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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A life-changing journey

By Amanda Noel

It’s safe to say that most 21st-century college students don’t think much beyond their daily activities. College makes it difficult for students to focus on the outside world when they have a full course load demanding so much of their time. When weekends and breaks arrive, most students prefer to relax rather than worry about global issues. This is the life of an American student. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, but more is out there that students should experience if they want to get the most out of their education.

When I traveled to Costa Rica this summer I was not expecting the 10 days I spent there to be such a life-changing journey. It was like a breath of fresh air to be in a country where people were as concerned, if not more, about the environment as I am. In Costa Rica, it’s difficult not to be aware of your surroundings when you are engulfed in such natural beauty. If Americans were able to experience what it’s like to rely on the land and its rich biodiversity to prosper, they might also be as environmentally conscious as Costa Ricans. Even though life in Costa Rica seemed like paradise to me, they have their problems just like any other country.

One thing I noticed is that education is not as easily accessible for Costa Ricans as it is for Americans. While traveling through the Monteverde Cloud Forest, our tour group had the chance to witness first-hand what a school day is like for young Costa Ricans. The elementary school we visited consisted of one small building with a single classroom taught by one teacher. Students that wished to attend high school, located in a neighboring town, had to catch the school bus at the crack of dawn and would not return home until nightfall. Regardless of their situation, the students and teacher alike seemed grateful for the things they did have as did all the Costa Ricans I came across.

I had the pleasure of meeting some of the friendliest people while in Costa Rica. It was obvious that they took joy in the simple things in life. They always seemed to have smiles on their faces, laughing and having fun no matter what they were doing. When I had trouble conversing with them or tried to buy something with American dollars instead of Costa Rican colones, I expected them to be frustrated with me, but they just laughed and were very patient with me.

Unlike Americans, Costa Ricans aren’t constantly in a hurry to be somewhere. They appreciate the beauty of their surroundings and don’t take life for granted. By studying abroad, students will be able to learn, just as I did, that the American lifestyle is very different than the lifestyles they might observe in other cultures. Studying abroad will not only help students appreciate the lives they live, but also help open their eyes to a different way of living.

Students must realize that there is more to life than homework, partying and worrying about the future. Other people on this planet don’t have the luxury to get an education or go out and party. They are more concerned about surviving day to day much less worrying about where they will be in the next 10 years.

I cannot express how important it is for students to take advantage of the opportunity they have to explore the world around them. The world offers so much more to see than the inside of a classroom. By studying abroad, students can personally experience what they read about in their textbooks and become more aware of the other cultures and environments that exist on this planet. Fortunately, the opportunity to do all of these things is readily available for college students. Before graduating, settling down and starting a career, I advise all students to travel outside of their comfort zones to study, teach, work or even volunteer abroad. Now is the time; don’t let it pass you by!

For more information about the study abroad program at Columbia College please view the college’s Web site at

Costa Rican elementary school students with their teacher 
wearing traditional clothing. Photo by Amanda Noel.

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