One of the biggest regrets I have from my study abroad program at Costa Rica was not getting out of my comfort zone and immersing myself in the culture and language. I think the scariest aspect of studying abroad was the fact that I did not know the language well enough to converse with any of the locals. Fortunately, however, I had embarked on the journey with a group of people just like me who spoke the language I spoke, and ate the food I ate, among other similarities. When I was with them, I felt comfortable- and unfortunately, the majority of my time spent in Costa Rica was with them.
Two of the most common pieces of advice I had been given prior to studying abroad was to make an effort to get close with my host family and to get to know the locals around town. Doing so would really help me practice my Spanish-speaking skills as well as help me to get to know the culture of the country. Knowing this, I still chose to stay in my comfort zone. Although I didn’t purposefully choose to be away from my host house, I admit during the times that I was at home, I did not make much of an effort to get to know them on a personal level. Instead, most of the time spent at home was on eating, studying in my room, or sleeping. Likewise, I was too nervous to confront locals because of my insecurities of looking stupid and making mistakes when speaking Spanish.
Instead, the majority of my time spent in Costa Rica was with the group of about fifteen students I had come with from the University of Michigan. We did all our studying together, all our traveling together, and all our eating together. On top of that, we naturally found ourselves speaking English with each other instead of the recommended Spanish because we found it too frustrating at times when we could not express what we wanted to say. In a way, it felt like whenever I was with them, which was a lot, I was still in America. Therein lies the problem- we were studying abroad to, ideally, gain new perspectives of a different culture, except, everything we did was “American”. We frequented touristy restaurants, went to touristy hotspots, and in general, we just seemed like typical tourists traveling through the country. Depending on who you ask, this may be alright with some people, but for me, I wish I had done more and went outside of my comfort zone.
Therefore, this is my advice to those looking to get the most out of their study abroad experience. Get out of your comfort zones, make an effort to get close to your host family and the locals, don’t be afraid to part from your group now and then to do what you really want to do, try new foods, listen to new music, and make an effort to speak the language and don’t be afraid to make mistakes.