As I traveled back to start my final year at my now-familiar home school, the University of South Carolina, it hit me that a year ago I had embarked on a very different journey to Costa Rica.
I was given the opportunity to continue pursuing my Public Health Degree at Universidad Veritas in San José, Costa Rica with AIFS. Even as I began my college search during my junior year of high school, I knew that studying abroad was something I had to do. I can’t tell you exactly why my high school self felt so strongly about leaving the country. I guess people’s pictures looked cool and it seemed like a fun experience. What I didn’t realize in high school, nor did I realize even as I was abroad, was the impact that semester would have on me. Yes, my phone’s camera roll is filled with scenic landscapes from the many beautiful areas in Costa Rica and I did truly have an “amazing” time. However, it went much deeper than that for me.
Growing up, I’ve always been very stubborn. I hate when things feel out of my control and it took a long time for me to recognize that was the root of many of my problems. I wouldn’t say that Costa Rica completely cured me of that — I am definitely still working on it every single day — but the pura vida lifestyle and the fact that I had to deal with often precarious weekend travel plans made me realize that I needed to release some control.
Furthermore, taking time out of each day to take care of myself has become a priority. Before my study abroad experience, I would fill my day with activity after activity without taking any kind of pause. Now, even though I have a full schedule, I do ensure that there is time when I do something for myself. One of my new favorite quotes is “You can not pour from an empty cup.” Learning that I need to take care of myself before I can take care of anyone or anything else is a challenge I work on every day.
Looking forward, studying abroad also helped me figure out more of what I want to do in the future. I had the opportunity abroad to shadow a simulation hospital where I watched nurses in training. I also had the opportunity to volunteer at a senior citizen’s home in San José. I came back to the United States with more of a feeling of purpose. I began doing research back on my home campus involving a tech-based intervention for pregnant woman and took on a position as Director of Community Service and Wellness through the student-run sustainability organization on campus. Through these experiences, I realized that I wanted to work with Latin American women’s health promotion. I want to continue to incorporate the Spanish that I learned, the joy I get from interacting with other cultures, and my public health knowledge into my future career.
Lastly, I found myself a Costa Rican family that I miss every day. My host family was welcoming, compassionate, and will always have a very special place in my heart. We still keep in touch through Facebook (thank you, modern technology) and I have every intention of going back to see them.
In conclusion, if you have the opportunity to study abroad please take it! Your future self (and your social media feeds, of course) will thank you.