Program: USAC San Ramon, Costa Rica
Term: Spring 2015
Little did I know that going abroad for 4 months would affect every day of my life from then on out. I don't think I noticed how much I had grown as an individual until I returned to the US. Personally, I became more comfortable with being in "uncomfortable" or unplanned situations. I have gained the ability to think fast in these types of situations and be adaptable to the circumstances. In better words, I learned how to look at the bright side with a better approach. One of the best examples of becoming comfortable with unfamiliarity is living with a host family. Within one week I grew very comfortable with my host family just by conversing with them in my somewhat broken Spanish and diving right into the experience of full immersion. Now not a day passes without thinking about or contacting my host family. They played a large role in the impact that study abroad had on me. I believe these skills transfer over to the professional skills I have gained. I am more adaptable, a better communicator and have gained a global perspective from my experience abroad. I not only gained better communication skills in Spanish, but it has carried over to my English communication skills. Last, but certainly not least I built a network of friends, mentors and family all over the world. I don't consider my host family just a family that hosted me for 4 months, but people I have grown very close to and I believe the relationship will continue throughout my life. In fact, I am returning to Costa Rica in January to visit them and continue my adventure in Central America. So not only did studying abroad allow me to gain important skills, but I also friends and family for a lifetime.
Advice for future #Terps Abroad: While I was looking at study abroad programs, I thought it would be difficult to find something that would go towards both of my majors (Spanish and Behavioral & Community Health). My worry was that I would spend a semester taking classes that did not have any relation to my interests because I never heard of programs for Public Health related majors AND Spanish majors. But after research and help from the Education Abroad office, I found a program that fits. So I would advise students who are considering [studying] abroad to do research and take advantage of the resources EA provides because even if you have an uncommon major, there is most likely an option for you out there!
My most memorable experience while abroad would probably be on USAC's optional tour to Southern Nicaragua and Northern Costa Rica. We were on a boat tour and there were about 3 or 4 boats for our entire group. The boat ride started about an hour before sunset so to say the sky was flawless is an understatement. We traveled from San Juan del Sur to another area on Lake Nicaragua to swim and see the scenery. On the ride back to shore, dolphins were swimming and jumping around the boats and all I can remember about this moment is the pure bliss and happiness I felt. That boat ride showed me the simple beauty of our planet and that life gets way too complicated in today's world with technology and always keeping the cyber-world up to date with details. None of us were on our phones trying to get Wi-Fi signal or listening to music to drown out the surrounding sounds. Instead we were partaking in this moment of pure bliss together.
Advice for future #TerpsAbroad: I think a lot of people think studying abroad is a walk in the park for students. But what people are unaware of it requires a lot of hard work with applications, planning, and financial aid. The semester before I went to Costa Rica, I had a very heavy course load in order to meet benchmarks for my majors before I went abroad. The entire semester was constant workload with tests, quizzes, and projects (which I know everyone experiences). But I think people get this idea that it's an easy process before, during, and after, which is not always the case. During my study abroad experiences, at times it was frustrating (and exhausting) to have a constant language barrier. Don't get me wrong - I wanted to have the language barrier so it would be a better learning experience for me. However, needing Spanish every day was an adjustment coming from just 50-minute classes three times a week at Maryland. And to be completely honest, the after-part of studying abroad has proven to be the most difficult. I experienced the reverse culture shock and re-adjusting to my original life was difficult when I returned as a different person than I had left as. Overall, studying abroad was the best decision I have made in my life thus far, but I wish I had known that the re-adjustment to your home country and university would be challenging. But no challenge is too big for a study abroad-er to tackle!