Before studying in Costa Rica, I did a short winter program in the Dominican Republic studying health challenges surrounding potable water. It was a great jam packed three and a half weeks staying in the capital, Santiago, to learn and traveling to different areas towards the north coast. I loved the food, the weather, and the people, but I felt like I was still missing out on something crucial: the language. In the group I traveled with, only a third or so had enough Spanish background to carry out a basic conversation and rarely did we need it in our class time or while staying in our hotel. When traveling around the city and interacting with locals, I found myself constantly thumbing away at my phone for translation (thank goodness for consistent wifi connection) and speaking in spirts of broken phrases and poorly conjugated verbs – or just nodding in agreement. Needless to say, I was yearning for something more.
Lucky enough to have the opportunity to study abroad again this summer, I chose Costa Rica and VERITAS for two main reasons: the homestay program and the intensive classes. What better way to immerse yourself in a culture and language then to surround yourself in it constantly? Plus, Costa Rica is rich with biodiversity and VERITAS has courses that focus on teaching about it and opportunities to venture into the nature preserves.
Despite studying abroad before, I was super nervous to go to Costa Rica for five weeks. I didn’t know what to expect from my host family and if I could pick up the language. While I would stand out because I don’t look like a Tico, I hoped I could fit in somehow. I wished on the stars that my three years of Spanish in high school would come back to me too.
Arriving at my host family, I was embraced in a huge hug from my Mama Tica as soon as I walked to the front gate. The houses are all gated on the front with a small porch or garden area in front. In my house, there’s one other student and my Mama Tica and Papa Tica. Their children are older now with their own families and so the other student and I currently inhabit their rooms. Our host family treats us just like their own children. They told us we were “un familiar” at our first dinner, which was pork chops, rice, beans, and salad. Occasionally feeling a bit home sick, it’s fantastic to have a Tica family to enjoy meals with and talk about our days, as well as watch the World Cup with. It was really cool to see all the Ticos donned in their country’s colors and apparel cheering and watching the game. There were barely anyone on the roads when we traveled to our homes from the airport!
I had been told Costa Ricans speak very clearly, but it amazed me how quickly I could understand what my host family said to me! I’m used to fast often shortened Spanish and so it was a great change. Sometimes a few things get lost in translation, but my host mom is great at explaining things further in Spanish so I understand it. She is also a tremendous cook and loves to introduce us to the delicious meals and fruits in Costa Rica. Every night is something different and I’m always savoring every last bite!
Going to my first classes, I was hesitant of the work load and the long hours. Originally I hoped to take an Ecological Photography course, but it was cancelled. Instead, I decided to take an intensive Spanish course which proved to be a great decision! Though it is a long four hours every Monday thru Friday, it is a fantastic experience to review and practice speaking. There are only eleven students in our class so we get individual attention from our professor and many opportunities to participate. In addition, I chose to take the 60 hour Environmental Awareness and Sustainable Development course. We have a lot of work to do outside of class, but it seems like it’ll be worth it. Just like the Spanish course, it is a very small class with people from all different backgrounds. I’m excited to gain the knowledge that my peers have and travel into different areas around Costa Rica. We have two trips included in our course and I cannot wait!
Having both classes definitely is not a piece of cake, but it is definitely worth the commitment. I can’t wait for the trip this weekend to Tamarindo Beach and all there is to come these next four weeks! Already, I’m getting to experience the culture in ways I never could have imagined and am starting to pick up the language. Thank you Costa Rica for being so inviting this first week. ¡Pura vida!