I participated in a semester-long education abroad program through SUNY Cortland in Spring 2016 and traveled to Universidad Veritas in San Jose, Costa Rica.
I chose this program because, as an Environmental Studies major, it was especially important to me to be able to connect and experience the natural environment of wherever I chose to study. Also, I chose my program based on location. I thought Costa Rica was a unique place in Latin America where I could learn about sustainable practices and policy and be part of a truly fascinating culture. I also wanted to work on my Spanish-speaking skills, take courses that would still allow me to graduate on time, and live with a host family.
During my time abroad, I was most surprised by the diversity of my experience. I took very interesting classes for my major and two minors, I practiced and became proficient in a language, I met locals, I met other international students, I travelled with my program, and I travelled on my own. In addition, the diversity of Costa Rica is truly magnificent. I saw the Caribbean and Pacific coasts, climbed mountains, saw old cities, volcanoes, and forests. I was surprised by how connected I became to a place I had not known for very long and I was surprised by the bonds I made with the people I met and how kind and welcoming the Ticos are as a culture.
My biggest challenge while abroad was trying not to fall into a routine. While abroad, I had to work really hard to balance my life and maintain an open-mind as often as possible. Luckily, the structure of my program and the people I met helped me to continue to try new things and break out of my comfort zone for the entire semester. Also, a semester is a long time to be away from home. There is so much technology now to keep us connected, it often felt like I wasn’t so far away.
The most rewarding part of my study abroad experience has to be my personal growth as well as my newly established global perspective. When in a foreign country by yourself, you have to develop a strong sense of independence and confidence as well as adventure. I had never before had the opportunity to do so much on my own and it was humbling and always exciting. Those qualities I developed did not fade away upon returning home. They will work to my advantage to make me a better student, young professional, and person. Study abroad is a wonderful opportunity to see the world. As an educated person, it is really important to develop a global perspective, whether it is to benefit you in the job market or just to be a more well-rounded human being. Understanding the culture, politics and even the physical geography of a place other than your own is an interesting reflective exercise that can not only change the way you see the world but also, how you define your role in it.
Hannah Sommers-Thaler, an Education Abroad Ambassador, who studied abroad in Costa Rica in Spring 2016