NPC_SpanishCosta Rica is just so green!” says Joshua Wenger, “Everywhere I looked was amazing. When you’re from Arizona and you go to Costa Rica, it’s just a life-changing experience.” Almost half of Costa Rica’s land is covered by lush, green forest with dozens of national reserves and parks. The country boasts close to a thousand different species of birds; over two hundred volcanic formations, of which five are active; a diverse animal population; and white sandy beaches — all in a country the size of Kentucky!

Northland Pioneer College’s study abroad program in Costa Rica has been changing the lives of NPC students for years. Participants live and travel in Costa Rica for a month and are required to take a Spanish class at the University of Costa Rica. They are immersed in the Spanish language and are encouraged to experience the country’s vibrant culture and natural beauty. Wenger, a student at NPC’s Holbrook campus, was the most recent to make the trip this summer, and he affirms that the study abroad program was an educational experience of a lifetime.

Although no previous language experience is needed, at first Wenger wondered if his limited Spanish would actually detract from his study abroad experience. But he found the university instructors and friendly attitude of the locals to be very helpful. “I’ll admit, I was a little nervous at first, especially being in a program where all I would hear is Spanish, but they teach it in a way where you’re able to pick it up fast and under-stand everything that’s being said. I left Arizona feeling like I knew no Spanish at all and came back being able to understand the majority of what is being said to me. I love that!”

Wenger’s statements echo other NPC students who have gone to Costa Rica in years past. They agree that Costa Rica is beautiful, educational and an exciting, once-in-a-lifetime experience that they would absolutely do again.

NPC student Sterling West went on the trip in the summer of 2014. “Going to Costa Rica has absolutely been the high-light of my life so far.” West truly enjoyed the opportunity to improve his Spanish at such an accelerated rate. “I really feel like I learned two semesters of Spanish in a month. I left understanding a little, but came back with a much deeper understanding of the language.”

But along with learning a new language, many of the past participants reflect on the culture and people they met as the highlights of the trip. Jessica Houston, a former NPC student who went to Costa Rica in 2013, looks back fondly on the family she stayed with. “I loved my study-abroad ‘Mom.’ She was truly an amazing woman who made me feel at home because she genuinely cared about my well-being. She made breakfast and dinner every day, gave me advice on the safest and cheapest ways to travel and constantly reminded me to take an umbrella because she knew that where I came from, it didn’t rain practically every day! One of my favorite memories is of her teaching me to prepare Patacoñes, a Costa Rican dish I was able to make for my family when I returned to Arizona.”

All three students utilized their week-ends to travel the country and experience the culture. “I was able to experience so many new things even in just walking down the streets or eating at some of the local restaurants,” said Wenger. “I’m just grateful that I took the opportunity to go. I really feel that studying abroad changed my perspective on the world.”

The Costa Rica program is offered through NPC each summer from late June through the end of July and is open to the public, as well as all NPC students, regardless of Spanish-speaking ability. NPC’s Student Government Association offers current NPC students the opportunity to apply for scholarships that cover tuition or provide funds toward the cost of the trip.

The application deadline for this year’s trip is Thursday, April 28, 2016. You will need to have a valid U.S. passport. Details are available on our website.

– Michael Nilsson