What were some of your biggest takeaways from your international experience?
– I learned so much more than I thought I would both in classes and from living in a different country
– Some of the best people I have ever met in my life were from my program and I am leaving with so many good friendships.
– Reverse culture shock is real and I occasionally get sad that I am not back in Costa Rica. Also trying to unlearn the habits I picked up while abroad is difficult (I am still trying to throw toilet paper away).
– It kind of feels like a dream sometimes, like maybe it didn’t really happen.
What advice would you pass along to other interested students considering study abroad?
– If you are thinking of going, just go. Find somewhere that interests you and go there. Living and studying abroad can be hard but I promise it is very much worth it.
– When you first arrive, for the first couple of weeks, you may feel homesick or unsure if you made the right decision. The best way I found to combat this is to keep yourself busy. During that time period everyone else in the program is looking to hang out as well so there are many opportunities to join other groups on their outings or adventures. Take advantage of that and go on as many as you possibly can.
– Make attempts to be friends with the other people in your program, even if you think you might not get along. There is a really good support system within your group that you may come to rely on.
– Bring a small duffel bag for weekend trips. There are some trips where you could be gone for 2, 3, or even 4 nights and a backpack isn’t going to cut it.
– If you are having issues with your home/living situation, don’t feel like you should just suck it up for the rest of your time there. Talk to staff/professors/friends to figure out a plan. If you need to move, then move.
– Classes may be easier but you will learn so much more than you thought you would, especially about your host country.
– If you are planning any weekend trips, ask around and see who else in your program is interested in going beyond those just in your friend group. Oftentimes the prices drop if there are more of you going, even if you don’t all stay at the same place. What my program friends and I did was arrange a private shuttle bus to drive us to our weekend destinations for around $20/person round trip. If many people in your program want to go to the same places, this is a very convenient way to do that.
– Your professors are an excellent resource if you need them
– If you do my specific program (USAC Costa Rica), go to Cuba. Panama is cool, but Cuba is a once in a lifetime experience and cannot be experienced the same way without the USAC staff there.
Is there anything you would do or plan differently based on your experience?
– I would be more specific on my housing application to be put in a home that was more appropriate for me and what I was looking for in a host family
– I would audit a language class. I went into the program not signed up for any of the language classes, hoping immersion alone would help me improve my Spanish. I was kind of wrong and I think having designated time in a day for speaking and learning Spanish would have been helpful, even if I am not earning credits for it.
– I would pack better with the field studies courses in mind. One pair of outdoorsy pants for a 3 day weekend trip is no bueno.
– I would have practiced my Spanish a little more before going down
Have you considered going abroad again or researching international internships and careers?
I am always looking to go abroad again and the first opportunity that arises I will take.
How do you plan to “pay it forward” to the greater local community?
I am incredibly grateful for everyone who helped me out while I was abroad from my friends who hung out with me and went on trips with me to my professors who would go out of their way to help me figure out the oddities of their country or help me translate when I was struggling. Even my second host family who took me in and fed me and made sure I was comfortable everyday. Because of everyone I encountered who tried really hard to ensure that I had a good experience, I would love to pay it forward any way I can from just helping an exchange student find something on campus to reaching out and being their friend to maybe eventually being a host myself.
In reflection of your experience before, during, and after your program, can you put into words what this experience has meant to you?
It changed my life and I cannot express how happy I was that I went. I wish it never had to end, but all good things eventually do.