Pura vida: the Costa Rican experience


Costa Rica

Story by Michael Albert, Reporter 
Photo courtesy of Michael Albert 

The night we arrived in Costa Rica, each member of our group was tired from a long day of travelling. For some of us, it was the first time being in a Spanish-speaking country. Personally, I felt a mix of exhaustion and anxiety as I realized that I was finally immersing myself into the Spanish language. It’s an unsettling thing to leave a place of comfort. However, it is also gratifying to find that your work has paid off.

That first night, I had my first few conversations with people who only speak Spanish. This helped me realize how rewarding it can be to learn a second language. It opens up the possibility of communicating with an extensive population of people who, otherwise, would not have heard your story or have been exposed to your thoughts.

The main reason that students are drawn to the Costa Rica study abroad program is that the country is a beautiful place to grow in fluency of the Spanish language. Each day we find ourselves challenged in ways that we wouldn’t be in a classroom because we are constantly immersed in the language. Everyday tasks that involve communicating with Costa Rican people are the main source of growth for us. These tasks include things like ordering at restaurants or greeting strangers. I find that I grow the most from these types of interactions because I hear myself or the other person repeating phrases. This repetition of phrases causes development in a very natural and painless way. For this reason, studying abroad is a highly effective way to learn.

Another main reason to study abroad in Costa Rica is that it provides us with the opportunity to learn the Costa Rican culture. Our program director, Don Jorge, always boasts that the students leave the program knowing more about Costa Rica and its culture than most Costa Ricans. During our four days per week that we have classes, our professors teach us phrases that are only used in Costa Rica, as well as the ecology and history of the country.

Almost every weekend we go on excursions to all ends of the country. We explore forests, mountains, and volcanos, experiencing the wildlife and extensive biodiversity of Costa Rica. Sometimes these excursions even include horseback riding, canopy tours or rafting. As the days come to an end, we then have food that is traditional to the country.

Costa Rica is an amazing country for a variety of reasons. From my perspective, there is a mindset that many Costa Ricans share that puts the search for happiness in front of other things that tend to weigh us down. For instance, on a Wednesday morning when one would assume that everyone would be at work, I have seen adults in the park relaxing and taking in the morning. Furthermore, the majority of people in the park aren’t distracted by their phones. They are aware of their surroundings. They play with their kids, enjoy breakfast, or play board games. This is not to say that Costa Ricans don’t work hard, but I believe that monetary gain is less of a focus for the people of this country.

I would highly recommend to all Spanish students that they study abroad in Costa Rica. I have found it to be a peaceful and life-changing experience. If the student’s development of fluency in the Spanish language isn’t enough (trust me, it is), the trip is also full of sights and experiences that take your breath away and provoke profound thought.

Before travelling to Costa Rica, I tremendously underestimated the beauty of the landscape of the country. Travelling is so rewarding because it causes us to evaluate our country of origin. It proves to a person just how small one actually is. There is a whole other culture down in Costa Rica. With its similarities and differences to the culture at Aquinas College, it causes us to question what we can change in our own established ways of doing things. So, if you want to open your mind to new ideas, come to Costa Rica.

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