This past December, 15 UALR students participated in our First Year Experience: Costa Rica Program. This program was part of a student success grant initiative to incorporate a short-term travel experience into the semester-long FYE course. Find out more about the course by clicking on the link above.
Returning students have shared a bit about their experiences and lessons learned while abroad. Read on to hear more about one participant’s first experience traveling outside of the US.
One Participant’s Story
by Christopher Dunbar (Freshman, FYE: Costa Rica Student)
- The People
Walking down the cobble stone streets of San Jose, my first observation was of the trash and smell as rain water rolled between the stones under by my feet. As I walked, however, I saw a man sitting on the side of the road working on something; I did not want to draw attention to myself, so I passed quickly and did not make eye contact. However, on my way back down the street, I noticed that the man was painting pictures. With my 2 years of studying Spanish and his limited knowledge of English, I was able to spend my first night in Costa Rica talking with this man who painted pictures on the street about his paintings. It was a wonderful experience to be able to practice Spanish and interact with this person. He was friendly and I purchased a painting from him.
Interacting with the local people, including kids at a school in the village of Tortuguero, I found that their way of life was very different from mine. They did not seem to care about the rain or water – it was normal to walk to work – rain or no rain – it was an accepted way of living. The kids from the school traveled there by boat and trudged through water to come to their one room classroom to learn. They were friendly and happy and did not see it as a struggle like many of our group members did.
This experience was the first time that I have seen, sat on, and enjoyed the beach and ocean. It was surreal – just like I have seen in the movies. I buried my legs in the sand and swam in the ocean. Sitting on the beach was also a time of reflection and sharing thoughts with a good friend I made from our group. It was awesome!
Anyone who travels abroad grows in a certain way inside. Being faced with challenges and new experiences, I felt older and more mature when I returned. The social interaction of a group of 15 students for 10 days forced me into an intense social interaction and a quick process of getting to know people. This was a most diverse group of people imaginable. I want to travel back to Latin America and spend more time interacting with locals and learning the more about the language and culture.