I don’t remember ever feeling as anxious as I was during the early morning drive to the RDU airport. I was departing for Costa Rica for my semester abroad and all of the nerves and anxiety of the uncertainness that I was about to throw myself into came flooding in. Unlike some of my friends who went abroad as a group, or with at least one other friend, I didn’t know a single other person signed up for my program. I had the name of my host family and roommate, a rough idea of the classes I would be taking and absolutely no knowledge of the Spanish language besides ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’. To put it simply – I was terrified.

It wasn’t until my plane started descending and I looked out the window to a field of lush green hills that I finally started to relax a little. Yes, this was the most independent, and therefore scary, adventure I ever embarked upon, but I was getting to do it in one the most biodiverse countries on the planet. As a Conservation Biology major the prospect of getting to study here was what drew me in in the first place.

Living with a host family that only speaks Spanish and having to rely upon my roommate as my translator for quite literally every conversation in the beginning was one of the most challenging aspects of my time abroad. Having the inability to communicate with people you desperately want to bond with and get to know was something I never experienced. The good news was that I was starting at square one – it could only go up from there. It certainly got easier as I settled in, immersed myself in the culture and progressed in my intensive Spanish 1 course, but even until the day I left I still had to look to my roommate to clarify what our host mom was saying – and that’s okay. I never expected to become fluent, but I was proud of the growth I experienced.

The hands on and interactive learning environment was my favorite I’ve ever been a part of. My professors were candid, intelligent and engaging. The small, private design University was the perfect place to be. The campus was flooded with natural light and creativity that cast a serene feeling throughout the entire place. One of the best parts was that my University didn’t believe in tests as a way to measure academic success. Instead we were graded through presentations, group work and papers. I have extreme presentation anxiety but I had about two presentations a week on average between my 4 classes and I got more and more relaxed with each one.

Over the course of my 2 and a half months, that regrettably got cut short due to COVID, I got to experience once in a lifetime adventures. I got to snorkel over coral reefs off the island of Bocas del Toros in Panama, visit numerous beaches all over the country, hike in the cloud forest of Monte Verde and go on night hikes spotting 3 different types of vipers and numerous frogs, toads and other amphibians in the Children’s Eternal Rainforest – the largest span of privately owned land dedicated to nature in Costa Rica. I also met some of the most genuine people I’ve ever come across and made lifelong friends that I still talk to everyday.

I’m not sure what I was expecting when I departed in January, but the experience I had in Costa Rica far exceeded any expectations I could have ever had. I grew in so many aspects of myself and pushed myself so far out of my comfort zone. The memories and education I gained in my time in Costa Rica are aspects that will stay with me forever and I could not be more grateful for having the opportunity to learn and live here. Pura Vida!