Skip to main content

Summer Immersion in Costa Rica

A trip to Costa Rica had been on my bucket list for years, although I always envisioned it would be in the form of a family vacation. I never saw myself as a study abroad student, but I dreamed about meeting new people, trying different foods, and exploring the unknown. I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone and see the country from a local perspective, so a homestay program became my ticket to Costa Rica. However, the weight of what I had signed up for didn’t register until I was alone in the airport. The nerves kicked in and I worried about communication, safety, and travel. Customs and immigration were a bit nerve-wracking, I’ll have to admit, but my anxieties wore off in a matter of minutes as I took in the new country and was introduced to my host family.

The next two weeks were a whirlwind of adventures and emotions. As soon as I stepped out of the airport, I was greeted by two friendly chaperones and a driver. They spoke English and immediately made me feel comfortable. My host mom was extremely kind, preparing a grand breakfast for me after my early morning flight. One of the many highlights of my trip was our dinner at Ram Luna, a traditional Costa Rican restaurant overlooking the capital city. This beautiful restaurant was famous for their food and dance, making it feel like a Latin American version of a Hawaiian luau.

In just a few weeks time, I had already learned so much. Costa Ricans, also known as Ticos, reply with “con mucho gusto” instead of “de nada.” They honk their cars as a greeting and thank you to others, not out of frustration. Arriving late is common in their culture and is not considered rude. Ticos are all about a “Pura Vida” lifestyle, which is evident in their peaceful ways. Every person I met was passionate about their culture. One of our tour guides, known to us as Tio Loco, was very knowledgeable about Costa Rican culture and history. You could tell by the way he told stories how proud he was of his country.

While my overall trip was wonderful, I found I was not able to connect with my host family as much as I had anticipated. Neither one of my host families had children my age, and my days were filled with activities with the tour group. Thus, the only time I had with my host family was at night, when they were relaxing in their private rooms. Rather than intrude on their personal schedule, I tried to meet them in the middle. For example, I did my homework in the living room instead of my own bedroom one night. My host mom joined me after she finished cleaning the kitchen and helped me with my work, even encouraging me to read my sentences aloud to improve my pronunciation. I learned that cultivating relationships is a two-way street. It is important to initiate interaction while understanding that they need their personal time as well.

My trip to Costa Rica is a memory I will treasure forever. I learned how to be independent and open-minded. I saw the positive effects of saying yes and how many doors can open because of a simple conversation. Most importantly, I learned how eager people are to share their culture if you give them an opportunity to do so. I witnessed the importance of dialogue, despite imperfect grammar and vocabulary.

Pura Vida!


For more information about our immersion programs in Mexico and other Spanish-speaking countries, check out these pages!


Popular posts from this blog

How to Write a Letter to Your Host Family

The letter to your host family is one of the most important pieces of your program abroad application; it’s the host family’s first impression of you. Exchange programs take many factors into account when matching you with a host family, but ultimately it’s up to the host family to decide whether to host you or not.
Here are a few helpful tips to writing a great letter to your future host family:
Use a positive tone. “The main reason a student’s dossier is passed over by families is unintentional negativity,” explains Rebecca Gundle, Program Coordinator for ANDEO International Homestays. A student might be trying to explain her preferences, but when she devotes equal attention to describing her dislikes, she comes across as negative or picky. A family wants to know that the student they host will be adaptable and willing to try new things. Keep your tone upbeat and positive.
Go deeper than the application form.Try to avoid simply reiterating what is on the form. This is a chance to talk…

Tackling the Dust Bunnies (and other surprising benefits of hosting an exchange student)

By Elizabeth Markleson, host momYou could say I'm a relaxed housekeeper. Our kitchen table is covered with piles of papers "to be dealt with later", our sink is often full of dishes, and you can be sure there is a whole family of dust bunnies living under the furniture. When my kids were little and they would see me go into my cleaning mode, they would always ask, "Who is coming to visit?" Not much changes over the years! When it comes to housework, a guest is a great motivator.

The days were ticking down before our Spanish student arrived and my to-do list was getting longer and longer. “Don’t stress too much about it,” my sister said. “Isn’t your student just supposed to blend into your family as it is? This is an exchange student, not a visiting dignitary, after all.”

True, but I am a strong believer in the power of first impressions. When my daughter went to Spain a few years ago, her host family added some really nice touches to make her feel …

From Guest to Family- All in 48 Hours

by Judith, Immersion in France, 2016

The first 48 hours of your time abroad will probably be the most exciting of your entire stay. There is so much to discover, so much to explore, so much you don’t know about…These first two days are filled with emotions: you may be a little anxious and worry that your second language is not good enough. You may be struggling to fit in and overwhelmed by everything new you discover.
As my own day of departure for France drew near, I wondered what my upcoming trip would be like. I wanted to know what it is like to meet a complete stranger. I wanted to know what it would be like to speak French all day long. Most of all, I wanted to know what my host family would be like.I hope to be able to help you answer these questions and ease a bit of your anxiety. What is it like to meet a complete stranger?First of all, you probably won’t be meeting a complete stranger. You’ll be meeting someone you know is interested in getting to know you and your culture. You’…