Kendra Maxfield - 2014 Program Participant

Hiking to the top of Volcán Irazú in Costa Rica

Climbing up Volcán Irazú - the top was above the clouds!

Why did you decide to apply for an international program?

I decided to apply to go abroad because I needed a change of pace. I was exhausted with the college routine in Minnesota and I needed to experience something different. I had traveled abroad in high school and I remembered the way it made me feel. I realized that was the change I needed so I applied to go!

Why did you choose ISA’s program in Costa Rica?

I chose my program because I really wanted to improve my Spanish abilities. I was a Spanish major at the time so I needed to go somewhere to improve that. The sunny warm weather was just a major plus.

What was your favorite part about Heredia?

Heredia is the ideal location in Costa Rica. It's a medium sized city so it's completely safe and not too overwhelming, but it's only 15 to 20 minutes away from San José by bus. San José is the public transportation hub so you can get anywhere in the country from there. Costa Rica itself is gorgeous. You could see everything from mountains to volcanoes to rainforests to beaches. The weather is gorgeous and not too humid. I loved how green and lush everything was outside of the city. The beaches are amazing because some are white sand and there are nature reserves everywhere. If you love being outside for any reason, Costa Rica is the place for you.

Costa Rica border sign along Panama border

Coming back from Panama we couldn't help but share our love for Costa Rica!

What made your program experience unique?

The program was unique for so many reasons. First of all, I had the option to do service-learning there, and I'm so glad I did. It was amazing! Universidad Latina has so many clubs you can join for free and so many ways to get involved it's incredible. Also, you have a homestay so that's one more way to get integrated into the culture. My program also had excursions that were planned. There were three weekends to teach you how to travel within the country and then one more optional one to renew your visa. The visa renewal excursion was incredible because it taught me how to go through customs in between countries.

How supportive was local staff during your program?

The staff was so incredibly supportive. The directors helped anyone out with anything they needed assistance with. Whether it was housing issues, bus lines, language gaps, things to do on the weekends, or anything in between, they were there to help the students out in every way. My directors became my go-to people for anything and everything. They truly care about you and want to see you benefit greatly from your program.

What's one thing you wish you could change about your time in Costa Rica?

The only thing I could possibly think to change would be the duration. I wish I would have selected to go abroad for the whole year, like everyone else in my group. I really enjoyed my time and I think that a year would have been even more amazing.

Describe a typical day in the life of your program.

A typical weekday started with getting up, grabbing homemade breakfast from my host mother, and then hopping onto the bus to go to my service learning. At the elementary school, I did a wide variety of tasks that changed daily. After my placement, I would go to Universidad Latina and spend some time in the office with my directors and fellow students. When it came time to go to the class, I finished class and then walked home with my roommate. We would then go sit on the patio with our host dad or go explore the city. We would eat dinner as a family and afterwards my roommate and I split to do our homework until it was time to go to bed. Everyday was relaxing and it felt like I had been living there all my life; I loved that feeling.

Volunteer teacher with students in Costa Rica

My final day with my students from service learning - they always brightened my day!

What was your favorite thing to do in your freetime?

My favorite activity was traveling. I loved being able to hop on a bus and go anywhere for a weekend or a day trip. I learned so many things about the country and met so many amazing people.

Tell us more about your accommodation.

I had a homestay and my favorite aspect was the relationship with my family. They truly treated me like their own child. I ate breakfast and dinner with them. Sometimes I would eat lunch with them if I was home for it. I also talked with my host parents all the time about life and traveling. They were an amazing resource because they informed me of the best places to eat, places to visit, and places to stay outside of Heredia. I couldn't imagine my experience without them.

How has studying abroad in Costa Rica impacted your life?

This program has impacted my life in so many ways. The obvious benefit would be the fact that my Spanish has improved greatly. The things that most people don't see are the benefits that cherish the most. I have became more confident than I can even imagine. I also have learned that things won't always go as planned, and that's okay. Everything works out in the end and there is nothing to worry about. I have learned how to prioritize my life in a way that I would want it to be. I have learned how to communicate with people who aren't like me, whether it's in English or Spanish. I've also realized that the world is so much bigger than the United States and embracing other cultures is actually a good thing. My education abroad experience has impacted my life in more ways than I can even realize.

Ziplining in Costa Rica

My group getting ready to zip line during one of our excursions!