I know it sounds like a sensational title, but it’s actually true. Let me explain. I studied biology in undergrad, and while I was a strong student of mathematics, Chemistry evaded me.

To begin with, I was not a morning person, and frequently arrived late to my 8 am class, often with breakfast I still had not eaten.

Once, I even remember the professor saying to me “Michele, what are you doing here? It’s only 8 am!

I had gotten nearly failing grades on two exams already, and I knew I was in trouble. I had never done so poorly in a class before, so I decided to look for some help.

I started attending tutoring

My university offered free tutoring sessions from other students in the evenings, so I decided to sign up. I started bringing my classwork and lab work to get help. I also went to my professor’s office to ask questions about answers I got wrong and things I didn’t understand.

Overall, I made a huge effort to really learn what I was missing.

My tutoring sessions became regular and I often saw the same tutor, which was helpful with continuity. While we worked, we got to know each other, and he told me about his experiences studying abroad. He studied in Chile and Costa Rica through the same study-abroad organization.

Through tutoring, I learned about studying abroad

I had never considered studying abroad and didn’t know it was possible where I attended school. I was on a combination of scholarships and student loans at a small private university. My school did not overtly advertise experiences like this. I didn’t exactly have the extra funds to go on such a trip.

Not only that, but I realized I hadn’t ever even been on a plane, let alone out of the country. I grew up in a small town called Rock Hill, South Carolina. It’s true that going to college away from home was a step towards not staying in the same place forever. However, I had never considered such a big change as leaving the country or studying in a foreign university.

Still, the stories of my tutor intrigued me, and he told me everything he did to make it happen, including the steps I could take to do it too. I learned that my financial package would directly cover the expenses of the program, including the tuition, housing, and food costs.

All I would need to do is pay for my flight, and any other things while there. The financial burden was now taken care of, it also turned out that the program in Costa Rica cost significantly less than my own tuition for a semester. This meant the remainder of my financial aid would be transferred to me, which was plenty to live off while abroad.

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I began to consider studying abroad in Costa Rica

I could hardly believe I was considering this, which was a huge life step for me, but it was really starting to seem possible. My tutor had shown me where to go, which program to study through, how to cover the costs, and that it was doable.

I decided it was worth looking into, so I contacted the faculty at my school who mediated studying abroad. Then, I reached out to the program to inquire about studying in Costa Rica with them for a semester.

I had to move fast, because this was the last semester of my junior year, and my time in university was quickly running out. I found out the study abroad program offered a focus on Environmental Studies in Costa Rica during my last semester and decided to apply. They accepted my application, and my school also allowed me to attend using my financial aid package!

This meant it was time for me to start working on logistics. For starters, I didn’t even have a passport. Ironically, a friend of mine after class one day said she was heading to the post office to apply for hers and asked if I wanted to join. I already had my documents in my bag as I had been planning on it, so that was that. We went and got our passports and I was officially on my way towards my first international trip!

While abroad, I traveled all over the country

Studying abroad in Costa Rica turned out to be the spark to a lifetime of international and local travel for me. Initially, as I read about things like vaccines and prevention of malaria in parts of the country, or its neighbors Nicaragua and Panama, I thought oh that won’t affect me. 

I will only be in the capital city where I will be studying. Instead, I ended up traveling around the country every weekend due to the fieldwork in my program. I even split my spring break between the Caribbean coast and Nicaragua!

You could say I was hooked. I learned that I was perfectly comfortable staying in a hostel for extremely low prices, flexing my plans, and getting to know strangers. Though I had little to spend, I was able to see much of the country and even traveled to places I never imagined I would go. Once I returned, I realized I did not even know my own country as well. I started making travel a priority in my budget and taking any opportunity to see new places.

Studying abroad changed my life

I even met my husband while studying abroad. We got married in Costa Rica before moving to Washington State where I discovered local travel and hiking.

Now I have traveled to 9 countries and more than half of the states in the US. I have driven up and down the coasts and across America on road trips, visiting nearly 20 of our national parks.

I think it’s safe to say that I have been bitten by the travel bug.

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