The words "attending college" are not the first ones that I would think of to apply to my life right now. Yes, they are true in meaning, but don't they sound so dry? Average? Tiresome? Like I'm a mouse running on a wheel in pursuit of it's cheese? Is that who I was last year? Someone who solely "attended college"? Maybe.
I don't exactly know why "attending college" doesn't describe the experience of studying abroad. Perhaps it's because I choose to use the word "experience," implying it's something more than living. Yet, regardless of my location, I still attend school from Monday to Friday, and I have been doing so since September 1st. And I still study and do my homework every night. And I live in a small room, and I sometimes cook my meals in a microwave, and I'm taking 15 credits, and, most importantly, I'm learning new things everyday.
Because, I remind myself, I'm studying abroad. That's what is supposed to happen. I'm "attending college."
Though I do what I've always done in college, I realize that what's different is what I'm doing more. I'm exploring every weekend, going on bus trips, taking hundreds of pictures and videos, and speaking Spanish outside of class every day. I'm also living under a roof with two other students, two Tico parents, two Tico brothers, and two (Tico?) dogs, and out of the eight, only three speak fluent English. I usually learn best studying on my own, but living among the language--hearing it, reading it, and using it in my daily life--has helped me progress faster.
Again, studying and completing homework and giving presentations for my classes is still a huge part of my study abroad experience. Yes, sometimes I stay up late just to finish a presentation, but I actually learn new words and improve my Spanish through doing so. Sometimes certain grammatical rules frustrate me or certain words evade my grasp, but incorporating each into my daily conversations with my Tico parents or even other study abroad students who wished to practice Spanish help me learn everything faster and understand it better.
Every day presents a new opportunity and a new way to study, because I'm adjusting to a new culture and schedule, living more simply, making and staying on a budget, trying new foods, attending elective classes, circumnavigating Costa Rica by bus, learning how to be prepared for rain at any moment, spending time on the beach, sharing my thoughts and photos and videos through social media, making friends who share my love of travel, and problem-solving how to communicate mostly in Spanish, and, amazingly, all these things amount to me attending college this semester.
However, spending time in a small country that has some places turned into tourist-traps and others that are still very natural has also taught me that, no matter your location, there's something new to explore, and something more to appreciate about where you are.
It amazes me how quickly we can adapt to a place. We were all enthralled the first time that we saw a monkey in Costa Rica, and now we complain about seeing the same type twice. We must remember to see everything as if it were new. It's a part of education to travel, to see, to do, and to know we must be thankful for all those things, too. Maybe I can return to Wisconsin and see new potential in my state and my city. Who says that, even within your own town, you can't try to travel on weekends, take the bus downtown, talk with someone new.
Exploring is not limited to countries with beaches and palm trees, or untouched wilderness of mountains and crystalline springs. There's something to see everywhere you go, and even in your own backyard, you would be surprised by how much you don't know.
Gabriella Cisneros is the Fall 2015 CEA MOJO in San José, Costa Rica. She is currently a sophomore film student at UW-Milwaukee.
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