I spent this past summer in San Ramón, Costa Rica running up and down mountains, taking classes at the local university, and interning at the hospital. This is surely an experience I would not want anyone to miss out on just because of the confusion surrounding athletes going abroad. Hopefully, this post will address and ease some of your concerns and inspire you to embark on the best adventure of your college career.
I am a Public Health and Spanish junior double at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Thanks to the summer semester abroad, I will actually be graduating a year early and pursuing studies in a nursing program. As a member of the Cross Country and Track Teams, I am competing all year and do not have an “off-season.” After weighing the options, I decided that a summer study abroad was the best option for me personally because I could participate in athletics and achieve my dream of going abroad. Many student-athletes are so dedicated and disciplined that the thought of leaving campus is foreign to them. However, I found that the new environment provided optimal training conditions (more to come on that later).
I chose to study abroad in San Ramón, Costa Rica, through the University Study Abroad Consortium (USAC). They offer very affordable options, internships, and diverse classes. San Ramón is a small urban town in the Alajuela Province of Costa Rica. They have a university which was about a 10-minute walk from the home where I stayed. My classes included Medical Spanish, Political Economy of Latin America, Dance, Cooking, and Tropical Environmental Health. I also completed an internship at the hospital in town. I primarily worked in the physical therapy department and got a lot more experience than I ever would in the United States. This was also a unique opportunity to practice communicating in Spanish with patients.
Daily Life in Costa Rica
Costa Rica es “Pura Vida” (Pure Life). This well-known phrase is true. All the people I met here were so friendly and happy, which rubbed off on me. I lived with a Costa Rican host mom, Ana Isabel. She has been hosting students for the past forty years and I was so lucky to have her. Every morning I walked out to a feast for breakfast and watched some of the news with her. Afterward, I went to my morning classes and returned for another feast at lunch. I then had the entire afternoon to go for runs, do homework, hang out with friends, and explore. In the evening I went back to the university for dance or cooking class. The weekends were great for exploring the country and going on excursions to waterfalls, rainforests, beaches, and national parks.
Concerns for the Athlete
I think that I was in the best shape of my life while I was in Costa Rica. The town where I stayed was situated at a slight altitude. My first run was a real challenge because I was running up giant hills. By the end of the trip, I had adjusted and was ready for the cross country season. I also had plenty of access to gyms, pools, and athletic facilities. Most towns will surely have what you need, and if not, a little creativity never hurt anyone.
Rice and beans are a staple in Costa Rican diets, which are perfect for training. I was lucky to live with an amazing chef, and she was very open to taking recommendations for what/ how much (a lot) I needed to eat. Also, keep in mind that you will most likely be able to purchase whatever you need at a local grocery store if you are not getting what you need at your home.
Overall, I am so lucky and fortunate that I had the opportunity to embark on this adventure. It helped me grow as a person, student, and athlete! I encourage everyone to consider studying abroad. Whether it is one year, a semester, or just a week-long program, you won’t regret it!
Mary Lavery attends the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She studied abroad in San Ramón, Costa Rica. All photos in this article were provided by Mary.