Monday Top 5: Things I wish I knew before studying in Costa Rica

2012 IPIC Service Learning at Escuela Negro31) I wish…I had known more (or even a little bit of) Spanish.

It is not a requirement to know Spanish to participate in a UGA Costa Rica program, but most students who have returned would say they wish they had known more Spanish. From one perspective, it’s exciting to learn how to communicate without using verbal communication. On the other hand, it is probably helpful to know how to order your lunch or at the very least, be able to exchange pleasantries with the locals you meet or families you live with. Bring a dictionary or guide book to help you learn some common phrases before you depart and to assist you while you’re in Costa Rica. You might also want to consider downloading iTranslate for the iPhone or Google Translate for your Android.

2) I wish…I knew that everyday resources are not as accessible in Costa Rica.

Although there are plenty of items provided for you on the UGA Costa Rica campus (we’ll get to the specifics in #3), students who have participated in previous programs noted that it was different not being able to just hop in their car and head to Target when they realized they needed something. Depending on the length of your program, make sure you have enough of personal hygiene products to at least make it through the first portion of your stay.

As far as resources available to stay in touch with friends and family back home, consider Viber, an app that allows you to send free texts and make free calls to other Viber users using WiFi.

Mud3) I wish…I had planned for the unexpected and had not over-packed.

You never know what mood Mother Nature will be in while you’re visiting Costa Rica. Previous students would advise you to bring a variety of clothing because the weather is always changing—hiking boots, some warm clothes (it gets chilly in the mountains), nice clothes, enough socks, poncho/rain jacket, shorts, water shoes or sandals, and clothes you can get dirty. And don’t forget your sunscreen and bug spray – it can be expensive to purchase once in Costa Rica!

We want you to be prepared, but we also want to help you avoid over-packing (you will be carrying your own luggage around). Consider this list of things you don’t need to pack or should avoid packing in excess:

  • Excess Toiletries – You can get these (shampoo, soap, deodorant, feminine products, etc.) in-country but do plan on bringing enough to get you started.
  • Hair Dryer – Let’s be honest…you’re going to be living in a rain forest…you don’t need it!
  • Bedding, Pillows & Bath Towels – Provided for you while on campus!
  • Rubber Boots – You can check these out on campus and if your size isn’t available, you can likely get them from a local store for less than $10.

As a good rule of thumb, set out everything you think you’ll need then pack half!

Bonus: Check out this Pinterest board for an at-a-glance look at more Study Abroad Info & Tips!

4) I wish…I had a better understanding of my money needs before I left.

There are a couple of different points to make here.

  • First, students suggest bringing extra money for the items and souvenirs you will want to purchase to bring back to the U.S.
  • Second, most places will accept U.S. dollars, Visa, and/or Mastercard so there is no need for Travelers Checks or to exchange your dollars for colones. ATMs are also available.
  • Third, if you do plan on taking your credit card to Costa Rica, call your bank or credit card company to let them know you are traveling abroad and the dates, so they won’t put a hold on your account for unusual activity.


5) I wish…I had talked to someone about my program sooner, it was perfect!

With so many different program options, it’s important to talk with your academic advisor or Jessica Cooper, Assistant Director of UGA Costa Rica, to determine the best program fit for you. Consider what you hope to get out of your study abroad experience, the courses you need to complete to stay on track, and the length of the program. Once you determine the right program for you, you are sure to get the most out of your time in Costa Rica.

Bonus: Check out one student’s blog post for more helpful study abroad tips!

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