It all began on June 1st, 2013 when my flight landed in Costa Rica at the SJO airport. I had done a lot of thinking and stressing prior to landing about what Costa Rica would be like and what I should expect, but none of that helped cope with the fact that I was in a whole new world now. It was my first time ever leaving the USA and I will be the first to admit, I was nervous. But I will also admit that I was one of those people in the USA that did not fully appreciate the lifestyle that Americans live versus that of people in other countries. This was an eye-opener for sure.
After landing and obtaining my baggage, I realized that I was in fact alone with no family or friends to help me. This meant it was time to be as responsible and adult like as possible, and for me that can be tough sometimes. First mission was to find a taxi and get to ILISA because at this point I thought I had already missed the bus that the other group attending the same program as I was from UNCC had for their transportation. My Spanish level prior to landing was not very good, but in an instance when I realized my taxi driver knew NO English, I needed to step up to the learning curve quick. Once I finally reached ILISA, I was happily greeted by the staff there, then was introduced to my host family who couldn’t have been more welcoming and grateful to have me. Once the group from UNCC arrived to ILISA, I met my roommates for the month which I am happy to say are now very good friends of mine and we definitely plan on staying in touch with each other in the future. After this warm welcoming to ILISA, we left for our house in Guadalupe to where we would be spending the next 4 weeks.
On the way from ILISA to our new home, I couldn’t help but think about what the next four weeks would have in store for me and what sort of things I would be learning. I could not shake the nerves at all, because everything was new to me and I simply just did not know what to expect about anything. Thankfully the general population is very helpful and understanding to Americans. Once we got to our house, we were shown our rooms and this is when I really thought to myself, “I’m definitely not in the USA any more”. The room was ¼ the size I am use to in my house and it had no windows or air conditioning, but it’s just the way Costa Rica is, and the people there are very content with what they have. To someone like me, at first it seemed very poor and dirty almost everywhere, but I was able to adapt quickly because of the fact that this was simply how Costa Rica is, and you should just be content with what you got.
The hardest part was acclimating to the weather conditions because it would be very sunny and hot during the day, raining every evening, then cooler and calm most nights. The daily routine for me and my roommates was a 35 minute walk to class, followed by a 3 or 4 hour morning excursion to learn about the culture in Costa Rica, then would finish with 4 hours of class till about 5:15pm. The first week went by quickly it seemed, mainly because I was obtaining so much new information and meeting so many new people. Classes were going great and the excursions were awesome. Then weeks two and three came around and now I was in survival/learning mode, just trying to learn as much as possible and make sure I stayed healthy, because from the food changes and the amount I was needing to walk, my body was not very happy. These two middle weeks went by very slow, but it was the time when you are finally becoming fully adapted to the area and the way of living, which is a huge change. But this was also the two week stretch where I feel I learned the majority of my Spanish because I was using everything I had learned in week 1 which was a lot, and was also picking up on all the vocabulary I was hearing in the streets. The night life is really what mitigated the day time stress with many different bars and night clubs to dance/drink your sorrows or issues away, or at least it worked that way for me. Week 4 on the other hand flew by very fast and before I knew it, I was graduating from ILISA and sitting back in the airport waiting for my flight home.
Even though there were many times I kept wishing I was back home, in my own bed, having my own car and so on and so forth, I will forever be grateful of the experience I had in Costa Rica because not only am I as close to being fluent in Spanish as I’ve ever been, but I learned a lot about myself and was fully able to realize, we got it good in the USA. Everyone should be more appreciative of what they got and less worried about what they don’t have. Looking back, it is the greatest experience of my life thus far, and I do not regret going one bit because it is memories and information like this that I will keep with me forever.