Wow, were to begin?  Coming into college, I did not expect to spend a semester abroad. I had heard about people spending semesters abroad before, but semesters abroad always seemed so daunting and out of my price range. Luckily, during my sophomore year, I started looking into some faculty led summer trips- I really just wanted to go somewhere (anywhere) new for a little while. I emailed my study abroad advisor and found out that the study abroad office had a full ride scholarship to send a STEM major to Costa Rica and Mexico for a semester. The next thing I knew, I was on a plane headed to Central America.

The name of my program was the CIEE Open Campus Block STEM and Society Program. Going in, I could not have expected how well this program would work for me and my major, and I believe it can work well for other students who are looking to study abroad. For my scholarship, I was required to travel to Monteverde, Costa Rica, and Mérida, Mexico. While I absolutely loved both of these locations, the cool thing about this program is that one can choose up to three locations around the world to study in for six weeks each. I really liked the set-up of the block program for many reasons. The first was that during each block, students took no more than two classes at a time. I think this allowed for greater concentration in each class, and more time was spent on activities outside or in the field. The second aspect I liked about the block program was because there were only six weeks at each location, it really pushed me to make the most of my free time and helped me to avoid becoming homesick. Lastly, getting to visit multiple countries in one semester was pretty awesome.

Out of the two locations, Monteverde was the destination where I spent the most time- two blocks. Monteverde was truly beautiful, the scenery, the way of life, the people- all of it.  There was opportunity for adventure and opportunity for relaxation. Monteverde was a place to learn to appreciate the power of nature. As soon as one enters Costa Rica, one will hear the phrase “pura vida.” “Pura vida” means “pure life.” After spending twelve weeks in Monteverde, I finally understood how well this phrase encapsulated the Costa Rican way of life.

I spent one block in Mérida, Mexico, which was located in the Yucatan peninsula. What I loved about Mérida was the vibrancy of the city. The streets were lined with colorful buildings, the people were full of joy, and the sun shined bright and hot. The history of Mérida and the Yucatan peninsula was rich and fascinating. One could explore the ancient Mayan ruins or the city by day and then keep exploring or dance by night.

Going in, I knew this would be an awesome experience. I knew I would do some cool things and meet some neat people. What I did not expect was for this experience to change my life. I did not expect to fall in love with these places and the people I met along the way. Discovering new and different ways of life was awesome. I learned so much inside and out of the classroom. I learned more about myself and my home in the U.S. This was by far my best semester of college, and I will be forever grateful for these once-in-a-lifetime experiences. I will remember them forever.

Laurel Pelren is majoring in Environmental Science and spent the Fall 2019 semester studying abroad in Monteverde, Costa Rica and Merida, Mexico through CIEE. Laurel had the following to say about studying abroad, “Study abroad helped me to learn so many things. It helped me to grow as a person and realize how many opportunities there are out in the world. It reminded me how awesome it is to be alive today.”

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