The first thing people think of when someone says they are studying abroad is how this experience will permanently influence that person’s life and character. However, the truth is what you put out is what you get back.
Good experiences begin when you leave your comfort zone. I feel incredibly privileged and honored to have had the opportunity to study abroad for a semester in Costa Rica. I greeted this opportunity with enthusiasm and determination. This trip was a chance for me to grow and learn and become the person I knew I was capable of being. I left Buffalo with a desire to change. I wanted to learn about a culture and a lifestyle that was different to the one I had known. I wanted to achieve fluency in a language that I did not learn growing up. Most of all, I wanted to challenge myself in a manner that I had never done before. I left Buffalo for a country where I had never been, to stay with a family I didn’t know, in a city where I knew no one and no one knew me. It was the best decision of my life.
If you study abroad without a desire to learn and to gain new experiences, you will leave the same person, unchanged. However, if you travel with an open mindset, your entire perspective can shift. I went to Costa Rica determined to improve my Spanish. While at first, I felt shy and insecure to be an American surrounded by native speakers, I quickly changed my attitude to come to the realization that I was in an environment where I could fully immerse myself in the Spanish language and the Latin American culture. I capitalized on this opportunity. I challenged myself every day; I started conversations with all of my Uber drivers, I spoke with my host mom every night for hours at end, I stayed after class to talk to my professors, asking them questions, seeking advice, confiding in them my doubts, I befriended the employees at a local bakery, I pushed myself to make friends with the Costa Ricans at Veritas, and I tried to go out with them and only speak in Spanish. I immersed myself in their culture, in their language, in their lifestyle. I have a “Pura Vida” tattoo because I fell in love with their way of living. And at the end of this journey, during my last trip, I was in Cartago and began conversing with my uber driver, and he called me “casi tica”, a term reserved for people who have adopted the way of Costa Rican life and are almost “tica” themselves despite having a different background.
I am grateful and so blessed to have studied abroad last semester. I have gained a new confidence, a new outlook on life, and personal connections that I never would have made if I had stayed in Buffalo. I think it is important for every person, every student, to be afforded the ability to travel because we cannot learn and grow if we remain in the same environment, surrounded by people who think the same, and repeat the same experiences over and over again. I am so appreciative of the Linda Diane Rock Memorial Scholarship for contributing to the achievement of one of my dreams.