By Carter Lovvorn

Carter Lovvorn ('20) is majoring in Spanish with a Global Health minor. In this interview with the Global Education Office, Carter shares how just one short, action-packed month on Duke in Costa Rica yielded a long list of benefits.

  • Photo of Duke in Costa Rica students visiting the Seguro Social
We had a 'charla' with one of the executives of the health care system in Costa Rica.

Tell us why you decided to do this program.

There are a few main reasons why I decided to do the program. First off, I am a Spanish major and Global Health minor. Since the class is cross-listed in the two fields, it was right up my alley. I love speaking Spanish and loved the prospect of being immersed in the language with a homestay, a class taught in Spanish, and, obviously, conversing with locals around town.

Also, I had previously been to Costa Rica and had fallen in love with the culture while I was there. So, I knew I would meet some incredible people that truly cared about those around them. Finally, I knew that I wanted to study abroad while at Duke but also knew that I didn’t want to miss a full semester (or even really a full summer). This program gave me the opportunity to study abroad and still have two months of summer left to enjoy some time off from academics. 

Photo of students meeting a doctor at an EBAIS, a local level clinical care facility.
We met with a doctor at an EBAIS, a local level clinical care facility.

Thinking back to what you expected this program to be like, would you say anything surprised you or turned out differently?

There were a few things that surprised me about the program, all for the good, though. First, I didn’t expect to make some of the connections and friendships that I did in only a month. The morning I had to leave my host family, we all embraced in a hug, and none of us wanted to let go. They became like a real family so quickly, and I still keep in touch with them today. The same goes for the kids on the program. We spent so much time together that by the end of the program we knew each other inside out. We still have little “reuniones” at Duke all the time. All this being said, a month is plenty of time to establish some amazing connections and friendships.

Second, I was a bit intimidated with the syllabus before coming. There is a lot packed into a short time. However, there was time to get everything done thoroughly, spend time with family, and spend time enjoying all that Costa Rica has to offer. This is not to say that the material or the class was easy or boring. I really enjoyed learning the material and feel like I got so much out of the class but at the same time never felt pressure or stress about my work. 

Photo of students buying local fruit at a market in Heredia, CR
The group enjoyed getting to explore a local market in Heredia, where we are seen enjoying some of the local fruits.

Tell us about your greatest takeaway from this program.

My greatest takeaway from the program is the idea of living for something other than yourself. In Costa Rica, the culture stresses the importance of community and those around you. In my interview with my host father, I discovered how the Costa Rican people have truly embraced the idea of a healthcare system where everyone gives their money for the betterment of the country.

Similarly, the importance of family and the support that is given among family members left an impression. I was loved and treated like one of the family members, showing, once again, the importance of living for someone other than oneself. While there were many other takeaways from the program, this cultural idea that is instilled in so many in the country is probably the most memorable part of the program that I am currently incorporating in my life.

Photo of students visiting a local school and sharing about our experiences with some local kids.
One of our afternoon activities involved going to a local school and sharing about our experiences with some local kids.

How did/will this program affect your career interests or next steps after graduation?

The great thing about this program is that you get a full overview of the way the public health system works in a different country. So, I learned about nutrition, the environment, policy, medicine, and much more and how all of these factors affect or are affected by Costa Rica. It exposed me to so many different sides of the health field.

All of these factors can be explored immensely through research. So, the experience definitely makes me want to dive into research, both now and after I graduate. The further acquisition of the Spanish language can only help with any sort of research I may be doing, especially if I were to carry out any sort of research that may compare public health policy and proceedings between a Hispanic country and, say, the U.S.

Photo of students learning to dance la bachata in Costa Rica
One of my favorite activities was our dance class, where we learned numerous Latin dances (In this photo we are dancing 'la bachata').


Photo of students attending a Costa Rican soccer game
The people of Costa Rica take their soccer very seriously and so did we!

What advice do you have for other students considering this program?

Just go for it. It’s such an amazing experience that I wish everyone at Duke had the opportunity. Also, you don’t have to be super into global health like I am. Every day brings a new lesson, so if one topic isn’t as interesting for you, the next day probably will be. An example of this is the amount of freedom we have with the final project. My group ended up exploring the education sector within the country, while others explored the environment and others tourism. So, all this being said, there is a breadth of study and opportunity on the program.

Next, don’t feel like you will be stuck in a classroom all the time. We have class in the mornings and then would go out in the afternoon. Some of these day trips included visiting schools, hospitals, or just hanging out in metro San José, the capital of Costa Rica. Also, there is plenty of time for family activities with your host family.

Finally, almost every weekend we would go on some kind of trip, either to a volcano, an island, or the very cool town of Turrialba, where we spent about a week. Once you do decide to go, just take advantage of the opportunities that are presented to you and go with the flow. That’s how you’ll get the most out of the program!


Carter Lovvorn
Spanish, Global Health minor, Class of 2020
Duke in Costa Rica
Summer 2017


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