One big difference I noticed abroad was celebrating different holidays and traditions. My first month abroad, Costa Rica had its Independence Day on September 15th. My program had us celebrate by taking part in the Independence Day parade and making faroles, which are decorative lanterns children typically carry through the parade.  We got to walk in the parade and see all of the festivities that took place in the town center.

It was strange being abroad in the fall, because Costa Rica does not celebrate Halloween or Thanksgiving. Some people dress up in the bars on Halloween, so I went with other Americans and we all had some sort of costume, even if it wasn’t well put together. Although it is not as important of a holiday to me now that I am older, it was still strange not seeing decorations up. It did not even feel like Thanksgiving when the day rolled around. I had class in the morning as usual, and in the afternoon I went out with my professor to find a fabric I was looking for to use in a project for his class. I called my family and they all talked about how much they missed me and what they were doing, which felt strange to watch from the outside. Later, my study abroad program set up a dinner for us at a restaurant where we ate typical Thanksgiving food. It was not a bad day, it just felt very confusing.

Learning the Language

One interesting aspect of traveling abroad is the language barrier and learning to speak a new language. I took Spanish all throughout high school, although our classes were not very advanced, and in my first 2 years of college. I was excited to spend four months in a Spanish speaking country. I did not think about my growth in the language much during my time abroad, but it is interesting to reflect and see how far I have come.


When I first arrived, I was nervous to meet my host family. My 26-year-old host brother spoke English, but his mother, aunt, cousin, and grandparents who all lived with us did not. I came to their house late at night, so we had a quick conversation before bed. I was able to communicate with them just fine and they kept telling me my Spanish was advanced, but I know it needed lots of work. I started the semester with a month-long class in Intermediate 2 Spanish. I could hear myself improve in grammar as well as my speaking skills throughout the month, and I continued to practice outside of the classroom. When I was with my friends we typically spoke in English, so I made sure to go some places alone. I continued to better my speaking skills in stores, with my host family, and in taxis. I even went to a Spanish conversation group to talk to local college students. Even though I’m not a fluent speaker, I now feel comfortable speaking Spanish.

Costa Rican Beaches

Some of the most popular places to visit in/near Costa Rica are the beaches. To travel, I always took the public bus. Here is a list of the beaches I visited and what I thought about them!


Playa Jacó

This is a very touristy beach just about 2 hours away from San José. It was a popular first weekend destination. This beach ahs a big town and lots of souvenir shops. The beach itself is a bit rocky and not one of my favorites, but it is close and good place to learn to surf. This town also has a very busy night life- which can be fun, but also dangerous. Most students studying in San José will visit at least once.


Playa Hermosa

This beach is about 15- 20 minutes away from Jacó, and a prettier beach. It still has all the restaurants and you can travel to Jacó for the evening if you would like to go out. The sand is black and very hot. The waves are more intense here, so it is typically recommended for more advanced surfers. You may even see a famous surfer or a surfing competition while you visit.

Manuel Antonio

Manuel is actually a national park about 3.5 hours away from San José. The entire park is incredibly beautiful and has a $15 entrance fee. After you walk through the forest, you get to see two light sand beaches with warm water. Just make sure to beware of the monkeys! They will steal any food you bring, and possibly other items. You will also likely see sloths and other animals as you walk through the park. I took a tour when I went with my program, but you can also walk through on your own


This is also a national park about 5.5 hours away from San José. This park is on the Caribbean side, so the water is very clear and he sand is white. It was rainy when I visited, but it was clear that this beach was very clean and peaceful. The town of Cahuita is small, but cute. There are plenty of places to stay for under $40 a night (cheap when sharing a room with friends) and lots of restaurants to try.

Playa Red Frog (Panama)

This was probably my favorite beach, located on a small island off Bocas Del Toro in Panama. The trip to Panama was about 7 hours and then another hour to the water taxi that took us to our air bnb in Bocas. The beaches in this area were all white sand beaches with blue and clear waters. They are quite touristy, which means they have restaurants, bars, and activities on all of them. I got to go snorkeling off one of the islands and the water was very clear with lots of organisms to see. The water taxi rides to/from the different beaches were unique experiences of their own. Activities here were less expensive because the cost of living is less expensive in Panama. It’s a long trip, but I would recommend going!


This beach is about 4.5 hours from San José. It is located in the Guanacaste province and has light sand. The beach is big, the town is touristy, and there are many nice restaurants on the beach. When I was here, I went horseback riding and I rented an ATV with a friend. Many of the beach towns offer these options, and I liked being able to do touristy activities as well as just relaxing on the beach throughout my time abroad.


For the last weekend, I went with a group of friends to this beach, also located in the Guanacaste province and about 5.5 hours away. It was incredibly hot and humid here, but also beautiful. This was one of the prettiest beaches I saw and had many shells. It was difficult to get in the water at some points because of the large rocks. This town is one of the most touristy, which means there are lots of people trying to sell you things. That can be annoying or a good thing if you want some coconut water on the beach. Our air bnb was very nice and we had a great time here.