Bonner grad completes Costa Rican study abroad
Bonner Springs High School graduate Chelsea Simmons recently got her first stamp in her passport as she studied abroad, and she hopes it will be the first of many.
Simmons spent her fall semester, August through December, studying Spanish and Latin American culture in Costa Rica. She said she hopes the experience will benefit her in the future as she moves into a career in psychology.
Simmons, who graduated from Bonner in 2008, is now a junior at Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where she is majoring in psychology and Spanish. She said that since she began applying for colleges, she knew she wanted to study abroad.
“I like learning about other cultures, and I feel it’s really important when you’re still college age to get out of your native culture and experience the native living in another culture,” she said. “I feel like it really opens your eyes to the world.”
Coe College offers study abroad opportunities through the Associated Colleges of the Midwest, and Simmon’s Spanish professor at Coe had been a program advisor in Costa Rica in the past, so he recommended the program to her.
The program was based in the country’s capital, San Jose, where the program has its own educational building.
While it was her first time outside of the United States, Simmons said being in a larger city meant there wasn’t too much of a culture shock at first. Palm trees and signs in Spanish were the biggest difference, she said, though there were occasional American stores, as well, such as Quizno’s.
“There’s a very strong U.S. influence there,” Simmons said. “So it was a new culture, but there were definitely familiar sights.”
Simmons took classes for 30 to 50 hours a week, depending on the week, focusing on the local culture and language. As an elective, she took a course about music in Latin America that was taught by a well-known Costa Rican musician.
Students also took field trips to different historic and cultural sites, and when they had free time, they would travel to beaches.
For three weeks, Simmons and the other students left San Jose and lived with rural families. While in the country, Simmons did volunteer work as a teacher’s aide for preschoolers at an elementary school.
Simmons has taken six years of Spanish, and she said while she felt she knew the language before going to Costa Rica, she wasn’t very comfortable speaking it at first.
“I was always doubting myself and wondering if I was right,” she said. “I feel that’s where I improved the most while I was in Costa Rica, my comfort with it.”
The country celebrated its independence day while Simmons was there, and she said it was interesting to see how they celebrated with parades and traditional dances.
The last week she was there, Simmons and other students visited a volcano, where they hiked, swam in natural hot springs and went ziplining over the rainforest canopy.
“So that was just an amazing two days,” she said.
Simmons said she wants to continue traveling the world. After she completes her undergraduate degree in the spring of 2012, she will continue on the graduate school to get a doctorate in psychology.
She hopes to make use of her experiences abroad in her professional career.
“In addition to wanting to work in a facility with Spanish-speaking clients, I feel like this trip really enabled me to help see things from a different point of view than that of my own culture,” she said.