A Life Changing Experience Past Review

By (Lipscomb University) - abroad from 01/11/2005 to 05/13/2005 with

BestSemester: San Jose - Latin American Studies Program

What did you gain/learn from your experience abroad? Was it worthwhile?
Yes, it was worthwhile. That is an understatement. I gained a new understanding of myself and the world I live in.

Personal Information

How much international exposure did you have prior to this program? 1 month - 6 months

Review Your Program

* Overall educational experience

Academic rigor, intensity, resources, etc.

Education is about more than what you learn in a classroom and write on a test. Yes, I learned a lot of Spanish and a lot of history. The most important thing I learned about was myself. I learned how to critically look at everything I had been taught and wrap my head around how it looked from a different worldview. I had my heart broken over some of the things I saw and found happiness and joy in places I would have never expected. I built some of the most important relationships of my life and had experiences that I wouldn't have had otherwise. It was hard and there were times that I cried or yelled and wanted to go home. It also made me a more confident, competent, empathetic, and stronger person than I was before. That is the part of the education that I remember and it has helped me more than any GPA ever could.

* Host Country Program Administration

On-site administration of your program

Excellent. Well organized and aware of the student's needs. Also aware of parent's being nervous when their children are in a foreign country.

* Housing:

How satisfied were you with your living arrangements?

Did I like it at the time? No. I was terrified and my poor Spanish skills did not help the situation. I lived with a family and pretty much only spoke in nouns and infinitives. It got awkward. But I came out with some hilarious stories and more character.

* Food:

I have a very sensitive stomach and ended up eating a lot of fruit. And the national food, gallo pinto. Mmmmm....gallo pinto. On the upside, with my sensitive stomach and hours of walking, I lost 15 lbs. Coming back from a study abroad skinny and tan is really great.

* Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

We learned a lot about the culture in class, but Costa Rica is such a friendly country that we were able to get to know people pretty easily. I felt welcomed and reasonably knowledgeable.

* Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

No vaccines needed. Again, I personally have a very sensitive stomach that is probably IBS. So I had a lot of diarrhea. I think I was the only one in the group, though. It was managed with Imodium. I did go see a doctor at a hospital. It was convenient to get to, the doctor was very nice and spoke English. He gave me a course of meds to treat any parasites I might have. He said if it didn't work to come back and I would have to give a stool sample. The meds didn't work but I was 20 and embarrassed to give a sample so I just never went back. The program set up the initial appointment and another student went with me. It was exactly what I was used to.

* Safety:

We were instilled with a healthy sense of the importance of being aware of our surroundings. Catcalls are a part of the culture there and that's uncomfortable, but not menacing. I got my purse stolen when I left it on the beach, but I'm still unsure if it was by a person or a monkey. I didn't lose anything of importance and had the recommended stash of American dollars hidden in my hotel room. Traveling in Nicaragua and Guatemala definitely had more safety issues, but we generally only traveled as a group in those areas and were not allowed to leave the hotels at night. No one in our group had any serious issues. Be aware, be smart and you'll be fine.

If you could do it all over again would you choose the same program? Yes


* Money: How easily were you able to live on a student's budget?

(1 = not very easy/$200+ on food & personal expenses/week, 2.5 = $100/week, 5 = very easily/minimal cost)

All housing and meals are provided and we sometimes got a stipend for transportation if one class went over and we had to take a cab to the next one. I spent less than $1,000 the whole semester. This was 9 years ago, but still. It's cheap and there's not much cost. Mainly bus rides (25 cents) and souvenirs. I took extra trips to the beach over breaks and weekends and it was still very cheap. Maybe a $15 bus ticket and then we all piled into the same hostel room.

Not including program expenses, about how much money did you spend on food and other expenses each week? Maybe $10 for transportation a week. Then just souvenirs and snacks, which are very inexpensive.
Do you have any general money-saving tips for future study abroad participants? Stay in hostels if you travel. It's really easy to live cheap.


* Did your program have a foreign language component? Yes
How much did the program encourage you to use the language?

0 = No encouragement, 5 = frequent encouragement to use the language

They encouraged me a lot, but I didn't do it unless I had to. However, I had to a lot.

How would you rate your language skills at the beginning of the program? Beginner
How would you rate your language skills at the end of the program? Intermediate
What was the highest level language course you had completed prior to departure? I took Spanish is high school and then just studied on my own to pass the CLEP test.
How many hours per day did you use the language?
Do you have any tips/advice on the best ways to practice the language for future study abroad participants? Study verb tenses and listen to native Spanish speakers. Your Spanish teacher from Indiana does not count. Think of the words and phrases you use in your daily life and brush up on those. Food and directions are good to know. Don't be self conscious and don't be afraid to communicate through gestures. Use the words you know to explain what you're trying to communicate.

Other Program Information

* Where did you live?

Select all that apply

  • Other
  • Host Family
* Who did you live with?

Select all that apply

  • Host Family
  • Other
* Who did you take classes with?

Select all that apply

  • Americans
About how many local friends did you make that you will likely keep in touch with? 0

A Look Back

* What did you like most about the program?
  • Our boundaries were pushed daily
  • Used "facilitators" rather than just professors
  • Abundant use of process groups
* What could be improved?
  • Don't change a thing
* What do you know now that you wish you knew before going on this program? I wish I had known a restaurant we ate at in Guatemala washed their lettuce in dirty water. Over half the students in the program got sick, but everyone had a bad night. But it's one of my favorite stories.

Reasons For Studying Abroad

To help future students find programs attended by like-minded individuals, please choose the profile that most closely represents you.
The Avid Adventurer
The wardrobe you packed was better suited for a semester of camping than club hopping. Outdoorsy, you might forgo a crazy night out for an early all-day adventure. You'd rather take in the rich culture of an old town than the metropolis of a modern city, but for you getting off the grid is ideal.

Individual Course Reviews

Course Name/Rating:

Environmental Science concentration

Course Department:
Instructor: Trevor Poag
Instruction Language: English
Comments: Wow. I will never be able to put into words all of the amazing experiences I had in the Environmental Studies concentration. I wrote a paper questioning if the sustainable farming was actually sustainable and kept a journal. I learned A LOT about environmental science. But as I'm writing this almost 10 years later, that isn't the stuff that mattered. I swam under a freezing waterfall and found a hidden cave. I camped on a platform in the trees to help a classmate count and capture moths at night. I got to stay at remote biological reserves and learn from doctors studying some of the most lethal snakes in the world. I snorkeled over coral reefs so pristine that we weren't allowed to wear sunscreen because it would affect the environment. I saw quetzals out my window that avid bird watchers would give their right hand to see. I hiked around a herd of peccaries and watched a bullet ant climb a tree. It's these crazy, wonderful, once in a lifetime moments that make this course what it is.
Credit Transfer Issues: No. I spoke to the head of the Biology department in advance and he gave the approval. I only needed them to count as electives towards my minor, so he didn't mind.