Experiential Learning

Until my first year away at college, I had not traveled out of the country. I had flown from Washington to Florida and yet never took the relatively short trip from my Washington hometown across the Canadian border. The year I got accepted as a student, my university started a new study abroad program for freshman honors students. Selected students would be the first January class at the university’s new campus in Costa Rica. It seemed like the perfect excuse to travel abroad: get college credit, avoid the winter snow, and meet other students. I got accepted to the program, and I received my first passport the fall before we left.

On the plane from Phoenix to Costa Rica, a Hispanic couple sat next to me, and for three and a half hours, they spoke nothing but Spanish. They watched Interview with a Vampire with Spanish subtitles on a small laptop. With nothing better to do, I followed along with the subtitles while attempting to subtly watch over the wife’s shoulder. I couldn’t hide it for long. When they started a second movie, the small woman noticed me and moved the laptop in front of her so I could see the screen better. My head hurt from trying to understand the fast subtitles.

I asked the couple for their names, but I couldn’t pronounce, let alone remember, the names they said. Even though I had taken a beginning Spanish class the semester before to brush up on my high school language skills, my Spanish was still limited to disjointed, basic conversation. The couple was eager to talk to me, even though neither of us could form complete sentences in the language the other party understood.

They told me they were returning home and wanted to know why I was visiting Costa Rica. “La playa?” the husband asked. No, not the beach, I replied in Spanish and searched for the words to explain. “Un clase en mi Universidad, uh, con otros estudiantes y un profesor.” I pointed out where some of the other students on my class trip were sitting, spread out among the rows.

The couple smiled and nodded. The husband spoke too quickly for me to catch the individual words. His wife repeated what he said so I could make some sense of the words I recognized. They wanted to tell me about Heredia, the city where they lived. “La Ciudad de Flores.” The way they talked, it sounded beautiful even though I didn’t know all of their words. They insisted my class had to visit Heredia.

When we landed, I knew I wouldn’t see this friendly couple again, my first taste of Costa Rica. We said good-bye and I joined the other students. Now that we had arrived, the full weight sunk in of my impulsive desire to have an adventure. I had left my home, my country, for the first time and with people I barely knew. Waiting in line at customs, I had a moment of panic as I imagined being turned away and told that I couldn’t enter Costa Rica. But two people had welcomed me into their country even before we left the plane, and I don’t know their names.

Categories: Airplanes, Trips

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