Name: Lillygol Sedaghat
Major: Political Economy
Minor: Public Policy
Location: Costa Rica – University of Peace
Program: Berkeley Summer Abroad
Why did you study abroad?
I believe that it is the responsibility of any student to go beyond the confinements of the classroom and learn about other lifestyles and people by experiencing firsthand what it means to belong to another culture. I have always been interested in the traditions, values, thought-processes, and spirituality of others and saw study abroad as the way to expand my world views. In being immersed in a completely different setting, surrounded by a people and language I was not fluent in, I was able to partake in a cultural and academic journey far beyond what I had ever imagined.
What did you learn from your study abroad experience (e.g. in and outside of the classroom)?
I learned about a completely different culture that was unlike the one I had been raised in. Costa Rican culture places a heavy emphasis on family and love, and through my interactions with my host family-- who did an incredible job of attempting to integrate me into their family and community-- I learned new things about what it means to love within the context of having a close-knit family. Furthermore, I learned that regardless of how broken or complex one's life could be, it would always be family and friends that could better one's life. I also gained a strong sense of spirituality in being so close to nature and learned to love the beauty of the foliage and life around me; in not having a phone to absorb myself in, I saw life through a completely new lens and was influenced by the Costa Rican saying of 'Pura Vida,' which means Pure Life. The people faced a great deal of problems, but they still managed to maintain a highly positive, upbeat, yet very chill lifestyle.
Inside the classroom I learned about the concept of human security, a coming-of-age phrase that is attempting to replace the current state security mindset that many nations continue to rule their citizens and handle their international affairs by. I also learned about the vital core, the various inherent rights that all human beings possess, the war on terrorism, the Arab Spring, and human security in the context of international human rights.
What was the most memorable/meaningful aspect of your time abroad?
Aside from thoroughly enjoying the rich, delicious food, I enjoyed being a part of the cultural activities that were going on within the city. During the time I was there, the town hosted a Sports Festival and at night, there were various vendors selling food and typical Costa Rican clothing articles and souvenirs. They also had a festival every evening where various groups would play music and crowds of random strangers would come together, share in the magic of the evening, and dance. Being surrounded by the people and having the opportunity to engage with random strangers and sharing a common experience was the best part of the experience.
Describe a typical day for you abroad.
A typical day in Ciudad de Colon, Costa Rica began with me waking up in my own apartment, which was attached to my host family's main house, to the warm embrace of the morning sun and the numerous chirps of the various local birds. From there, I would gather my belongings and then head outside to the main household where I would eat a homemade breakfast meal everyday. The meal varied on a daily basis but usually consisted of cereal with tropical fruit- mangoes, strawberries, papayas- and then a cultural dish, be it gallo pinto, a Costa Rican staple breakfast food of rice and beans, or a corn tortilla bread with eggs, vegetables, and sausage. After consuming my morning meal, I would meet up with two other classmates and together we would walk through the narrow, busy streets of the small town and past the various food and shopping vendors to arrive at the bus stop that would take us up to the University of Peace. We would then travel in an average yellow bus to the top of a mountain, approximately seven kilometers away, and proceed to a lecture hall for a three hour lecture with all the other students who came from the Great Lakes Region of Africa and various European and Asian countries. After lecture was lunch and most students would purchase their mid-day meals at the cafeteria; normally, several side dishes were served, including an option of cut papayas, a salad, in junction with a main course, which would consist of a meat option with vegetables, and of course, beans. After enjoying lunch on the outdoor terrace, we would return to class and then split up into discussion sections to discuss the previous evening's reading material, which were led by individual students themselves. Soon after, the school day would end and I would either head to the computer lab to continue on my assignments or take the bus back home where I would simply stay at home and sit on the outdoor table on the terrace and study until dinner time.
What would you recommend to students considering studying abroad, especially to your country and program?
Costa Rica is one of the only nation-states that does not have a standing army; therefore, all the money that would have gone to its military and defense spending is allocated towards social services. I believe that because it is the strongest developing nation in Central America that many people live good, simple lives and live life by the phrase 'Pura Vida.' That is not to say that it does not have any problems, for I saw a great deal while I was there, but the emphasis of family, community, and the open expressiveness of love are some of the most beautiful and treasured things within that culture that I believe every individual, especially coming from the perspective of being raise within the context of mainstream American culture, should have the opportunity to view and live. The University of Peace is also a great school and has a large number of resources; its students come from nations all across the world and it is the true definition of what it means to be in a diverse and cultural setting. In having the ability to learn about not just one, but many cultures, is an even more enhancing and enriching experience.