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Souvenirs: Lessons from Study Abroad in Costa Rica

by Emma Petersen

Last Updated on June 8, 2023 by Emma Petersen

There are many things I hope to take back with me from my study abroad experience in Costa Rica.

No, I’m not talking about souvenirs… well, not just about souvenirs. When I first arrived in Costa Rica, our brilliant Resident Director, Karla, told us during Orientation that she hoped we’d learn lessons here that we could apply to our lives long-term. She had done a study abroad before in France where she learned to wash her dishes with a different method, and to this day her family makes fun of her for changing that habit. Yet, she’s proud of that change in habit.

For me, I have created many habits I hope to continue post-abroad. Many I started because from simple observations of the culture here, many I was forced into because of the daily schedule, and many I learned in the classroom.

I eat a heavy breakfast now.

Back in the USA, I hardly ever ate anything for breakfast. Now, I wake up expecting a plate of eggs, fruit, and bread. Costa Ricans eat the majority of their nutrients during breakfast and lunch because they know that food is what fuels their energy during the day. Dinner doesn’t need to be as large because there isn’t much energy required between it and sleeping.

I eat food intentionally and consciously now.

I eat breakfast with my roommate or, if our schedules don’t match up that day, I still sit at the same table and eat by myself. I don’t watch TV or distract myself too much while eating now. I’ve become more aware of what I’m doing while I’m doing it. At night, I eat dinner with my mama Tica, who always offers me más y más. I have certainly tried many new foods. There are so many types of fruit! Look up “mamon chino” to see what I assume to be the fruit which inspired certain characters in Monsters Inc. An inspiration and very delicious!

I’m more conscious of the trash I generate, including food waste.

Mama Tica keeps a bag atop the trash can which we only put our food scraps into. I have realized now the amount that I don’t eat off of my plate has a wasteful impact. Plus, within my room I’ve noticed the amount of electric waste I initiate. In Costa Rica, electricity bills are higher to encourage a lower usage. Here, it is courteous to unplug your devices and turn off your lights ALWAYS before leaving your room. Not only that, but I take very short showers now because I realize that a 30 minute shower (or even a 15 minute one) is generally unnecessary.

The routine of my days is consistent now as well, creating a stability I wasn’t aware I was missing.

This consistency plus the “tranquila” and “pura vida” attitude has instilled me with more confidence in my choices, creating a less stressed and more mindful decision-maker. I get everything done that I need to, but I don’t stress or procrastinate about it nearly as much.

Most of all, I have learned moderation and balance.

Even with these lessons, I still find myself doing my actions with stress, or procrastinating, forgetting to unplug my chargers, or eating an unhealthy snack in my room on my bed. But now, the consequences of these actions are so clear and apparent to me. I know there are other options for a state of living. So whenever I notice myself doing something I don’t want to continue as a habit, I simply stop doing it and start over by acknowledging that I don’t want to be doing that continuously.

Costa Rica has awoken a sense of consciousness.

I am more aware of what I do when I do it, and the consequences of each action. I am an excellent pros and cons list-maker now. Actions snowball: they can build off each other positively or negatively. Yet, it is always possible to “start over.” How you utilize your past actions to affect your present decisions and future consequences is based on perspective. Be conscious about how you perceive yourself and others.

This post was contibued by Emma Petersen, who is spending her fall semester studying abroad with AIFS in San José, Costa Rica.

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