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A Day in the Life: Studying Abroad in Costa Rica

December 13, 2019
by CEA MOJO
4B - Tree Frog near La Paz Waterfalls
During my Costa Rica study abroad program, I typically wake around 6 a.m., though I usually don’t rise for another 20-30 minutes. That’s when mamatica (my host mom) has breakfast ready for Julia and me. One of my favorite breakfasts is banana pancakes, and I’ve also come to love the gallo pinto (a rice and bean dish) we have on the side most mornings. During my time in Costa Rica, I live with a local family in a homestay, in this case a mother and three of her daughters, plus their dog, Tito, and another U.S. student, Julia. They don’t speak much English, and I don’t speak much Spanish, but we make it work. It helps that Julia’s Spanish is a lot better than mine. On top of that, mamatica’s oldest daughter speaks English, and she visits fairly often, as does the fiancé of another daughter. Since I’m currently learning Spanish, and mamatica is learning English, sometimes we help each other with our homework.

1 - Megan and Roommate Julia at El Volcán Poas

Once we’ve eaten breakfast and gotten ready for the day, Julia and I are off to Spanish class. I won’t lie -- it’s intense. Our Spanish courses are 4 hours a day, 5 days a week, for the first 4 weeks that we’re here. If we take more than one Spanish class during our time here, that pattern continues in sequential 4-week blocks. That said, there’s no question in my mind that it’s worth it. We spend the majority of our time focusing on the topics that are the most important for us to know, such as greetings and culture, food, directions, daily household vocabulary, etc. Back in the States, I studied French for several years, but after just a few weeks immersed in the language here in Costa Rica, I feel almost as confident in Spanish as I ever did in French. We also get a half hour café break every day, breaking up the 4-hour Spanish class and giving us all a breather. Most days, I go outside during this time to purchase una pipa (a baby coconut). The vendor selling them and other fruit just outside the university cuts the top off right there for you and provides a straw for the water and spoon for the remaining meat of the coconut, all for less than $1. The most difficult part is getting there before they’ve sold out for the day. 

2 - Una Pipa

Once Spanish class draws to an end, I have a few hours of free time to myself before my next class begins. My other classes are in the evening, with Tropical Marine Biology being 5-7 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays, and my theology courses being back-to-back on Tuesdays and Thursdays, lasting from 4-8 p.m. In my free time during the afternoon, I’ll typically start by walking to the CEA Office in San Jose to make lunch. That’s one thing I got used to really quickly in Costa Rica - walking everywhere. Nothing’s too far, though; it only takes 20 minutes or so to walk from my homestay to the university, and then another 10 minutes to get from there to the program office. There are lots of places where I could dine out, and sometimes I do since lunch is one of my consistent opportunities to get adventurous with my meals (mamatica cooks breakfast and dinner for us during the week). Mostly, however, I buy food at the local grocery store (which saves money), and keep it in the program office’s kitchen. They have a big pantry, fridges, and plenty of dishes and utensils for us to make just about anything ourselves, which also comes in handy if I’m ever feeling a little homesick or a hankering for comfort food. 

3 - Mangrove Crab, Tropical Marine Bio Field Work

After lunch, one of my favorite places to go is el parque nacional (the national park) just downtown. Since I’m here during the dry season, the weather is usually great, and I love finding a spot in the sun with my eReader and un batido (a smoothie/milkshake). My eReader was definitely one of my best travel investments, at least given the amount that I read and the length of time I’ll be traveling. I’ll be in Costa Rica for just over 3 months, and in that time, I’ll probably read close to 50 books - I’m a chronic bookworm that way. Though I do genuinely prefer reading physical paper books… 50 books add up to a lot of weight. The eReader was the best solution for me, so it was at the top of my Christmas list last year, and I’ve definitely gotten my use out of it. 

4B - Manuel Antonio (2 of 2) Sunset

Eventually, my free time in the afternoon is up, and I’m off to the university again to finish up classes for the day. The best part of this schedule is that we have Friday evenings free to get a kick start on our weekends, and we’ve been using that time to explore the rest of the country and the surrounding region. If we’re not taking a Spanish class (which will be the case for me during the second and third months I’m in Costa Rica), then we have all day Friday off, giving us regular three-day weekends for adventures. Some of those weekends I’ll get to spend on the coast and in the ocean doing field work with my tropical marine biology class as well. With a daily routine that exposes me to new experiences constantly, studying abroad was definitely one of the best choices I’ve made yet. The experiences I’m gaining on a daily basis being immersed in a new environment, new language, and new culture compare to nothing else.

4A - Manuel Antonio (1 of 2) Monkey
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