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Study Abroad: A Crash Course in Life

by Caroline Baker

Scuba diving at Caño Island off The Osa Peninsula at Corcovado National Park

 

“When I’m in college I am going to study abroad somewhere where I can become fluent in Spanish and do a bunch of cool things!” -10 year old Caroline

The Canopy Tour in Monteverde Cloud Forest.

The Canopy Tour in Monteverde Cloud Forest.

I have known for ages that when I grew up I would spend at least a semester in another country, and live completely immersed in a Spanish speaking culture. Somehow, that period of my life about which I have dreamt for years is only one month from becoming a memory. It’s really surreal to be here and wrap my mind around the fact that I am truly doing what so many only dream of doing. And it’s even more unreal to imagine it coming to a close. However, there are still a solid 30 days left (and 6 of which my family will be here!). And so I am going to dwell on each moment as it comes, and not each moment as it passes.

When people message me or email me or send me a letter and ask how it’s going, it is entirely insufficient to reply with “It is so great I love it!” but that is generally how it goes. The truth is, although this experience has not been 100% what I expected it to be, it has been the coolest thing I have ever done.

There comes a point where studying abroad becomes more than an extended trip to a cool country, and you realize it is your life. It has become “normal” to be welcomed each day by warm tropical air in November, and spend your weekends scuba diving with sharks or ziplining through the rainforest. That is my life now, and it would be strange if that were to change. I suppose when it comes down to it, I have lost the definition of normal.

My group at Manuel Antonio, just minutes before my peanut butter and jelly was robbed from me..

My group at Manuel Antonio, just minutes before my peanut butter and jelly was robbed from me..

When I first arrived, I was so excited to see monkeys and sloths that I couldn’t wait to get to the forest. Fast forward 5 weeks to my trip to Manuel Antonio, where monkeys fearlessly chill on the beach with you. They kept approaching us to try and grab our belongings, and at one point I was the only one guarding the belongings of 7 people. A white-faced monkey came up about 4 feet away from me so I grabbed a long stick to try and inch the monkey away. The monkey had other plans and grabbed the other end of the stick, sporting a face that said “Yeah right! You’re not going to win,” and pushed it away. Immediately he dashed on top of my bag, grabbed my lunch and bolted back into the trees. Little rascal. Suffice it to say seeing cute little monkeys has become more than normal, and at times even something I’d rather not see!

Studying abroad refers to so much more than studying in a school and taking classes in another country. You are learning constantly. Studying the language, the culture, the food, from the behaviors of these new people, to the ways in which you recognize we are all the same. We are all humans. We all love, laugh and cry. I cannot wait to get home and read my journal (I highly recommend keeping a journal of your time abroad whether it is 2 weeks or 10 months) and re-learn everything I have discovered here. I have been so flooded with information that each day has become a crash course in life.

I would have to say the most surprising part of studying abroad for me has been that it isn’t easy. Now that may sound crazy, either because you wonder how I could possibly expect it to be easy, or because you wonder what is hard about having my food cooked and room cleaned for me while I plan my next adventure. I assure you I was surprised too. The truth of the matter is I have been blessed at home to have such special relationships with my friends and family, that taking on 4 months of (incredibly fun) life without any of them felt sort of lonely at first. Of course I have made wonderful friendships here that I hope will continue to grow beyond December 20th, but that doesn’t mean I never missed home.

For me, the constant that gave me energy and kept me on my feet was my relationship with God. When you have something, whether it’s faith, music, drawing, running, yoga, something that doesn’t change when the world around you does, it allows you to maintain a sliver of normalcy. And sometimes all you need is this sliver to hold onto while you go through the process of being completely changed by the experience of a lifetime.

Starfish Beach in Bocas del Toro, Panama

 

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