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How Study Abroad Has Impacted Me

So, I’ve been back in the States for about two months now. During the time I have had plenty of time to sit back and think just how life changing my experience was. It has been a little hard for me to get back into the “American” way of doing things. You know, the get rich fast mentality as if setting down is some sort of huge accomplishment. During my time in Costa Rica I was able to explore myself on a deeper level than I ever have before. I was able to travel, learn a new language, enhance my social skills, and focus on strengthening my weaknesses. I miss it there so much.

Before I left to Costa Rica I was really stand-off-ish, introverted, and I wouldn’t ever approach people first. I made it a goal for myself to come out of my shell and be open to new experiences. By the time I left people couldn’t even believe I was ever shy. I realized that people would never get to know the real me if I didn’t give them the opportunity to. It was up to me to redefine who I was, and how I could have an impact on the people around me. I gave myself time to explore the endless opportunities the universe was giving me. For the first time in awhile I had clarity.

I decided that I would no longer live by the “American” way of doing things. I would major in whatever I wanted, I will get married and have children when I’M ready. I will take my time in school, and not feel pressured to hurry and graduate in four years. And I will live my life happily, the way I choose. I was a nursing major for my first three years because I knew I would always have money, and I wouldn’t be struggling trying to find a job once I graduate. But I was unhappy, and realised that the only reason I stuck with nursing was because it was the “safe” thing to do. I was limiting myself, and I knew it. So I went back to the drawing board. “Ok, What am I good at? What do I like doing? What do I want from my career?” After a lot of thought and prayer I decided I was going to change my major to Business Administration with an emphasis in Management.

A lot of my family and friends thought I was making the wrong decision. “What are you going to do with a business major?” “Do you even like business?” But let me tell you how much happier I have been since I started doing life my way. I pledged with an on campus business fraternity,  I landed an awesome internship, and I am loving my new class schedule! Studying abroad has been so beneficial to my personal life, and it is definitely a resume builder. I can’t exactly put in words how much my study abroad experience has impacted me, but I would do it all over again if I had the opportunity!

Miserable in Paradise??

So  I have been in Costa Rica for a little under four weeks now and I have been miserable. Ok, not miserable but I have been experiencing an unfamiliar feeling I wasn’t expecting. When I first got here for some reason I had the impression that this transition would be a piece of cake.  I’ll be the first to admit that I thought the term “culture shock” sounded extremely dramatic but I realized this week that was exactly what I have been experiencing.  People experience culture shock in different ways. For me, its included AT-TI-TUUUDE. I have been so irritable and emotional over the smallest things.  Last week I cried before dinner because I was over gallo pinto (rice and beans) It’s a typical dish here in Costa Rica and we eat it twice a day, everyday. On top of that I kind have just been in a funk. I’ve made a few friends. But every day after class I come straight home and stalk everyone from back home.  I’m so up to date on everything I honestly feel like I’m still in the United States and that has been a HUGE mistake!

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This week I’ve came to the realization that I need to disconnect for social media. I’ve been so eager to show everyone what I’ve been up to and keep everyone updated on Facebook that I haven’t really been enjoying myself.  Last night I read up on past study abroad students biggest regrets while being abroad and how I could start making better use of my down time. I went to sleep with the intention to start fresh the next day. Step out of my comfort zone and do something that scares me. And that happened to be approaching someone and asking them if they wanted to be my travel buddy. Something so small yet so empowering for me. I’m extremely nice but I’m also introverted and can be shy so I felt like the woman after making such a bold move. haha

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Now don’t get me wrong. Costa Rica is beautiful, and I have the best roommate, host family, and I’m blessed to be here but, I’ve noticed that during the last few weeks I haven’t had the best perspective. Studying abroad, as is everything in life, is what you make of it. You can choose to stay locked to your phone all day and go home immediately after school or you can decide to be spontaneous on purpose. I’m so glad I’ve decided to change my attitude sooner than later. Life is good, and although I still have a little over two months left I look forward to what’s ahead. Hasta Luego!

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Pura Vida

I landed in Costa Rica around noon on Saturday. As soon as I was greeted from my host family I started thinking “oh my gosh, I am actually in Costa Rica!” My host mom welcomed me with a kiss on the cheek and Spanish. I had no idea what she was saying but she was smiling so I assumed it was something nice and I said “hahaha Si gracias” The first day was a little rough, everything looked so different and I wasn’t use to seeing anything like the neighbourhood I stay in. Everyone was honking, staring, and my host brother was casually doing 100 mph down the street. I’m assuming it was normal considering the only person that was freaking out was me. You know when you’re in an unfamiliar environment and you look around you to see if anyone has the same reaction but they don’t so you kind of just sit there trying to visibly look like you’re accustomed to craziness? That was me.

As soon as I arrived at my new Tico home my host family began talking to me in Spanish.  Again, I had no idea what they were saying so I said “hahah Si gracias” the saying has kind of become my go to these days. My mama Tica makes the best food my first night here we had rice and beans (everyday) plantains, and chicken. I was then showed my room and the view is amazing! I have my own room and bathroom and I also have a separate living space up here.
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The next day we had a city tour and I got to see the University I will be attending and we also got to see some of downtown San Jose. I no longer felt homesick. I was just excited, and grateful to be here. I actually talked to people first, and I have three friends so yay! I started classes on Tuesday and I love them! I have Spanish class from 8-12pm everyday and my teacher is the most friendly energetic professor you could ever have. She makes class interesting, and in class we are only allowed to speak Spanish so I am learning a lot already!

