Being able to study abroad this semester was a huge blessing for me and I’m super glad I chose to go. I had decided I wanted to study abroad before I even got into college and my dream was fulfilled a little bit when I was part of the Latin American Studies Semester at Temple, which allowed me to travel to Ecuador for three weeks and live with a host family. After that program, I wanted to study abroad for an entire semester even more. After a couple years of waiting, I applied for the Spring 2020 semester with the USAC program I am in now. Due to the pandemic, I was unable to go, which I was quite devastated about. Thankfully, I persevered and applied for the same program again for this semester, and I am very grateful that I was able to end up studying in Costa Rica.
Studying abroad during a pandemic was not my ideal experience due to the constant uncertainty, as well as having to adjust to new Covid restrictions in a new country. But, looking back, I wouldn’t have changed anything about my time abroad. I still got to meet many new friends, learn a lot of new things, and explore various places I’d never been before. One of my favorite aspects about my experience was being immersed in a culture I never had really been exposed to before. I’ve come into contact with quite a few other Latin American and Hispanic cultures, and while they share similarities, they also have their unique differences. Costa Rican culture was interesting for me to learn about and I did so through eating the food, listening to how they speak Spanish, and taking language and culture classes at my host university. My host family was also a huge part of my learning. My host mom made me many typical Costa Rican foods such as gallo pinto, maduros, and empanadas. Sight seeing and taking trips also allowed me to learn more about the culture as I was able to try different regional foods and see how people lived in various parts of the country.
My biggest reason for studying abroad was to take classes that would count towards my Spanish degree and to improve my Spanish speaking skills. Before coming, I could speak the language, but it was very choppy and I would also get nervous a lot which would make me trip over my words. After living in Costa Rica for almost four months, I have noticed a difference in my confidence and fluidity. I definitely still get nervous and my sentences can still be choppy, but I think becoming more comfortable speaking Spanish has helped me to speak with more fluency. I knew how to form sentences correctly at a pretty advanced level before coming, but it was difficult to convey that through speech. I’m not yet at the fluency I would like to be, but I am still grateful that this experience was able to help me improve in that area.
Being abroad has also taught me to not take too much for granted. Around the halfway mark of the program, I realized how fast time had flown and I kind of felt like I hadn’t cherished what I’d experienced so far enough. Many times, I would be walking to school and look at a view of pretty mountains and in my head I would tell myself “I’m actually in Costa Rica.” It sounds like a simple sentence, but in those moments, I would be reflecting on how I was living out my dream I’d had since high school. Ninth grade me did not think I would have studied in Costa Rica for a whole semester, let alone traveled to four countries by the end of the program. Especially during a pandemic where I was thinking I wouldn’t be able to go before I graduated college. I tried not to take my experience for granted and live every moment.
As for people contemplating studying abroad, I would highly encourage you to go for it. I definitely do not regret this experience and I don’t think you will either. You learn so much about a new environment, a new culture, a new language possibly, and about yourself. It will definitely be challenging at times, but I hope hearing about my experience as well as other students’ will motivate you to make the choice to study abroad.