This summer, I traveled to Heredia, Costa Rica, on a 35 day study abroad trip. I lived in a homestay with an older woman, her grandchildren, and another one of the twenty-five students in the program. I took two Spanish classes at the Universidad Latina Heredia, which was about ten minutes on foot from the house. We had class for four and a half hours every afternoon, Monday through Thursday. These classes gave me credit for two Spanish courses required for my Spanish minor at OSU: 3401 Advanced Grammar and 3403 Intermediate Spanish Composition. For two of the four weekends, the program had planned excursions for us to a beach, la Playa Tamarindo, and a volcano, el Volcán Arenal. The other two weekends, we planned our own trips to a rainforest, Monteverde, and a different beach, Manuel Antonio. I also explored the historical city of Heredia and the nearby national capital, San Jose.
Though it seems obvious, I did learn a massive amount of Spanish while I was in Costa Rica. The first week, I was somewhat slow and uncertain in my speech, but by the end, I was thinking in Spanish and speaking with much more fluidity. I wrote in my journal and skyped with people in Ohio regularly; I would often slip out of English and into Spanish during those activities. I also became very familiar with the culture of Costa Rica, including the food, slang, music, transportation, and more. Between walking, and taking buses, trains, and taxis, I became pretty good at navigating on my own. Though I am not religious, I attended Catholic masses with my host family, so I learned about their beliefs.
One of the best aspects of my experience was making so many new friends, both locals and fellow travelers. In the former group were my Costa Rican instructors, advisors, host family, and other students at the university. I also became particularly close with many of my American classmates. During the last weekend of the trip, ten of us took an extremely spontaneous trip to Manuel Antonio, which is a national park known for its wildlife on the Pacific coast. It was a fantastic adventure in that we didn’t have any details about the destination or any plan whatsoever beyond catching the bus out of San Jose. Somehow nothing went wrong; we made it to the bus station in plenty of time, despite insane traffic, and found a decent hostel when we arrived. The next day, we took a guided tour of the animal-filled rainforest, then spent hours on a gorgeous secluded beach before returning to Heredia with ease. I loved the sense of self-sufficiency and impulsivity it gave me, as well as the wonderful company and gorgeous setting.
This experience had a tremendous impact on me personally. The independence that I took on in Costa Rica has carried over into my life in the US. The philosophy of “pura vida” has stuck with me too. Costa Ricans use the phrase in many capacities, but it is essentially a reminder to live the “pure life,” to relax and appreciate all that life has to offer. At home now, I find myself thinking in that manner. I want to take advantage of everything I can, while not stressing about small things. I’ve learned to be more spontaneous – I don’t need to obsessively plan every detail; I can trust that things will work out. I’ve also gotten better at meeting new people and making new friends. Since I returned to the US, I have started listening to Spanish music much more often and attempting to cook Latin American food.
My experience in Costa Rica reaffirmed my love of Spanish. I’m now more committed than ever to becoming a bilingual speech pathologist. I also desperately want to travel more! My experience in Costa Rica is now acting as a catalyst for another opportunity, in which I will able to travel to Puerto Rico in order to do research for an honors thesis on language development in Spanish-speaking children. Not only would this opportunity not have presented itself without my having had experience abroad in the Spanish-speaking world, I may not even have wanted to pursue such an opportunity if I hadn’t been successful in spending time abroad before.
Photos: Hanging bridge in Monteverde Cloud Forest, Pacific coast in Manuel Antonio National Park, O-H-I-O at the National Museum overlooking San Jose