While many college students spend their summer cycling through the same routine, junior middle-level education major Allie Brennan’s summer altered her life.
This summer, Brennan spent five weeks living and learning in San José, Costa Rica’s tropical capital.
Upon arriving, Brennan found a city with multiple fronts. Known for its rainforest expenditures and lavish city hotels, Brennan soon discovered trouble in Costa Rican paradise.
Within San José exists another darker world propelled by poverty.
“The citizens of San José live quite a different life from their tourist counterparts, in the real, improvised world of San José,” Brennan explained. “Most of the population lives on less than $1 a day and the actual cost of housing and living there is so expensive that the conditions that they are forced to live in are really devastating.”
The poverty-stricken underbelly of the city shocked and somewhat scared Brennan when she encountered it.
“Where I was living, San José was much more dangerous than I was anticipating.” Brennan said. “There are some serious crimes that go on around that area and basically you could never be alone even in the day time and when it came to night time it was usually best to keep indoors.”
Despite the unexpected dangers of San José, Brennan loved her overall experience studying abroad. Specifically, her favorite day was spent in a rainforest animal sanctuary.
There, Brennan saw numerous species that could not be returned into the wild. In the process, Brennan encountered a sloth. After the sanctuary, the group hiked and saw waterfalls that Brennan describes as incredible.
Brennan felt every moment of the Costa Rica experience was beneficial.
“My time abroad impacted [me] greatly.” Brennan stated “I feel much more grateful to have the opportunities I have. It also caused me to be more appreciative and not be glued to technology.”
Brennan is another testament to the life-changing experiences Illinois State University’s study abroad program provides. Like Brennan, May graduate and former study abroad participant Bayza Senbetta gained valuable experience from studying in Costa Rica.
In fact, the biggest piece of advice Senbetta offers students is:
“Living in another country and experiencing a new culture is an extremely valuable experience that will open up doors for you in the future and help you discover your passions,” Senbetta said. “Take the chance to get out of Normal for a while and grow outside of your comfort zone.”
Brennan has one specific tip for those looking to study abroad. She encourages students to go into direct enrollment when applying to the program.
“I enjoyed being a direct enrollment student and having the freedom to travel where I want throughout the country” and not have an adult or teacher guide or order me around. Brennan stated, “This taught me how to travel on my own, such as doing research on how to use public transportation and what hidden places to visit.”
Overall, studying abroad in Costa Rica confirmed Brennan’s passion for teaching.
“It [studying abroad] made me realize how much I would love to teach English as a second language (ESL) all around the world if possible,” Brennan said. “The Costa Rican culture is amazing, I loved learning about it and I hope to learn more about other cultures one day through my ESL teaching profession.”