Michaela Rubenstein - 2015 Program Participant

What inspired you to go abroad?

My parents really pushed me to go abroad because they knew it would make me a well-rounded individual and they regretted not doing it themselves. I also really wanted to go and have had an adventurous spirit since I was really little. When a relatively open spot came in my schedule one fall semester, I knew I had to take advantage of it.

Why did you choose USAC?

I had visited Costa Rica before with my family and I wanted to go back, get more out of it by not being just a tourist, improve my Spanish, and study ecology in a place that is known for having incredible amounts of biodiversity. USAC offered me all of these, and more. They were very cost-effective and it was cheaper to go abroad than spend the quarter at my own school. And, I could get ahead on credits and use that momentum to graduate early.

Girl sitting in an oxcart in Sarchí, Alajuela, Costa Rica
Chillin' in the oxcarts of Sarchí

What was your favorite part about San Ramon, Costa Rica?

San Ramón has the coolest wall art. I don't say graffiti because it is all so beautiful. I loved walking around town with my camera, talking to people, and chatting with my friends in Spanish. Everyone is so welcoming and inviting and willing to talk to you. They were patient, understanding, and always up for an adventure.

I can't really pick one thing I love about San Ramón, but family and friends definitely top the list. As for the country as a whole, I love the diversity of activities you can do because of the diversity of the climate.

What made your experience abroad unique?

I made a lot of amazing connections with my host family and some local ticos. They were taking an English class the same time I was taking a Spanish class and we always met up to share conversations. They would show us around, take us hiking, swimming at secret waterfalls, show us amazing lookout points, and travel with us to fun places. They really were the bridge between just being a study abroad student and becoming invested in the community. These students became my best friends and made my experience unique.

Birthday celebration in Costa Rica
Celebrating a birthday, tico style - with eggs, cake, and flour!

How did local staff support you throughout your program?

The staff were amazing! Lucy, Gerardo, and Jose were always around to answer our questions and really pushed us to speak Spanish which was incredibly helpful. They were fun to work with and became our friends as well as our advisors. They were so accommodating, especially during Thanksgiving when they cooked us enormous turkeys and shared a Thanksgiving meal with us. They travelled with us, practiced Spanish with us, and listened to any concern that we had.

What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?

I honestly wish I would have spent less time with the other program students and more time with the locals. Being with other Americans, it was easy to fall back into English and to forget that the time abroad is precious and shouldn't be wasted reminiscing about things back home.

Describe a typical day in the life of your program.

Wake up, eat breakfast (usually gallo pinto, eggs, fruit, and coffee), go for a short run or walk around town with the camera to take pictures, go to class, eat lunch, meet up with friends in the central park and talk for an hour or so, go for a walk to a look out near town and play games or eat snacks. Then return to homestay to do some homework, eat dinner, watch a movie or sing songs in Spanish, journal, and go to bed. Some nights were also spent out at lookouts, in the park, or at a sports bar to watch a soccer match.

Hiking to Volcán Concepción on Isla Ometepe, Nicaragua
The view from Volcán Concepción during a trip to Isla Ometepe, Nicaragua

What did you enjoy doing in your free time?

Taking photos, hiking, hanging out in the central park with my friends, and playing games with my host siblings. Being a tico...

What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?

I had a mom, dad, little brother, little sister, and a family dog. I loved that the family was loud and kind of crazy. It took some getting used to but there was always something going on, always a song playing, someone singing, someone visiting, someone cooking. It was rich with a culture of being close and connected, and I loved helping out around the house with cooking.

What is one thing every participant should know before participating in your program?

I have more than one thing so just take your pick:

Get to know the locals! They will be your best friends and will show you all the hidden gems of San Ramón. They will also appreciate the time and effort you put in to speak Spanish with them and they will remember you.

Don't go out drinking all the time. I know it's fun, it's legal, and your parents aren't watching, but it's honestly more trouble than it's worth. American students get a bad rap for being crazy partiers and if you perpetuate this stereotype, it can ruin your time here and cause drama. Plus, it will take away from time you could have spent interacting with your host family, traveling, or exploring.

Take the cultural classes - dancing and cooking are awesome! They won't fulfill credit requirements but they will make your time richer and more fun!

Caldera of Costa Ricas Volcán Poás.
Visiting one of Costa Rica's many volcanoes - Volcán Poás

Now that you're home, how has your time abroad impacted your life?

At first it made me mad to be home. I hated every conversation that wasn't in Spanish, I hated having everything so familiar and predictable, and I hated any food that wasn't empanadas or gallo pinto. After a while, I settled back in, and I dedicated time to attending Spanish conversation tables to continue practicing and improving my Spanish. I cooked my food differently. I viewed my relationships differently (friendships in Costa Rica are so much richer and more rewarding than they are here in the states).

The most important and most prevalent impact in my mind is that I went back the following year to visit my family. Knowing I had connections all over the world was an incredibly powerful feeling. While I was back visiting I discovered an internship program that I applied for and got! Now I am back in Costa Rica again, this time as a naturalist guide in the cloud forest. It's a dream come true!

Would you recommend your program to others? Why?

Absolutely, no hesitation. This is an incredible experience. If you do it right, this study abroad program will change you from college student (baby) into adult. It will make you appreciative of every moment shared with others and will give you an insatiable sense of adventure. It will make you laugh, cry, and dream. Also...when it comes to studying abroad...why not? Honestly, there's not a single reason not to.