This summer, I spent a large chunk of my time studying abroad in San Jose, Costa Rica. For those of you who have studied abroad or know others who have, you’re probably familiar with our newest obsession with the country we visited; once we return, it’s all that we want to talk about. And so, it is only natural that my first blog post of the semester will be about studying abroad in Costa Rica.
I decided to go abroad primarily to improve my Spanish and gain independence. I wanted to grow personally and learn about a new culture, and I knew that this could only help my resume for my future career aspirations. It is without a doubt true that all of these expectations were met. I came back from Costa Rica with the typical benefits that I expected: improved Spanish, a great new set of friends from all around the country, and a greater ability to take care of myself. But the greatest benefit I did not fully grasp (and do not think can be replicated) is that I came back with a truly global perspective.
My family is Bengali, so I already have a multicultural background and a greater appreciation for other cultures. Despite this, I never realized how valuable an experience it could be to truly immerse myself in a new culture that I had no previous knowledge of or ties to. While abroad, I made sure to try the local cuisine, including all kinds of bugs, and spent a lot of time interactive with the extended families of the people I lived with. These details of everyday living in a foreign place certainly catalyzed my immersion into the culture.
Costa Rica is not a country completely off the map. Because it is quite close to the United States and is well developed, a lot of the younger generation (our contemporaries) speak English relatively well. And yet, their thought process and way of life is completely different. Though I didn’t have to love every behavior of the Costa Rican natives– or “ticos”– I learned to adjust and fit in. For instance, I had to learn to use tico time: Costa Ricans run thirty minutes to two hours late for everything, which was a difficult adjustment coming from a strict timely schedule back home. I also learned about machismo. Though defined to mean taking pride in your masculinity, I experienced it as men shouting at my from the street and honking all the time. I adjusted, and chose to be more conservative during my trip.
I learned a lot about myself as well as learned to appreciate the luxuries I’ve been afforded here in the States. In my opinion, the opportunity to fully immerse myself and compare between the cultures is something of immeasurable worth. I learned from them, but at the same time, I also exchanged with them and taught them about American culture (my host mom especially would ask me about American foods or why college tuition is so expensive in the States). There are some behaviors that are universal, regardless of where you are on the planet. At the end of the day, we all have the same worries: health, family, and money. I now believe I am more interculturally competent and this is the skill we need in an increasingly globalized world to be successful.
Studies have also been done to prove this. My time in Costa Rica fundamentally changed how I view the world and has given me the ability to analyze today’s global conflicts from several perspectives. When asked about personal growth, 97 percent of students reflected that studying abroad served as a catalyst for increased maturity, 96 percent reported increased self-confidence, 89 percent said that it enabled them to tolerate ambiguity, and 95 percent stated that it has had a lasting impact on their world view. As one student from the study claimed,
“The experience of living and studying in another country was so eye-opening … [it] tested preconceptions and habits I wasn’t even aware were so ingrained in me.”
Although I am fresh off my trip and a little bit exhausted from my travels, I would go abroad again if I could in a heartbeat. To students entering college, my advice is to try to fit in a study abroad experience into your four years, whether for just a month or for a year. Today’s youth needs a global perspective more than ever.
By: Preeta Gupta
(Photo by LeafLanguages under a Creative Commons license)