In my last post, I talked about the projects that I worked on as a part of the WIE-GFX Global Sustainability Scholars class in Costa Rica over winter break, as well as a bunch of the places we visited and the sustainability initiatives we learned about. While this study abroad experience was only ten days long, I still have lots of fun stories to share about the touristy side of the trip!
Perhaps the most challenging part of this trip was staying with a host family. They were incredibly kind and welcoming, but the challenge came from the significant language barrier between us. They spoke only in Spanish, and I haven’t taken a Spanish class in almost three years. Equipped only with the small amount of information I remembered from sophomore year of high school and a dictionary app with a spotty internet connection, I had to figure out how to understand conversational Spanish and respond in a somewhat coherent way. This was daunting, to say the least, but it ended up being one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.
Throughout the week, I tried to learn how to say two things every day: what we did during the day and one question I had for the family. That way, when I sat down to have dinner with them, I had one thing to say and one thing to ask. I was surprised at how much I was actually able to pick up from listening to them, and while I wasn’t the best at speaking, I was usually able to put enough words together to be understood. By the end of the week, I had learned a lot about my host family, and I even had a dream in Spanish.
This just goes to show how much more you can learn in challenging situations. Living with a family that didn’t speak the same language as me for ten days is something I never would have done on my own, but the experience really pushed me out of my comfort zone, and I’m grateful for that.
One of the most important questions I got upon returning from the trip was, “How was the food?” The short answer is that is was amazing. One of the perks of staying with a host family was getting home-cooked meals every night. This was a great way to experience some very authentic Costa Rican cuisine. At the start of the week, I was eating mostly traditional rice and bean meals, but as the week went on, I tried some delicious seafood dishes, dulce de leche pancakes, and even a Costa Rican take on spaghetti. The desserts were also just as amazing, with homemade ice cream and coconut flan being some of my absolute favorites.
Costa Rica is also known for its amazing coffee. We discovered this for ourselves as we went on a coffee plantation tour and learned what makes Costa Rican coffee so special. We learned about every part of the coffee production process and tried LOTS of coffee samples along the way.
After three days of projects and three days of learning, we had plenty of time to unwind on the beach. We visited Manuel Antonio Park, where we enjoyed a short walk though the rain forest to get to a hidden beach. During this walk, we saw quite a few animals, with monkeys and sloths being a few of the highlights.
In contrast to the warm weather all week, we were reminded of the frigid January air at home when we climbed to the crater of Poás Volcano. Since this was an active volcano that had only erupted a few years ago, we had to wear hard hats in case of any unexpected eruption. Unfortunately, since we were at such a high altitude, we didn’t see much of the crater. However, we did get to stand inside a cloud on top of an active volcano, which was really cool in itself.
The absolute highlight of the trip was zip-lining through the canopy of Hacienda Barú on the morning before our lecture with Jack Ewing. During this tour, we soared through the treetops among toucans and sloths. Did I mention it was also my birthday? This was the best way I could have ever imagined spending it: zip-lining through a rain forest, learning about conservation efforts from an incredible author, and watching the sunset on the beach with all my new friends from the trip.
This trip gave me amazing opportunities that I’ll never forget. Not only did I have the chance to contribute to some amazing projects and meet some amazing people, but I also left with a better understanding of what direction I can take in a career in environmental engineering and how this connects to a global context. I would highly recommend a short-term study abroad program to anyone who wants to try out an international experience without committing to a full semester, or to anyone who simply wants to explore a new part of the world! It will truly be a life-changing experience.
If you’re interested, you can learn more about the WIE-GFX Global Sustainability Scholars program, or any of the other WIE-GFX Scholar programs!