Culture Shock at its Finest

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.

By Maya Hendricks

I had known I was going to study abroad back in April, but when the day came to leave in August, it almost felt surreal. For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to study abroad, but a part of me could not believe that I would actually go through with it.

As I exited the airport, I couldn’t help but feel the butterflies in my stomach increase tenfold. Here I was for the first time outside of the country, alone and nervous about meeting my host family. I quickly saw my host mom holding up a sign with my name along with her brother.

This was it. I was here in Costa Rica and as we piled into the car I tried to keep calm and take everything in. As we sped down the winding roads and steep hills, I saw an array of small business buildings, tin roofed homes, and narrow sidewalks. Finally pulling up to my host family’s home, I was eager to see where I would be living for the next couple of months.

I did not know what to expect upon my arrival. Though most people think of palm trees and beaches, this was not the case. My new home is in Heredia, a small city outside of San Jose, the capital.

 View of Heredia from outside my home.

No matter how many study abroad Q&A meetings I attended, nothing could prepare me for these first moments – the initial introductions, my first night in a new home, sleeping in a strange bed. There is no study abroad meeting to prepare you for how many emotions will be running through your mind. Culture shock is an inevitable part of the study abroad process and I was definitely feeling it my first night in Costa Rica.

I felt that every single bit of Spanish I had previously known suddenly vanished the moment my host mom introduced herself to me. I was struggling to put together the most basic sentences, and I immediately started to question my decision to study abroad.

Was this what I really wanted to do? What was I thinking? Did I make a mistake? I slowly unpacked my bags with all these doubts running through my mind, hoping that with time I could begin to look at this as a positive experience because at that moment all I could feel was pessimism enveloping me.

Day by day, as I went through my first week, things started looking up. I began to get used to my new home and new school, even though it was very different from the technology-based classrooms at Iowa. I explored a good amount of the city with new friends, getting lost a couple of times in the process. With time, my fears and doubts about my choice to study abroad slowly dismantled.

Culture shock is unavoidable and something I didn’t expect to hit me so hard. But in hindsight, I’m glad it’s something I experienced because instead of looking at something as weird or stupid, I can now view every unique aspect of Costa Rica’s ways of life with a sense of appreciation and learn from them.

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