Study Abroad Stories: Katie in Costa Rica

These are the real thoughts and experiences of people who studied abroad. With these stories, we hope to inspire, educate, and entertain those who are debating whether or not studying abroad is right for them. Want to share your story? Send us an email at info@grassrouteadventures.com or tag us on Instagram using the hashtag #studyabroadstories.

Katie left her propulsion engineering career in order to create a location independent lifestyle. She is currently completing her Divemaster internship for scuba in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. After, she’d like to focus on travel, charity, and scuba in her personal blog, Katie’s Hustle.

  • Name: Katie Fitton
  • Country/place of origin: A small town in Connecticut, USA
  • Where you studied abroad: Costa Rica
  • When you studied abroad: Fall/Winter 2011
  • College/university that you studied abroad with: Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, MA – we have required projects to complete prior to graduation, and many students elected to do their projects abroad
  • Describe your study abroad experience in 3 words: Independence. Maturity. Identity.
Why did you decide to study abroad? Why did you go where you went? 
I decided back in early high school, but it may have been something that I always wanted to do. I planned to major in engineering and play college softball, which isn’t exactly the most condusive scenario to make studying abroad happen. Looking to balance all three was something that I prioritized when deciding on a school. I chose Costa Rica because I was really excited about learn more about the unique wildlife and bio-diversity while also getting the chance to develop my Spanish-speaking skills.
Where was your favourite travel destination while studying abroad? 
It’s a solid tie between Monteverde and Montezuma. Monteverde is a cloud forest reserve with insane biodiversity, and Montezuma is a hippie beach town along the Gulf of Nicoya. I remember truly appreciated Monteverde’s unique environment and the preservation efforts of endangered species within the region. Montezuma won me over with its artistic vibe, and I had an insane excursion with horseback riding along the beach.
Waterfall Montezuma Beach
This is at a waterfall along the ocean, past Montezuma Beach in the Gulf of Nicoya in Puntarenas, Costa Rica. We arrived there via horseback along the beach… it was an incredible day!

What is your most embarrassing/craziest study abroad moment? 

Not embarrassing, but I developed some very real feelings for a local guy! My favorite memory of us takes place at Castro’s, a classic dance club where he taught me the basic steps to salsa and bachata. I can still do each to this day. Alas, nothing more than a major connection came from that. I definitely recall crying at the airport, knowing that I would probably never see him again. This story has a happy ending though, as I managed to connect with him this year, 6 years later. It was an awesome evening of catching up, and our rapport came back so easily.

What was the best thing you ate while studying abroad? 

I want to say Pops, the local ice cream chain, but I’m going to go with the amazing jerk chicken dish I had in Tortuguero. We got it from a mom-and-pop restaurant with a heavy Caribbean influence.

What did you miss most about home when studying abroad? 

Not much, other than food. Is that bad? I missed bagels, salt and vinegar chips, peanut butter, and iced coffee.

What was the biggest challenge you faced while studying abroad?

The biggest challenges were right at the start. I hit a small bout of homesickness the first night, but it was gone and never to be seen again by morning. I also had the difficult task of navigating Spanish-only communications for about 15 to 20 people on my first day. Before that, I had never spoken Spanish outside of a classroom.

What is your fondest memory from studying abroad?

I could point to several memories, but I am most fond of my growth. I came truly alive in a way that I had never experienced. Travel unleashed a different side of me, I developed a new-found confidence in my independence. I craved the chance to connect with people from around the world, and really enjoyed learning about their cultures. 

How has your study abroad experience impacted your life?

It was the spark that lit the fire of a major lifestyle change. I uprooted a successful and growing engineer career in order to make travel the primary focus. This difficult transition seemed simple in the sense that I never lacked the motivation needed to make it happen.

Any last words of advice for people planning to study abroad? 

Take logistics and fears out of the picture and listen to what your gut is saying. Make your decision there. You can always come up with a plan for finances and schedule concerns, and you can gather the support of loved ones to support you in conquering your fears. I have several friends that missed out on the chance, just because they reasoned themselves out of it. 

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