AU in Costa Rica

Costa Rica

The “AU in Costa Rica” program provides the perfect study abroad setting for college students to immerse themselves in the language and culture of a beautiful country. The combination of language study, homestay and weekend excursions allows students to cross linguistic and cultural boundaries easily – and to truly become part of the “pure life” – or ¡Pura Vida!, Costa Rica’s favorite expression.

Ten Ashland University students took the ride up the mountain from Santa Ana (outside of San José, the capital) each morning to attend “Conversa” language school. For four weeks they enjoyed the ideal learning environment. Conversa’s strict policies of no more than four students to a class and “Spanish only” allowed every participant to meet their personal and academic goals.

The homestay was the favorite part for many of the students. Each student had her own family, and the hours after school were a natural extension of class time.

Sara Amato, a criminal justice and psychology double major from Macedonia, said “the most valuable and worthwhile experience while I was in Costa Rica was the relations I had with my host family.”

Mary Moeller, a psychology major from Independence, commented about the cultural differences she learned before her trip and added “but no one warned me that I would come to care so much for the people that cared for me while I was there. My family taught me the heart and soul of the Tico [Costa Rican] language and culture by forcing me to speak and live it.”

The central location of the AU program allows students to travel easily on the weekend and to experience the rich biodiversity of Costa Rica.

As Erin Adams, dietetics major from Grafton, said “In Costa Rica, there’s no time to stress.  There’s mountains that need zip lined through, rivers that need to be rafted through, exotic animals that need some attention, waves of the ocean that need to be surfed on, volcanoes that need some recognition, and of course the locals who need to be bartered, spoken and danced with. Costa Rica has allowed me to do, see and learn more in a month than I ever could in a lifetime in Ohio.”

Early education majors Rachel Tatsch of Canton and Ruth Chilcote of Ashland took advantage of the six-week option that allowed them to observe and assist for two weeks in the Andrés Bello preschool.

“I felt welcomed by all the teachers and the students,” Tatsch said. “They helped me learn how to communicate with one another…learn new vocabulary that went with my major, and overall how the school system was,” she said.

Thinking back over her weeks in the country and living with the family, Chilcote found that her role in Costa Rica had changed dramatically.

“I went from observing to participating and finally to living and breathing in the world around me,” Chilcote said. “The children and teachers in the preschool became the center of my language and cultural growth during the last two weeks. The opportunity transformed Spanish from a foreign language into a language within my heart.”

Alaina Berry, an English and Spanish major from Norwalk, summed up her study abroad experience.

“The best part of the memories will not be the activities themselves, but the memories of the attitudes of the people with whom I experienced them,” Berry said. “Costa Rica has been a positive, transformative journey for me, and I have the Ticos to thank for that.”

Ali Kovarik, an actuarial science major from Medina, summed up her experience by saying: “After looking back on my week-to-week experiences, I can clearly see that my culture and language adjustment grew exponentially over time.”

To read more about the AU students’ life-changing experiences, visit the campus blog postings by Maureen Johnson, an international business major from Crystal Lake, Ill., at and the Ashland Center for Non-Violence blog ( postings by interns Josie Schave, a middle grades education and Spanish double major from Mansfield, and Emily Wirtz, a religion,  psychology and creative writing triple major from Austintown.

Students earn six hours of credit for SPAN 200 or SPAN 300 and two hours credit for the education field experience. SPAN 200 fulfills the GPS requirement. The AU in Costa Rica program is available every summer and is open to all majors.