I have dreamed about studying abroad since I was a kid. In my young eyes, it seemed like an opportunity to live a fairy tale. Now, I’m living this dream. Sometimes it really does feel like one of the books that I used to devour in middle school. Costa Rica is absolutely beautiful! The weather is always perfect, and I laugh when my host mom, Marta, declares “hace frio” (it’s cold) when it is a balmy 70 degrees outside. Every weekend I have traveled outside of San José, the capital city and my current home, to visit rainforests, beaches, and volcanoes. I have zip-lined, snorkeled, and discovered the hard way that scorpion stings are not poisonous here.
At Universidad Vēritas, I have explored the Spanish language and Costa Rican culture. One of the most valuable lessons I have learned in “Literatura Costarricense,” a class focusing on Costa Rican literature written by female authors, is that every country has its secrets. We have read pieces praising and celebrating this country, but we have also read essays that expose its skeletons. I have learned about the popular dislike of the police force, issues with the destruction of nature, and cultural challenges regarding racism towards Nicaraguans and the Chinese. This experience of living abroad has helped me to truly and deeply understand that outside the United States, serious problems persist on local, national, and global levels.
I now know what it feels like to be an “extranjero,” a foreigner. Sometimes it means getting unwanted attention, stares, and solicitations for money. Sometimes it also means that people go out of their way to help me because it is beyond obvious that I have no idea where the next bus terminal is located. Experiencing the feeling of being an outsider has given me a new perspective on what it must feel like to be an immigrant in the United States. Adjusting to a new culture is difficult, and I have the advantage of coming from a first world country, one known for its power and resources. Others do not have this advantage. Looking into the future, when I return to the United States, I want to do more to support foreigners and immigrants.
I am happy that I decided to come to Costa Rica. I figured out how to plan a long trip, immersed myself in a new culture and language, and learned to like papaya. I have conquered my fear of heights after jumping off countless cliffs, waterfalls, and ledges. I have also proven my independence and realized just how much I miss and value my friends and family back home. I’m going to make the most of my last month here, but after those thirty days are up, I’m getting on that plane with a smile.
Written by: Lily Shaw