Food, Music, Art, Dance, History: LIFE in Puerto Rico! IGER Past Review

By (North Carolina Central University) - abroad from 06/15/2013 to 07/14/2013 with

Study Abroad Programs in Puerto Rico

What did you gain/learn from your experience abroad? Was it worthwhile?
I gained a different perspective of the United States. I learned about the history of Puerto Rico and slavery in PR (much like the history of America). I learned to appreciate life and every opportunity I have been blessed with. I learned to live life a little more carefree, because some things just aren't worth the headache.

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.

I took two courses during my stay: an advanced grammar course and a PR culture course (which lasted two weeks and then turned into a PR art course). The advanced grammar course was pretty intense and there was homework everyday, but the instructor (Emilio del Carril) was pretty understanding as long as you did your work. Senor Carril was very entertaining and a kid at heart. He also wrote children's books and taught Spanish creative writing. The second course (PR culture) was taught by instructor Mario who was very expressive and made his messages clear even to those with little to no spanish speaking experience. He was engaging and really made sure we understood the art, music and people of PR. The third instructor who taught the second part of the culture class (the art class) was Senor Villafane. He had a passion for art that was visible and he was serious about what he taught. We learned art forms that are signature of PR, my favoirte being 'esgraffito' which was a method of layering colors (light to dark) and then scratching images into them. I truly enjoyed each class I took and felt they were very educational.

* Host Country Program Administration

On-site administration of your program

I rated this a 10 out of 10 because it was the ultimate study abroad experience. There was not a single historical, artistic, musical, or educational place within a 2-hr radius of San Juan, Puerto Rico that we did not visit. This trip taught me the value of a dollar, the importance in exploration, how to navigate in unknown areas, how to use a smalll vocabulary and make a huge impact, and that body language can say more than words. I lovedddd our guide, friend, advisor, and president of IGER, Senor Jose Hernandez. He held our hands the entire way and made sure we knew everything there was to know of every place we visited...he is a walking encyclopedia! He also treated us to a night out in Condado on (most of) our final night in PR. An excellent host, excellent teachers, excellent food, and an excellent place to be!

* Housing:

How satisfied were you with your living arrangements?

I rated this location (the female dorms of Sagrado Corazon) a 7 out of 10 because it was very convenient. It was a one-minute walk to the bus stop which was only about a 15-minute bus ride into the heart of San Juan, Puerto Rico. The campus was also a gated community with a 24-hr gateman who made sure that all of those entering and exiting were residents (that made me feel safe). There were also a few mango trees on campus where you could pick and eat mangoes for a quick breakfast or snack. I didn't rate this place any higher because of the black mold that was rapidly growing in my (and my roomate's) room, and the lack of concern from the dormitory staff (they are not to be related with the staff of IGER). The dorm staff did, however, give us a new room (mold-free) and were pretty nice about everything after that.

* Food:

I rated the food a 10 out of 10 because it was TANTALIZING!!! Every dish I was ever served in Puerto Rico made me want to have it again and again and again. Senor Hernandez ordered our lunches from various restaurants everyday, and the menu was always changing, giving us the opportunity to sample the common and not-so-common plates of Puerto Rico. From bistec rebosado, carne frita, and carne guisada, to the ever-crowd pleasing arroz con habichuelas (we always fought over the habichuelas) o grandules, amarillos, y tostones. I loved every bite I ate, and wish I knew how to cook these dishes at home! lol

* Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

I gave this portion a 9 out of 10 because I felt very well acquainted with the culture and social life. During the first few weeks of the porgram, everyone had to take a PR culture class that taught PR artistic, musical, racial, and social history which made up the culture of PR. This course really familiarized us with the culture of PR and helped add meaning to the lifestyles of the Puerto Rican people. We visitied places like La Cueva Ventana, Lagos Dos Bocas, El Yunque rainforest, the village of Loiza, El Castillo San Felipe, El Castillo San Cristobal del Morro, the Museum of Puerto Rican Music, the Museum of Puerto Rican Art, and many many many more places (that my brain can't gather lol). Aside from an educational standpoint, my classmates and I also dove into the social life of PR. We visited different bars for happy hour (the mojitos and sangrias are signature and ALWAYS refreshing). We also made friends with the owner (Juan) of La Mesa de Juan who was always happy to serve us his delicious meals at a cheap price (nothing over 6 bucks). He also threw in a few free drinks, and even took a shot with us! lol. A few of us (the fab four) ventured out around San Juan and made friends with some guys in a tattoo shop on the backside of the San Juan bus station. We visited them every now and then to check out what was going on in the community, and where the best nightclubs and bars were. They informed that Moreno's was the place where all the young locals went to dance and jam to the mainstream tunes of urban America mixed with a PR twist (and it was conveniently connected to another nightclub for salsa and merengue style dance). I'll admit, I'm not much of a club-goer, but I visited Moreno's THREE TIMES before leaving PR (that's just about every week lol). Seriously, it was crazy fun! And of course I CAN'T leave out LA NOCHE DE SAN JUAN. On this night just about everone and their grandmother in walking/riding distance of San Juan crowded the beaches cooking out, drinking, playing beach games, smooching and anticipating midnight! At exaclty 12am, everyone..i mean everyone, ran out into the water to jump backward three times into the waves for good luck. It was MAGICAL.

* Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

We didn't have too many problems with anyone's health except one girl who has a chronic skin condition. She had broken out because of an insect bite and was treated right away. WEAR BUG SPRAY! Everyone was well cared for, well hydratd, and well-fed, so I can't complain.

* Safety:

The city's safety was pretty much the same as any other city. For the most part, the area was great. There was a small neighborhood on the backside of San Juan called La Pearla...we were NEVER to go there. If you wish to visit there, you risk your own safety. Other than that, my friends and I felt safe enough to explore the city at all times (even after we left the club). Being that our group was of African-American descent, we kind of fit right in (until we opened our mouths lol) so no one bothered us too much (unless they were trying to make a sale). There is a LOT of walking to be done and in San Juan, all of the streets are made of cobblestone that is old as time itself lol so WEAR SNEAKERS. I tried to wear a flashy pair of heels to our first night at Moreno's nightclub...FAIL, I ended up going barefoot.

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)

I would give this a 2.5. I had planned to spend about $1000 for the entire month on personal expenses, spending, and food. I bought more than I thought I would, ate out almost every night, and splurged a little. With all my spending, I still only ended up spending about $800. Of course, this is NOT a studen'ts budget, it is a vacation budget. It really just depends on what you plan for.

Not including program expenses, about how much money did you spend on food and other expenses each week? About $150
Do you have any general money-saving tips for future study abroad participants? -Save your leftovers, they come in handy! -Go to Walmart, they have everything you need, and a strong drink isle, so you can make your own instead of spending $$ at the bar -Eat local and right outside of San Juan (the prices tend to rise closer to the heart of the city)


* Did your program have a foreign language component? Yes
How would you rate your language skills at the beginning of the program? Intermediate
How would you rate your language skills at the end of the program? Advanced
What was the highest level language course you had completed prior to departure? Advance Grammar, which counted as an Intermediate I spanish course at North Carolina Central University.
How many hours per day did you use the language? 10+
Do you have any tips/advice on the best ways to practice the language for future study abroad participants? Always speak it! Even when you're playing around with friends or writing in your journal, PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE. If you don't, you will wish you had.

Other Program Information

* Where did you live?

Select all that apply

  • Dorm
* Who did you live with?

Select all that apply

  • Local Students
* 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?

A Look Back

* What did you like most about the program?
  • The excursions
  • The food
  • The lifestyle
* What could be improved?
  • The dorm stay
* What do you know now that you wish you knew before going on this program? That it was going to be so much fun!!!!!!!!!!!!