Graham Smith - 2014 Program Participant

The countryside of Costa Rica while traveling to San Jose

The natural beauty of Costa Rica captured during a bus ride to San Jose.

Why did you choose to study abroad while in high school?

My high school advertized a trip to Costa Rica through the Spanish department, and it seemed like a great opportunity, so I signed up. I wanted to improve my Spanish skills before I took AP Spanish four, and I knew that total immersion was the best way to go.

What made you select Costa Rica for your program abroad?

I selected Costa Rica because it is a beautiful, safe country and I had heard great things about it. 

Why did you choose Sol Abroad over other organizations?

I chose Sol Abroad because that was the company that the school was using, and it has a very good reputation.

What were your housing arrangements like while abroad?

While in Costa Rica, I stayed with a wonderful host family with a daughter in college and an adult son and daughter. There was also a small dog named Bruno and one of the adult daughters lived next door with her toddler and husband. The host father’s brother and his family lived down the next block. There was a very strong family structure. I stayed with a roommate from my school that was in the grade below mine.

All three meals were provided for us by the host mother, and were very delicious. There was a lot of authentic Costa Rican food provided, such as fresh fruit, meats, rice and beans, and fresh juice. There was a mango tree in our backyard, so we had fresh mangoes every morning.

What was a typical day like for you in Costa Rica?

On a school day, we would eat breakfast at home, get to class at 8 a.m., head home for lunch at noon, then have a cultural activity such as a dance class, soccer game, or cooking class, then have free time to explore the town until dinner. We had three weekend excursions, and we would stay in a hotel and do activities such as hot springs, zip lining, white water rafting, and hiking.

A beautiful view in Costa Rica

One of Graham’s favorite photos he snapped while studying abroad in Costa Rica.

What was the most memorable experience you had during your time abroad?

My best experience while studying abroad in Costa Rica was meeting great students from all around the country. I am still connected to a lot of my friends from New York and California through Instagram and Facebook. I am glad that I made lifelong friends through the Sol Abroad program.

What was the biggest challenge you faced as a high school student abroad?

The biggest challenge I faced was that my house was the farthest away from everyone, so it was a challenge to get places on time. However, once I figured out how to call for a taxi, it was not a problem anymore. Sol Abroad provided an incredibly structured and organized program, so there were no other challenges for me.

What advice would you give to other high school students interested in studying in Costa Rica?

I would advise any high school student to study abroad, and to not go with anyone they knew previously. If I had gone to Costa Rica with a close friend, I would not have talked to anyone else or made any friends. In order to have the full study abroad experience, one should stay as unconnected from the world as possible. I would not recommend bringing a laptop. I would also recommend downloading the iphone/android app “Viber”, which provides free international calling or texting as long as both users have a stable wifi connection. There is no need for anyone to buy an expensive international data or talking plan. I would recommend staying in a house with wifi if possible.

They also need to get used to cold showers and living without air conditioning, because that was a shock for me during the first few days. I would also say to not be a picky eater. Try everything served because it is very rude to deny food that the host mother made, and it is important to get the cultural experience of new foods. Also, it is good to take a lot of photos, especially with your host family and friends, and of the beautiful Costa Rican landscape.

What are the top reasons you'd want to go abroad again?

I would love to study abroad again because it was a wonderful experience for me and I learned so much about both the Spanish language and Costa Rica. 

Hiking in Costa Rica

Graham on a hike to the beach with two of his friends.

How has your study abroad experience impacted your life?

I can speak much better Spanish now, and I have vast knowledge about the food and culture of both Costa Rica and Latin America as a whole. I have so many great stories from my time abroad and I am more comfortable with trying new things.

Would you recommend your Sol Abroad program to others?

I would recommend Sol Abroad to others, and in fact my sister is currently in Costa Rica with Sol Education Abroad because she knew that I had such a great experience on my trip.

If you could change one thing about your study abroad program, what would it be?

I would not change anything about the program, it was fantastic!

If you could go abroad again, where would you go?

I would love to study abroad again, and if I did I would most likely go to another safe, Spanish speaking country.

Did you experience any kind of reverse culture shock when you came back to the U.S.?

When I returned to the United States, I found myself accidentally going off in Spanish in conversations because I was so used to speaking it. It was also a shock to have air conditioning and hot water again.