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!
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.