Making Lifelong Connections in Costa Rica — Living With A Host Family As A Non-Traditional Student

My name is Jessica Davis. I’m 43-years-old and I’m currently studying in Heredia, Costa Rica at Universidad Nacional of Costa Rica (UNA). My home university is Boise State University in Boise, Idaho, where I’m currently studying for my bachelor’s in Public Health. I spent most of my life up to this point, caring for my children and working. I’ve always been quite independent.

 When deciding what program to pursue in order to reach my study abroad goals, I was looking for two things. The first was to find a program that aligned with my degree. I wanted courses that would help me gain knowledge about public health. The second requirement was the University I would attend abroad would fit within my budget. UNA fit these requirements.

When applying, I wasn’t sure what housing options I’d have. I had previously studied abroad, and because of COVID-19 restrictions, in my previous program, the housing options were narrowed down to one option rather than three, so I knew there was a possibility of this happening again. My hope was that we’d get to live independently. As stated above, I am 43, so a homestay was last on my list. To be fully transparent, when finding out it was the only option in Costa Rica, I almost canceled the application completely. It wasn’t until I had conversations with friends and family who told me it could be beneficial that I decided I would not cancel.

I worried quite a bit about living with a host family. To begin, I misread the introduction paperwork, and I thought I’d be living with a mother and her two older children. I was worried about the possible language barrier. I was worried about whether or not I’d get along with everyone in the house. I wondered if I’d be perceived as odd due to my age and being a student. I was worried that the house mom would try to control me, and always want to know where I’d be going when leaving the house. There were a lot of things that ran through my head and I can fairly say, I was not looking forward to it.

The first thing I found out about my host family was that it actually wasn’t a family. It was a single woman whose children had moved out long ago. Next, when arriving at the house, I was shown my living accommodations. They were great! I had a bedroom to myself that included a desk for studying, a nightstand, a lamp, a fan, a small dresser, and a closet with hangers provided. I was given a key to my bedroom immediately, along with a key to the front door and the front gate. The keys made me feel trusted right away.

The first morning when I woke up and she made me breakfast, we took a walk with another student and another host mom to UNA. They wanted to show us the walking route ahead of time, that way on Monday, when we started class, we’d know our way around. It was a short walk, maybe 10-15 minutes from UNA, and it was easy. I was grateful that right away, I knew that if I needed help, my host mom would be there to help me.

Living with my host mom has made an enormous, positive impact on me. All those fears I had were unwarranted. I have made a life-long friend out of this experience. My house mom became my friend. She helped with my Spanish homework when I needed help, and though we had a language barrier, we both put in the effort to communicate and understand one another. A few months in, our communication was strong enough that we’d be laughing out loud together.

I cannot express how valuable being at a homestay was to me. It’s security. There’s never a time when you miss a meal or have to wonder about bills. She did my laundry, made my bed, and even though I kept my room clean, I’d still come home to fresh sheets and blankets. She never invaded my space or privacy. Most importantly, I got to meet a special person that I wouldn’t have met living independently. She shared with me safety tips for traveling. She told me about beautiful places to visit. She fed me well. She cared about me. We grew very close.

I’m about done with my studies here, and it is a bittersweet time. Though I am thrilled to go home and see my family and friends, at the same time, I’m saying goodbye to a new and unexpected friend.

I hope future students, whether in Costa Rica or other programs, take advantage of the homestay option. It makes the experience much more personal and it allows for there to be a relationship built that will hopefully last a lifetime.

Ready to jumpstart your international education? Click here to explore USAC study abroad programs in more than 20 countries.