One’s study abroad experience does depend on where one goes, whether that be to Europe, Latin American, or Asia. I would imagine that going to an English-speaking country or a country where people are taught English in school would be a lot easier to adjust to because there is not a language barrier. However, I do think that if one chooses to study abroad, one should not choose a place that is remarkably similar to the United States because then he or she will not be able to experience a new culture.
This past May and June, I went to San José, Costa Rica and studied Health Psychology and Spanish at Veritas University. Going to a Spanish speaking country without knowing a lot of Spanish was very difficult, and honestly, I probably would not recommend it to a student who does not know any Spanish because most people in Costa Rica do not know English. Also, there is not excellent cell reception so one cannot use google translate. However, I will say that Costa Ricans are very hospitable and are willing to help you in any way. The language barrier did force me to learn more Spanish because I could not buy anything or go anywhere I needed to without communicating with someone in Spanish. I learned a lot in a short amount of time. Although I did learn a lot of Spanish, I think that the Spanish classes are way harder than those in the United States. I had not taken any Spanish courses at university, and I had only taken two semesters in high school, so clearly, I did not know a lot of Spanish. However, I somehow placed higher than the Basic 1 level at Veritas (the Basic 2 level). This Basic 2 class could easily be an Intermediate level Spanish class in the United States because my teacher did not know any English, and we had to write three papers and presented eight PowerPoints. My professor graded everything very harshly, and a few people in my class failed. Although my Spanish class was challenging and not that much fun, my psychology class was AMAZING! I learned so much about mental illnesses, treatments, and studies. In my class, we went to PANI, which is Costa Rica’s social services, and a nursing home and were able to see how the Costa Rican government helps their gold citizens (senior citizens).
I chose ISA for my provider based on cost. However, they were accommodating with any questions I had about classes, my host family, or excursions. While I was in Costa Rica, I went on three weekend excursions two which were covered by ISA and one that my friends and I did by ourselves. The first trip I went on was to Manuel Antonio, which is a national park on the coast of West Costa Rica. While there, we saw monkeys, sloths, dolphins, and colorful crabs. One girl even got attacked by a monkey! It was crazy. The next weekend we went to La Fortuna and saw the Arenal Volcano. The volcano was massive, and we even saw smoke coming out of it. My friends and I also ziplined over the canopy. The last weekend trip I did was with my friends to Monteverde. This trip was probably my favorite because we were able to be on our own and explore the area, and we were able to do the famous hanging cloud bridges.
Overall my experience in Costa Rica was refreshing. I got to see volcanoes, monkeys, dolphins, and waterfalls. I also liked being able to meet new people from all across the United States, and I did make some terrific friends. However, I would not recommend students to take classes at Veritas because they were not very helpful in helping me switch classes or helping me in my class with explaining to my teacher that her expectations were too high for the amount of knowledge we had in Spanish.
The main reason I chose Costa Rica was because there aren’t many study abroad opportunities that include classes for BioChem majors; I’ve never had a strong desire to go to Latin America; however, I do think that I grew a lot during my time in San José because I had to be really independent and anything that I needed I had to get myself. This independence also helped me learn the language more, and I also got to know some Costa Ricans. The Costa Rican people are so helpful and are patient with people learning Spanish. San José was similar to the United States because it was quite modern and urbanized which makes it a lot like other places, but of course, it is a third world country that has lots of people in poverty, and you are not able to flush toilet paper down the toilets, and there is no air conditioning. This experience was very humbling and made me realize how lucky we, Americans, are to have our first-world amenities.
Katherine Kite is majoring in Biochemistry and spent the Summer 2019 semester studying abroad in San Jose, Costa Rica through ISA. Katherine had the following to say about studying abroad, “One should study abroad to feel uncomfortable and to experience a new culture not because you want to say where you’ve been. I think we often get caught up in a façade of social media appearances and forget to actually experience the world.”
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