It was so hard to narrow this list down to ten things—I could talk about studying abroad for such a long time! But first, a little about me: my name is Hannah, and I studied abroad with SOL Education Abroad in Heredia, Costa Rica. If you are interested in learning Spanish, I highly recommend SOL’s programs. They have cultural activities every week and opportunities to live with a host family, attend a local university, and take all your classes in Spanish.
A little about Costa Rica: it is a beautiful country, and Pura Vida (“pure life”) is a real thing. People are very laid-back, and the pace of life is slow. If you like beaches, mountains, hiking, and spending a lot of time outside, this is the place for you!
1. Say yes (within reason, of course!)
One of my biggest pieces of advice is to say yes to everything. Studying abroad is such a unique opportunity where you can try so many new things and experience a new culture more than you would as a tourist. If someone asks you if you want to try a new food, go to a game, go explore a section of town, etc. the answer is yes! Keep your safety in mind, but, apart from that, don’t be afraid to say yes and try new things.
2. Take opportunities as they come
My favorite weekend in Costa Rica (and a top moment of my life, to be completely honest) was hiking Cerro Chirripó with my two friends Audrey and Sydney. We planned the trip early in the semester and said any weekend worked except one, since we had a final exam on Monday and as a program were going to Panama that Wednesday. However, with the permits for the park, the only weekend we could go happened to be that weekend. We debated it for a bit and decided just to go for it, and we were so happy that we did. It was such an incredible experience, and our final exam ended up going really well.
3. Every day will not be great, and that’s okay
You only see the highlights on social media. Overall, studying abroad was a great experience, and I have no regrets about going and highly encourage it, but there were days that I was homesick or missed certain comforts of the States. Everything is not picture-perfect and that’s okay. Parts will be difficult, but that’s how you grow.
4. Talk to new people!
I can’t stress this enough! I was in Costa Rica, so talking to locals was a great way to practice Spanish and to learn more about the culture. Don’t be afraid to talk to people, locals are usually excited that you are making an effort to talk in Spanish. If you stay in hostels talk to people there too! Hostels are a unique setting where you can meet and talk to people from all over the world. One night we had people from Costa Rica, Spain, Germany, and the US all in the same room, and it made for some great conversations.
5. Make a budget before you go, or at least keep track of what you’re spending
If I could change one thing about my study abroad experience, I wish I would have kept better track of my spending while in Costa Rica. I started to later in the semester, and it made me more aware of how I was spending my money and where I could cut expenses. I would much rather use my money for experiences rather than souvenirs or coffee, and keeping track of spending made it easier to do that. With that, I don’t regret any of the weekend travel trips we took. I was able to travel most weekends because we cut costs when we could. We cooked almost all of our meals and stuck to less expensive food items. Always ask if places offer a student discount. Share costs with friends if you can.
6. Look into your bank/credit card fees before going abroad
My credit card was not accepted in much of Costa Rica, so I constantly had to use cash. My bank charged a pretty hefty withdraw fee, and there was a conversion fee.
7. Costa Rica specific: if you are going during the rainy season (May to November), PLEASE do yourself a favor and invest in a good rain racket
Please. Rainy season is not a joke in Costa Rica. I brought over a packable rain jacket and was soaked within 5 minutes almost every day. Side note: I actually really liked going during the rainy season because it’s their off-season for tourism, so places were less crowded, and we usually got a discount.
8. Costa Rica Specific: Be patient with the transportation system
Transportation was frustrating yet comical at the same time. The train system is very old, but cheap and fairly reliable. The buses are all independently owned, so there really isn’t a set rate or schedule. Don’t be afraid to ask locals if they know where the bus stop is, and it doesn’t hurt to confirm with the bus driver that you are on the correct bus. Uber is also very inexpensive in Costa Rica. With time you will get a hang of it!
9. If you’re living with a host family, enjoy it!
Looking back some of my favorite memories are hanging out with my host family and playing with my host mom’s granddaughter. It’s also a great way to practice Spanish and learn more about the culture.
10. Get a SIM card for your phone and have limited minutes
I was not planning on getting a SIM card, but after some independent traveling, I decided it was worth it to have the ability to call in case of an emergency and to look at maps. The SIM card was ~$2, and you can put however much you want on it. I always had my phone on airplane mode and just turned it on when I needed it. I really liked being disconnected from my phone, but, from personal experience, I would recommend that you or someone you’re traveling with has a functional phone in the case of an emergency.
And enjoy!! Your Etown family will miss you, but spread your wings and fly! Studying abroad is an amazing opportunity and a great way to grow. Embrace wherever you are and take advantage of all the unique opportunities.
About the Author: Hannah Dinsmore ’21 – Fall 2019, Semester in Heredia, Costa Rica
Hannah is a junior occupational therapy and Spanish double major. She studied abroad in Costa Rica during the fall of her junior year.
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