Studying Abroad in Costa Rica as a Physiology Major
With a double minor in Spanish and Psychology, UA student Brenden saw studying abroad in Costa Rica as a great opportunity to develop language skills and intern in a hospital.
As a Physiology major with a double minor in Spanish and Psychology, Brenden Barness chose to study abroad in Costa Rica during the summer of 2018. For Brenden, studying abroad was both an opportunity to finish his minor in Spanish, and also intern at a local hospital in the capital. Brenden’s experience was very memorable, so we asked him to recall his experience, and tell other UArizona students why they should study abroad.
Q: If you could sum up your study abroad in ONE sentence, what would you say?
A: Studying abroad comes with the possibility for so many incredible experiences, you just have to go out there and find them!
Q: What was the most rewarding ACADEMIC experience you had while studying abroad?
A: I was so fortunate to have been able to live with a host family while in Costa Rica. They were both professors at the University where I was taking my classes, and drove me each and every day to school! They would ask all about my classes, and I would tell them all about it! I took two cultural classes, and was able to learn about the history of the country I was staying in. With everything I was learning, I was able to apply so much of it while interning at a Hospital.
Q: What were the most MEMORABLE aspects of your study abroad experience?
A: The friendships. I was fortunate to have been able to get close with the other students on the trip. With only 12 of us on the trip, we all were able to spend so much time with one another. Aside from the amazing friendships, my internship at Hospital Clinica Biblica was an experience of a lifetime. Three days a week, I would take the local bus into the city to get to the hospital, where I was able to shadow and translate in the Emergency Department. This was one of the most life changing experiences that I have been fortunate enough to have. I learned so much about medicine, in an entirely different language, and I was also able to provide comfort for English-speaking families on vacation.
Q: What kinds of OPPORTUNITIES did you take advantage of while abroad that would not have been available otherwise?
A: Prior to going to Costa Rica, I already knew that my passion was in medicine. When I had the opportunity to finish my Spanish minor abroad, I thought that this could be an incredible opportunity to learn about healthcare outside of the United States. With the help of my advisor, I contacted the UA College of Medicine to see if any faculty had connections in Costa Rica. Thankfully, someone did! My experience at Hospital Clinica Biblica confirmed what I wanted to do with my career, and pushed me to see a different healthcare system. I hope to return to Costa Rica to work in a different rural community with health and agriculture.
Q: Did you feel like you were able to interact with the host CULTURE in the country where you studied abroad? (If so, what are some examples?)
A: Oh my gosh, yes! Each year, there is a nationwide religious event held in the town where I lived, and people would walk from all corners of the country to get to the Basilica at the center of the city. Some people would walk for weeks until they reached the Basilica. During that time, the city population grows from 50,000 to over a million for an entire week! There was dancing and singing all day and night, and fireworks to end each night as well! My host family and I would stop by the local bakery to get our favorite bread before going to see the nightly events! Also, of course, there is the legendary phrase “Pura Vida,” which literally translates to Pure Life. In Costa Rica, this really encompasses what it means to be a Tico, or a native. The people of this country are some of the most welcoming individuals that I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. Walking home from school each day, I would pass by the little mini mart shops and everyone would always say hello. When I needed directions, everyone would offer assistance (especially when I was first trying to manage public transportation). My host family was incredible as well. They were so patient with me, and the little kiddos always wanted to hang out and watch movies!
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Q: What ADVICE would you give to a student considering studying abroad at this location?
A: If I were to offer advice, I would suggest to first take a deep breath and soak it all in. Cartago is a very stress-free town, and the way of life moves at a slower pace than you might be used to. There is a huge focus on family and spending quality time together, and that is something I grew to appreciate so much because of how different it was in comparison to the United States.
Q: Do you have any LESSONS or FUNNY STORIES that you took away from studying abroad?
A: If you think you can wear white converse every day like you can here, you’re wrong. I absolutely loved the rain, but was definitely not as prepared for the wetness that followed. I also learned how valued family is in Costa Rican culture. It is part of the culture for families to live close to one another, only moving out of the city if a job requires it. That is something I admired, and felt the power of, each and every day, when we had meals or coffee together.
Q: If you could go back right now, what would a DAY IN THE LIFE look like, that you would want to relive there?
A: I would wake up at 7am and walk into the kitchen for breakfast. We would have fresh pastries and the best coffee I have ever had in my life. I would eat with the entire family and then pack my snacks and get ready for school. My family would take me, and then I would meet up with all of my friends on campus. We had school until noon. Then I would hop on the bus into the city to get to the hospital, and work until about 7pm! I’d take the bus home, and then I would have dinner with the fam! All of their extended family would come over almost every night to eat, and we would watch movies and play games afterwards.
Q: What else would you like to add?
A: It is so beautiful, I cannot state that enough.
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