By senior Brittany Afolabi-Brown.
This summer I flew to Costa Rica to take classes in Spanish and complete my study abroad credit at La Universidad Latina de Costa Rica. Instead of going abroad with the school, I went with an outside program called SOL Education Abroad. This was my first time traveling to another country alone. The feeling of independence was completely liberating, but also a bit nerve wracking because I didn’t know anyone or what the country would be like.
My nerves subsided almost immediately when I got to the front gate of my new home in a neighborhood called Esperanza. I met my host mother, known as Mama Tica (“Ticas” and “Ticos” are Costa Rican people). As soon as I arrived, my Mama Tica gave me the biggest hug and said, “Pura Vida,” which means “Pure Life” and can be used to say hello, goodbye, everything’s great, everything’s cool, and much more. I learned that Ticos have a very relaxed and simple living style, so Pura Vida for them means being thankful for what they have and not dwelling on the negative. This term is more than just a saying — it’s a way of life. This is one of the many important lessons that I learned over the course of my experience. Now, I strive to keep that in my mind wherever I go.
Apart from the life lessons I learned, I was able to use the classroom to brush up on my grammar and learn an incredible amount about the culture and history of many different Latin American countries. The teachers at the university were so helpful and found multiple fun and interesting ways for us to practice Spanish. I learned a lot in the classroom, but outside of the classroom I was able to put all my years of Spanish classes into action. Speaking with my Mama Tica at home, the Tico friends that I made at school, locals in stores, restaurants and on the streets of Costa Rica improved my Spanish speaking more than anything!
My first three weeks were filled with activities that were planned by the SOL Education Abroad program. We went zip lining through the jungles of San Ramon, enjoyed hot springs near Volcano Arenal, saw exotic animals in the Manuel Antonio National Park, swam near a 240 ft waterfall in La Fortuna, went to a Toucan Rescue Ranch, relaxed on beaches wherever we could, took classes in Latin dance and cooking in San Jose, and even went to an elementary school to help teach shapes, forms and colors to kindergartners.
On top of all of this, we found time to set up soccer games with Ticos at our school, explore different parts of downtown San Jose, and my friends and I often found ourselves going to local coffee shops to do homework for classes and to enjoy the rich, Costa Rican-made coffee. These first 3 weeks, luckily, went by slowly even with running around and finding things to keep us busy throughout the entire day.
The next three weeks were a completely different story. At this point in the program, I was able to travel the country and explore wherever I wanted with the friends that I had made. One of the most incredible experiences that I had was when my friends and I went to a cathedral called La Basilica de Los Angeles in Cartago for a Catholic mass service. I grew up attending a Catholic school, so being able to see the similarities and differences between the mass services I am used to at home and compare them to those of another culture gave me a completely different perspective.
My friend M.J. and I found stairs to the basement of the church where there is a large rock called the Piedra de Hallazgo which has sacred significance. There I saw a pregnant woman touching the rock and praying for protection and prosperity for her and her child. It was amazing to see people in a different country, speaking a different language, in a completely different setting and still able to worship and believe in the same God. In seeing this and sitting through the service, even in Spanish, I felt the strength of God’s presence in the world thousands of miles away from what I am used to, and that is something that I will never forget.
For the rest of my time in Costa Rica, my friends and I found beautiful hiking spots with breathtaking views. We climbed 30-foot tall ficus trees in Puntarenas, went to karaoke bars, and rented out a hostel in Jaco to live like beach bums for our last weekend. The places that I went in Costa Rica were unforgettable. What really made my trip as memorable as it was, were the people that I met and spent my time with. I learned something from each person that I met there and gained more knowledge than I would have ever imagined. My experiences in Costa Rica were life changing and I would 100% recommend it to anyone looking to study abroad or just travel!