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“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.”