Studying Abroad for a Year: a Between-Semesters Point of View

I am unreservedly delighted that I chose to study abroad for two semesters.  Even at my low points during the semester, I have never regretted that decision.

I’ve been back in Texas for a couple of weeks now, so I’ve had my first round of hellos and good-byes in a foreign country, and get to look forward to the start of my second round in a little over a month.  The immediate benefit of this is that my first good-byes weren’t as sad and my second hellos won’t be as scary (I hope).

The thing is, studying abroad for only one semester just isn’t enough to get to know a language, a country, or even an individual.

At the beginning, it seems like forever.  “Is it possible to survive for five months out of two suitcases?”  “Can I be away from my family/friends/boyfriend/home/university for that long?”  “What if everyone forgets about me?”  “I’ll have so many weekends to go to so many cool places.”  “My language skills are going the be killer and I’ll come back fluent (whatever that means).”

I don’t want to say it feels like time flew by once the semester ended; not only is that a cliché, but it’s also not really accurate.  It was just that I didn’t quite get done what I thought I would.  I would be bummed out if it weren’t for, hey, I’m going back.

As it is, my first semester feels like it was a long and awkward adjustment period.  I didn’t start to feel like I belonged until perhaps a month or six weeks before I left, which means that for three-quarters of the semester I was holding on by my fingertips to a language I only half-understood while at the same time wanting to explore a country and culture that I couldn’t catch my bearings in.  Luckily, I could afford to take my time.  I passed up on some of the weekend trips my friends went on in favor of sleeping or doing things with my host family.  Now I’m going back a month before the semester starts to travel without the distraction of schoolwork or class forcing me to leave earlier than I want.

Because of my struggle with the language, I wasn’t able to really get to know many people who weren’t at least bilingual, and now I feel a lot more capable of having relationships that go deeper than small talk.

Things I’m specifically looking forward to for next semester:

  • Staying with the same host family.  I loved my host family last semester, so it was a pretty obvious choice for me to choose to stay with them again.  I miss afternoon cafecito with my host mom.
  • My sister and best friend coming to visit.  Long story short, I can’t wait to show off Costa Rica to two of my favorite people in the world, or the show off my two favorite people to Costa Rica.
  • Traveling.  As I’ve already mentioned, I have a whole month to travel in addition to all the weekends in the semester.  The good news is, I finally feel like I can travel like a big girl and find my own bus and hostel without having to rely on more proactive friends to plan a trip.  This means I can go where I specifically want to go.
  • Class.  I’m a nerd and I love school and classes.  With more of an idea of the class structure and a better grip on language, I can take almost any class I want this semester, including a drawing class.  I’m going to learn how to draw in Spanish, guys.
  • Volunteer trip with the program.  The week after finals, we got to stay with new host families in a rural community in the southern part of Costa Rica, learn a bit about organic farming and coffee production, meet a super-cool artist guy, and experience a different aspect of Costa Rican life.  The experience is worth its own post, but long story short, I can’t wait to go back.

This break is a good time for me to regroup and spend time with the people I love in the home I love, but I still look forward to going back to a place where I will always be a stranger.

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