From CMU to Costa Rica: Rachel Wyngarden's Study Abroad Experience

Junior Rachel Wyngarden, 21, from Saugatuck, Michigan spent the past four months in Heredia, Costa Rica. Wyngarden is double majoring in spanish and geography with a concentration in environmental and land use planning. Wyngarden also signed with a certificate for translation in spanish.

Q: What led you to study abroad at this location?

A: For one, I needed to go to a Spanish speaking country (for obvious reasons) and the USAC program in Costa Rica was one of the [programs] offered for the Fall 2018 semester. Aside from this, it was definitely one of the cheaper options and actually allowed me to save money (crazy!). Traveling here is very inexpensive. The program here also had a few opportunities for their students to integrate with other Ticos (a colloquial term for the natives of Costa Rica) and students at the university there, which made it easier for them to acclimate to their new home for the semester.

Q: Did you head to Costa Rica with any goals or bucket list items?

A: I had a lot of things in mind that I wanted to accomplish while abroad, but the most important one was to push towards fluency in the Spanish language. This was essentially one of the main reasons why I studied abroad in the first place. I wanted to speak with more confidence.

As for bucket list items, it was really important to me to try to travel completely solo at least once when I was there. I’ve read countless blogs and articles about solo female travelers, and I wanted to do something similar to see what all the hype was about. I’ve always thought that people should try to leave their comfort zones from time to time, because that’s how we learn and how we grow.

Q: Did you accomplish those goals?

A: I’ve definitely made some great strides in my study of the language. I feel much more comfortable with conversation than I did before. Living with a host family really helped with that. Sometimes my brain didn’t want to have a conversation at 7 a.m. but it definitely helped me in the long run.

On Thanksgiving weekend, I decided that if there was ever a time to travel completely solo, that would be it. I stayed in a town called La Fortuna, just outside Arenal Volcano National Park. This ended up being one of my favorite trips. I befriended a few people from the hostel and met others while traveling around. Turns out, there were a lot of people there doing the same thing.

I also came across an amazing opportunity for an internship while in Heredia. I worked for a geochemist at OVSICORI, which is a volcanological and seismological observatory that branches off of the university that I attended. It was a great experience.     

Q: Tell me something you learned on your trip about the culture in CR?

A: Ticos are very laid-back, very friendly, and very proud of their country. Soccer is like a religion. Daily naps are a must. Ceviche will rock your world.  

Q: What was the biggest difference between CR and the US?

A: Costa Rica in a nutshell: Don’t flush the toilet paper, stop signs are only a suggestion, rice and beans are a part of every meal, Uber is cheap, and punctuality does not exist. Also, you can’t beat their coffee. I brought five bags of coffee back to the states with me because it’s just too good.  

Q: What was your favorite part about your study abroad experience?

A: As cliché as it sounds, it was definitely the people I met, both in the program and the locals. They’re some of the best travel buddies I’ve ever had. It’s just so amazing how close you can get to some people so quickly. It also really sucks to say goodbye to the ones you’ve shared the most amazing four months with as we all go our separate ways, returning to our own part of the globe.  

Q: Please add anything else you think is important for readers to know.

A: If you’re going to study abroad, definitely take advantage of traveling as much as you can. However, I also think it’s important to spend extra time to explore the area that you’re staying in. Get to know it well. After all, it is your new home. Enjoy it.