Junior Bailey Dekker blogs about her adventures studying abroad

As a double major in Spanish and Communications with a minor in International Studies, a part-time worker and an active member in numerous activities around campus, I usually have my hands full and my weekly planner booked. However, I was blessed with the opportunity to spend this semester in the Pura Vida of Costa Rica.

Pura Vida a famous term that essentially means, “Chill out and stop stressing – everything is going to be fine.” Although I am taking more credits here than I can actually transfer, my schedule is more relaxed than it has ever been. Classes never begin on time; in fact, we rarely know what time it is at all. Lack of time consciousness is just one of the many things that I have had to get used to around here, along with catcalls. Being a six-foot-tall white woman, I stand out like a sore thumb. You would never believe the amount of stares, whistles and comments I get as I pass by on the street. But hey, it is Latin America, what do you expect?

I spend between four and six hours per day in classes, which is really difficult considering the classroom window almost always overlooks a sunny day. My classes focus mostly on Spanish grammar and oral skills. Even though I cannot believe how much my Spanish has improved in the classroom, I am even more shocked at how much my Spanish has improved in real-world situations. It is easy to learn to read and write in Spanish and even converse with your professors (who understand your terrible accent), but to be able to converse with ordinary people is a whole different story.

When I first arrived in Costa Rica a university staff member met me at the airport. He said something simple like ‘Hi, are you Bailey? How was your flight?’ (in Spanish, of course) and I stared at him, completely dumbfounded. I had been studying Spanish for nearly eight years and I did not understand a word he had said, except maybe my name. I took a deep breath and thought to myself, ‘You can do this, God would not have brought you here if you couldn’t. Focus.’ Looking back now, all that I remember about my first week in Costa Rica is how confused and lost I felt in an utter blur of days. However, three months later, this place feels like home. I have learned so much both in and out of the classroom that I can navigate nearly any conversation and understand most relevant cultural faux pas. The Lord has opened my eyes in ways that I did not even know were possible.

I feel pretty darn blessed to have a tropical vacation every weekend. Bus tickets cost between $4 and $10 depending on how far I am traveling, which is significantly cheaper than gas would be if I were driving on my own. My friends and I always stay in hostels that rarely cost more than $15 per night, and that has been a great way to meet people from all over the world. Considering I am fully embracing the poor college student lifestyle, I have had to explore creative ways to fully experience this country without paying for expensive hotels and the tours that they offer. Meeting locals, being a little adventurous and thinking outside the box have allowed me to see a multitude of monkeys, sloths, snakes, sea life and whatever else you would expect to see in Costa Rica. I have found that there is no reason to pay $50 to go on a whale watching tour if you can buy lunch for a friend in exchange for them to take you out on their private boat. It is all about networking, I guess, and the Lord has introduced me to all the right people.

For at least the first two months there was not a situation that occurred that did not teach me something new. I felt like my whole world was twisted a little. A whole new group of students arrived a few days ago, feeling like I felt three months ago, and in helping them navigate this journey I am beginning to realize how much I have really grown here. I have fallen even more in love with the culture that I have dedicated the majority of my education to, and although I still have a month left here, I cannot wait to return to Latin America.

In fact, I have applied for a summer internship in Panamá to continue working on my Spanish and communication skills. I could really use your support by voting for my application video, and in exchange I will be sharing all my stories as I blog my way through a remote island in Panamá. The link is bailey-costarica.blogspot.com and your support would mean the world to me.

Thank God for George Fox University and the study abroad options that are offered – this really has been life changing.

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Did you know that over 50% of George Fox undergraduate students travel overseas? Learn about all our study abroad options.