Rachel Lipscomb, a senior and double major in global and international studies and Spanish, worked hard to enjoy the unique opportunity of participating in not one, but two study abroad programs as part of her degree program through Western Michigan University. She shares her experiences below.
Spring 2013: Cusco, Peru
Set in the Andes, Cusco, Peru was an amazing city to travel to for study abroad. Cusco is the jumping point into visiting Machu Picchu and other historic locations; therefore, there are many tourists from all over the world. In addition to the tourism, Cusco has a culture mixed with tradition and modernity, which emphasizes their deep-rooted history. Studying abroad in Cusco with International Studies Abroad has helped to improve my Spanish language skills from volunteering to taking classes and practicing with my host family and locals.
The school, Centro Tinku, is the University of Salamanca’s International center. I had teachers from Spain, Peru, and the United States. As an ISA group we were the only students that were in attendance. As a result, the classrooms were very small and there was a lot of attention given from teacher to student.
Studying in Cusco, I have learned many important lessons both inside the classroom and out. For instance, not everything is as efficient as it is in the U.S. Some could see that as a bad thing. I saw it as a way to slow down and gain a new perspective on the way we live in the U.S. Much of the time we are in a hurry or our faces are in front of our phone or computer. There, I felt much happier away from a screen. At times I really felt like a foreigner, especially being in a tourist city. It seemed like I was constantly being asked to buy something while visiting downtown, the center of tourism. Other times, in the machismo culture, I felt like I was an object. All of this was part of the overall experience.
One of the perks of studying abroad is the time on weekends or holidays that provided the opportunity to experience the culture and dive into the rich history of Peru. During some weekends and traveling a bit after the end of the program, I visited some of the most memorable, amazing places in my life. As part of an ISA excursion, we ventured to the Sacred Valley that took us to salt mines, Incan agricultural sites, and ruins that gave me just as much awe as Machu Picchu. During my free time, I visited other beautiful cities, hiked in and out of Colca Canyon and visited the floating reeds on Lake Titicaca. At the program’s end, I walked for four days on the Salkantay Trek up a mountain and through the jungle to Machu Picchu. Now I feel as if I can do anything. Looking back on these experiences, it feels more like a dream.
Studying abroad in Cusco was great in so many ways. I now have many new experiences and some of my greatest accomplishments under my belt. More importantly, I have improved in Spanish, and have learned so much about myself, new cultures and about life in general. My life has changed indefinitely. I am positive that it will set forth new opportunities in the future.
Fall 2012: Costa Rica
Studying abroad in Costa Rica in the fall of 2012 with CEA Global Education for a semester was one of the best decisions I have made in my life. Studying there, I became proficient in the Spanish language from intensive month long courses and living with a host family. I not only got a first hand look into the culture and lives of the people known for their Pura Vida (pure life), but I also gained a new perspective of life in general, and in between all of this I embarked on some amazing adventures.
Studying abroad was not everything that I had expected. I think going into these experiences, one should have little to no preconceived notions so they do not disappoint themselves. One thing that I did expect was to learn the language much faster and easier, or to be fluent like I am in English. In reality, that idea is quite unrealistic, especially when learning at an older age. Interacting with other students in the program, most would speak only English and many of them took only English courses and were not interested in learning the language. More so, learning a language takes time. Although I have become proficient in Spanish, from working hard in my studies and practicing with my host family and a few locals, I now know that it will take some time before I start speaking with the fluency I have in English.
Spending a semester in Costa Rica has opened my eyes to new ways of living, relaxing, taking time to eat food, savoring moments with those who are important in my life, and living with less worry. I have also learned to adapt more easily to new situations and take life as it comes. It has given me a better perspective on how the U.S. interacts and relates with the rest of the world. I have learned so much from various cultural differences, which has given me a greater cultural awareness and tolerance.
In addition to all of the studying, most teachers gave little homework for the weekends so that students would have the opportunity to travel and experience the culture and land. Also, around three excursions are included with every study abroad program. I did not travel every weekend, as it can get expensive. Necessities such as food, toiletries, and clothing cost around the same (sometimes more) as in the U.S., so being the frugal student that I am, I chose a few trips that were worthwhile. The diversity of the land led me to venture to volcanoes, beaches on both the Caribbean and Pacific Ocean, and Cloud Forest. One of the most memorable experiences was working with Olive Ridley Sea Turtles during the Arribada (arrival), where thousands of sea turtles come to lay their eggs on the beach.
Overall studying abroad in Costa Rica was life changing. Going abroad was the best decision I have ever made. I have gained many amazing experiences, language acquisition, and have learned so much about myself. The experience gave me a solid foundation in my continuation to learn Spanish. I am positive that the experience will set forth new opportunities in the future.