“It has changed my life,” says Veronica Segura Picado of San Jose, Costa Rica. Luis Bolanos Gomez, of the Province of Alajuela, Costa Rica agrees, “It was just amazing.” Veronica and Luis are summing up their time here as exchange students from the University of Costa Rica.
The two students arrived in Regina in the frigid temperatures of late December. “We didn’t know anything about Saskatchewan and we were counting the days to come here,” says Luis. “We were expecting a big city, but no… We were not expecting the flat land,” says Luis, with his hands outlining the horizon.
Veronica adds, “Our first reaction when we got out of the plane was, ‘Snow!’ We were super excited.” Luis adds, “We don’t have snow in Costa Rica!”
After spending a winter semester at the University of Regina, however, Veronica admits there were times she didn’t like the cold weather. “Twice, I froze my feet and I was at the point of wanting to cry, ‘Why am I here?'” Luis, however, maintains that, “winter was amazing.”
At the University of Costa Rica, Veronica is in her 4th year of a Bachelor’s degree in Teaching English (as a second language), with only one semester left to finish. Luis is finished his Bachelor’s degree in Teaching English and will convocate in August. Competency in the English language is important in Costa Rica. Luis says, “It is a must to speak English if you want to get a good job.” Veronica adds, “International companies are coming to Costa Rica and you have to know English to get a job.” Their aim in becoming exchange students was to improve their English: “We wanted to go to a country where they speak English. We wanted to come and practice and learn.” When their exchange coordinator told them about Canada, they said, “Yah!”
While at the University of Regina, Veronica took Linguistics and Diversity, English as a Second Language, and Introduction to Dance Education. Luis took English as a Second Language, Self and Other, and Acting Theory and Practice. When asked about the highlight of their time here, Veronica responded, “Everything! It has changed my life.” Before she came here, Veronica says, “I didn’t really like children.” But volunteer work with ESL and ELL students gave her a new perspective. She says, “Oh, it changed my life, working with children from Syria, Africa, China, Korea; for me it was just amazing. I also did work teaching Spanish, being the teacher of Spanish with 29 kids—all of them speak English—it was amazing because they got super engaged with the classes.” When the class was over, Veronica was touched when her students said, “We [will] miss you a lot…will you eventually come back to teach us Spanish again?” Veronica says, “Now I love children.”
For Luis, “the most amazing experience here is the multicultural environment, like knowing people from all over the world, knowing differences about culture, everything about those experiences that make people, people.” Veronica agrees, “Here in a multicultural environment, I have met people from 34 different nationalities and that is really of value to me. I learned to be super tolerant of differences because here you have different cultures and you know how to live with that, like being patient.”
For instance, Luis says, “We know a guy from Japan who is so on time for everything, but for us we are, so very relaxed. Same, for example, with hugs and kisses, we are used to that; every time we see somebody and say goodbye to somebody, we hug and kiss, but here, with most of the countries, they are like ‘no, just bye.’ Being tolerant and understanding that there is a completely different world from our culture and the world we know to be there—it opens your mind.”
As for difficulties, Veronica and Luis agreed that stereotypes were a negative aspect of their experience here. They offer this advice: “If you don’t know where someone is from, just ask; don’t make assumptions based on appearance.” Costa Rica is not the same as Puerto Rico, and is not in Mexico or Africa. “At the beginning it was kind of fun, but when a bunch of people don’t know anything about your country… it feels better if you ask, just ask.”
Other learning included becoming more confident, and more independent. Veronica says, “Every day you have to cook for yourself; you learn how to live by yourself; you have to be independent. This experience has been the experience in my life!” Luis adds, “It was just amazing. Here you learn to have more confidence. The first week here, the university was closed, and we had to start meeting people. We had to find and get to know people. It was a great experience…really helpful. One of the best experiences of my life.”
Both Luis and Veronica stayed in the residence, which they found added to their experience. Veronica says, “Residence is so good: the activities they prepare for you, and exposure with other people are really good.” Luis adds, “Exchange students are super close. There are students from Brazil, Italy,…we speak English when we are together.” Luis values, “all the friends that we made, people that we will never forget, who will stay in our memories forever.” Veronica agrees and adds, “People from Canada, you are so amazing—I love Canadians. You are so kind and you are willing to help people, no matter what, you are always willing to help people. It’s amazing.”
Veronica plans to return. She says, “if everything goes well, I will be here in May next year to, eventually, take my Master’s here. I love Regina.” As for Luis, he plans “to go all over the world, visit all my friends, and eventually come back to Canada. Why not!”