The University of Iowa

Back to basics

September 30th, 2014

By Maya Hendricks

There are many things anybody would be worried about when attending a new school in another country. Will the classes be hard? Will the teachers speak English? Will I be able to keep up?

However, the one topic of my concern was… will there be air conditioning?

I know, it’s such a first world problem to be worried about, but once I began school, my fears were resolved. Luckily, the weather is very mild at this time – it’s called “winter” here, though it’s unlike any winter I’ve ever experienced. It stays in the 70-degree range and it rains nearly every day. Too bad we can’t have that kind of winter in the Midwest! 

A slight view of what most buildings on campus look like.

I attend a school called Universidad Nacional. It’s the second-largest university in Costa Rica and it’s less than half the size of Iowa. But what shocked me the most about my new school was the lack of technology in the classrooms.

At Iowa, you will probably find a smart board, projector, and/or computer in every room and lecture hall. Here, there is a white board in each room and that’s it. I definitely felt like I had been thrown back in time to my fifth grade classroom.

The washrooms here are also very different. Now, you might ask, what could be so different about a washroom? Well, to start, there is no toilet paper – you must bring your own. Additionally, some of the toilets have no toilet seats. It was a little odd at first, but I’ve grown accustomed to the change.

On campus, it’s uncommon to see someone with their laptop, as the Wi-Fi is spotty at best. Your best bet is to go to the library with one small computer room. The library itself is about three floors – miniscule compared to the multiple libraries at Iowa.

My classes are also small – most of them less than 10 people – and consist of only students in my USAC program. My favorite course would definitely have to be Latin American Cuisine. Each week, we make a different type of everyday meal that would be eaten somewhere in Latin America or Spain. So far, we have made dishes such as empanadas from scratch, torta Española and fresh fruit juices. But what’s most interesting about this class is that it’s held in our teacher’s home! Back in America, I think it’s common for students to wonder what their teacher is like outside of class or how they live. Here, I learned more about my teacher in our first two weeks of class than for a teacher I’ve had for a year at Iowa. Every week, she picks us up from the university, takes us to her home for class, and then drops each of us off near our homes afterward.

One of my first weekend trips to Manuel Antonio beach. It was so beautiful!

Despite all of its differences, this small school and its oddities have grown on me.  Even though I am abroad, school is school. I still have, at times, an unreasonable amount of homework, professors I don’t really like, some awesome advisors, and similar stresses to what I would have back at Iowa.

The only difference?

Instead of working a part-time job, I get to visit some of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen.

Maya Hendricks is junior from Chicago, IL majoring in interdepartmental business and Spanish at the University of Iowa. She is currently studying abroad in Heredia, Costa Rica on the USAC Heredia program.