24 days ago…
I remember the moment it finally hit me. I was unusually calm the entire week before my trip, and even up until the day of the trip. I finally felt the excitement when the plane was fully in the air. As I looked down and saw the New York city skyscrapers getting smaller and smaller below me, I couldn’t help but feel a smile come over my face and a warmth grow inside my heart. I realized that I was really doing this. My whole life I dreamt of traveling and seeing the world, and I was about to leave the country for the first time and begin my travels. I had planned and planned and obsessed and anticipated about this for so long, and now it was actually happening. I didn’t know what to expect, and I knew there were a million challenges and obstacles coming my way, but in this moment there was not an ounce of fear or regret inside me. I was confident and happy. Everything felt right. I was actually living my dream. My study abroad journey was about to begin…

Now…
I’m falling in love with Costa Rica more and more each day, and am happy to say that I have no regrets that this was the perfect country for me. Being immersed into a new language and adjusting to a new culture is definitely a new experience. I’ve learned that every day is a challenge, and I look forward to the new challenges each and every day. My tico parents are incredibly sweet and helpful. They know a little English, but we speak in Spanish most of the time. Although I was nervous at first, I quickly learned that trying to speak as much as I can, even if I make a lot of mistakes (which I do- like the time I tried to say my neighbor (mi vecino) and instead said my bacon (mi tocino)), is the only way I can improve. At my university here, I have intensive Spanish four hours a day five days a week where we only speak in Spanish. It’s so much more beneficial taking Spanish classes here than in the States. Here, everyone tries to do well not just because they want to learn, but because they NEED to learn. It feels good that I can use the things I learn in class in my everyday life, and vice versa. Everything I do is a learning experience and an opportunity for practice – taking a taxi, asking for directions, going to a store, ordering food, every conversation at home. It can get exhausting at times, but for those moments when I can actually get a point across successfully or understand the entirety of what someone is saying, it all becomes worth it.

I’ve been incredibly busy, adjusting, meeting people, learning to speak in a new language in a new city at a new school, going on trips every weekend. In addition to the language barrier, one thing I’m still getting used to is the directions. Instead of using exact street names like they do in the US, they use landmarks to describe where things are – things such as “200 meters from the mango tree”. So, as an already directionally challenged person, it’s been a bit of a struggle for me. Although I can’t use Google Maps to get everywhere, I am slowly feeling more comfortable getting around and feel very accomplished when I can get places.

Three weeks of classes = three weekends of excursions. For such a tiny country, I find myself constantly amazed at the amount of diversity and beauty that exists. Every weekend I fall in love over and over again, as I wonder whether the next place could be any more beautiful, and am amazed to see that it is. There’s so much I could say about each place I’ve seen so far, but I’ll just give some bits and pieces. Each weekend has definitely been a new adventure.

I remember the first night of the first weekend excursion I went on. Our hostel was right by Manuel Antonio National Park, and going to sleep that first night all I could hear were the sounds of the howler monkeys and other animals in the jungle that surrounded us. We hiked through the national park there, and ended up on a beach where monkeys and iguanas lurked around us. That afternoon, we walked down to the beach right by our hostel at sunset and swam. The water felt incredible and the waves were huge. We swam as the sun was going down, and as I looked around I watched the sky gradually change colors from yellow to orange to blue and purple. This is one of those feelings that just can’t be captured in a picture. This is happiness.

The second weekend we stayed in an amazing hostel right by Uvita beach where they had treehouse rooms, a yoga studio, a restaurant, and a bar all within it. I swam in the cool water beneath a waterfall, looking up and feeling the sun shine down on me over the green jungle. I ended the day watching an even more captivating sunset along an even more incredible beach which was right outside of our hostel. Looking to my left I saw mountains with a light fog floating above them and to my right the sunset. My two friends and I decided to walk down the beach to something called the “Whale’s Tail” where the tide came up on both sides, which ended up being much further than anticipated. We walked as it was getting darker and the few people who were on the beach gradually had cleared out. So walking back, we struggled to find the path we entered the beach. After searching through the jungle along the beach in the dark trying to find something familiar, we eventually were able to find our path back to our hostel.

During our third trip, we took a ferry ride during yet another incredible sunset. (I love sunsets if you can’t tell – especially the ones in Costa Rica.) Looking out off the ferry, I could see pelicans flying against the layers of distant mountains in the background. I was taking pictures looking out and after a little while I just stopped and stood there for a while. I could hear the peaceful sounds of a guy playing harmonica on the level below me. I just stood there feeling the breeze against my face, and staring out into the ocean watching the sunset over the mountains, wondering how it was possible that life could be this good. That next day we got to spend in Curu Wildlife refuge which was a private area right on the beach. In the afternoon, while we were waiting to take a hike, all of the sudden all the monkeys came out and surrounded us. I watched and listened as they all flocked to a pile of bananas, eating, playing, bouncing on the tents and swinging through the trees. Later that day, we kayaked to a nearby island with the most beautiful blue water and the softest, whitest sand I have ever felt. While we waited for it to get dark, we enjoyed on some freshly cut watermelon, pineapple, and coconut. We all swam in the ocean until it grew dark as we gradually started to see (and feel) the bioluminescent creatures light up all around us. This trip ended with another short trip to a waterfall where I swam and jumped off rocks into the cool water. After another incredible weekend, I am excited for all of the unexpected adventures that are to come.

Costa Rica and my overall study abroad experience has exceeded all of my expectations so far. I can already say that I’ve met so many amazing people, and made friends that will last me for a lifetime. My tico parents are super nice and have made this adjustment so easy for me. All the local ticos are helpful and understanding. Even though every time I try to speak in Spanish, it becomes painfully obvious that I am a foreigner, they usually will actually try and help instead of getting annoyed. It’s a slower lifestyle here, people have much more patience (except while driving). Being here in another country and culture, I’ve learned to adapt and feel more connected to people. It has given me a new perspective and respect for people who move out of their home country to somewhere foreign to them. Regardless of the language barrier, you realize that people are people and we all have the same basic qualities and emotions that connect us. I’m learning and growing while having the time of my life. Being here is not a vacation, but rather my temporary home, and I feel more and more at home here everyday. That’s all for now. ┬íPura Vida!

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