SIDNEY — Matt Leach, student at Mount Vernon Nazarene University, majoring in intercultural studies, participated in a study abroad Jan 3-April 22. The experience was intended to allow him to learn Spanish while living in another culture.
Being immersed in the culture presented some challenges.
“The greatest thing I learned was not something I could get from a classroom, but from experiences. This was the culture in Costa Rica. It was amazing to experience a new culture, but difficult because it is so different than my own. I loved learning about the people, their jobs, their cooking styles, and lifestyles in general,” said Leach.
Being a particular eater, Leach had some difficulty adapting to the food. In the interest of being polite, he decided to do his best to try new foods.
“Food is a major part of the culture and community in Costa Rica. Meal times are used not just to eat, but to spend quality time with others. I wanted to make sure I tried my best to be fully a part of these meal times by being in the conversations and trying the new foods. I was blessed to live with a great host family that cooked mostly food I liked,” said Leach.
Being immersed in a language he didn’t know very well presented Leach with its own challenges.
“It was constantly a struggle to talk to anyone, anywhere. I knew some Spanish, but not enough. It was a struggle the whole time, from trying to talk with my host family about my plans to trying to go see a movie and order the correct movie ticket. The good thing is that these struggles helped me with learning to continue to be persistent and try to learn as much as I could in the time I was there,” said Leach.
Leach was surprised to find that there was much more to learn than the language and the culture.
“The most surprising thing was that I learned how to deal with people. I was in a language school with about 15 people in my classes every day. When you are around the same people for four months in a new environment, you learn a lot about others. I learned how to problem solve, manage my way through a new country, and understand people on a deeper level,” said Leach.
The trip was a rewarding experience that brought Leach to a new understanding of himself as well as the language.
“I am very glad I went on the trip. I learned so much and it stretched me a lot. I not only learned Spanish while there, but that I learned that with God I can do anything. I learned how to deal with people better. I also conquered some fears by going on the longest zipline in Central America facing straight down. I also went parasailing on a beautiful beach and went whitewater rafting and horseback riding. I am so grateful for the experiences that I had in Costa Rica,” said Leach.
The immersion in the culture led Leach to a new appreciation for the it.
“This trip allowed me to see a beautiful country while learning about an amazing culture. I was able to see the hard work of all of the Costa Rican’s, especially my “Tica” mom who worked every day to make sure I was comfortable. But I also saw the hardships of children in poverty and those in need within another country. This was an experience that I will never forget and I could not be more grateful for it,” said Leach.
The writer is a regular contributor to the Sidney Daily News.
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