Noell is a junior at the University of Kentucky from Ashland, Kentucky. She is studying Biology with minors in Spanish and Dance. On campus, Noell is a member of Phi Delta Epsilon medical fraternity and conducts undergraduate research in the Sanders Brown Center on Aging. Additionally, Noell is highly involved with the UK Honors Program and holds a job in the campus Visitor Center. Noell enjoys meeting new people, dancing, and watching Doctor Who.
Where did you go? When? What did you study?
“I studied abroad in one of the central provinces of Costa Rica, called Heredia. I was a student at La Universidad Latina de Costa Rica (Latin University of Costa Rica) and I studied Latin American Literature.”
How did you select your education abroad program?
“I was actually planning on applying to study abroad with a different program, when a friend of mine who also wanted to study abroad informed me that the program I intended on applying to involved more “roughing it” than I wanted. So she showed me Sol Education Abroad, and after research, we decided to study abroad through this program because it seemed to offer a good mixture of university life, living in a foreign city, and excursions to the wilderness of Costa Rica as well.”
How did the university compare to the University of Kentucky?
“ULatina (the equivalent of calling University of Kentucky “UK”) was housed in more or less one building, as opposed to the several we are accustomed to on campus here. That building had different purposes before it was a university so the layout of it was very different. But, it was beautiful. Most of the hallways were breezeways and much of the campus was open air, including the cafeteria. From the cafeteria you could see the soccer field, the city of San Jose, and the mountains that encircle the region we lived in. The view was breathtaking. While the dining facilities were fewer than what we have on UK’s campus, they were similar. There were a couple cafes were I could get a latte before class and a little market like our Wildcat Pantries.
As for the academic side of the university, it felt very similar. There was an advising office of sorts full of friendly staff who could answer all of our questions, our homework was similar to what we do here (essays, readings, group projects, etc), and there was a wide variety of academic majors to select from. The main difference I noticed was the age of my professor. He was only 25, but he was brilliant and I could tell he knew what he was talking about.”
What was your best non-educational experience and why?
“My favorite non-educational experience was the weekend we took an excursion to Manuel Antonio National Park. The first day we were there, we visited the Savegre River and it was the most untouched, clean, and beautiful place I have ever seen. Being a biology major, it was fascinating for me to see this pristine ecosystem and conservation efforts paying off while also experiencing something I had never done before: white water rafting. It was such a fun bonding experience and it was the closest I felt to the other students in my program because we really had to communicate and work together as a team, but all the while we laughed and joked and we just had an amazing time. The second day of that excursion we went to the beach in the National Park and it looked like something off a post card. It was another example of paradise untouched. Walking to the beach, we saw sloths and other animals that you don’t see when humans have really affected an environment. And of course the ocean itself was beautiful and clean. That weekend was perfect.”
What was your most awkward moment abroad?
“In Costa Rica my roommate and I took the bus to school every morning. The custom is that you pull a cord on the ceiling when your stop is upcoming, so the driver knows you want to get off. Well, the stop across from our university was very popular and we had never had to pull the cord to stop there because someone else always had to. One morning, we didn’t pull the cord but we didn’t stop at the University. Instead, we were en route to the next province, San Jose. We pulled the cord so the driver would know we needed the next stop but instead of going to the next stop, he stopped and left us on the side of the road. We started walking down the highway back toward school and had made little progress when a nice old man driving another bus pulled over and told us to get on, and took us to school for free. It was a very kind gesture but we were so embarrassed that this had happened. Looking back, it’s hilarious.”
How was your experience with a host family? What is the benefit of staying with host families abroad?
“We had a unique host family situation. Our Mama Tica (host mother) had just lost her husband a few years ago and was not quite over that, so she talked about him a lot. However, they were always kind and accommodating and because my roommate and I both spoke proficient Spanish, there was no communication barrier. Our host mother always went out of her way to make sure we were well-fed, she did our laundry, and she cleaned our rooms every day. I would have been more than happy to do these things for myself but she just loved us and wanted to take care of us. It was so sweet.”
How does your education abroad experience impact your studies at UK?
“My credit-bearing study abroad experience counts toward my Spanish minor, so now I only need to take one more class to complete it. But more importantly, now that I have lived in an environment where only Spanish is spoken, and a very difficult dialect at that, my comprehension and speaking abilities have improved immensely. I could not have gained those skills if I had not gone beyond the classroom here.”
What skills did you cultivate abroad that can be applied to your career goals and ambitions?
“I am a pre-medical student and I come from a family with many healthcare professionals. I get text messages from family all the time asking me how to say something in Spanish because of language barriers with patients. I hope that in my career such barriers do not exist and that I can take my language skills and training abroad someday with a program like Doctors without Borders. Improving my language skills abroad brought me one step closer to that dream.”
Briefly describe the planning your education abroad experience. What challenges did you encounter? What resources at UK did you utilize?
“Planning to study abroad is a lot of work, I won’t lie. There was a lot of paper work and sometimes I didn’t think I would be able to finish that, much less go abroad. But I managed to budget my time and get the administrative side of things done. My pre-departure session through the Education Abroad office helped me more realistically prepare because they had more information about my specific country and they helped me plan out my goals for my program. The biggest challenge I had before departure was knowing what to pack. I had never been to Central America prior to this summer so I had no idea what to expect. I assumed it would be warm, but I was actually there during the cool, rainy season. So it’s worth a Google search to investigate a country’s climate and what kind of dress is appropriate there.”
What is the best piece of advice you can offer to a student preparing to study abroad?
“I would say that any student preparing to study abroad needs only to keep an open mind. Don’t close yourself off to any new experience, whether it’s a traditional dance lesson or trying new, strange foods. You will learn so much about your host country and yourself during your time abroad, so don’t limit your growth by being too afraid or too shy to try something new. Also, if you are studying abroad for language, use the language as much as possible! You can’t get better if you don’t practice. Lastly, enjoy your time abroad. You’ll miss it when you come home!
Sarah Caton is a Junior at the University of Kentucky majoring in Gender and Women’s Studies and Spanish. In the Summer of 2014, she participated in a study abroad program in Costa Rica through partner provider Sol Education Abroad.