Graham Smith is a junior at Alamo Heights High School in San Antonio, Texas, and participated in a two week study abroad program to Costa Rica through Sol Abroad.Interviewed on - 20 January 2015
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.
I selected Costa Rica because it is a beautiful, safe country and I had heard great things about it.
I chose Sol Abroad because that was the company that the school was using, and it has a very good reputation.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I would not change anything about the program, it was fantastic!
I would love to study abroad again, and if I did I would most likely go to another safe, Spanish speaking country.
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.