Pre-Departure

Truth be told, I never thought I would be able to do a study abroad program because of the costs associated with them, and I had no idea how to sign up for scholarships. So I didn’t put any effort into doing them during my time at UWB. Then the perfect opportunity came along, a study abroad trip focusing on gender, media, and human rights during spring break…in INDIA! Practically my entire undergraduate education was centered around this topic, especially in India, it was meant to be. However, the cost almost scared me away again. But I knew that I had to at least try, and I’m so glad I did.

After my acceptance (which was a super exciting day for me!!), the Global Initiatives team were extremely helpful and encouraging, helping me step-by-step for the scholarship application process. It was my first time applying to one so I figured I wouldn’t get it, but here I am! It took care of half the cost of the tuition for this program, leaving so much of the financial burden behind. I was, and still am, truly grateful for that.

I was really excited for this trip and couldn’t stop thinking about what it would be like! But when I started to tell people about it, the outcome was usually not so great. Here’s what a typical conversation would look like:

Me: “I’m going to do a study abroad program!!”

Friend: “Cool! Where?”

Me: “India!”

Friend: “Oh…why?”

Practically every time!! No one understood (or wanted to understand) why I wanted to go to India. They warned me and told me I would get sick from the food, that’s hot, and that it’s dangerous for a woman to go. All they really knew about India was negative, which was clear to me that they did not really know anything about the country. But it didn’t work. No one could talk me out of this amazing opportunity. I knew it wouldn’t be a vacation on the beach, but I knew I was meant to have this experience that would push me out of my comfort zone and help me grow.

That being said, I still did a lot of research on what I should bring. I got all of my shots, special bug spray, toilet paper, medicine, snacks, shoes, and probably the biggest struggle was finding suitable clothes. We were told to only wear baggy clothes, none that really showed our figures, so I had to buy an almost completely new wardrobe. I’m glad I did because I was comfy in the hot weather and I didn’t draw a lot of attention to myself, but at the same time, shopping over there was plentiful (and AMAZING) so I didn’t need to over-prepare as much as I did.

By the way, if you’re not used to eating Indian food, it might not be a horrible idea if you started to work on your spice tolerance. The food I ate was some of the BEST food ever, but also incredibly spicy for my pallet.

Okay! So more specifics on the structure of my program! We had to attend three orientations: each were 4 hour meetings that went over health, safety, and cultural adjustment issues, as well as historical and political information about India to prepare us for this trip. Our last pre-departure meeting was held at a Hindu temple. This was a very interesting experience, as it was many of our first time being exposed to this type of environment. There were lots of colors, statues, rituals, which we were all amazed by, but also were a bit caught off guard because we didn’t understand what was going on. I think my tip to those of you who are thinking of doing this program is to do a bit more research on your own and ask lots of questions to your professor so you know how to conduct yourself in these environments and know what to expect. Otherwise, it was a great experience and the people there were so welcoming and kind. We got to eat really good food afterwards which was a plus!

I think some of my pre-departure tips for India are to:

  • Keep an open mind. Don’t have set out expectations of what you feel you must do while you’re abroad. Plans change and you need to be flexible with whatever happens.
  • Know that you may feel uncomfortable with a lot of the things you see and experience.
  • Understand what privileges you hold and how that may affect your experience. (Ex. a white male may have a different experience from an asian female. I will explain this more later on.)
  • Pack light! You only get 1 carry on luggage. Hand-washing clothes is easy, you can do it!
  • Bring toilet paper and feminine care items. Toilet paper is not really something that is common in their bathrooms. (Also be prepared to use the squat toilets…they’re not as scary as they look!)
  • Bring a scarf. It’ll protect you from the heat while also being useful to cover your body when necessary (such as a low-cut top or if you are visiting a temple to cover your head).
  • Bring a water bottle and stay hydrated! Only drink filtered or boiled water down there, as the tap water is not safe to drink. Same goes for raw foods, be very cautious with these.
  • Learn a little bit of Hindi! I downloaded a free Hindi app on my phone and learned a few phrases such as “Hi, my name is…” and “thank you”. It shows as a sign of respect to the locals there that you took the time to try and learn their language.
  • Have fun! This is a once in a life time opportunity to travel with your classmates and study this curriculum. You are going to have a fantastic time!

The longest week of my life…

People travel from all over the world to Savegre, Costa Rica to see this bird–the beautiful Resplendent Quetzal

So next week I will FINALLY be leaving to study abroad. I have my itinerary but since I’m unfamiliar with where I will be I’ve been going over it closely and researching some of the places I will be studying. Since this is a traveling program, I won’t stay in the same place more than a few days. This allows us to venture all over the country and experience the extreme biodiversity Costa Rica is known for.

I’m almost done reading my second book about the environment, and have been conversing with the other 13 participants. It’s important to get to know your colleagues BEFORE you leave, since these are the people you will be living and learning with for the length of the program. Also, don’t be afraid to contact your program directors (if you have any)–they are just as excited to be going as you are! I got an email the other day that the t-shirts for study abroad ambassadors are in, but since I live so far from Bothell I won’t get to have it to take to COsta Rica with me. Bummer. But I will wear it with pride when I get back!

Here’s an idea of some things I will be doing:

  • Poas Volcano study
  • Dota Coffee tour
  • Hummingbird Study
  • Los Robles rainforest hike
  • Waterfall hike in Savegre
  • Restoration ecology study
  • Bird sanctuary study
  • Corcovado Monkey study
  • Coast Hike and people study
  • Mangrove tour
  • Zip line/tree climb study
  • Learning and having fun!

Wish me luck.

-Maggie

Homework

Tropical Plants of Costa Rica, The Ticos: Culture and Social Change in Costa Rica, and A Neotropical Companion: An introduction to the animals, plants, and ecosystems of the new world tropics.

Tropical Plants of Costa Rica, The Ticos: Culture and Social Change in Costa Rica, and A Neotropical Companion: An Introduction to the Animals, Plants, and Ecosystems of the New World Tropics.

Well, I’ve only got 48 days before I fly out to beautiful Costa Rica but I still have plenty of prep work that needs to be done! Studying abroad is a lot about the experience, but there is plenty of school that still goes with it. These are the three books for my exploration seminar to help me understand the environment and culture in Costa Rica. The book on the left is the only one I will be bringing with me to Costa Rica since it’s a plant identification guide, the other two I will finish before I depart.

Some fun things I have learned in my readings so far:

  • Acre for acre, the lowland¬†rain forests¬†in Costa Rica have the most diverse flora and fauna in the world
  • Costa Rica boasts a 93% literacy rate, and proudly have more teachers than soldiers
  • Ticos (the name given to natives of Costa Rica) practice flowery language laden with compliments so as not to sound rude
  • Despite extreme natural diversity, there are only 4 types of monkeys
  • Above all else Ticos cherish peace, freedom, family, and education
  • Costa Rica is only twice the size of Vermont but has 350,000 species of insects

I’ve got lots of reading to do still, but my other preparations are going rather smoothly. I am stocking up on some essentials like sunscreen, insect repellant, and lots of quick drying clothes for hiking. I now have a lovely backpack and pair of binoculars to bring with me, which are essential since we move around so much and do several animals studies. Plane tickets have been purchased (shout out to the UWB Study Abroad Scholarship for funding my travel expenses!), and excitement is building. I love seeing “Foreign Study 303” in my fall quarter schedule–it reminds me that this is all real!

As it gets closer I will give you a sneak peek at some of the activities we will be doing.

-Maggie