“By day three I caught myself thinking and daydreaming in Spanish, which I’ve never done before,” said Anna Kate Hicks, a sophomore and Spanish minor.
Hicks is one of nine students that traveled to Costa Rica this past summer with Todd Mack, associate professor and department chair of Spanish. The one-week-long trip served as a 3‑credit Spanish course and was open to anyone interested in studying the culture and language, regardless of their major or minor status.
The one catch? Students could only speak in Spanish unless in their hotel rooms.
“I was very humbled in my Spanish abilities,” Lily Maciejewski, another sophomore Spanish minor, said. “And having to translate all day takes a lot of mental energy.”
The group learned about the history, landscape, and people of Costa Rica as they hiked jungles and forests, explored the beach, and visited local shops and restaurants.
Senior Spanish minor Danae Burdett said that as someone who feels more confident writing and reading in Spanish than speaking the language, she was pushed outside of her comfort zone.
“On the first day there, we went to a restaurant and I only got a bottle of water because that was the only thing I could order in Spanish,” Burdett said.
After that, Burdett said she realized it wasn’t the end of the world if she didn’t speak in perfectly-conjugated sentences.
“It was a really good week of immersion and recognizing people are gracious,” Burdett said. “Even if you don’t speak the language super fluently, people will still understand you.”
Additionally, she never went hungry again because of all the good food the travelers tried.
“Costa Ricans are better at food than most people in the world, I think,” Burdett said. “The portions are outrageous. When I’d get to a meal I thought I could’ve waited another six hours.”
Burdett and other students also commented on the striking scenery. Among other expeditions that week, the group went to a sloth park, climbed 500 steps to a waterfall, and trekked across at least 19 bridges at Arenal Hanging Bridges Park. Maciejewski said she appreciated the opportunity to learn about nature in a new way.
“There was a sunset one night on Punta Leona I was admiring and I talked with my professor about how the sunset glorifies God,” Maciejewski said. “It was really cool because I was scared to speak Spanish the entire trip but it was so nice to have that vulnerable moment and we ended up having a super deep conversation in Spanish.”
Hicks said she loved learning about the country in its native language from their local guide German Rojas, who had been giving tours of Costa Rica for 25 years. Both the guide and Mack taught them more about the language as well, Hicks said.
“They were really amazing about helping you if you tried to converse and get to know things,” Hicks said. “I got so much more confident as I made mistakes.”
The group was diverse — various classes, majors, sorority affiliations, and athletic involvement — but Hicks said the challenge of communicating in Spanish brought the students together.
“We all got to know each other really well, even though we were talking in a different language,” Hicks said.
Several students said the trip was a feasible, affordable study abroad program because of the shorter length. Maciejewski encourages any students who are interested in the trip to not be uptight about it, rather be willing to make mistakes.
“Sometimes I find myself accidentally slipping into Spanish in conversation with friends at school,” she said. “I’m now seeing the effects of the trip months later. It’s really changed the way I think.”