The first weekend I was in Costa Rica we did not have an itinerary so it was up to us to find something to do with our time. I am not usually one to jump into endeavors without researching and developing a plan first, so just walking around San Jose was not on my agenda. However, sitting in the house, alone, with my thoughts, while talking to my family back home was not helping the homesickness and overwhelming feeling welling up inside me.

My roommates decided that it would be a good idea to walk to and around downtown San Jose, and since I didn’t have any better ideas I went with them. I am so glad I did! Being outdoors and experiencing the new city, culture, food, and language was exactly what I needed to help me get excited about being in Costa Rica. Downtown San Jose was unlike anything I had ever seen in my life. I’m from a community of less than 300 people in rural Nebraska, and while I go to college in Lincoln, a city of about 270,000, I do not live near the downtown area, so it was a very new experience for me, and one that I will never forget. We ate at a restaurant downtown and had our first experience with reading a menu and ordering in Spanish. The waiter spoke some English and he gave us some helpful tips such as the appropriate way to order and that tipping is not common. During our outing downtown we also discovered Mercado National de Artesanías, a market filled with handmade souvenirs from Costa Rica. I ended up returning a few days later to buy gifts for my entire family. If I hadn’t forced myself out of my comfort zone to explore the city with my roommates I may never have found the beautiful souvenir gifts, learned about restaurant etiquette, or experienced the culture of downtown San Jose.

Taking initiative to discover places with my roommates soon after arriving to the city also helped my homesickness. Sitting inside and doing nothing is depressing so it is important to go out and see what the country you are staying in has to offer. Experiencing and witnessing the different culture helps ignite excitement about the extraordinary opportunity you have to not only visit a foreign country, but to live in it. Don’t waste your first few days wishing you were home and wondering what you were thinking when you decided to study abroad. Leave your comfort zone and seize the opportunity to explore because you won’t gain anything from staring at the walls in your room.

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