Author: Mia Casas
Location: San José, Costa Rica
For my senior year at Valparaiso University, I planned to study abroad in San Jose, Costa Rica. Truthfully, the semester prior, I waited til the last minute to decide that this was an experience I wanted to commit myself to doing. I was unsure if it was possible, given that I needed to fulfill certain requirements in order to maintain my May 2020 graduation date. Still, I worked diligently to meet with my academic advisors, talk with my study abroad advisor, complete application forms, apply for scholarships, etc. all within a limited timeframe. I am proud to say that I did it. I met all the deadlines and was accepted into the program, and even earned a scholarship from the Study Abroad office. For the rest of the summer, I worked to save up money for my study abroad experience, and looked forward to the payoffs, come Fall Semester.
Sadly, exactly two weeks prior to my scheduled departure, I was in an accident that left me with several severe injuries. I fractured my nose, my orbital socket, two fingers, my shoulder, and four ribs. In the process, I punctured my lung, causing it to partially collapse. So I was hospitalized for 5 days, and advised not to fly for at least a month. I was devastated, and couldn’t bear the thought of not going to Costa Rica and trying to register for classes at the main campus. Nonetheless, I needed to inform the Study Abroad office of my change in circumstances and told them I could not participate in the program any longer.
To my surprise, I received an email back from Heidi Michelsen, the Director for the Costa Rica study abroad program, pitching the idea of arriving to Costa Rica at a later date. She wrote to me saying, “We are willing to work with you on other configurations of classes and timelines,” in addition to sending prayers for a speedy recovery. I was overwhelmed by the amount of love and support I received from her to help fulfill my dream of studying in Costa Rica. She offered me support in every way possible, from modified class schedules, homestay accommodations, learning accommodations, and even healthcare accommodations — more help than I ever could have imagined.
Ultimately, we made arrangements for me to arrive about a month into the program, September12 to be exact. I was able to complete online coursework with Heidi and the rest of the cohort for the first four weeks, and arrived just in time to travel with the rest of the cohort for our study tour to Panama and the Caribbean coast. Heidi even helped make arrangements for my mom to travel with me for the first few days. Although I certainly did miss out on some experiences (the cohort has already participated in several other excursions), Heidi and the rest of my peers went above and beyond to make the most of my situation. I participated in class lectures via video calls, I even attended sessions with guest speakers via video calls, and the group took pictures and recordings of their excursions to share with me.
When we arrive back to San Jose, we will all begin Spanish classes at the University of Costa Rica, and I will resume the rest of the Costa Rica program as normal. I salute the Study Abroad office and Heidi Michelsen for their efforts and concentration in accommodating each student’s specific needs. The level of service Heidi and other staff have demonstrated is not found in every college campus, nor in every office at Valparaiso University. I am grateful for my experience, thus far, and look forward to continuing this experience in Costa Rica.