When studying abroad you have the opportunity to meet tons of new people that you otherwise may never have met and it’s great to spend time with your new friends, but it is also important to remember to make the experience your own.  If you came to the country with a specific destination or experience you wanted to have, make time to fulfill those goals even if no one else wants to go.  Sometimes it’s easy to just follow the crowd and only participate in the activities that your friends are doing, but you may miss a fabulous opportunity if you do this.  The last two weeks of my study abroad experience I took initiative to visit places that I wanted to see and not to just make decisions based on my friends.  I am so glad I decided to become more independent because I had incredible experiences and was able to experience more of the culture of Costa Rica.

The first example was when I chose to participate in excursions set up through the university and my study abroad program even though my friends did not want to go.  I was able to visit a beautiful butterfly garden in the middle of San Jose and tour the National Theater in downtown San Jose on these mini trips.  I learned a lot about the nature and history of Costa Rica during these tours.  It was information that I would not have learned had I chosen not to participate.

The second example was when I chose to stay in San Jose for the weekend instead of joining a large group of my friends on a trip to the beach.  I spent Saturday visiting the Poas Volcano, La Paz Waterfalls, and touring a coffee plantation.  I had a wonderful time on this tour because I was able experience and learn about new things.  I did not want to come to Costa Rica and spend my weekends just laying out on the beach.  I came with the goal to experience the unique culture and ecosystem of the country.  I am also very interested in agriculture since I grew up on a farm and I love the outdoors so I wanted to learn more about both during my time in Costa Rica.  I was able to fulfill this goal by going on this particular tour instead of following everyone else to another weekend on the beach.

Also, during my weekend in Costa Rica I was able to meet up with some people that my family had connections with through church, but I had never met them in person before.  I had a wonderful time with them on Sunday and I am so glad that I chose to meet up with them even though it meant spending the weekend in San Jose without my new friends.  I believe that I would have regretted not taking the time to meet up with them.

It’s important to remember to be yourself and achieve the goals that you have personally set for your time abroad.  When you become wrapped up in everyone else’s ideas you lose yourself and may end your experience feeling like you didn’t accomplish your personal goals.  Studying abroad is a wonderful opportunity and it’s important to open your mind and experience as much as possible so that you don’t finish with regrets.  Making friends is important because you will meet some incredible people, but don’t lose yourself in the process.  Make the most of your experience, even if it means straying from the crowd.

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