As the gates covered in barbed wire opened with a loud creak, I remember thinking that this was not what I had signed up for. I had a short sense of panic when I realized the bus was pulling away from the house to drop each student into his or her own state of isolation. Hastily putting on a smile, I attempted to gather every word of the Spanish language that I had accumulated in my seven years of preparation, something that did not subdue the overwhelming sensation of fear that rushed through my mind.
Traveling to Costa Rica with a group of Webb students my junior year was no doubt the best opportunity I’ve ever taken advantage of. I had assumed that being placed with a host family consisting of complete strangers would be a challenge in itself, and that they would be able to provide some assistance with the Spanish language. Much to my surprise, my host family neither knew nor understood one word of English. Though frustrating, in the long run this was beneficial.
Due to the combination of an M&M alarm clock, my lack of knowledge of time zones, and miscommunication on the time at which I needed to leave the house each morning, my host mom was under the false impression that I was a morning person. The first morning, not wanting to miss out on anything, I was ready a full three hours before I needed to leave the house. My enthusiasm about mornings paid off, however, and I was able to spend time each morning with my host mom. Over a breakfast of frijoles and platanos, we would discuss the differences, in Spanish of course, between our families.
Attending a Costa Rican Language Academy furthered my journey out of my comfort zone, as I was placed in a class with one other Webb student, two men from New York, and one man from California. I described my classmates to my mom in an email, and she was later surprised to find out that the men were not in their mid-twenties as she had assumed. Rather, the oldest classmate was approaching seventy years old, and was in his third week at the Language Academy. Because we were with adults, it proved to be a boost to my self-esteem when I mastered a concept quicker than one of my fellow classmates.
The currency, language, city, weather, and people were all things that my Webb classmates and I had to adapt to while staying in San JosÃ©, Costa Rica. After my host mom took me to the Language Academy the first morning, I was expected to remember the bus route and short walking distance in order to get there the following morning. The fact that I had to navigate around a foreign city was quite daunting to me, but with the help of my friends and my host mom, I was able to make it through the week without getting lost even once.
I spent the majority of the plane ride to Costa Rica in a fervent panic, but the entirety of the trip home was spent plotting to turn the plane around. From learning how to make bracelets with my host sisters to visiting a natural hot springs with classmates, my cultural immersion experience is not one I’ll be forgetting any time soon. Thanks to my weeklong stay in Costa Rica, I was able to experience life outside of my comfort zone, which caused me to become more extroverted as well as more excited to deal with change and new opportunities.
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