Barbara H. Padnos International Center
130 Lake Ontario Hall
Q: What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of your study abroad experience?
A: People. I met amazing people during my study abroad experience, from my wonderful host family and roommates to classmates and professors to people in hostels and clubs...the ISA staff and other students in my program became a little community and there was always someone to go out and explore with. You get to know people so much faster when you are traveling around a foreign country together. I feel closer to my friends I made studying abroad for 3 months than some friends I have known for years. I also volunteered at a school and the kids and teachers were so nice, I felt completely at home after only a couple of days.
Q: Why did you choose this destination?
A: I wanted to go somewhere non-English speaking, so I chose a Spanish-speaking country because I thought it would be a practical language to learn. I chose Costa Rica in particular because of the country's reputation in eco-tourism, education, beauty, and peace. I also have several family members who have been to Costa Rica and it came highly recommended from them. It was also pretty inexpensive compared to many other study abroad programs.
Q: What are some things that surprised you about the campus, the classes, the culture, customs or traditions?
A: I did not realize before I went that Veritas is a small, relatively expensive art school (meaning there are not that many students and plenty of cab drivers had no idea where it was). This meant that we were going to school with Costa Ricans on the wealthier side, in a somewhat safer area. Besides the language and cafeteria food, it actually reminded me a lot of the U.S. However, I had to adjust to living in a capital city; always being cautious and aware, learning quickly how to get where I needed to go via bus or taxi, trying as much as possible to not stick out as a tourist. Taxis were probably one of the weirdest things for me-- I had never taken one before I went to Costa Rica, and there it was a very regular thing, sometimes multiple times per day. They are cheap and fast, and pretty much the only option if you want to go out at night. I was pleasantly surprised at how cheap and easy it is to get around the country; buses leave from San Jose to pretty much anywhere you want to go. The most expensive one I took was a little less than $10 and took 4 hours, going to the Caribbean.
Q: What are some things you would like students to know about studying abroad in this destination or the program provider you studied with?
A: If you are a beginner in Spanish, don't worry. You learn so fast. Unfortunately, this also means that your electives will all be in English with other international students, so there will not be as much opportunity to make friends with local students. The local and international students were fairly segregated, but the positives of the program outweigh this by a lot. The other ISA students are there because they want to test their limits and experience another culture, so I found almost everyone fun and open-minded, and easy to become friends with. And if one of your friends has a class with ticos, it's easy to become friends through a friend. It's a really small world there, sometimes it seems like everyone knows each other. And this is really important because it is not a good idea to go out by yourself (at night particularly) or carry more money or electronics on you than is necessary. Theft is very common. But don't let that deter you!
Q: What advice would you offer?
A: Try to speak Spanish even to your English-speaking friends. Practice as much as possible, even if it's Spanglish (I laughed and learned a lot with my roommates during our conversations in Spanglish). Get to know your host family, and spend time with them. Learn how to make some Costa Rican food so you can make it and feel less homesick for Costa Rica when you get back. Travel on the weekends with different friends (San Jose isn't that exciting on the weekends, and there is so much more to see). Take a weekend trip to Panama (Bocas del Toro was one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen). Go out during the week sometimes (even if it means staying up late some nights, you meet more people and experience the nightlife of San Jose). Stay after your program ends if you can.
Q: What was your academic goal while studying abroad?
A: I wanted to learn as much Spanish as I could. I didn't care as much about grades though, I just cared about being able to hold conversations and understand what was going on around me. For my electives, I went into them just wanting to get a passing grade so my credits would transfer...and I ended up passing with flying colors, because I actually enjoyed my classes and assignments (for the most part). All of my classes had field trips, sometimes weekend-long ones, and I learned so much in a fun way through those. And you become good friends with your classmates and professor, you see what you learn in class, and it becomes more real and important. We sometimes went places I never would have found on my own. It's easy to do well, as long as you have some level of interest in the subject.
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