Ellen Miller felt a sense of family as she immersed herself in a study abroad program at Veritas Universidad in San Jose, Costa Rica.
Miller, a soon to be senior with the UW-Stout tennis team, spent most of the month of June studying Spanish in the Central America country of Costa Rica, a country that is becoming known as one of the most attractive tourist destinations in the western hemisphere.
“My favorite part of the trip was the people I met and made memories with,” Miller said. “For a month, these people were like family. I would not have gotten that type of experience had I not studied abroad.”
Miller, a UW-Stout dietetics major with a Spanish minor, studied Spanish at the University along with about 30 other US students involved in the CEA-sponsored program through the UW-Stout Study Abroad program. Miller concentrated on learning medical Spanish.
“The grammar was review, but the terms and overall knowledge and phrases were new and hopefully useful in my career as a dietitian,” Miller said. “In my home city of Racine, and many other cities, we have a high Hispanic population.”
Miller would attend class from 8 a.m. to noon daily, but she said her education continued throughout the day.
“Much of the classwork was very simple for me, but the interaction with other Costa Ricans (throughout the day) was a challenge as I’m a little bit more shy when it comes to speaking Spanish,” Miller said. “My host mom (Myrna Vega Ortega) would often help me with homework or presentations and would correct any errors.
“My host mom’s grandson also took some classes at Veritas Universidad and would stay over some nights at her house. He was very helpful and a fun part of the atmosphere, too. All of us would play games together and eat a hearty meal together.”
Miller spent several days volunteering at a local day care during her stay.
“We helped clean, grade workbooks and assist the kids in play, snack and nap time,” Miller said. “One day I was asked to help the older kids study for their English test.”
Of course, no study abroad program is complete without touring the countryside. The CEA program had set up excursions to Manuel Antonio National Park where they were guided through the rain forest and were able to spend time on the beach on the Pacific Ocean side of the country.
Another weekend was spent viewing Irazu Volcano and the Arenal Volcano and Hot Springs. Futbol (soccer) was on the agenda and Miller and her group went to a World Cup qualifying game where they saw Costa Rica defeat Trinidad, 2-1.
“I am the least likely person to voluntarily go to a soccer game since I am not really a fan of the sport,” Miller said, “but the atmosphere was contagious.”
In addition to zip lining one midweek day, the team also took a weekend trip to Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean side of the country, a spot that was very hot and humid, Miller said.
Miller’s parents, Anita and Brian Miller, spent a week with her at the end of her excursion and she was able to put some of her training into practice.
“My parents don’t speak Spanish very much, so before I left (for classes),” Miller said. “I jotted down some important phrases like ‘Good morning/afternoon/evening,’ ‘Where is the bathroom?,’ ‘Help me, please,’ ‘I do not speak Spanish,’ and ‘Do you speak English?’”
Miller found the UW-Stout Study Abroad staff extremely helpful in the process of arranging her trip.
“I frequented their office for information about the program, credit transfer information, assistance in my original application and, in the very beginning, I was unsure about where to start, so I just talked to them,” Miller said.
Miller said she originally was considering Spain, Nicaragua or Costa Rica, but after much discussion with the Stout staff, determined that Costa Rica was her best option.
“This experience helped more with my minor, but it should help with my major and allow me to communicate better in my field of dietetics,” Miller said. “I also learned a lot about health and the food they serve. (Miller took an elective foods class.)
“Diversity and learning about other cultures and how others strive to be healthy are a huge part of my major and that was a good thing to see. This has added to my confidence not only in the language, but also in expanding my boundaries.”