Student Spotlight: Samantha’s Semester Abroad in San José, Costa Rica

Eager to step into the footsteps of a college student who is experiencing life in Costa Rica? We recently caught up with AIFS Abroad student Samantha, a Criminal Justice/Forensic Science major with a minor in Communication from Wisconsin Lutheran College, who has spent her spring semester studying abroad in the capital city of San José on our program at Veritas University.

Read on to learn more about her study abroad experience with AIFS Abroad and the impact of being an international student in Costa Rica.

Choosing a Study Abroad Program Destination & Term

Deciding when and where to study abroad can be a challenge for a lot of students (our team can help with that!), but no matter where you go, you’re in for the adventure of a lifetime! Samantha chose Costa Rica, which may not be the very first destination that comes to mind when you think about studying abroad — but it should be! Hear more about why this Central American hotspot was ideal for her semester abroad:

“I chose to study abroad in Costa Rica because it was something I’d never done before. I’ve visited countries in South America and Europe but none compare to the tropical climate Costa Rica offers. I would 110% recommend studying abroad. I did so many things I never thought I’d do and I got to have a new level of independence.”

But, why study abroad in Costa Rica during spring semester specifically?

“I had done some research about Costa Rican weather. I knew the spring semester would be in the ‘dry season’ which was perfect so I could actually do some traveling around the country. I also chose the spring semester because it worked best with how my classes lined up, since I will now be a senior. I didn’t want to study abroad my senior year because of the classes I need to take, and it worked out way easier. I loved the weather while I was there. Some days were super hot, but that’s to be expected.”

aifs abroad study abroad student at the beach in costa rica
Samantha enjoying the beautiful weather at the beach in Costa Rica during her spring semester abroad

Academics in Costa Rica

One of the most exciting parts of studying abroad is taking unique, experiential courses at your host university or institution! It allows you to be in a different learning environment than you’re used to back at home, and can broaden your perspective. Through AIFS Abroad, Samantha’s spring semester courses abroad were taken at Veritas University in San José, which has grown to become one of the most highly regarded private universities in Latin America.

“I really liked Veritas University. They had so many opportunities to get involved. They also had many opportunities to support students and their creations (some bringing in custom jewelry). I also liked how open the university was, allowing fresh air to flow throughout the entire campus.”

At Veritas University, study abroad students aren’t limited to only taking classes with students from their respective organizations.

“All of my classes included people from other programs, including AIFS. Some students were on their own, others in programs directly through their school. It was really interesting hearing about everyone’s backgrounds and reasons for studying abroad.”

Studying abroad presents a unique opportunity to take courses in a new setting. Whether you have requirements to fulfill to complete your degree or are looking to enroll in electives that simply pique your interest, there are tons of amazing learning opportunities! In Samantha’s case, she focused mainly on electives as a student in Costa Rica with AIFS Abroad.

“I took Ecological Photography, Beginners Spanish, Latin American History, and Major World Religions. I think my favorite was Major World Religion because I didn’t know too much about other cultures besides Christianity. I took mainly electives during my stay in Costa Rica; I finished all my classes for my major before studying abroad.”

Transitioning into a new academic setting can be an exciting challenge! While you’re used to life as a college student on your home university’s campus being a certain way, life as a student abroad isn’t going to be an exact replica of that experience — including in the classroom. Samantha’s study abroad courses in Costa Rica were set up a bit differently than the ones she typically takes at Wisconsin Lutheran College, sharing:

“The structure was definitely different than my home institution. Every assignment’s points were way less than what the United States does. It makes it way easier to fail an assignment since it isn’t weighted as heavily, but the professors are very reasonable. I feel that was the one thing that helped me there, since my professors at home are very reasonable as well.”

Samantha shows us a day in her life as a study abroad student in San José, Costa Rica

Language Learning

Fun fact: It’s not a requirement to be fluent in a foreign language to study abroad! While some course options may require a certain level of proficiency, we can accommodate language learners of all levels on our programs. If language immersion scares you a bit, you can always choose to study abroad in an English-speaking country, but we encourage you to push yourself out of your comfort zone if you’re at all interested. It can be incredibly exciting to learn a new language as a student abroad — both inside and outside of the classroom!

Despite already having some Spanish skills under her belt, Samantha’s language immersion experience as a student abroad in Costa Rica, a Spanish-speaking country, was very rewarding.

