Ray Schillinger, Peer Advisor
Never have I had such a rewarding experience as both my study abroad experiences. In spring 2013, I took a grand leap and decided to study in the small beach town of Puntarenas, Costa Rica. That first night in a strange country was the most estranged and lonely I had ever felt in my entire life. However things quickly turned around. I lived with a host family of 9 ticos in a tinny house that soon became my second home. My family went above and beyond making me feel welcome and took me in as their own daughter. Even the awkward language gap diminished as with my families light and playful attitude. They always took the time to have a conversation and encouraged me to do the same with out judgment of my terrible Spanish.
Things only got better with the beginning of classes. The “university” was a beach front little building designated for only USAC students. Needless to say we all became extremely close. Not only were we each others only classmates, we were each others neighbors, travel mates, American family away from home and one another’s best friends.
Aside from having an amazing family, wonderful friends and fun classes, the best part of Costa Rica was the “pura vida” lifestyle. Everyone was so happy and laid back, seeming to live a problem free life. Pura vida was not hard to understand, seeing that everyone was always surrounded by natures most beautiful creations. From white sand beaches and volcanoes to crystal clear waterfalls and dense green cloud forests, every turn of the head there was something breathtaking to see.
Living abroad opened me up to adventure, and soon zip lining, bungee jumping, surfing, and waterfall jumping became activities of everyday life. Costa Rica gave me a craving to see more, experience more and life a fuller life, so I did!
Spring 2014, I traded the lazy beach town for the Mediterranean costal city of Alicante, Spain. I decided to live in an apartment to further my sense of independence and instead of a small building for school I attended and actual Spanish university of 30,000 students. The first week in Spain was so thrilling as I was swept up in the buzz of the city. There was so much to figure out, transportation, a huge campus, meeting so many new people, exploring a new place. I felt like a college freshmen all over again. But just as fast as Costa Rica became who I was, so did Spain. In a few short weeks I was eating dinner at 10, staying up till 6 am and waking up at 9 for school, just like a true sleepless Spaniard.
However, the best part of studying in Spain was that the rest of Europe was at my fingertips. I did not have school on Fridays so I used my three day weekends to explore. Using blabla car, couchsurfing, hitchhiking, hostels and airbnb, I learned of so many fun new ways to see the world on a student’s budget. In five months I backpacked through Portugal, Ireland, England, France, Switzerland, Austria and Croatia. I felt limitless and unstoppable.
About two months into the semester, I realized that I loved paella and the “no pasa nada” attitude of Spain to much to leave. So at the end of my program, I packed up my bags, not for the U.S., but for Zaragoza, Spain where I had got an Au pair job for the summer.
Only in my dreams had I imagined backpacking the world and living and working in a foreign country. Study abroad opened my mind to the world and showed me that nothing is impossible.