Farewell: Pura Vida!
During my time in Costa Rica, I have learned a LOT and I’m not only referring to Spanish! When you start college, you enter a different culture. You are on your own. You might not know anybody. You have this set of new rules that basically says that there are no rules. You have to adapt to your surroundings and realize the kind of person that you want to be, just like I did with Costa Rica. I learned so many things from my trip about myself, other cultures, as well as Spanish. These are not things that I will soon forget as they are easily applicable in my life in Texas. College is a very different culture also and you have not experienced it before. It is full of wonderful things if you just step out of your comfort zone and discover them.
When I started college, I wanted to study abroad and so did a lot of my friends at their colleges, but who knew where to start? I did my own research online and basically decided that I could not go abroad because of the cost. I shut down my dream right then and there. A year later, I looked into it again because my Spanish professor mentioned it during class. This time, however, I went to the study abroad office. Little did I know as a freshman that there was a whole building dedicated to solving my money problems to send me abroad. Study abroad advisors guided me to where I needed to look for funding and what do you know, I went to Costa Rica FOR FREE because I applied for scholarships. This is the number five most valuable thing I learned from my study abroad journey that is applicable to my life, always ask questions.
Shortly after arriving in Costa Rica, I was immediately hit in the face with the fact that I really would not be speaking English in my house. My host mom did not speak English to me when I first arrived, which I had expected, but thinking about something beforehand and actually being in the situation are two completely different things! I felt so ready and so excited to be fully immersed in Spanish and then when it finally happened, I was terrified. I was unable to speak at all. Quickly I learned that even if I made mistakes, my host mom was not going to get on to me. Instead, she was just like a mother and pointed out my mistake so I could learn and encouraged me constantly. This gave me the courage to constantly speak Spanish to everyone I met- taxi drivers, people on the bus, shopkeepers, everyone. Sure, I’m positive I said things incorrectly, but they all were happy that I was trying to speak their language and the longer that I was there, the better my Spanish was and the less often people would ask me to repeat myself. This is number four, try your best. If you don’t try, you can’t get any better at anything.
As I was working my way up to being able to talk to random Costa Ricans, I was also in Spanish classes. These Spanish classes of course came with homework. I would do the homework and study and study and study until I fell asleep at my computer. Although, when I was not actually applying what I had studied, I realized that I was not really learning that much even though I spent so much time studying. I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to get everything completely perfect and I still wasn’t taking away much from my long study sessions. I put pressure on myself to learn the language and in my head, if I just studied more that I would wake up one day and be a fluent speaker. That simply is not how it works. This is number three on my list, don’t put too much pressure on yourself. If you are stressed out because of the pressure you put on yourself, you won’t learn anything. Calm down, take a breath, relax and let it soak into your head instead of forcing it in.
I was blessed to grow up in an area where I learned quickly what diversity meant. One of my best and oldest friends is from Bangladesh. Because this had been just a part of my life, I have always been interested in other cultures. However, some people do not accept other cultures very well. My trip was with a group of students from around the United States and some of them could not get over their ethnocentrism. That is a big word for thinking that your culture is right and others are wrong. What is more respectful is to realize that every culture is different, not wrong because it isn’t your own. When interacting within another culture, you must first remember that you are in THEIR culture. When you are living in America, you expect that if someone stops you to ask directions, that they will ask you in English, right? Likewise, in a Spanish speaking country, you should speak Spanish and not get upset if people do not speak English to you. With other cultures in other countries or even in your own neighborhood (or in a few years, your college dorm room), always be respectful and have an open mind. Realize how much you can learn. For me, I have taken the Pura Vida lifestyle with me from Costa Rica and it has enriched my life greatly since returning.
At first, when I had to speak Spanish, I panicked. For example, during the first week I had to communicate with a bus driver because I was lost. My roommate was at a much lower level of Spanish than I was, so it was my language skills that were going to get us home. I did not think that I could do it. In my mind, I felt I was not capable of simply asking “How many blocks is the bus stop for the university?” Because I had no faith in myself, I stumbled over the words and ended up asking “How many notebooks is the bus?” Then I felt a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach when the bus driver looked at me and said “I’m sorry I don’t know what you are asking.” I almost cried. After more time in the country, I gained more confidence because I had more skills. In anything that I do, I know that I am able to do it and nothing can make me feel nervous. If you tell yourself you can do something, you can do it. Have faith in yourself and it doesn’t hurt to laugh at your mistakes. Lastly, the single greatest thing that I have learned is to be confident and believe in yourself and you will achieve all that you want to do.