Steeped in a New Culture Spending the summer in Nicoya, Costa Rica, helped Montgomery Owen '21 to strengthen his Spanish language skills.
Name: Montgomery Owen ’21
Hometown: Nashville, Tennessee
Majors: Business Administration and Spanish
What was your academic background and interest that led to this experience?
I began taking Spanish classes in high school, where I quickly found myself deeply intrigued by the culture, language and opportunities that the language presented. Once at Washington and Lee, I continued taking Spanish courses with the goal of becoming a fluent Spanish speaker. After spending a semester with Professor Jeff Barnett studying Spanish literature, he offered an application to study abroad in Costa Rica for the summer. I ultimately spent 6 weeks there learning the language, immersing myself in the culture and gaining three EXP credits.
Tell us a bit about your summer experience.
I spent six weeks living with a host family in Nicoya, Costa Rica where I learned Spanish one-on-one with very bright, interested professors. In addition, several days a week I volunteered at an elementary school where I worked as an English teacher assistant in helping kids ages 6-13 improve their vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation. I was also able to travel every weekend to explore all throughout the beautiful country of Costa Rica.
What was a typical day like?
Each day my host mother woke me up around 7 a.m. and prepared me a delicious traditional breakfast of gallo pinto. I would then walk five minutes to my school and enjoyed coffee with the teachers before starting class. At noon, I would walk into the middle of town and try a new place for lunch each day while soaking up the unique, quaint culture of Nicoya. Then, depending on the day, I would either attend afternoon classes at the elementary school, hang out with some university students, or take a short bus ride to the beach to enjoy the nature.
What was the most challenging aspect of the experience?
For me the most challenging aspect was what ultimately made my Spanish abilities drastically improve during my stay: the many, many different accents of the native speakers. Whether I was speaking with my host family, 20-year-old university students, professors or children, each person had their own slang words and accents that all were a little different. I learned so many new phrases and colloquial words that some people thought I had moved to Costa Rica.
What did you like best about the location?
Nicoya, Costa Rica, is centrally located in the Guanacaste province of the Nicoya Peninsula. When people think of Costa Rica, they think of this region. Drowning in vegetation, life and views, this area is easily one of the most natural and pure places I have been. Not to mention Nicoya is one of five blue zones in the world, which is a measurement based on quality of life. That said, the town is more a community; everyone knows everyone and their families, people are trusting and they live healthy lifestyles. Another aspect I liked was the close proximity to several beaches.
What have you learned at W&L that helped you in this endeavor, and what have you brought back to your life on campus?
Before arriving to Nicoya, I can honestly say I was not quite sure what I had signed up
for. However, the ambiguity of my summer quickly dispersed when I arrived and began talking with my host family. I felt very prepared from a linguistic standpoint from my classes at W&L, but what made the difference was the cultural facts and knowledge I have gained throughout my classes. I could keep up in conversations anywhere from talking about Costa Rica’s economy and government to their deep cultural history. Something I want to bring back is the Costa Ricans’ collectively positive outlook on life. Although it’s slightly different in the U.S., as we have an incredibly fast paced society, I admired the way the Costa Rican people as a whole dealt with stress and responsibility. It’s just important to not lose sight of what is going on around you.
Has this experience impacted your future plans in any way?
Although I can’t distinctly say, what I am sure of is that my interest in learning language and being immersed in new cultures while being able to travel, talk, and develop new relationships with new people is a focus I want to pursue. I hope to get back to Costa Rica soon!