My STEP signature project entailed a study abroad experience in Heredia, Costa Rica. I studied Spanish in a classroom on weekdays, and on weekends was fortunate enough to further explore Tico culture by way of travel.
As I disembarked from the Delta aircraft in Alajuela, Costa Rica I could not have been more excited, thinking I would be living in the most beautiful country there is. This all changed as soon as I exited the airport, with Taxi drivers yelling in my face and after a long bus ride filled with heavy traffic and views of a run-down city, I began to question whether I could survive five weeks of this. Then, I was told to get off the bus and one of the program directors put me face-to-face with my host mom, who immediately began to ramble on in Spanish. Needless to say, culture shock is a reality.
In the beginning, I despised public transportation, the lack of sidewalks to walk upon during my trek to Universidad Latina, the five straight hours of sitting still, the long lines (even at the bank), the absence of urgency among Ticos, and the difficulty behind constantly thinking about how to form my next sentence in a language that I cannot speak fluently. I could not wait to get away from the ridiculous catcalls and the fear of crime. However, after approximately two weeks of anxiety and uneasiness in this foreign city, full of far more obvious danger than those of Columbus, Ohio, I began to adapt. I now realize that different is not bad, it is simply different. My view of the world evolved from an understanding of my petite world to a far better comprehension of life outside of the living the American dream. I understand that living the dream is not the same for all cultures. I now realize that in such a small world massive differences between cultures still exist, providing for a far more complex society than I ever could have imagined.
The most influential and transformational aspect of my STEP experience was the opportunity to live with a host family. When I first arrived I was overwhelmed by my in ability to comprehend my host mom’s questions and the frustration behind not knowing how to say what I could easily talk about in English. I did not like always locking three layers of gates before entering or exiting the house, but leaving all doors and widows ajar to welcome all sorts of bugs. Gradually, I began to understand almost every phrase my host family spoke, became accustomed to their way of life, foods, and schedule, and felt like a part of the family. I enjoyed playing with the young boys each morning and making sure they made it safely onto the bus. I came to realize the value behind different ways of life and the importance of flexibility in one’s mind.
Further, my weekend travels throughout Costa Rica played a major role in my immersing myself into the Tico culture. I experienced both positive and negative aspects of public transportation and achieved an understanding of my strengths and weaknesses. I realized that I have excellent problem solving skills when one of my companions lost her bus ticket and in Spanish I helped her to communicate with the sales-woman in order to get another one in time to board the bus. However I also came to know that in some ways I struggle with vast changes, such as the first few weeks of taking taxis as a means of transportation. During these times of travel my horizons broadened greatly as I experienced many different climates, regions, landscapes, and ways of life all within one country.
Another memorable aspect of my trip was the opportunity to attend Universidad Latina. By participating in classes and common student activities I got to experience the Costa Rican education system first-hand. This opportunity set me up to interact with Tico Students as well as other students from various areas in the United States. This experience was highly transformational because I received an education in the Spanish Language in a native Spanish-speaking environment where I was able to take the most out of Spanish class. Importantly, this same situation allowed for me to fully understand the Costa Rican culture as well as learn the language.
The self-transformation, of which all of these components of my study abroad experience have contributed, influences my abilities to obtain academic and professional success. By living in a native Spanish-speaking culture, I have gained the tools to excel in future Spanish courses at Ohio State. Also, I was able to complete six credit hours of course work for my minor, allowing me to move forward in my academic career. Moreover, as detailed in my STEP signature project proposal, my goal is to one-day work in the accounting and management departments of my family’s business. With the large amount of Spanish-speaking employees working for the business, my understanding of both Spanish language and culture will improve my abilities to be an effective asset within the business. Thus, my STEP experience not only transformed my current outlooks and global understanding, but also has further enhanced my future opportunities.