When visualizing my time abroad in Costa Rica, images of myself trying exotic foods and visiting cultural festivals manifested in my head. What I did not see were the many eventless days that I would spend watching dramatic telenovela reenactments of Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt in Spanish. The idea of moving abroad, for any period of time, is often so dressed up in extravagant foreign treasures that it overshines the fact that you will be living, and sometimes life includes routine.
The fact that Costa Rican schools assign sparse amounts of homework may initially sound enticing, but the lack of other available activities gives us a lot of free time. Depending on the duration of your program, there is a chance that you will have an extra summer break here as well.
Most of Costa Rica is made up of small towns, and since living in San Jose is not considered ideal for exchange students, you will not likely be living near any large, bustling cities. This presents many new possibilities that are not accessible from metropolises, but it also means that the likelihood of you trying out guitar lessons or exploring an array of quirky little shops is decreased.
How not to spend this time is on social media. Mournfully gazing at your friends in your home country will not bring you closer to where they are, but it will bring you farther from where you are. It will likely make you feel homesick, and distracts you from enjoying everything you left home for in the first place. Instead, find creative outlets to fill the open hours.
If you have access to WiFi and an instrument, try learning a song or some basic notes. YouTube is home to many instrumental tutorials, does not require traveling long distances to acquire (unless that is for WiFi), and it is free. Make this the moment you become a home-taught chef, drawer, or composer.
Start that art project you have been putting off, or search for a new one. Tumblr and Pinterest are melting pots for DIY tutorials, or, even better, you can conjure your own idea. Take inspiration from all the new sights and sensations here that you are not exposed to back home, and rearrange them into a simulator that can help you relive some of your moments here.
Pick up journaling. It is important to document what you do on a regular basis, as future you will be thankful to have memories to look back on. It is also a healthy way to vent and record your thoughts. Looking back on early entries can also serve as personal proof to show how much you have grown.
Although it is advised that you do not religiously practice a hobby centered around your first language, as this can interfere with the language learning process, I believe that there is room for some exceptions. You may be in a new country to learn a language, but you are also there to enjoy yourself. If writing or reading makes you happy, then do not cheat yourself out of having a good time. Just ensure that the time you spend exercising your first language is limited, and does not become a substantially preferred alternative to doing other activities based around learning a new language.
Go for a walk or run. Even if it is only down the street or the same route you take to get to school, being outside will benefit the body and mind. Many scientific studies have proven that being outside and active can increase happiness and decrease stress levels. Exercise will also help combat the notorious exchange weight gained by many people while abroad.
Look at what your town has to offer, even if this requires more searching than anticipated. Ask friends at school what they like to do in their free time, and if they know of any local activities you can take part in. Talk to family members and neighbors, as they may be able to help. If all else fails, talk to your program director. They are likely aware of what is available in your area, and can give you some tips as to where to go.
Do not let the intimidation of beginning something unfamiliar hinder your motivation to start a hobby or learn a new skill. If you are able to take on studying abroad, starting a scrapbook or photo-essay should not compare. Take advantage of the extra hours offered to you, as they will never be available again and will pass quicker than expected.
About the Author:
My name is Rachael Maloney, and I am a curious venturer fueled by good books and foreign food. I am currently spending my junior year of high school in Costa Rica, doing my best to absorb everything my 10 months abroad have to teach. I look forward to carrying these lessons with me for many years to come, and, in the meantime, sharing them in online articles for those who are interested. Follow Rachael on her adventure and read her stories here.