Name: Haley Tucker
Program Attended: Heredia, Costa Rica
Program Term: Fall 2012
1. Why did you choose the program that you did?
I chose to go to Costa Rica because I’m a huge fan of the outdoors, I love nice warm weather, and I adore beaches. Costa Rica delivered all that and more! It was also a perfect way for me to improve my Spanish on the cheap.
2. If or when you study abroad again, where would you like to go? Why?
I would like to visit Southeast Asia. USAC’s Thailand program would be perfect. It’s inexpensive and would give me the opportunity to travel to all these up-and-coming hot spots like Myanmar, Vietnam, Cambodia, etc.
3. What are some of your favorite highlights from your time abroad?
Favorite highlight was my birthday: We spent the whole day tide-pooling and drinking from fresh coconuts. When night fell, we had a bonfire on the beach and went night swimming under the full moon. It was absolutely MAGICAL. That’s not an experience I would ever get in California.
Flexibility and independence. They really go hand-in-hand. You can’t worry about anything and you have to learn to roll with the punches as they come. I often think to myself when I’m stressed about something small: “Haley, remember when you were lost in the city of a foreign country without a phone and no money and a minimal knowledge of Spanish? Well you made it home. You definitely don’t need to worry about this trivial problem.”
5. What were some of the special/unique things you were able to do or see?
Definitely the animals. Being woken up by monkeys was commonplace and seeing a sloth in the wild was just as typical. It was pretty amazing to see all those animals I’ve only ever seen in zoos in their natural habitat.
6. What was a funny cultural experience?
The greetings! Oh my gosh I was always so awkward! I dreaded meeting people because I could never quite get the kiss-the-cheek/half-hug/pat-on-the-back/slight-lean-in down. It seems like a pretty basic greeting but I would always find a way to mess it up. I even started practicing with my friends from the U.S.!
7. What did you learn about yourself?
I learned how grateful I am for everything and how unattached I am to material things. I don’t worry about makeup or nice clothes or fancy dining, I enjoy good company and beautiful scenery. It was something I developed with the help of the Costa Rican culture.
It taught me to appreciate everything that I have. The people of Costa Rica have tiny houses and families have one car, sometimes none. In general, they live very modest lives. However, they are infinitely happier than many people I’ve met in the United States and they certainly don’t complain. They don’t define themselves but what they own. They define themselves by friends and family. They are much more connected to each other than many people in the United States, in my opinion. That completely rubbed off on me. Sometimes I just need to set down my phone and my computer, disconnect from those distractions, and sit on my porch with a friend. It’s an intoxicating feeling to appreciate those little things.
9. What’s one thing you would have done differently?
I probably would have spent more time with locals. My Spanish could have improved so much more if I had tried to use it more often. I was embarrassed by my bad Spanish and didn’t want to speak it. However, I should have gotten over that and forced myself to practice.
10. Now that you’re home, how do you see the impact of study abroad on your life?
I have the travel bug! I used to be much more of a homebody but now all I want to do is see the world. I’m always planning the next trip whether it’s to a different country, to a different state, or maybe just an hour from home. I’ve been lucky enough to visit some beautiful places.
11. How many years did it/will it take you to graduate?
It took 4 years.
12. What, in your opinion, are the biggest myths students believe about studying abroad?
That it can’t be afforded. The financial aid is out there, you just have to look for it!
13. What advice would you have for students trying to decide whether or not to study abroad?
Make it work, anyway you can because you will not have an opportunity to study in another country long-term again. If you have to work extra hours to save up, do it. If you have to take 6 classes in a semester instead of your usual 4 or 5, do it. It will ALWAYS be worth it. I don’t know anyone who has ever regretted studying abroad, only those who regretted not doing it.
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