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Summer in Beautiful Nicoya Sydney Lee '21 spent summer 2019 studying Spanish and falling in love with the town of Nicoya, Costa Rica.

IMG_4790-767x533 Summer in Beautiful NicoyaSydney Lee ’21 with her Costa Rican hosts, the Morales Diaz family. L-R: Jeff, Rolvin, Magaly, Sydney, Jimena and Maribel Briceño.

Hometown: New Orleans, Louisiana
Minors: Latin American and Caribbean Studies

 What was your academic background and interest that led to this experience?

After taking Spanish-American literature with Professor Jeff Barnett, as well as Introduction to Latin American and Caribbean Studies with Professor Seth Michelson, I knew that I wanted to improve my Spanish and spend my summer in Latin America. I discovered the program in Nicoya through Professor Barnett, who recommended it as an immersive, less touristy experience. I registered for LACS 452-01, which is an EXP course that counts for my LACS minor.

Tell us a bit about your summer experience.

It’s difficult to put my month in Nicoya into words. Before leaving in June, I had very few expectations for the experience, knowing that whatever the circumstances, I would do my best to adapt and thrive. Well, it was easy to thrive in Nicoya. I was extremely lucky to be placed with the most wonderful, fun host family. My host dad, Rolvin, host mom, Magaly, host grandmother, Maribel (or, as we call her, Tita), 19-year-old host brother, Jeff, and 14-year-old host sister, Jimena, as well as their many friends and extended family, made me feel extremely welcome throughout my time there. They embraced me as a member of their family, including me in each and every family outing as well as joking around with me as they would any other daughter or sister. We became very close, and I still communicate with them daily as well as plan to visit again soon.

Other than spend time with my family, I attended Spanish class every day from 8 a.m. to noon with my professor, Priscilla Ramirez. After classes I would either volunteer at the nursing home or help Tita babysit a little girl from the neighborhood. On the weekends I went on adventures with new Costa Rican friends from the town or accompanied my family on outings.

Tell us more about your average day there.

Every morning I woke up around 7 a.m. to take a cold shower and eat a delicious breakfast prepared by my host mother or Tita. Breakfast usually consisted of gallo pinto (a mix of black beans and rice), a tortilla, some type of meat, and coffee. After breakfast I would walk the five or so blocks to La Academia Nicoya, where I took Spanish classes. Priscilla and I conversed about topics such as politics, philosophy and culture as well as discussed Spanish grammar and vocabulary. After class each day I would usually go by the Juice House to get a smoothie or something small for lunch, then head back home or to the nursing home to spend time conversing and reading with the residents. In the late afternoon I would often run with my Nicoyano friend or accompany my family on errands. In the evening my family and I always sat outside in rocking chairs for hours, enjoying the cool breeze of the night as well as gossiping about happenings in town. While most of the days were simple and laid back, they were never monotonous. Every day in Nicoya I discovered or experienced something new, whether it was meeting new people in town or accompanying my host mother to Zumba in the park (my favorite).

What was the most challenging aspect of the experience?

The most challenging aspect was the initial language barrier in my first few weeks. At first, I felt awkward asking people to repeat every single word they said to me, but I quickly realized how patient and kind Costa Ricans are. Everyone that I interacted with, especially my host family, was always willing to help me learn. While simple things like exchanging money at the bank or trying to be as polite as possible to my host family were difficult at first, I quickly became immersed in the diction. By the end of my month, I felt very comfortable speaking Spanish and was able to converse openly with everyone.

What did you like best about the location?

I fell in love with Nicoya. It’s a small, tightly knit town surrounded by lush green mountains. Playa Samara is only 30 minutes away, as is Playa Carrillo. On my host sister Jimena’s 14th birthday, we all hopped in the car and drove to the movie theater in Tamarindo, only a short 45-minute drive outside of Nicoya. Everybody in the town seemed to know each other, so I was introduced to so many different people, many of whom became my good friends while I was there. My house was small but beautiful. It was very centrally located, so every place I ever needed to go was within walking distance. The family car broke down in my first week of being there, so we did a lot of walking, which I loved. Some of my favorite memories are when Tita and I would walk all around town searching for the perfect washcloths and pharmacies for all of her cleaning supply needs. There was one occasion in particular when I really got to know the town. As soon as I walked up to the house after meeting with a friend in the Parque Central, Jimena and her friend begged me to accompany them on a photo shoot. We ran all around town taking photos in front of beautiful houses and the colonial church until it began to rain.

Essentially, Nicoya is the perfect place to learn Spanish and witness firsthand the kindness of the Costa Rican people.

What have you learned at W&L that has helped you with this endeavor, and what have you brought back to your life on campus?

While my Spanish 240 and LACS 101 classes certainly prepared me for my time in Latin America, it was my entire first year of college that prepared me to go abroad. At Washington and Lee, I learned to adapt to new situations and circumstances, which was a necessity of my experience. Furthermore, W&L taught me how to better converse with others as well as how to be open to meeting new people. Without having adopted these characteristics into my personality during my first year at W&L, I probably would not have had the confidence to embark on this adventure.

I have definitely brought with me an increased willingness to meet new people and take advantage of diverse opportunities. The simple, more tranquil lifestyle in Nicoya is one I am trying to implement into my own life, wherein material things are unimportant. I try to remember that strong relationships with family and friends are essential to a happy life. Furthermore, I try to worry less. Whenever I start to get stressed or overwhelmed, I remember sitting in rocking chairs on the street with my amazing family as the evening sky turned purple.

Has this experience impacted your future plans in any way?

Absolutely. I plan to return to Nicoya in order to visit my host family as soon as possible. I am confident that they will be in my life for a long time, and they even made me promise that I will bring my future children to meet them someday. Furthermore, I hope to teach or work in Latin America in the future. It is such a beautiful region full of diverse cultures and the most hospitable, selfless people. I can’t wait to go back to beautiful Nicoya soon.