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AlumNews: Talon Articles

Students study abroad in Costa Rica

Tuesday, February 26, 2008  
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By Lori Woodfin For most students, studying abroad means participating in either European or Pacific Rim Studies programs. This semester, juniors Ashleigh Hess, Danna Nieto, Luke Roe and Clint Music are skipping the cold Oklahoma winter and studying abroad in Costa Rica. This and many other study abroad options are available to students through the university's affiliation with the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU). Oklahoma Christian students have also studied abroad in places like Martha's Vineyard Mass., Los Angeles and Oxford University. "After hearing about Allison Bower and Amie Hersh's experiences, I knew I wanted to experience it myself," Hess said. Hess is a double major in teaching English as a foreign language, (TEFL) and Spanish, and despite nine years of learning Spanish, she is still finding words she does not know. "My struggles here are that I still don't know all the vocabulary," Hess said. "It's just like English – you are always learning new words. However, my host family is very patient with me." Hess said her host family is her major source of improving her Spanish. Nieto didn't know much Spanish before going to Costa Rica. "I knew enough to get by, but we live with host families, so attempting to communicate it is an adventure every day," Nieto said. Nieto likes to spend her free time with her family. "I have really been focusing on spending time with them because they do a lot for me, and they are just incredible," Nieto said. Although Nieto misses her family, friends, ice cream and sports, she is not missing the weather. With daily temperatures at 80 degrees, Nieto said she would not trade it for Oklahoma's cold weather. Sunny weather in Costa Rica doesn't necessarily mean no class however, as the students are in class every day during the week. "Just because I'm in Costa Rica doesn't mean I don't have homework," Hess said. "We always have papers, which include interacting with the locals and interviewing them about various aspects of their life in Costa Rica." Nieto has enjoyed listening to speakers share their points of view of the United States. "It is incredibly interesting what we don't learn when we live in the states," Nieto said. Music went to Costa Rica to improve his Spanish and to learn about a new culture, but is learning more than he expected. "I was very surprised to find out that we weren't here solely to learn Spanish but to better understand U.S.-Latin American relations, and to kind of step back and look through the eyes of someone who doesn't have our experiences and our culture," Music said. Not only is Music understanding the cultural difference, he is also seeing the realities of life firsthand. "It was hard to see people actually struggle with problems like poverty and homelessness and the differences between being an American and a Christian," Music said. "Before this trip, I didn't realize that there was such a big difference between us." Like the other students, Music is enjoying his host family as well. He said the best part of his days are spending time with his host family who has three boys around his own age. Hess said the group is diverse with students from other colleges such as Bethel University in Minnesota and Biola University in California also studying abroad with the CCCU program. Nieto likes the diverse group, and feels it is an advantage to have a group who has many different church backgrounds. The students have been able to visit other cities in Costa Rica besides San Jose, where they live and go to school, and are also scheduled to travel to Nicaragua, Panama and Cuba this semester. Hess said trips likes these are opportunities of a life time. She encourages all students who are considering study abroad trips to go, even if the student is fearful and apprehensive. "All the challenges and weird things only make you stronger and focus more on God and his work in your life," Hess said. While st udents might speculate Hess and her fellow classmates are just hanging out and having fun, there is more to the story. "I feel like I have learned more this past month than I have learned in all my years of education," Hess said. "It is so eye opening, and helps you affirm what you believe in and question what you don't." Nieto also encourages students to consider the CCCU program. "It will blow your mind and more than that, it will change you," Nieto said. "In my opinion, you will be a better person for it." For more information on CCCU study abroad programs, visit

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