAC is hosted at a local university, but as exchange students, we don’t have access to classes all of the other students do. They are specific to the program. Some classes that I am taking right now are Spanish grammar, Latin American cultures, and various science classes that focus on the tropical region of the world where Costa Rica is located. The courses offered may change from semester to semester but here you can read more about their academics and what classes were offered for the Fall 2021 term in Heredia.

A field trip to Guayabo, an archaeological site in Costa Rica, as part of a field study which is a class option USAC offers for usually one credit.
A field trip to Guayabo, an archaeological site in Costa Rica, as part of a field study which is a class option USAC offers for usually one credit.


The amount of assignments I have received while in Costa Rica has been fairly similar to my typical workload in the U.S., if not slightly less. Even though I may receive less work at times, that doesn’t mean it’s not challenging. For example, for my Spanish class, we have had to read two books completely written in Spanish. Comprehending everything was a bit difficult because the type of Spanish they were written in was very poetic and metaphorical and many times the way sentences were phrased wasn’t something I was used to seeing. I think in some cases the density of my assignments has been more challenging. 

In addition, I also have many written assignments, which is normal for me since I am in the College of Liberal Arts at Temple. Essays and papers are not my favorite thing, but I’m happy I can practice and improve my writing in the process, especially in Spanish, since that was one of my purposes for wanting to study abroad along with getting better at speaking. If you’re thinking about studying abroad with USAC, there are a handful of the courses that will definitely challenge your writing skills, but I still encourage you to stick with it since it may benefit you in the end. 

Studying abroad can be a huge process, especially choosing classes. Once you arrive at your host country, it also may take some time adjusting to the way that the program functions course-wise. I think overall it’s still a good experience since you are possibly able to live in a new type of educational environment. It can be nice for a change every once in a while. I think what helped me was trying to find similarities to Temple and acknowledge those while also embracing the differences. In my opinion, being ok with change can help improve your study abroad experience because you won’t be so stuck on one way of doing things. It can be better to not expect too much and keep an open mind.

Read here about another student’s comparisons to academics abroad in Rome. 

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