I found myself floating in the warm Pacific Ocean, sitting with my legs dangling over either side of a surfboard. My arms felt tired and the undersides of my legs burned from the rough surface of the board, however, I had never felt so comfortable. The sun was bright and high in the sky, but a gentle breeze made my wet skin feel cool. An uncontrollable smile stretched across my face. For the moment the water was calm and my surfboard bobbed up and down slightly. While I sat catching my breath from the earlier wave, I looked to the side to see my instructor and my classmates spread out across the water waiting patiently for the waves we knew would come. In that moment, I was completely and utterly present in my life, not concerned about what had happened in the past or what was in store in the future. My only concern was to enjoy where I was and to be ready for the next wave when it came.
My decision to study abroad came about 7 or 8 months before I left the US. This gave me plenty of time to speculate what life would be like in Puntarenas, Costa Rica and how it would be significantly different than my own country. I heard over and over that “study abroad is incredible” and even more so that “it will change your life” but words could never have prepared me for what the life I am living now would teach me.
After my first few days in Central America, it was evident that a lot of the comforts I had back home wouldn’t be here in Costa Rica. I wouldn’t always have unnecessary luxuries such as big grocery stores, hot water, air conditioning, or a seat on a bus (sometimes you just have to stand), but it also became evident that people here are happy and content. Life in Costa Rica moves at a different, more relaxed pace. The locals live by “Tico time” meaning they will often arrive 20 minutes late to everything and the buses are often late because nobody is in a hurry.
Through coming here, I opened myself up to adventures and high points in my life that I never could have experienced in the United States. I took a winding sickening standing up bus ride to Volcan Irazu, where the view of the world below me stunned me into silence. I hiked through the forest and mountains in Miramar to find hidden waterfalls, and sweeping views of the sun setting over my town of Puntarenas, the ocean, and finally the Nicoya peninsula in the distance; my shoes getting soaked was only part of the adventure. In Malpais, I walked down a dirt road in near 90-degree heat for an hour and a half in order to get back to the town of Santa Teresa, but the smoothie I had when I returned was one of the best things I have ever tasted. In taking the surfing class that USAC offers I have been knocked down by more than a few waves in order to learn to surf and feel as though I was flying over the water.
Time after time, Costa Rica has found ways to humble me while at the same time giving me some of the most beautiful and incredible experiences of my life. The Ticos and my experiences so far abroad have shown me that happiness is a state of mind that can be achieved by appreciating what you have and where you are in the moment. Costa Rica has taught me that discomfort is going to be a part of life and that some of the best things in life are made even better by comparison. I have learned that I can try to avoid discomfort by only doing what is easy, or I can choose to embrace discomfort as part of the adventure and see where it will lead me whether that be the top of a volcano, surfing a wave, or sipping a well-earned smoothie.
More so, I have learned that life is much more than the highs and lows. It exists in the time in-between and if I am constantly thinking about where I was in the past or where I am going in the future I may miss where I am right now. I have learned it is crucial to be content with simply being because often times that is what life offers most. When most people think about surfing, they think about riding or wiping out on a wave. While that is exciting and eventful, the majority of the time in the water is spent either paddling or floating on a surfboard simply waiting. In order to have fun and enjoy the sport, one must find peace and contentedness in that time in between the action. Costa Rica had taught me to view life similarly. In life, I will have both incredible experiences and negative experiences, but it is up to me to determine how I will grow and learn from them. Meanwhile, I’ve learned to enjoy the simple moments where I am right now, in between the action.
My experience of studying abroad in Puntarenas, and elsewhere in Costa Rica, is one of continual learning about a different culture, a different language, life, and myself. I’m currently sitting in my host family’s kitchen typing on my computer and smelling the food my host mom is making for me. Right here, right now, I am perfectly at peace.
Shannon Devine is a Boise State University student. She studied abroad in Puntarenas, Costa Rica.