I studied abroad this summer in Puntarenas, Costa Rica, a small beach town located on the Pacific Coast of the country. I wanted to study in Costa Rica for the Spanish language, but chose a small coastal town instead of the more typical host cities like San Jose or Heredia. The greatest advice I would give to any student that is considering studying abroad is to pick a location that both fits their personality and what they are planning to study. I loved the small-town atmosphere and seaside living of my city.

In all of Costa Rica, the sun rises at about 5 am. The country’s location to the equator gives early morning sunshine and it is dark right around 6:30 pm. I have never been a morning person, but after a few weeks of waking up to the early sunlight, pots and pans banging from the restaurant attached to my house, and the TV playing the familiar Top 40 reggaeton songs—I had to adapt. I learned to love getting an early start to my day and taking advantage of every minute in this new environment and culture.

Each day began with my host family making me gallo pinto, the typical Costa Rican dish of rice and beans, and then walking to class. These morning walks were my favorite—I felt like I was on a tropical vacation walking alongside the beach and underneath palm trees, but really I was headed to school. I took Spanish Composition and Latin American Cinema, and was in class for four hours each morning. Afternoons were free for exploring or spending time on the beach.

I loved spending time getting to know my host family and practicing my Spanish with them. Every afternoon, my host parents’ two grandsons would come over after school. I took every chance I could to talk to them, as their speech was unforgivably quick and full of slang, and that was the type of local Spanish that I wanted to get used to. My favorite nights were “dance nights”. A few times a week I took dance class where I learned the basic steps of bachata, salsa, merengue, and other Latin American dances. I hadn’t originally signed up for the class, but after trying it once I knew I needed to take it. Taking dance was the best decision I made on my study abroad. Not only was it fun and a good exercise, it got me out of comfort zone while helping me learn a big part of the culture. The Ticos love for dance is infectious.

Weekends were spent traveling and seeing more of the country. Costa Rica has amazing views, diverse wildlife, and beautiful beaches. I went to hot springs naturally heated by a volcano, zip-lined in the jungle, hiked to a waterfall in Montezuma, walked around the cloud forest in Monteverde, rode horses in Drake Bay, and so much more. But staying back in Puntarenas wasn’t boring either. During my study abroad, the local students had a short summer vacation. The sidewalks filled will vendors, streets were shut down for weekly parades, and Los Hermanos Rosario and Luis Enrique played in concerts which brought thousands of people to the town. One special afternoon, we got permission to leave class early and headed to outside the local aquarium to watch baby sea turtles be let into the ocean.

I knew I’d see amazing views. I knew I would visit jungles, go on many adventures, and enjoy paradise living. What I didn’t expect was how much I would fall in love with the beautiful people of this country. Ticos showed me a life that is more relaxed (hence the phrase pura vida), family oriented, simple, and balanced with hard work while enjoying nature. This is why I love to travel and think everyone should. Living for a time outside your own culture teaches you a different way of life and gives you a new perspective. Studying abroad is a wonderful opportunity to step out of the norm and to let the world be your classroom. I’m so grateful to have spent my summer in Costa Rica and definitely will return one day!

Kate Anastas is majoring in Communication and studied abroad in Summer 2019 in Puntarenas, Costa Rica with USAC. Kate had the following to say about studying abroad, “Take advantage of every moment during your study abroad! You won’t regret immersing yourself in the culture, and every day will be an opportunity to experience something new, grow as a person, make new friends, and learn.”

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