So, this marks the 7th week for most international students here at Veritas University. Seven weeks away from home, family, friends & so much more. Some of us are either starting to feel homesick, getting over being homesick, or not feeling homesick at all. However, I think as a whole, we are definitely recognizing that we are truly part of an amazing experience here.
I have compiled a few words of advice to those who choose to study abroad in the future, so that all of you can enjoy, to the fullest, your study abroad experience.
1) Ask questions. If you’re planning on studying abroad, ask any and all questions that come to mind. No matter how stupid you think you may sound, or how annoying you think you may be, ask away. No question is silly or stupid. You want to make sure that you know absolutely everything before traveling abroad. Inquire about all programs, learn about traveling independently, ask questions about your host school, make sure you’re not getting overcharged for flights if your program is booking them, check the exchange rate between dollars and the unit of currency where you are traveling…the list could go on forever. Just ask away!
2) Don’t play the comparison game. Not everything is going to compare to back home. Things might just be done differently, and that’s because every culture is different. Not every country has access to the same things as other countries. Embrace the differences. Do not compare!
3) Go out of your comfort zone. I mean, you came to Costa Rica for a reason, right? Go all out! Buy every food that you’ve never tried before. If you end up liking it, keep on buying it. I’ve probably tried over fifty new foods here so far, and the outcome has almost always been a good one (but I’m a food lover so don’t expect to have the same experience). Ride a horse, visit waterfalls & volcanoes, play soccer with locals, go to a professional soccer game, go white water rafting or bungee jumping, etc.. The only way to experience anything and everything is to just do it, so make a bucket list for while you’re abroad, and try to check off all of your goals!
4) Get involved! This can also be paired with leaving your comfort zone. Join a club, participate in an extracurricular activity, interact with locals. Don’t stay cooped up in your room all day, and don’t hangout with just the exchange students. Become immersed. Join clubs or after school sports. Visit the orphanage. Get to know your tico family. Join the gym, and take classes with the locals. Keep yourself busy!
5) Don’t be afraid to voice your opinion, for the sake of your own comfort. I felt out of my comfort zone for a little while, which is totally normal. It takes a bit of time to adjust to a new place. However, if you think that something could make you feel more comfortable or at home, don’t hesitate to ask for it. Tell your host family about the foods that you don’t like. Ask for coffee instead of juice. Ask for two towels instead of one. Let the housekeeper know that you don’t need her to make your bed. Let yourself be heard; you won’t regret it!
6) When in doubt, pack everything that you think you will want/need, even at the risk of having an overweight suitcase! I regret not bringing the typical medicines that I take when I’m sick, my favorite comfort foods (non-perishable of course), all of my vitamins, my blankie, a beach towel, sunblock, aloe, bug spray, extra toothbrushes, and more pants, shirts, shoes, underwear & socks. Basically, I thought that I would have the same access to these things in Costa Rica as I do in the United States, and this was a silly assumption. Nonetheless, I am surviving, but still lamenting the absence of certain things.
7) Don’t be afraid to be yourself. The worst way to spend your experience is pretending to be someone that you’re not. Let your real personality be known early on, so that you can feel comfortable about who you are. Let your family, friends & roommates know about your interests, your likes and dislikes, your mannerisms. That way, you become close to the people who know what you’re like and accept you all the same!
8) Lastly, and probably most importantly, stay in contact with your loved ones. You may find yourself in a situation where you are as happy & comfortable as can be, or you could be feeling a little homesick. In either situation, home will most likely be often occupying your thoughts. Try to stay in touch with all of your loved ones back home, through calling, Skype-ing, texting, Facebook-ing, etc. Also, I highly recommend sending post cards The “old-fashioned” way to send mail is still the greatest, and people get excited when they get a letter in the mail, so send those post cards!I’m sure that in these next five weeks of my stay here in San Jose, Costa Rica, I will discover & learn many new things about the study abroad experience, but for now, I will leave you with these thoughts of mine.
~Cammie Brown, Social Media Journalist