costa rica: the most feel-good place you'll ever go Past Review

By (Social Sciences, California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo) for

USAC Costa Rica: Heredia - Spanish Language, Ecological, and Latin American Studies

What did you gain/learn from your experience abroad? Was it worthwhile?
to answer this question, i would have to write pages. not only was my study abroad time worthwhile, but it entirely changed my life. i have a new perspective that still resonates just as strongly a year later and about 40 people that will stick with me for a lifetime. one of the most important things i learned here was to slow down and enjoy things for exactly what they are. in essence, this trip returned me to the roots of who i really am and made me stand confidently in that person. there are so many beautiful things that your cultural lenses do not allow you to see, so after eliminating expectations of the country, i was able to take in so much more. this country taught me how to better treat my fellow friends, family, and environment, how to live compassionately, and how to approach life in general.

Personal Information

How much international exposure did you have prior to this program? 0-2 weeks

Review Your Program

* Overall educational experience

Academic rigor, intensity, resources, etc.

As USAC is one of the recommended study abroad programs through my university, getting classes transferred to university credit was no problem. The classes in Costa Rica were great. The Spanish classes are really helpful over all because you are learning the language in a Spanish-speaking country. Because you hear it everyday, you are able to catch onto Spanish very quickly. The grading system was fair and similar to the United States grading system and the work load was always reasonable. My favorite aspect of the schooling was that teachers encourage you to go see Costa Rica and will tell you about the best spots. Although you are learning a lot, the professors still understand that you are there to study AND to get familiar with the country, so often times (in my class) homework was much more limited on weekends than the weekdays.

* Host Country Program Administration

On-site administration of your program

Their accessibility was consistent, they got things done in time, and they were very familiar with American culture. Also, they made themselves a part of our lives by planning outside events for us (like weekly soccer) and by giving us some tips on where to go/what to do. The program size was just right and my expectations were exceeded ten-fold.

* Housing:

How satisfied were you with your living arrangements?

USAC arranged our housing for us, so were were just given a family that is affiliated with the program. We were sent a list of our family's names and ages before arriving, so we at least knew how to address them when we arrived. I did not have to bring anything additional to the house, my family provided fully for me. My family was INCREDIBLY wonderful and gave me such an enriching experience. They were warm, funny, and super lively. While they did teach me Costa Rican culture, they respected my values as well and did not force me to do anything I was uncomfortable with. Moreover, they cooked me three meals a day, did my laundry, and generally took care of me as though i was their own daughter/sister.

* Food:

My host family always had a delicious meal. Also, I had filled out previously that i wanted to have vegetarian accommodations, but I changed my mind upon arrival. However, had I not changed my mind, it was very apparent that my family would have been able to provide for my needs (when they picked me up from the airport, they started asking me about which fruits and veggies were my favorite). The food in Heredia is good, but there are also places that are not very good. There are some "sodas" one can find just by walking around, where you can buy cheap but delicious food. Sodas are restaurants that make the local cuisine, so it is a good cultural experience to eat at them as well. A good and safe choice at these restaurants would be to order "casados".

* Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

First of all, the students in my program were amazing. We all bonded from the get go, and for this reason, the rest of the time spent there was even better. We got to go on tons of weekend trips to both sides of the country (as the capital is close by and all the public transportation is based out of this area). due to the many beautiful parts of costa rica and their accessibility, the entire trip was an adventure. also, the ticos were friendly and we made good friends with some (like the people who hung out at our daily cafe). other events like independence day and dia de los ninos really gave an opportunity for us to see costa rican life first hand. as heredia is not a tourist trap, it was more of a real experience rather than ending up in a place full of foreigners. the social and non-academic parts of the program could not have been better.

* Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

* Safety:

while i never felt incredibly threatened, there are things to look out for. there were some robberies in the program and also men who cat call at women. while these type of gestures are common from men here (it is a bit machismo), it can make a girl feel uneasy at times. also, there are things that Americans have to adjust to, like the drivers on the road. while one can perceive these things as reasons to feel unsafe, i think it should just be something that should be accepted as part of the culture. if you know what to look out for, then the feeling of danger decreases significantly. as far as the healthcare system is concerned, help was readily available and we could get treated very quickly for any reason.

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)


* Did your program have a foreign language component? Yes
Language acquisition improvement?

As stated above, the language was encouraged because we are learning the native language in the classroom. The professors are really good about giving local phrases, etc. with helping you seem a little less "foreigner" in the country. Ways to improve language skills would definitely be to live with a host family, to find a native study buddy/friend, or to simply use the language whenever you can. As this region does not have very many English speakers, you are forced to use Spanish in most public areas, which really helps improve your Spanish as well.

If applicable, to what degree did your living situation aid your language acquisition?

Other Program Information

* Where did you live?

Select all that apply

  • Host Family
* Who did you live with?

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  • Host Family

A Look Back

* What do you know now that you wish you knew before going on this program? do not hold back. open yourself to everything and live for the moment. this time will be like no other.