Nicole Haas-Loomis - 2014 Program Participant

Foreign students at the San Jose Mall in Costa Rica

Nicole sitting with friends at the San José mall

What inspired you to study abroad in high school?

A Sol Abroad director came in to my Spanish class. He told us about the four places that Sol Abroad has programs: Spain, Argentina, Mexico, and Costa Rica. At the end of his presentation, he passed around a sheet and told us to write down our contact information if we wanted to learn more. I wrote down my name and email and then one day I got an email and I checked with my parents and suddenly I was signed up!

Traveling abroad has always been something that I have wanted to do and without the school presentation, I probably wouldn't have studied abroad until college. The presentation was the main thing that prompted me to go, but my Spanish teacher was also a part in my decision. She was a very helpful Spanish teacher and having gone on the trip herself, prompted me to go through with the process.

What made you select Costa Rica?

I chose Costa Rica because the other programs didn't seem like a good fit for me at that time. I had already been to Mexico for vacation with my family and I enjoyed it, but I thought that going to a new place would be exciting. I thought Spain would be awesome, but as a student who would be going into sophomore year by the time this program happened, I thought I would be too young for such a big city. I didn't do much research about Argentina. When I asked my Spanish teacher for her thoughts, she recommended Costa Rica. Now that I have been on the trip, I agree that Costa Rica was a great choice.

Central lawn of Atenas in Costa Rica

The central green of Atenas, where the Sol Abroad group would meet in the mornings

What were your housing arrangements like in Costa Rica?

My housing arrangements while abroad were splendid. My roommate and I shared a room. It was upstairs and apart from the rest of the house, which only had one floor. Our room had two twin beds, a TV, a bathroom and shower, a fan (which was the best!) and a porch. There were also big windows to let in the fresh air. It was the most adorable little room. Our house had an enclosed fence and gate, as the majority of Costa Rican households have, and our area was shared with our host mother's sister and daughter. They would sometimes come over, and we would play cards with our host mother's niece.

My experience felt very authentic and personal. I think that this authenticity is one of the best aspects to acquire on a trip like this. Although extravagant five star hotels and resorts are fun, in order to learn a language and the culture, I'd much rather be immersed in the society. My host family was an ideal Costa Rican family and I learned a lot from them while I was there.

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

The biggest challenge I faced was being able to answer quickly to the Spanish speakers around me. I remember that once I got off the plane it became surreal that I would have to speak Spanish and at some times wouldn't be able to speak English. I didn't know what I had got myself into and I found myself excessively saying the word (yes), which I realize is very weird. I did get a little better at replying to others as time went by and I am thankful. All in all, I am glad I went to Costa Rica and I got over my initial shock pretty quickly once I got into the swing of things.

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

One piece of advice I would give to a student is to go by yourself and not be afraid. Making friends is the best part of the trip and I am glad I went alone, or I wouldn't have been forced to talk to other people. Another piece of advice is to try all of the food. I am not a picky eater, but for the picky eaters out there: trying the food is a polite thing to do and you might be pleasantly surprised. I did not enjoy pejibayes, but after having to eat all of my roommates pejibayes, I started to enjoy them.

One last thing is that THERE WILL BE LOTS OF RICE AND BEANS! My family was wonderful and mixed up the types of food we had every day such as soups, salads, and fish, with rice and beans as a side dish, but other students weren't as lucky. If you don't like rice or beans, then I suggest you think of some creative solutions. There are supermarkets and restaurants around if you become desperate. The food is truly part of the culture however, so try it!

Volleyball match in Costa Rica

Nicole watching a volleyball match with her host family and their friends

If you had the chance to go abroad again, why would you go?

I would love to go abroad again because I love to travel and learning a new language is a great excuse to travel the world. I also enjoyed the culture of Costa Rica. The people of Costa Rica are friendly and delightful to be around. It was interesting to learn about their special habits and traditions. Some examples that I found interesting are that they left their doors unlocked for the majority of the day, they wear slippers in the house, they air dry their clothes on clothes lines, and they don't wear seat belts.

Traveling is wonderful and I hope to go to Spain in the summer of 2016 on another Spanish immersion trip and maybe some additional trips as well. Traveling abroad gives many life experiences and I am so glad that I get the opportunity to travel.

Would you recommend Sol Abroad’s Costa Rica program to others?

I would definitely recommend Sol Abroad to others! I can't speak for the other locations, but I know that the Costa Rica was perfect. This program is a perfect blend of adventure, authenticity, and learning for beginners and advanced students. The town I stayed in was small and intimate. Every family knew every other family and it was easy to get around town by foot or with a taxi. It was a normal town with a wonderful atmosphere and sense of community. As I walked around town, people would smile at me and my friends and say hola.

Hiking in Costa Rica

An early morning hike with friends

The excursions were also fantastic, we got to see the different tourist attractions in Costa Rica. I enjoyed every single one of them including the beach, the waterfall, zip lining, the tour of San José, and white water rafting, along with a bunch of other places we visited. We also had a good balance of free time and structured activity. During our free time we went to a nearby hotel and used their swimming pool, got our nails done, and ate at some restaurants or got food from the local farmer's markets.

The program was really safe, but wasn't strict about knowing our every move. During the first week we had a tour of Atenas, the town we were living in, and it was really helpful for the rest of the time that we were there because we actually knew how to get around. The whole program has everything planned out for a perfect trip that is fun, interesting,and educational.

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

If I could change one thing about my program, I wish I could have practiced my Spanish more. In Costa Rica, I would have preferred to speak more Spanish than I did because I was looking forward to learning a lot. I speak with my host family and teacher, but I didn't speak with the other students in Spanish because most people preferred to speak English. It wasn't a guideline to speak Spanish. I understand that this isn't a feasible wish, but I would have loved to speak a little more Spanish than I did.

Volunteer in Costa Rica with Host Family

Nicole’s host family