Studying Abroad: Pura Vida?

Story by Chelsea Lauder

Starting a new journey is something to be both excited and nervous about. Leaving your home, whether that’s Northeastern or family, is a scary experience; but, the emotion that comes with exploring new places, learning new things, and going on adventures is so positively overwhelming. Before I left in January, I made a list of the things I wanted to do in Costa Rica. My list included extreme adventures like skydiving, swimming with animals, hiking through the rain forest, and climbing a volcano. Eight weeks later, as I’m two-thirds of the way through, I reflect on what I have accomplished. I have been to both oceans, seen and climbed volcanos, swam in an aqua blue river, boated through a remote river village, hung out at the beach, travelled to neighboring Nicaragua, explored the city of San Jose, and relaxed in natural hot springs. Each of these adventures has brought me happiness and fueled my curiosity.

Throughout my experience, however, I’ve also struggled to make sense of what studying abroad really means. Is it about the adventure? The classes? The passport stamps? It has been incredibly difficult to make sense of my experiences and contrast them to the “ideal study abroad experience.” At this point, I’ve realized that “studying abroad” can mean whatever the student wants; it can provide whatever experiences the student allows. As “global students,” we are not confined to a strict, copy and paste experience. Instead, we have the opportunity to push ourselves and the people around us to have the best experience we can, whatever that may be.

With four weeks left of my time here in Costa Rica, I’m working to create the experience that I want to create: to go on adventures, meet new people, and learn new things. To take advantage of the intelligent people that surround me: my fellow students, teachers, supervisors, and locals. They will help me to create what I want to create. As I work to create this experience, I expect the space around me will alter my experience in both negative and positive ways-and this is okay. Costa Rica has a mantra- Pura Vida. This phrase is so ingrained into my experience that whatever happens, even if it’s not what I expect, will still be worthwhile. Allowing myself to fall into the cultures is equally as important to me as the classes and adventures. To adopt the Pura Vida lifestyle is just one more experience I’m pushing myself to create.

My first few days in Costa Rica came with a lot of advice and information and one specific conversation stuck with me. I was told to stay open-minded about the people, food, and adventures; to listen to myself, while also listening and appreciating others; and to open myself up to life and let the good things happen, and if they don’t, make them happen. I encourage those who are in the midst or have had these experiences to reflect and think about what experience you created. And to those who are considering studying abroad, I encourage you to think about this advice and make something happen.