I had always been interested in traveling in general, but studying abroad wasn’t something I actually thought would be possible for me.
One day, I saw a booth for Spain and Latin American countries and I went and picked up some flyers about different organizations and opportunities you can participate in while you’re abroad, like internships or service learning. They said if I was really interested, to come to meet with an education abroad advisor and learn more, no strings attached.
Process— Education Abroad Office Help
At first, I was a little overwhelmed by the planning. I didn’t even know where to start, or where I wanted to go. I met with an advisor—they pair you up with someone who’s experienced in your area of the world—and I worked with her throughout the entire process. Her specialty was in Latin American Spanish-speaking countries. I told her I’m interested in nursing, and she said I could do something in medicine that can tie into my career as a pediatric nurse.
We went over different opportunities available, and I ended up finding one that interested me in Costa Rica. In the program, I was able to do service learning, which is where you volunteer with an organization while you’re there. I could work at a children's clinic for one semester, and then I could be in a children's hospital the second semester, while simultaneously being enrolled at a university in Costa Rica and taking Spanish classes there.
At this point, I was still thinking this probably won't happen because of the cost. But then we talked about scholarships, and I could actually use both of the scholarships I had at Nebraska to study abroad. I had no clue this was possible. There are actually a lot of scholarships that students don't know they can apply for and use toward studying abroad.
I applied for more scholarships through the education abroad office, and my advisor helped me write essays for national scholarships to study abroad. By doing that, I was able to get my entire year of tuition and housing covered while also receiving a stipend, which covered food and my flight. I ended up paying nothing out of pocket.
More than just Taking classes
Realizing this is actually happening was a little overwhelming. I was like, “Am I really going to live somewhere for over seven months where I don’t know anyone?” It was so exciting because it was something that was so tailored to my career. One example was I got to take alternative therapy medicine classes where we took a field trip up into the mountains and met with an indigenous population and did Tai Chi.
There are different living options. One of my friends studied abroad in Italy and she lived in a dorm, but I knew for sure that I wanted to live with a host family—that way, I would get the most immersion into the culture. My host mom only spoke Spanish, and I lived with a host brother and host sister as well. I also had a roommate from South Dakota, and she spoke Spanish really well. By the end, I was able to articulate my thoughts and totally communicate in Spanish too.
Every morning, my host mom would knock on our doors and wake us up, then we'd come out and have about an hour where we would just talk during breakfast. We’d have like a two-hour dinner together every night too, but I didn't mind, because I loved my host family. The bond that we created from sharing those meals was amazing. It helped me see why their culture places so much importance on eating together.
Career Prep Experience
During the first half of the day I would do my service learning project, then take classes in the afternoon. My first semester, the clinic I worked at was only a 5 minute walk from my house in the morning. I was able to observe doctors and nurses see patients and treat them in the emergency room and outpatient clinics. I was also able to do health check-up home visits with medical professionals and do healthcare campaigns at various locations throughout the city. For example, I went to public schools and did health exams consisting of measuring height and weight, vision, hearing, blood pressure, blood sugar and promoting parasite prevention.
The second semester, I got to work at the Children's Hospital. I interacted with kids whose parents weren't available. A lot of the kids just wanted someone to talk to. So I would go in and just color with them or talk about their favorite movies. They were applying what I learned in class to the situations around me.
I think people expect to know what other countries are like by looking at pictures or by reading about them. Actually going and experiencing it will open up your mind and your heart and to other growth areas that you weren't expecting. You may think you have a grasp on it before you travel, but once you get there and actually see it for yourself that really does open your mind to so much more. You grow in ways you weren’t even expecting.
I have always been an introverted person. I do like being with people, but I had a hard time walking up to strangers and trying to befriend them. With this experience, I knew I would not know anyone, which was kind of uncomfortable for me at first. But by going in that situation, I got to learn how to talk with strangers and with other people and how to connect. Now, when I go to internship interviews, I'm a lot better at communicating and my study abroad experience gives me an edge because I’ve worked with people from other cultures.