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U of M student reflects on finding new home

I never knew how much studying abroad for one month in Costa Rica would change my life. 

I had been planning to study abroad for a few semesters before I applied. Even though I usually do not receive financial aid, I received a scholarship through the University of Memphis Study Abroad Office for $1,000 to help cover the program cost of $2,435. My program costs included tuition for six credit hours, housing, two meals each day, airport pick-up and on-site bilingual staff to assist with any concerns that would arise. 

Even after landing at the airport and going through customs, it took some time to sink in.  But as my roommate and I made our way outside and got our first glimpse of Costa Rica, I knew I was here. 

Our host parents met us at the pick-up point to take us “home.”  We got into the car with Sonia and Jose, my “Tica” mom and dad, and learned that no one in my host family could speak English. All of a sudden, it seemed like I had not learned anything in the two semesters of Spanish classes I had already taken at the U of M.

Once we arrived at my new home, Sonia made me a cup of coffee, for which Costa Rica is famous, and we started talking. She spoke very slow and clear, so I could understand her. Her understanding of my new situation helped me to relax and adjust to the new language and environment. She was always very patient and supportive as I learned more every day.

During the week, I went to class at the Universidad de Costa Rica. I took the class Intermediate Spanish I and II, which transferred back to the U of M as SPAN 2010 and 2020. Almost all the professors and students on campus could speak English, so I could always ask for help or directions, even if I was not sure how to say something in Spanish.

I signed up for all of the optional excursions my program offered. My favorite was the trip to La Paz Waterfall and Nature Park. The drive there was gorgeous with misty mountain views. It was the most beautiful place I have ever been to in my life. The main waterfall is around 37 meters, or 121 feet, high and took my breath away. Some of the other excursions included visiting Tortuga Island and zip lining through the Braulio Carrillo National Park. 

On my last day, as I waited for my Uber to the airport, I looked around and realized how much Costa Rica felt like home. I made more friends than I can name, I could actually hold a conversation in Spanish and I explored some of the most beautiful natural forests and beaches. I had been zip lining, white water rafting, snorkeling and hiking. My great adventure was coming to an end, and I missed it before I even left. I never knew how much studying abroad would change my life. 

I still talk to my host mom, Sonia, very often. She will always be my Tica mom. I am even planning to visit Costa Rica again soon. If you are thinking about studying abroad — just do it. It is a wild adventure that you will never forget.

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