Costa Rica Adventures – Wrap Up & Reflection

If I had to choose just one word to describe the crazy mix of emotions I’m feeling right now, it’d be “wow.”

I’m back home in Las Vegas (or rather, to my new home in Vegas), five weeks have already gone by, and my study abroad adventures are done. Just wow.

A friend of mine told me it would just sneak up on me once I got really into living over there, and that suddenly the time would be gone and I’d want to stay.

And she is so right. I miss it. The people, the food, the environment, and dare I say it, after all my complaining about rain, even the weather. I wasn’t expecting all of this, especially considering how out of place I had felt at the beginning of the program. But, after getting past the whole culture shock phase, and allowing myself to open up to the culture and people around me, it lifted so much weight off my shoulders. Even though the class workload started ramping up in at the end, I started to have fun my last couple weeks. A lot of fun.

Hands down, one of the best parts of my experience was my host family. I feel like I got so lucky with mine. Originally I was nervous with conversing with my host mom in the mornings, since I was so concerned about making mistakes with my Spanish, or not having so much to talk about, but I took it as a challenge to improve myself and soon enough my meals with her were often the highlight of my day. She never judged me and always went out of her way to help me, from the language, to getting around town, to letting me vent to her about my school struggles. I can’t rave enough about Mayra. Honestly one of the sweetest and most hardworking people I’ve ever met, and I’m really going to miss our chats about life, and bonding over karaoke, cooking or ranting about how horrible the drivers and roads are.

My classes were also fantastic, though a bit of a strange mix of extremely challenging and then at other times, oddly relaxing. I loved my teachers so much, and they made class feel much more personal, and not like I was just being lectured to or like I was just another number. They loved learning about and engaging with all of us and I learned so much from them.

My Latin American Short Story and Essay class basically doubled as a history course with how much background about the culture my teacher, Carlos, would give us about Latin America, and how much energy and joy he showed while explaining it. He truly made me appreciate literature and the language so much more as a whole. Even though I was stressing like mad because he gave us like a day to finish 4 pages worth of essays for our final exam and my internet was garbage at the time, I loved being there. And as a positive, I definitely feel more confident in my speed-writing in a foreign language skill. Best coffee-fanatic, motorbike-riding teacher I have ever had.

With the Spanish Conversation class, I could really see the fruits of my labor after time went on. When I first started, I wasn’t feeling nearly as confident in my speaking ability, and I wasn’t sure how much it would help me in the end. However, having an hour completely dedicated to speaking and listening several times a week really adds up. Also, Alejandra the instructor was so sweet, understanding and knowledgeable, and also taught us a lot of ways the ticos converse and interact, as well as some cultural knowledge. This made interacting with the locals so much easier, and even though it was still difficult for me at times, I am so thankful I had that class and it really laid a foundation for me to keep improving.

Most of my time was spent studying or working on school projects, but I did take another few trips to San Jose, and was able to see the both the Jade Museum and the Children’s Museum. Would definitely recommend both! The Jade Museum had so much information about the indigenous people of Costa Rica, their customs, and of course about the pieces of jade they constructed, and a whole lot of other things as well. My amazing Short Stories professor brought my class on one of our off days, and it was definitely one of my favorite parts of the whole trip, especially since he gave us tons of history lessons throughout the tour. The Children’s Museum was pretty fun, too, even as an adult. They had a wide variety of exhibits and activities for all ages, and I was able to learn some things ranging from the country’s history, to technology, to even ancient Egypt. I was also able to make a tico friend there, when I was least expecting it, which was a great cherry on top!

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Speaking of friends, I’d say what really made the experience complete for me is the fact that I was able to meet so many great people. Before I had really come out of my shell, I still thought Costa Rica was a decent enough place, but I felt a little disconnected from everything. Even though I was surrounded by other people, I still felt this pang of loneliness because I convinced myself I didn’t totally fit in. But, once I let myself open up to more people, and not feel so anxious about trying to connect with the locals, my classmates, and my host family, as cheesy as it might sound, I felt like as if I’d been nervously groping around in the dark and suddenly the lights came on and everything was alright. And now because I’ve stepped out of my comfort zone, I’ve made some amazing friends, learned more about the world, and most importantly, about myself.

Whenever I’d seen other people talk about how studying abroad was so fantastic and completely changed their lives, I always had this thought at the back of my mind like, “Are these people exaggerating?” Even after I’d been in Costa Rica for a while, and had noticed some progress, I still wasn’t totally convinced. But now that my traveling adventures are over for now, one takeaway I have from all of this is that attitude really is everything. You can’t wait for change to happen in your life, you need to get out there and make it happen yourself. Once I changed my expectations for the better, and how I approached my situation, I realized that I’ve grown. I can handle myself in a completely different place, with a different language and culture, and successfully at that. And because of that, I feel a lot more confident about myself and my future. I wouldn’t trade this feeling for anything in the world, and I am so, so glad that I took the initial leap to go.

