This semester I traded the mountains of Chattanooga for the tropical beaches of Costa Rica. I spent four months immersing myself in the language, culture and daily life of the Ticos (the nickname of Costa Rican citizens), and I am so glad that I did. This semester was an unforgettable one, and I gained so much during my time abroad.

For example, in Costa Rica I gained many new experiences that I would not have had in Tennessee. Early on in the semester, I learned how to surf, and it quickly became one of my favorite things to do in my free time. Early in the morning most weekends, I would take a bus from San José to one of the nearby beaches and rent a surfboard for the day. I would spend the day in the ocean, meeting other surfers from Costa Rica and all over the world who had a passion for surfing. I also got to see all kinds of wildlife that I’d never seen before like monkeys and sloths.

Not only did I gain new experiences, but I also gained a new sense of independence that I’ve never had before. I lived in a new country on my own, with no knowledge of what I was getting myself into. As prepared as all the pre-departure checklists and researching Costa Rica made me before I left, I was headed into something completely new, and I had to rely on myself to get through it. Although I had professors, program directors, and host family members that wanted to help me to succeed, I had to be responsible for myself this semester like I never had been before. This led to many opportunities for me to explore this new independence. For example, I was required to leave Costa Rica within 90 days of entering the country to renew my student visa. Instead of taking the brief weekend trip over the Panama border with my program, I decided to be bold and travel to Peru, a country I’d always wanted to visit. I went to Peru for four days, completely alone with no idea what I was doing. While I made sure to be responsible and safe while I traveled, I had to completely plan everything by myself, and I couldn’t rely on anyone else.

Finally, I gained experience in a context different from my own. I spent four months in a country that has different customs, language and culture than the United States. Not only that, but most of my friends were from different parts of the United States than the south, so I was able to learn about different beliefs and cultures from within my own country. Overall, my study abroad trip was a life changing experience, and I will continue to take lessons away from it for a long time to come.

Reese Black is majoring in Spanish and spent the Spring 2019 semester studying abroad in San Jose, Costa Rica  through AIFS. Reese had the following to say about studying abroad, “If you are even considering a study abroad trip, you should definitely go for it. You will be stretched and grow so much more than you think possible. You will learn more about the world and yourself, and you won’t come back the same.”

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