Julia is a current fourth year Oberlin student who studied abroad last year in Costa Rica, and then returned again this past winter term.
My Junior year I studied abroad in Costa Rica and made lasting connections with my host family, Costa Rican college students in San José, and with community member in the close-knit town of Monteverde. This past winter term I was fortunate enough to return to Costa Rica to continue building on these connections. First, I went backpacking with fellow Costa Rican students. We camped on the beach for a week and I enjoyed not only the company of friends, but also an immersive language and cultural experience as I was the only English speaker of the bunch. This was the first time I truly challenged myself to participate in a Spanish-only environment. I found creative ways to convey my points when I could not think of a particular word, and my friends were supportive even when I struggled to communicate. I was proud to be able to exchange ideas about police brutality in our respective countries and provide historical context for news they had read about state-sanctioned violence in the U.S. I feel I received the most authentic cultural exchange possible, joking around in Spanish slang and chatting about our lives but also learning how students feel about eco-tourism, their government, and their perception of U.S. culture.
Ultimately, my language skills improved rapidly and by the time I reached Monteverde I was speaking more proficiently than ever! In Monteverde I had the privilege of staying with the inspiring Ana Ovares, a local artist, avid feminist, and entrepreneur. Ana and I worked on a mural in the town’s center a year prior to raise awareness about growing environmental concerns in the community. Creating the mural was hugely time consuming and I ended up spending hours at her house, painting and learning about Ana’s life, beliefs and family. The sisterhood we built only grew this past winter term when I stayed at her house and helped her open her new business, “La Macorbíotíca”, which centers around natural holistic foods, and healing through massage. Ana’s business is unique in that, unlike large pharmaceutical chains, it relies on personal client connection and is rooted in the idea that the earth provides us with natural medicine.
At the store, I designed menus to be distributed around town advertising her services to tourists, painted the store, managed her deposits in Costa Rican banks, distributed her products to be sold in other shops, and updated her website. Outside of work I cooked and cleaned in the house, attended gatherings of local poets, spent time with my previous host family, went to concerts with new friends from the university, and explored the mountains with Ana’s wonderful younger daughters. None of these relationships would have been possible if it weren’t for my decision to fearlessly engage in Spanish regardless of how “perfectly” I could execute a sentence or use the subjunctive tense. My proficiency in Spanish expands my understanding of other cultures, allows me to help the friends I cherish in the ways I can, and gives me the gift of lifelong teachers located around the globe.