Costa Rica will always have a special place in my heart now, and I will go back someday, guaranteed. I’m so thankful to everyone that I met for making my first trip abroad amazing beyond belief. This was just the beginning for me, and I’m going to take everything I’ve learned from this experience as I keep on trucking on this journey through life.

Pura vida, everyone.

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Costa Rica Adventures – Whoa, We’re Halfway There!

Alright, couldn’t resist the fitting yet cheesy lyric-based title for this one.

The days have been racing by. Summer classes are usually intensive enough on their own, but combining that with studying abroad and all the activities we’ve been doing has been like starring in my own action movie, jumping from one thing to the next. We just finished our midterms this week, and now there’re only two weeks until I go back to the US. Part of me is glad to get back to see my family, friends and pets, and to not have to deal with rain straight up every single day, but at the same time, there are things I’ll miss about being here, particularly how sweet my host family is. Costa Rica’s been good to me, and I can see why other classmates recommended it for studying abroad.

When it comes to the actual studying part, the classes have been challenging, since they’re taught completely in Spanish and they require me to really use what I’ve learned in grammar classes. Now that a few weeks have gone by, I can see that they’re really starting to help my knowledge of the language. It’s a great feeling to be reading a classic story from Latin American literature in my short story and essay class and being able to understand way more than I figured I’d be able to.

I’m still having problems understanding most fast, native-level speech, but I’m starting to be able to pick up the words better. My vocabulary is still pretty much trash, so I won’t always know what people are saying a lot of the time, but now it doesn’t always sound like nonsense like the parents talking in Charlie Brown. Progress! The struggle is definitely real, but that journey of a thousand miles (or in this case, words), really does start with a single step, and even though it’s been difficult at times, I’m excited to see where I’ll be when this is all over.

It’s become a lot easier to think in Spanish, too. Though at times that makes me forget how to speak in English properly, which can lead to some . . . interesting exchanges where I can’t remember words or grammar.

For instance, my host mom put together some coleslaw at lunch the other day and she said it was her first time making it. So then we talked in Spanish for a bit about my day and such, and later, she asked me what the name of it was in English, since she had described it as ensalada de col. In my head, I thought I’d put together the perfect sentence to describe it to her, and then I started talking and realized I forgot the word “coleslaw”. I was racking my brain so hard for it too, and then about five minutes later I finally remembered it. Language interference is great. Hopefully it’s another sign I’m improving. Hopefully.

On the more negative side. I’m still having some issues when it comes to conversing with people. I think I’m still thinking too hard and fearing making mistakes at times. Especially when I’m having a not-as-good language day and I can’t remember how to say a lot of things, I’ll start freezing up and get caught in the cycle of feeling nervous, then freaking out more because I realize I’m nervous. It’s definitely not as bad as it was when I first came here, at least. I think I just need to remember to take deep breaths and chill. I do love that the ticos, or at least the friendly ones I’ve spoken to, always seem happy that I make the effort to talk with them in Spanish, no matter how broken it ends up sometimes. Makes it all feel worth it.

Moving away from the educational side of things, on to the pictures! The extra trips and activities we’ve been involved in have really enriched my experience here. Through the school, we’ve gone to:

  1. La Paz Waterfall Gardens, a beautiful, gigantic park and animal sanctuary with trails and, as the name suggests, waterfalls.

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  2. San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica, for a tour of the downtown area of the shops, markets, and historic buildings. We also watched a play adaptation of Frankenstein in the beautiful National Theater.

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  3. Punta Leona, a beach resort with some of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen.

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  4. The Costa Rica vs. Panama qualifier game at the National Stadium of Costa Rica. My first soccer game I’ve been to, which was definitely an experience to say the least. The fans of both teams, especially Panama’s, were hilarious to watch. Probably more fun than the game itself, since it ended up as a 0-0 tie.

With some other classmates, I also went on a guided tour of Cafe Brit, which is a very popular coffee manufacturer here. They gave us lots of free samples (always great) of their various flavors and gave us some tips on how to brew coffee properly, and how to check if the coffee you order is good quality. That was definitely a good day.

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Also, Amy, one of my classmates who goes to the same university as me, introduced me to a school that teaches English to adult ticos. She volunteers there on Thursday afternoons and helps the students with speaking activities, and invited me to come with her. One of the best decisions of my time here, without a doubt. The students and teacher are all really chill, and they genuinely enjoy having us there to help them learn. We get to practice our Spanish with them, too, so win-win!

Not too long ago I was feeling a little out of place, and possibly out of my league when it came to handling myself while abroad. Now, although things aren’t perfect, giving everything an honest try, from talking to new people, to new foods, to studying, has really been making me feel confident about my decision to come here. I’m definitely not going to become a master of the language in five weeks, but my foundation is getting stronger and I think I’ll be on a better path for myself once I do return home. Most importantly, I can tell that I’ve grown here, and I’m ready to keep moving forward. Well, after enjoying a bit of relaxation time after dealing with midterms, that is.

Until next time! Pura vida, everyone.