“I feel like my experience was a bit different than everyone else. I had taken 3 years of Spanish in high school and then the Beginner Level as a class in Costa Rica. The class was basically just a refresher course for me since a lot of what I learned came back to me. It would definitely benefit knowing a little bit of Spanish before living there for a semester, especially when living with a host family. Not all families knew English so it helped knowing a good amount of Spanish. I would say just try your best when learning a new language, most people will be willing to help you.”

Housing

Did you know all AIFS Abroad programs include housing? Typical options include shared apartments, student residences/dorms, and living with a local family in a homestay. Samantha’s accommodations in Costa Rica were with a host family — a perfect way to truly immerse yourself in the local language and culture, as well as have a home-away-from-home environment.

“I lived with a host family the entire stay. It was mainly my host mom, her daughter, my two roommates and I. There’d be some people who stayed the night since my host mom had tons of room. I loved my host mom and forever will. I’m so blessed to have had an experience like that.”

Making Friends Abroad

College is often the first time many students are out on their own, forging friendships with other students that can become almost like family. Because of this, it can be understandable that some are on the fence about doing a study abroad program alone or consider holding off applying until a friend is available to go with them. Obviously the more the merrier, but we recommend that you study abroad when it’s convenient for you. Chances are you’ll forge new friendships once abroad, like Samantha did as a student in Costa Rica with AIFS Abroad.

“I did not know anyone coming into the program. I somehow ended up in a group chat on Instagram with other people who were planning on going the same time as me. This definitely helped my anxieties. My biggest fear about studying abroad was not making any friends. It’s definitely hard when people connect better with others, but I’m still very grateful for everyone I met. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there when making friends. Everyone is in the same boat, and chances are, they have the exact same fear.”

Social & Cultural Activities

Each and every AIFS Abroad program includes social and cultural activities, as well as excursions — and our study abroad program in San José is no exception! These co-curricular experiences are an amazing way to learn outside of the classroom, and for students to get to know their host region and its culture. Students in Costa Rica can choose from a variety of activity options, but Samantha loved our program-led optional 2-day excursion to one of Costa Rica’s most biodiverse hotspots.

“I would say my favorite was going to Sarapiquí. That was the place I saw my first toucan in nature, and it made my entire trip. I was so beyond excited. I also got to go whitewater rafting and see lots of other animals in nature. At night, we walked across a bridge and the entire sky was lit up with stars. That’s a sight I will never forget.”

Toucan in Sarapiquí, Costa Rica
Toucan in Sarapiquí, Costa Rica

Culture Shock & Cultural Immersion

When you first arrive to your study abroad destination and start to transition into your life overseas, odds are you may experience a little bit of culture shock. That said, it can be different for each student! Some experience it more or less than others. In Samantha’s case, she felt minimal effects while studying abroad in Costa Rica.

“I didn’t really experience culture shock. I did a ton of research beforehand and knew I could get through a semester alone.”

But what about cultural experiences abroad, both in every day life and unique one-off experiences? Samantha shares:

“I really enjoyed all the home cooked meals I got from my host mom. I also loved how fresh the fruit was, nothing will ever compare.”

“My favorite cultural experience was visiting an indigenous community. It was so interesting to learn how they live their lives away from actual civilization.”

Growth through Education Abroad

But studying abroad isn’t just about academic or professional growth — you also grow personally! Samantha’s exposure to the pura vida lifestyle has changed her approach to day-to-day living.

“I believe I learned to be more relaxed and ‘go with the flow.’ Costa Rica is highly about the ‘tico life’ which is another way to say they’re very relaxed and humble. I’ve found myself stressing about things I cannot control, so living there was such an eye opener.”

As for the future, her goals feel more solid than ever.

“My future goals didn’t change one bit, just that I’d love to visit my host family again and travel more throughout the world. I believe studying abroad has given me a chance to broadcast my experiences in hopes others will do it too.”

Final Thoughts

Samantha’s final words of wisdom for future study abroad participants? Take advantage of the connections and support you have on-site!

“Don’t be afraid to ask! There will always be someone who has your back. Whether you’re anxious, homesick, or family members have emergencies, they will help you through it. They sure helped me, and I will always be grateful for that.”

Are you a student who’s ready to take the leap and study abroad in Costa Rica like Samantha did with AIFS Abroad? We’d love to help you start your journey!

Here at AIFS Abroad, we know a thing or two about helping college students and pre-professionals study and intern abroad. Our programs are incredibly inclusive, which takes a lot of the stress out of planning. From coordinating your housing to providing things like cultural and social activities, excursions, comprehensive insurance, 24/7 emergency support, on-site staff, and more, you’ll take comfort in knowing you’ll have support throughout your entire experience abroad.

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