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5 Things I Didn't Think I Would Learn from Studying Abroad

In the days leading up to departure, many of us don’t expect to return to the U.S. as the same person. Some of us hope to return proficient in a foreign language, others just hope to have a solid grasp of the basics. We also hope to come back with several photo albums full of incredible memories and the invaluable knowledge of immersing in a culture, but what else does this adventure have in store for us? Each study abroad student has their own unique experiences but here are a few gems that I did not expect to discover during my time abroad:

How to manage time and money a little better: 

Following a budget isn’t exactly the prevailing thought in mind when there’s a sloth hanging out outside your window, but a little planning can help bring out the best of your experience. There is so much to do and so little time (and money, in my case) to do it. While abroad, I found myself being selective about which trips to go on, how many souvenirs to buy, and even where to get groceries. My advice is to pick a budget that works with your time and finances.  Figure out how much you want to spend on certain items and list out the top destinations you’ve got your heart set on.

How much I needed a support group:

At the beginning, the thrill of being in a foreign place was a kick of adrenaline, but eventually the longing for people back home set in. It meant so much to me when other CEA students and the onsite team became my second family and helped me push through that challenge. My host family helped me overcome the heartache by filling me up with love and awesome Costa Rican food.  

How to get around without street signs:

I don’t get to visit new cities very often, but when I do I usually have my Google Maps app ready. Unfortunately, there were only about three places in San José where I could rely on having Wi-fi. While they have street names in San José, most people navigate by using landmarks. Each time I ventured out into the city, I was pushed to pay closer attention to my surroundings, to take in the details, and really get to know my way around.

Making American friends: 

For some reason, this was one of the biggest curveballs. I was so caught up in exploring a different country, soaking in the Costa Rican culture, that I didn’t anticipate making so many friends from the States. The relationships I built with these people are lifelong and through sharing our differences, I developed a true appreciation for my home country’s diversity.

Push myself physically and mentally:

There was a lot of walking involved. It wasn’t really exhausting, it’s just that there was so much of it, making me glad I brought a good pair of shoes and an umbrella. Forget what people told you about studying abroad being a vacation. Will you get to explore some extraordinary places and (luckily) lay on the beach? Absolutely. But you’re still going to school, so there’s homework, projects, and presentations to consider. Keeping the balance left me a little weary, but the people at CEA made sure I experienced the best of all worlds.

Josh Lagunez studied with CEA in San José, Costa Rica for the Fall 2013 Semester and is an Alumni Ambassador at the University of North Texas.

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