After my junior year of college at Loyola University Chicago, I studied abroad in Heredia, Costa Rica for six weeks through the USAC program. During my time in Costa Rica, I took two classes for college credit, lived with a host family, and went on several weekend excursions throughout the country.
Traveling to Costa Rica was the second time I had been out of the country on my own (I had spent a few weeks in Italy taking a class the summer before). I was pretty nervous when I arrived, but my host family helped me right away; they picked me up at the airport, and had food waiting for me even though my flight had been delayed and it was way past dinnertime. My Spanish was okay at that point; I had had so much input from listening and reading, but my speaking abilities were not that great. By the time I left Costa Rica, I had gone from translating my English thoughts to just thinking and speaking in Spanish much more naturally. Whenever people ask me “How did you learn Spanish?” I always reply that I learned it in school, but I didn’t get really good at speaking until I was totally immersed in it in Costa Rica.
During my studies, I gained a much better grasp of the language through a grammar class, and a greater appreciation for literature through a short story class. The professors were helpful, understanding, knowledgeable, and instilled a sense of both rigor and vigor in my studies. I also went on several excursions to places such as Drake Bay, Jacó, and Tortuguero. The biodiversity and the immersion into nature was stunning. My time in Costa Rica has made me passionate about protecting the gift of our amazing planet.
It was so amazing to learn how different we are and how similar we are at the same time. The daily routines of how the Ticos go about their lives are so different than the way I had grown up. But throughout my time in Costa Rica, it became clearer to me that as people, we are much more similar than we are different. Family, faith, hard work, cross-cultural connections: all of these things are common among us.
In my career, my time in Costa Rica has given me more credibility than my peers who have not studied abroad. I am a high school Spanish teacher, and I am currently working on my Master’s in Translation. Being able to tell my students that I have lived in a Spanish-speaking country adds credibility to my instruction, and gives them inspiration for how they could use their Spanish skills in the future.
Now that I regularly teach seven classes of high schoolers, have a family, and am working on my Master’s degree, I am so so so glad I took the opportunity when I was in college to study abroad. It’s something I probably won’t be able to do again until my children are older! Studying in Costa Rica through the USAC program was one of the best decisions I have ever made. It enriched my professional and personal life immeasurably, and I am eternally grateful for the experience.
Sarah Cerovac is an alumna of the USAC Heredia program.