Danielle Lockard - 2011 Program Participant

Danielle Playing with Monkeys at The Jaguar Rescue Center in Puerto Viejo, Limón.
Danielle Playing with Monkeys at The Jaguar Rescue Center in Puerto Viejo, Limón.

How did you decide on what program to study abroad with?

Choosing which study abroad program was the best fit for me didn’t happen overnight.  It took a lot of research and comparing to finally reach a decision. The Education Abroad office at the University of Kentucky was such a great tool in helping me decide. I wanted to choose a program outside of my school so I would have the opportunity to meet other students from different parts of the United States.

Also, I chose to participate in two study abroad programs in one year, meaning I spent my Fall semester San José, Costa Rica and my Spring semester in Sevilla, Spain. ISA offered programs in both of those countries at the time and cost that I wanted. The staff was friendly and helpful throughout the application process and during my time abroad. I’m very happy I chose ISA.

Having gone through the experience, what pointers can you give to other students who might study abroad in San José?

First of all, I would recommend that they keep an open mind. One of the biggest concerns I hear from people considering study abroad is the language barrier. There are so many places you can go where language won’t be an issue, and there are programs that offer beginner level classes. I also recommend that they branch out. Don’t choose a program just because your friends are choosing it. Going to a country by yourself, not knowing anyone like I did, is an incredible learning experience. I further suggest that study abroad students choose to live in a homestay rather than an apartment or dorms. This way you’ll have a local right by your side to guide you. They can offer insight that you won’t find in a travel journal. Not to mention, they’ll be feeding you homemade local meals!

When it comes to San José specifically, I would recommend a rain coat, umbrella, and shoes that can get wet, such as Chacos (not rain boots because you’ll get too hot!). Costa Rica doesn’t really have seasons like we do in the US. Instead they have a wet and dry period, so you will most likely get hit with a lot of rain at some point. Don’t worry - there’s still plenty of warmth and sunshine.

Another packing necessity will be Bug Spray and Sunscreen - especially if you plan on doing any travelling or excursions to other parts of the country. Of course, you can find these items in Costa Rica, but it will be much cheaper to buy them at home.

Making friends with locals and taking the opportunity to get out of your comfort zone will make your experience that much more valuable. Your time abroad will go by fast. Make the most of it! If you spend the whole time skyping your boyfriend/family/friends and being homesick, you’ll miss out on so much. When I was in Costa Rica, I created a blog. That way my friends and family could keep track of me in one place. Plus, it’s so great to be able to go back and look at all of my memories.

What makes San José a good place to study abroad in Costa Rica?

San José is the capital of Costa Rica, located in the heart of the country. It’s nice because it’s not located in a remote area. My ‘home’ was surrounded by universities, shopping centers, restaurants and lots of activity. Living in San José also made it much easier to travel to other parts of the country. It was easy to catch a bus and go to the beach whenever I wanted, and for a fairly cheap price! There is plenty of other modes of transportation available, and most places are easy to walk to. Living in San José allowed me to see many historical monuments located downtown. That being said, it was always a nice getaway to go to a small beach town for the weekend.

What was your favorite class and what made it the best?

My favorite class was Latin American Culture and Civilization. Our teacher, Harold, was Nicaraguan but had lived in Costa Rica for many years. Even three years later, I can’t forget this class or Harold’s smiling face. The class basically focused on learning the little things that make Costa Rica, and other parts of Latin America, unique. Much of what we learned couldn’t be found in a book. We learned hand gestures that meant different things in Costa Rica compared to the US, we learned about the music and dance of the country, we learned slang and palabrotas (bad words), and we even spent a class in Harold’s kitchen learning to cook some of Costa Rica’s most common dishes.

It was a hands-on class that was very applicable to what we were experiencing right then and there. If any of us had miscommunications with our host families or didn’t understand a certain custom, we could always bring that up in class and learn what makes Costa Rica distinct. I still treasure the lessons learned and the memories made in Harold’s class.

How has studying abroad influenced your life afterwards?

Study abroad has forever impacted my life. It taught me to be an adult; I became more independent and more confident in myself. After venturing across the world by myself, I feel like I can conquer anything that may come my way. It has made me a more tolerant and open-minded person. There are lessons that are learned through travel that truly cannot be discovered in any other way. After studying abroad, I became aware of how small the United States is and how much more there is to the world – and it’s all right at our fingertips, it just takes getting out of your comfort zone to get there. I am more open to meeting new people and starting up a conversation with a stranger than I was before. Thriving in a country where language barriers are faced gives you a sense of fearlessness.

It has also lead to some pretty great opportunities for me. After returning from my year abroad, I received an internship with ISA on my university’s campus, where I was able to encourage students to take the leap and study abroad. As a college graduate, having study abroad as a tool when interviewing for jobs has become invaluable. Not only does it set me apart from many applicants, but I can easily explain what it has taught me and how that can be applied to the job I am looking for.

It has also inspired in me an insatiable need for discovery, adventure and travel. I will no longer be able to live my life content with just “settling”. Studying abroad has definitely set my standards high. I plan to turn my career into a job where I can travel frequently and use my second language often. I truly believe travel is the best learning opportunity one can ever experience, but it must be experienced first-hand.

I will never forget the memories I made while travelling the world and am so thankful that I had the incredible opportunity to do so.