Brad Miner - 2012 Program Participant
Brad with fellow API students at the Costa Rica vs. Guyana qualifier match for the 2014 FIFA World Cup
Why did you choose Academic Programs International (API) for your study abroad program over the many other options out there?
I chose API because they had everything that I was looking for: pre-departure assistance, in-country resident directors, host families, excursions, and they even offered an early-start option which gave me an extra month! The API staff were very personal and helpful through the entire study abroad process. I knew right after my first few emails and phone calls that I had made the right choice to study abroad on their program.
What stood out about Costa Rica as opposed to other locations?
To me, Costa Rica was very out there and different. I barely knew anything about the country before I was looking into studying abroad there. The two things that really stood out to me were that it’s located in the exact center between North and South America (I thought that was pretty cool!) and that, from what I read, it was a more Americanized Spanish-speaking country; therefore, I figured it would be a perfect place to learn Spanish as a beginner. I can definitely say I don’t regret that decision. It was a great fit!
The mountain view from a window inside Universidad Veritas - Photo Courtesy of Brad Miner
What was student life like at Universidad Veritas in Costa Rica?
Student life at Universidad Veritas was very relaxed and well organized. The university itself has a very tropical atmosphere with all the plants intertwined within the building, open roof sections, and large windows. The Center for International Programs (CIP) at Veritas was extremely helpful in making me feel welcomed during orientation. The CIP also offered workshops in order to help us better understand the culture of Costa Rica. One of my favorite was the making of faroles (handmade lanterns) for their Día de la Independencia (Independence Day).
Veritas also offered a bunch of extracurricular activities, such as a self-defense class, Costa Rican cooking, and a conversation club. I participated in all three and they were a great way to meet other international students and local Costa Ricans!
What courses did you take at Universidad Veritas and what made them unique?
I took two Spanish-language courses and three elective courses: tropical ecology, cultural photography, and human rights in Latin America. All of the courses were amazing! What made each one unique is that all of my professors incorporated field trips within the curriculum so that we could take the information from the classroom and apply it in the world. One of my favorite trips was for my human rights course; my class was able to go to a local government building and have a panel discussion with some representatives of the Costa Rican government who are currently involved with human rights issues.
How were the class standards or expectations different than at your home university? Were classes more difficult, easier, etc.?
Classes were quite different compared to my home university simply because the teaching style was different. In Costa Rica abiding by a time-stamped syllabus was nonexistent; professors were more than happy to throw their plans out the window if it meant slowing down so we could actually comprehend the material. I grew to appreciate this and truly missed it when I resumed classes back in the U.S., where the style appears to always be, “we need to get through all the content regardless if you understand it or not.” Overall, I felt like my classes in Costa Rica had more lenient standards and expectations simply because the professors were more student focused.
Brad and two of the children from the orphanage he would volunteer at
What is your most memorable experience from your time studying abroad in Costa Rica?
Definitely my time spent volunteering in a local orphanage. I wanted to somehow give back to the community that I was temporarily calling home. I heard about the orphanage through some students at my university and I ended up going there at least once a week. At the orphanage we would help the caretakers with meals, various activities with the children, and occasionally bring toys, books, etc. I ended up forming a really strong bond with two of the little boys who would sometimes call me hermano (brother). It was heartbreaking to have to leave, but my time spent at the orphanage is easily one of my most precious memories from my time in Costa Rica.
What makes Costa Rica an ideal destination for study abroad? What subjects are particularly great to study?
I believe Costa Rica is a perfect destination to study Spanish for those who are beginner-level Spanish speakers. Personally, I found learning the language a bit easier because Costa Rican’s typically do not roll their “r’s”.
Costa Rica is also an ideal location for anyone interested in studying biodiversity and the environment; the entire country is essentially one big biodiversity playground! In one day you can go from hiking through a mountainous tropical rainforest to relaxing on the beach in the evening. It is a small, diverse, and unbelievably gorgeous country!
What were some of your favorite things to do during your free time? What is something everyone studying abroad in Costa Rica should do?
If I have one piece of advice to give others who plan to study abroad on this program it would be to get out there to explore the city of San José. One of my favorite things to do was go out and get lost in the city; there are so many shops, restaurants, parks, museums, etc. all scattered in the city and surrounding area. I strongly recommend that others plan to visit the Mercado Nacional de Artesanías and Mueseo Nacional de Costa Rica before leaving.
Brad taking the plunge at Tropical Bungee outside of San José
What was the biggest challenge you faced during your time abroad?
My biggest challenge was having to switch my homestay. I suppose you can say I had one of those bad homestay experiences; the first family and I just didn’t seem to click, nor did I feel very welcomed in their home. I don’t want to deter anyone from choosing a homestay option because they truly are amazing and a great way to learn the language and culture! I managed to switch and the new family was kind, generous, and made me feel right at home. It was a tough decision at the time, but it was the right one for me and ultimately made the rest of my time abroad much better.
For anyone who has similar issues, make sure to talk to your resident director right away. The local API staff were very supportive and helpful through my entire move!
How did the local API staff support you throughout your program?
The local API support I received was wonderful throughout my entire program, prior, during, and after! The in-country API staff were there to greet me when I arrived at the airport and with me all throughout my departure from the country. The orientation and cultural excursions were well planned, and our API resident directors were very knowledgeable about everything, helping us really adjust to the Costa Rican lifestyle. Personally, the local API staff helped me through my homestay switch and also accompanied me for a trip to the hospital when I cut my foot on coral while snorkeling in the ocean.
What advice would you give to other students interested in this program?
My advice would be to break away from any big American-student group and get out there and talk to locals. Although it may be easier to stick with other international students, I recommend traveling in smaller groups so that you’ll be able to meet locals, learn the language, and experience the culture. If you decide to go to study abroad in Costa Rica please get out there and experience all that it has to offer!
How has studying abroad in Costa Rica impacted your life?
It has opened my eyes to the world and has changed my perspective on life. My one big take-away from Costa Rica is the concept of time; or rather the lack thereof. In the U.S. it seems we are always racing the clock, time is always of the essence, but in Costa Rica that was not the case at all.
Everything moved at a slower pace of life which allowed more time to appreciate living it. I grew to love that concept and deeply miss it every day.