As part of their final essay exam, I asked my students to reflect on their time in Costa Rica: what they’ve learned about themselves, how they are different from the person who arrived nearly 4 months ago, and how they will live differently once they return to the States. The following quotations are excerpts from Essay Question 2 and have been edited for grammar and to protect privacy. They are in no particular order, and the work of each student is represented. Please understand that they are taken out of a larger, multi-page essay. Great thanks to one of the best classes I have ever taught. You guys are awesome!!
“I have . . . learned to be more patient. Costa Ricans’ lifestyles are laid back and relaxed. Life moves at a molasses pace. For example, when eating at a restaurant you can’t expect to get your food in a timely manner, and in the case of the bakery beside Mesoamerica, you can’t expect it to be open at the same time every day. The “pura vida” lifestyle has taught me to be patient and to just relax. There is always tomorrow to complete something and to always remember tomorrow is a new day. “
“As a person I have come to appreciate what I have been given in my life. After living with a family that just makes ends meet and feeling embarrassed for buying half the things that I bought while here, I hope to live a life where things mean less. What I truly want to take away from this experience is the simplicity of life and the meaningful relationships that the Ticos have. Overall, this experience has truly made me realize a lot about myself and hopefully I will not resort back to my old habits when I get back into my normal routine.”
“Before I came to Costa Rica my identity and how I perceived myself was completely wrapped up in the activities I was a part of . . . My time here has taught me to live my life for myself.”
“There were times on this adventure where everyone around me on a small microbus was complaining about something as insignificant as the restaurant that we were stopping at. I have figured out that much of being on this trip is actually putting yourself on the trip and letting the journey take its course . . . I have discovered, and at least acknowledged, that much of what happens is out of our control, yet we learn to live with it and most of the time, something good, or at least interesting, comes out of a once ugly situation.”
“I have become a lot more independent, through choice and by force. I have also learned that it is okay to feel lonely. We do a lot on our own here and we are forced to figure things out for ourselves. One thing I wished I had done while being in Costa Rica was to travel by myself for a weekend. With everyone wanting to travel and do similar things each weekend, it was somewhat inevitable that I had at least one travel buddy. I enjoy traveling with people more, but I think it could have been a fabulous experience being entirely on my own for three to four days in a different, new place. Traveling is when parts of your true person come out; whether they are immediate or not, you will encounter change. “
“In Costa Rica I have gained a new appreciation for the virtue of flexibility. One of our journal quotes reminded travelers that you cannot control your journeys and travels. I have always been a plan-orientated person, it is comforting for me to know what is in store for me at each corner. . . . My most memorable experiences in Costa Rica are not those that required immense planning and preparation; my favorite moments include my spur of the moment decision to participate in sunset yoga or hiking up Chirripo in an astonishing one day. “
“I know a great deal more Spanish and am comfortable speaking it to anyone. I find boys who wear shawls, the latest trend in Costa Rica, attractive. I bought a shirt out of organic material. I don’t wear my pearls every day. I enjoy relaxing nights at home. I am conscious of how I am affecting the environment. While all of these things are things that I have never been like before, it’s only the beginning of how deeply this study abroad experience has impacted my life.”
“The week before leaving Elon and heading off to Costa Rica was perhaps one of the most exciting weeks of my life. I had pictured for myself the romantic idea of a vacation school in which the time at the beaches would completely outweigh any time spent in the classroom. I pictured myself being naturally prepared, missing orientations without a care and hardly listening when I did manage to make it. My first few weeks here clearly reflected these thoughts, and I lived the exact lifestyle that I had pictured. However without these ignorant weeks, and the eventual epiphany of the better way to view Costa Rica, I would not have taken home with me the most important lessons.
• Lesson 1: I can get homesick
. . .This trip has given me a better appreciation for family values and what my parents have done to make me the person I am today.
• Lesson 2: By learning a new language I’ve grown stronger
. . . I’m leaving Costa Rica with not only an understanding of Spanish, but a better appreciation for my own language. . . .
• Lesson 3: I can get by on very little money.
. . . After failing time and time again to make budget . . . I decided to spend the rest of my free weekends in San Jose. In this period I spent less money than I would have on any given weekend, while learning a completely new Costa Rica. . . .”
“My life has completely shifted since coming to Costa Rica. I have been purposefully trying to live in the moment which is opposed to how I was before I came here. Before I came here I was very results-oriented and always interested in going somewhere rather than staying where I was and enjoying it. I am trying to work on improving this and am in the process of shifting my life and forgetting about the results, trusting in that they will come. “
“ My newfound appreciation for nature, while maybe not my most important change, is by far the change that has surprised me the most. Before coming here, I did not care about nature and preserving it. To me a forest was just unused area waiting to be put to an economical use. Now, while admittedly still far from a tree-hugger, I do at least have some appreciation of nature. I have begun to learn that business and sustainability, when done correctly, cannot only co-exist but also work in harmony. “
“A lesson I have learned about life in Costa Rica is to never take any of my friends for granted. Being away from all my friends for a long period of time showed me that I really value their friendship and that I should express that I love for often.”
“My attitude towards Spanish has done a complete one hundred eighty degree turn. I love Spanish. I love speaking the language and I absolutely love hearing Spanish being spoken by native speakers. One of my favorite memories of the semester is going to see “La Tierra” with [a friend] at Mall San Pedro. We had assumed that the movie would be in English with Spanish subtitles, however, when we bought our tickets the employee told us the movie was in Spanish. [We] decided to watch the movie anyways to practice our listening and comprehension skills. “La Tierra” was magical. I loved learning about the Earth by listening to the narrator speak in Spanish. I was so proud of myself for how much I have improved in my ability to understand the Spanish language. A whole new world has been unlocked for me to explore. I am sad to go back to the United States where my opportunities to speak and listen to Spanish will be extremely limited. I now desire to put myself in situations where I will be forced to use my Spanish knowledge.”
“I felt so welcome in my Tica house, yet, could not help but to sometimes feel like a guest which was sometimes quite draining. The experience of living with a host family provided me with the benefits of immersing myself in the new culture, language practice, and the ability to meet a wonderful family, but another change I see in myself from my home stay is how much I now recognize the need for family in my life.”