Study abroad: Learning to live for the details
This summer I learned that there is a beautiful reason why clichés prevail. In Heredia, Costa Rica, a substantial town tucked between San Jose and the Poas Volcano, I lived and breathed gallo pinto (beans and rice) and hunted for hidden coves in brilliant green and muggy understory. My Spanish proficiency flourished much like the acres and acres of coffee and banana plantations on every street. Every physical experience of my study abroad adventure was surreal—but where I discovered the most growth was nestled between each of these moments, in the details of my everyday life as a Tica.
Maybe what I cannot put into words is the feeling of unbounded self-exploration that stretched out its hand and found me. The humans along the journey with me—my friends and soul-sisters from across the world—guided the way. But the growth everyone tells you about before embarking on an international adventure occurred for me through delicate observation: First, the day-to-day movements of my Costa Rican host family. I watched the unmoving focus of Papa Tico during a football game, Mama Tica’s methodical rolling, pressing, and frying of empanada dough. Eyes grazing across the kitchen, I notice the blessed panting of the family dog—Tomás—hot, wet, and happy from his morning run. That breathless dog and his eventual plop on the kitchen tile was the signal to the start of my day: my mile walk to school, arm in arm with my amigas, as we dodged taxis and pedestrians on roads without crosswalks or stop lights. And instead of dodging the tropical rain, we embraced its symphony: outside, hair pasted to skin, umbrella left in backpack, we ran and danced through the streets—or, at home we would listen in amazement, with a pot of coffee and munching on sugar cane from the market.
The weekends brought unbridled exploration. We turned public transportation misadventures into opportunities to study the sunset. We lived slowly and fully on hammocks in Rastafarian beach towns and enjoyed the communal pancake pours and coffee mugs shared by all at our humble hostel.
Swimming inside this reality while living in Costa Rica— the daily adventure and discovery, its shock and growth— obligated me to remold my own life purpose and ambitions for myself and the world. I want to live simply. I want to use my talents to help others in a way most authentic to myself. Living abroad, I learned to live for the details.
—Betsy McKinney is a student at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas, and an intern with World Affairs Council of Austin.
The opinions expressed in this blog/article are the author’s own and do not reflect the viewpoint of the WACA, or the World Affairs Councils of America.