During the summer of 2014, I had the opportunity to study abroad in the small town of Santa Ana, Costa Rica. While abroad, I was fortunate enough to live with Marta, my host mom, and attend Conversa, a language-learning school atop one of the beautiful mountains of Costa Rica. While my goals during this study abroad trip were mainly academic, I quickly learned that living in a Spanish-speaking country would also test my perseverance, my patience, and my adaptability. I had to learn how to navigate towns without formal addresses, avoid embarrassing grammatical and pronunciation mistakes, and learn the cultural nuances of my new family and the ticos (Costa Rican people). The Spanish language is intrinsic to each of these aspects, so my education at Conversa helped with all of them.
The more I learned and understood at school, the more confident I became, and this newfound confidence inspired an adventurous spirit within me that I’d never known. Slowly but surely, I began to apply what I’d learned in class to everyday situations. My conversations with my host mom transformed from using the present and past tenses with topics about meals to using the conditional and subjunctive tenses while discussing potential outings with friends. I ordered foods I wasn’t familiar with at restaurants and actually enjoyed eating avocados for the first time in my life. I zip-lined across Monteverde, swam in the ocean, made friends with an iguana and some monkeys, visited a volcano, had the most amazing smoothies of my life, got a Costa Rican manicure, and made memories with my friends, my host family, and the ticos that mere photographs could never fully capture. I went to Costa Rica expecting to improve my Spanish-speaking ability, to add another credential to my résumé. Instead, I learned firsthand the challenges and triumphs associated with a non-native in a new place and gained a love for a country that immediately accepted and encouraged me while I fumbled through their language. I’m forever indebted to the ticos who positively changed me and my worldview.