Sheri Bechard - 2014 Program Participant

Sunset over the Caribbean coast of Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

The sun setting on the Caribbean coast of Puerto Viejo: one of the planned excursions with CEA!

Why did you choose to study abroad?

I wanted to travel and see the world, just like many other students my age, but it was not about just putting stamps in my passport or knocking must-sees off of my list. I wanted to become a part of a culture and become more than just a tourist. Study abroad is the perfect opportunity to do so. A young adult has the chance to study under different faculty and staff, earning credit towards a degree, but in a completely different location that has something interesting to offer at every corner! In the case of Costa Rica, it was fresh panderίas (bakeries) that were at every block.

What attracted you to CEA Study Abroad over other organizations?

CEA Study Abroad stood out most to me due to the closeness of the advisors to the students. During every step of the application process I was able to get in contact with someone in a timely manner and get all 1000 of my questions answered. Also, I really liked that CEA had volunteer options, specifically in the local children’s hospital. As a health sciences major, I took full advantage of this opportunity to learn more about medicine, other health care systems, and practice my Spanish outside of the classroom! 

What were your housing arrangements like in San Jose?

I stayed in a house with a Tico (Costa Rican) family, which included my Mamatica, her brother, and one son. There were seven other students that stayed in the house, as well. My Tico brother was fluent in English, so that was very helpful for communicating with the family. The housing arrangement pushed me to practice the language continuously, which had a significant impact on my language development. The homestay option truly immerses you into the culture and becomes a “home” for students, like myself. 

International student with host mother in Costa Rica

Sheri and her fabulous Mamatica, Myrna! Sheri surprised Myrna with a tee-shirt from her University and the next day Myrna was proudly wearing it around the house

What was a normal day like as an international student in San Jose?

Each day was slightly different depending on the day but a typical day started very early, with Spanish classes started at 8 a.m. My Mamatica would have breakfast prepared with gallo pinto, eggs, fresh fruit, and coffee, of course. I would have Spanish class with about nine other students from 8 a.m. until noon. After noon, I would make lunch at my homestay or go out to eat at a soda (local restaurant) with some friends. Then, I would attend my afternoon elective courses and go to the local gym before it was dinnertime.

Dinner was one of the highlights of my day, since all seven of my roommates and I would eat together. Each dinner was full of many laughs and shared memories. Some mornings I would go to the local children’s hospital in downtown San Jose to volunteer, when I was not taking Spanish courses. This experience was offered through CEA Study Abroad, which was very beneficial! 

What was the biggest challenge you faced abroad?

My biggest challenge abroad was leaving. I had become a part of the family that I stayed with and became best friends with my seven roommates. I also did not have the opportunity to take as many Spanish courses as I had hoped, so I was sad to leave and not have mastered the language.

What advice would you give to other Philadelphia University students as to why they should study abroad in Costa Rica?

Any study abroad location is going to be an opportunity of a lifetime and you will make wonderful memories. I think Costa Rica is special because of the perfect balance of cities, beaches, volcanoes, natural waterfalls, and biodiversity. The difference in language and culture truly impacts the experience, as well.

Ticos are so welcoming and friendly, making it truly a second home for anyone that visits. 

On top of Cerro Negro in Leon, Nicaragua

On top of Cerro Negro in Leon, Nicaragua - after 2388 feet of hiking, Sheri sled down the volcano on a board! 

What are the top reasons you'd go back to Costa if you had the chance?

I want to go back in order to improve my fluency. Learning another language can be very difficult; I improved significantly during my four months in Costa Rica, but there is always room for further improvement. The Spanish spoken in Costa Rica is generally clear, with very little accents which makes it easier to learn. Ticos are also very willing to help in every way possible, but especially when they know you are learning.

Additionally, I want to go back to visit my second family. The Tico family I stayed with truly became a second one to me and I would love to spend the afternoon sipping café con leche (coffee with milk) and chatting with them.

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

I would have more flexibility with the volunteering. I was not able to volunteer in the first two months there, due to my course schedule. I would have loved to have more time to spend at the hospital, but the hours offered were limited. 

Pico de Garaza in Nicaragua

While traveling in Nicaragua, Sheri and her friends discovered this (practically) private islet, Pico de Garaza, with kayaks, boats, and three pools!