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Tomorrow I am headed to Tamarindo! ISA has three excursions included in the price so we will be going to a different city for the next three weeks, Friday- Sunday. I will be horseback riding and going on a boat tour at sunset to a private island where we will be paddle boarding and snorkeling. Costa Rica has been so welcoming and fun so far. I look forward to sharing more with you! Pura Vida! (pure life)

 

my favourite house to walk past on the way to school
my favorite house to walk past on the way to school

 

Pre Departure Blues

So, classes have officially begun at my school and I am set to leave for Costa Rica at 6:00am on September 24. With about three weeks left before my departure I feel a mix of emotions. You know that feeling when you’re going uphill at the beginning of a rollercoaster ride and your heart is racing, palms are sweating, you’re excited but super nervous, and all you can think is “ OMG I.AM.TERRIFIED. Yeah, that’s me right now. I’m sure I have stalked every YouTube video, travel blog, and Pinterest idea on Costa Rica; I’ve looked up top destinations and restaurants, a hair store (I’m a natural hair gal, I need my products) and even began planning a few side trips. I haven’t started packing yet because I suffer from something called laziness procrastination when I wait until the day before to start packing. I made a spreadsheet and a shopping list of all the things I have to get before I leave and I told myself that I would start packing by the 12th so lets all pray I stick to that! Despite doing all of this, I’m still in shock and I can’t believe I’m actually doing this! My flight is booked, my fees are paid, all Costa Rica is waiting on is me.

This year has definitely been a ride. I didn’t apply to the nursing program (partially because I knew I wasn’t going to get in… YET) and I decided to apply for a study abroad program with zero expectations. I just wanted to try something new. I have a clean slate and I can redefine what it means to be Chrysteene and I really look forward to volunteering with health professionals and nearby orphanages. I’m blessed to be able to have this opportunity and although I know I’m about to have the time of my life I can’t help but to think about the things I’m going to miss out on while being away. Before you call me ungrateful, let me explain! My friends, family, and my boyfriend will all be here and I will be in another country for three months. I’m going to miss Thanksgiving this year, which happens to be my favorite meal holiday of the year. My whole family comes together and we laugh, dance, and enjoy each other’s company. I don’t know guys; I may just have to treat myself to the beach, an ice cold drink, and breathtaking beauty that weekend to cure my sadness lol. Being so far away from my support system will definitely be the hardest part, but luckily we have Skype and tons of other apps to communicate with each other. My friends have all started their classes, and all I can do is anxiously count the days I have left until my departure! In the meantime I’m still working and saving and spending a lot of time with my loved ones.

Financing study abroad LOAN FREE

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I think too often we get so use to staying within our comfort zones that we fail to realize there is a whole other world that exist beyond our own. I believe the media has made us fear the possibility of traveling independently to a new country, and I am not referencing to your typical fully air conditioned, all inclusive resort, where you spend your time sipping on pina coladas and totally not making efforts to immerse yourself into another culture. Isn’t that crazy? People travel internationally to get the exact same experience they could have gotten for less in the states, but hey, whatever floats your boat! Lol. I can not tell you how many times people have attempted to discourage me from studying abroad because of false misconceptions that derive from movies like Taken. You know, the movie where a young woman and her best friend travel to another country and end up being abducted and sold into sex trafficking. No… but seriously that’s the movie my mom brought up when I first mentioned studying abroad, she said “Chrysteene, you sure you want to do this? I don’t have connections in other countries, I can’t make sure you’re safe there, I need to start saving money for a plane ticket just in case I need to get to you” (insert crying laughing emoji). After giving my mom more detail she came around and she is more supportive than ever. (Hey mama!) I visited the study abroad office at my school; they gave me tons of brochures, books, and online resources I could look into to choose the right fit for me. I went in very open minded, with no specific country I wanted to go. All I knew was that I wanted to be gone for a semester, and I needed an affordable program that would allow me to reasonably raise enough money so that I could go without having to rely on loans, that was my goal. After some research I came across San Jose, Costa Rica. This program offers healthcare courses in Spanish and English. From September through December I will be living with a Costa Rican family and I will attend University of Veritas. The program fee includes food, a home stay, tuition, medical insurance, excursions, and many other things excluding airfare, other travel and spending money. Although all this seemed great there was one problem… MONEY THAT YA GIRL DID NOT HAVE! Coming from a home of a single mother and three siblings my mom didn’t have $10,000 lying around to just send me to another country for a whole semester. So… how did I make all this happen LOAN FREE?!

Upon leaving the study abroad office I felt so discouraged because I figured there was no way I would be able to afford studying abroad. But I am child of God. Through him nothing is impossible, so at this point I had two options. I could give up or I could make something happen. I stopped feeling bad for myself and I asked my study abroad advisors what my options were. They suggested scholarships that I could apply for and I learned that I could use my financial aid to help fund my expenses if necessary. I began applying for scholarships and instantly started a GoFundMe campaign while putting in extra hours at both of my jobs. I started saving money in November, a year prior to leaving. I cut back my spending by eating out less and limiting my spending money to about $50 a week. With the help of family and friends they raised about $3000 and I contributed $2000 myself. The study abroad office awarded me with the UMKC General scholarship of $2000 and before I knew it I already had a little over $7000! (Turn up)  I also applied for the Gilman Scholarship, which is a national scholarship eligible for students who receive the Pell Grant. This scholarship awards students any amount (up to $5000). I started writing my Gilman application in December and it was due in March. I highly suggest drafting essays months before the deadline and have multiple people proofread and revise as much as possible, the more people who read it, the better. I will be hearing from Gilman any day now (fingers crossed!!

So now all I need is $2500 and I will meet my goal!! See how easy it is to accomplish something you’re passionate about? It’s all about altering your thinking and approaching things with a positive mindset. I can tell you now that I would not be making my dream a reality if I looked at the challenges head on and stopped at, “I can’t afford this.” So whatever it may be, I want to encourage you to start today. Set attainable goals, do your research, and make everyday count!

Chrysteene Smith