Anna Balas graduated in 2019 with a double major in Spanish and Environmental Science & Policy. She also pursued the Sustainability Engagement certificate. The summer after her freshman year she studied abroad with the Duke in Costa Rica program, located in Heredia.
On how some of her ideas/perceptions changed as a result of doing this program...
“This was my first time living in a country outside of the U.S. It was so important for me to experience a different culture by fully immersing myself in the country’s day-to-day lifestyle, rather than quickly visiting on vacation (staying at hotels away from Costa Ricans). With this program I had the authentic Costa Rican experience by living with a host family; this allowed me to get a taste of what life is like for Costa Ricans. I began to challenge the portrayal of Latin America in the American media. I watched Costa Rican news, which provided an accurate depiction of Costa Rican citizens and their concerns. I saw beyond the country’s political instability and gangs. And I got to witness the stories that didn’t make it to international news outlets. I also got to know the Costa Rican lifestyle of “puravida,” which is easy-going and focuses less than us on stress and production. In essence, this program helped me suspend judgement of another culture, allowing me to simply experience it.”
On why she decided to do this program...
“I decided to do this program to increase my fluency in Spanish and to experience life in another country. I decided on this particular program, as opposed to other Spanish programs, because in my experience Spanish classes at Duke are taught by Spaniards or Mexicans. I wanted to learn Spanish from a different nationality.”
On what she expected this program to be like, what surprised her and what turned out differently?
“The class I took was focused on health, and I’m not a pre-health major, so I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the class. It was about social determinants of health and the free government healthcare system within Costa Rica. We had access to very important policy makers in Costa Rica, and I loved visiting different health care centers even though I’m not interested in pursuing a healthcare profession. Also, I couldn’t get over how gracious and caring my host family was. They were eager to help me practice Spanish and they were extremely patient when we couldn’t understand each other.”
How will this program play into the rest of your undergraduate experience?
“This program played a big part in my decision to major in Spanish. It was also the reason that I returned to Costa Rica with DukeEngage the following summer. I’m so grateful that I had such a wonderful experience and that the program expanded my worldview. I feel lucky to have learned so much before beginning my sophomore year.”
On advice she has for other students considering this program...
“Take advantage of the opportunity to learn from your host family. It’s easy to stick with Duke students and speak English, but you’re only in the country for four weeks and your host family can be such an incredible resource as you learn about the language and country.”