Say “Yes,” Find New Music, and other Advice for Students Preparing to Study Abroad

Say “Yes,” Find New Music, and other Advice for Students Preparing to Study Abroad

As with any adventure of mine, I look back on my time abroad and notice how transformative and eye-opening my experience in Costa Rica has been. What were once difficulties in the beginning, have morphed into knowledge born from living ten months in a foreign country, learning a new language, and experiencing a different culture.

I reflect on my year studying abroad in Costa Rica with a sense of gratitude and slight judgement, but no regrets.

There is nothing I would change about my time here, yet I do have tips for those who aim to get a little more from their experience abroad. When planning or beginning your study abroad adventure, please consider the things that I am glad I did, wish I had done, and overall recommend doing to have an unforgettable adventure.

Find music you like in the language you are learning.

Not only does listening to music in a new language help familiarize you with the dialect, but it can also teach you about the culture. Languages are more than just words; they are the expressions of histories built by people from diverse countries and backgrounds.

Many musicians use songs as a way of portraying these histories, and listening to what they have to say can expose you to how these pasts have manifested in lives today.

Music also has a way of capturing moments, and certain songs can serve as a means of channeling fond memories. When your high school exchange is over, and you find yourself driving down the highway on your way to school or work, you may struggle to refrain from smiling when your favorite song from your time abroad comes on shuffle.

Singing memorized songs in a different language can also be a fun way to practice your skills (and occasionally show off to friends and family) once returning to your home country.

A few songs that remind me of my time abroad include:

Document the local cuisine.

I am glad to say that my hand-made cookbook will ensure that “future me” never loses access to authentic recipes for empanadas, picadillo de vainita, and crema de ayote. I now have the tools to face reverse homesickness and foreign food cravings without fear, as well as share some of my favorite meals with friends and family in my home country.

Although my cooking may never accurately emulate that of my host mom’s, I will be able to give other people a taste of a culture and lifestyle that has in ways become my own.

Keep a journal.

A colorful handmade journal.

The outside cover of a journal made by Rachael in Costa Rica.

Writing down my experiences has been one of the most worthwhile actions I have taken during my year abroad. Photographs can convey the activities you have done, but nothing recounts your thoughts and emotions like handwritten journal entries and drawings.

Blogs are a nice way to document your adventure, but presenting your personal feelings to an audience may instill a need to sugar-coat or modify what you are really thinking. Not only does expressing yourself in an honest manner help organize your ideas and emotions, but doing so in a journal allows you to look back on how you have changed over time.

Having a day-to-day account of your life abroad also helps capture moments that would have otherwise slipped from your memory. Even if journalling does not become your new found hobby, it can save your future self from forgetting the small things that made your time abroad so prominent.

Say ‘yes’.

A way I have minimized my chance of developing regrets, is by trying to accept every given opportunity that I can. This may be intimidating, but by answering ‘yes’ in the moment and contemplating your decision after, you avoid feeling guilty for not taking a chance that you could have learned from.

As long as you feel fundamentally safe and respected, the more it pushes you out of your comfort zone, the more you have to learn from the experience.

When asked to give a presentation about my culture in front of the entire school, accepting the offer was just about the last thing I wanted to do (especially since my Spanish was only developed enough to understand the question after the fifth time it was proposed). I recognized the chance as not a matter of what I wanted, but what I needed, and that giving this presentation was necessary if I aimed to explore what I was capable of accomplishing.

Was the speech terrifying? Yes.

Was the speech worth it? Absolutely.

Your time abroad is finite, meaning that it is best to take advantage of all possibilities since they will not be available forever. Limited time also means that the repercussions of social embarrassments are restricted. Even if the worst you can imagine happens, working to see what that moment has to teach is a good practice in mindfulness, as well as a skill that can transfer into many different areas of life.

Do not put a time limit on your learning process.

An assumption that often accompanies studying abroad is that you leave your home country, and return a completely different, more experienced person. Although this rings true in many ways, it does not mean you will come back with the answers to all your problems, or all the skills necessary to obtain your ultimate dreams. Therefore, do not shame yourself if you find that you fall short of these presumptions.

As the date on my return flight ticket began to draw closer, a nervousness and slight guilt started to emerge within me. I feared that my continuing struggles with stress and self confidence would produce shame within my parents, and that I would not live up to other’s expectations.

Yet, I have realized that those expectations are just hurdles I have built for myself, and that qualities which contrast this idealistic version of me are characteristics that only make me human. I will always have room for improvement, and my ability to make progress will only stop when I say so. Our time spent abroad will end, but our time to learn will not.

Not only has my year studying abroad in Costa Rica helped me learn Spanish as a second language, but it has also exposed me to some of the lessons different lifestyles, customs, and people have to teach. Everything we are familiar with only skims the top of what is out there, and by opening up to other viewpoints and realities, we can catch a glimpse of possibilities that we would have never dreamt of before.

Traveling and living abroad only lasts so long, so by pushing yourself and trying to absorb the unique environments and information your circumstances have to offer, you can reap the most from your adventure. Studying abroad has given me the opportunity to change the way I see myself and the world around me, and that it a gift that I will cherish and benefit from for the rest of my life.

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