Every year, SPI Study Abroad awards one outstanding student with the La Esperanza Scholarship, a full scholarship to participate in SPI’s Costa Rica program. This year’s winner was Lulu Atik, an exemplary student and leader from Decatur High School in Decatur, Georgia. Don’t miss the following interview with Lulu, in which she discusses her favorite parts of the program and how her life was impacted by her study abroad experience!

1) What did it mean to you to be the recipient of SPI’s La Esperanza scholarship?

Receiving the SPI scholarship made my dream of perfecting my language skills financially possible. Many students cannot afford to travel, so I was lucky to be a recipient of this scholarship. Going abroad and immersing myself with the Spanish people and culture has always been a dream of mine. Immersion is the best way to learn a language, not by taking notes in class and never being able to use it in real life conversations. I have always wanted to be able to hold a conversation fluently, and this trip gave me the opportunity to do just that. During my trip, I always thought about Mrs. Diane’s experience abroad and how I was able to step into her shoes and experience the same excitement and anticipation she did while being abroad and learning a new language. This scholarship gave me an experience of a lifetime and motivated me to keep learning Spanish. It made me keep doing everything I can in order to improve my Spanish. In addition, it motivated me to search for more programs for future travels. I will always remember this trip and the people that I met, all thanks to the SPI scholarship. This scholarship was my first step into the Latin American world, and after this trip, definitely not my last.

2) How has this experience impacted you?

I have always wanted to learn Spanish. I have taken Spanish for five years and I still was not on the level I was happy with. I had so many butterflies in my stomach because I was super excited. Practicing my Spanish in a Spanish-speaking country 24/7 pushed me to my highest potential even though it was exciting and nerve-racking. Being in a country I have never been before, with strangers whose primary language was not English, pushed me to try my hardest and speak all the Spanish that I knew, regardless of the mistakes that I made. I wasn’t scared because this was my only chance to apply all  my Spanish skills I learned all those years in class. I took advantage of all the numerous opportunities, such as: speaking with mama tica, with teachers, and at the stores where I had to use the language (even if it was difficult to get my point across). Through this experience I became independent and did not rely on a dictionary or teacher to explain things to me. I have seen a lot of growth in my Spanish after coming home from the trip. I have also seen that an increase in knowledge also increases your confidence, because you won’t be scared to speak due to the exposure and experience you have had with the language.

Monteverde-SPI-Costa-Rica

The gorgeous natural beauty of Monteverde, Costa Rica.

SPI-Study-Abroad-Costa-Rica

A typical (read: delicious) Costa Rican meal!

3) What made your SPI experience unique or special? 

Meeting all the people in Costa Rica is what made this trip unique. I was able to form strong bonds with almost 25 strangers that I had never met before. Those relationships ranged from students, teachers, to even our driver, Don Alex. Upon arriving to Liberia, we were so shy. However, after playing a couple of games and a few ice breakers we ended up opening up to each other and becoming good friends. By the end of this trip, we became inseparable. I enjoyed all the time spent with them. I loved the fact that although we were given free mornings to do whatever we wanted to do individually, we always ended up coming together and making plans to hang out even though it was our own roaming time. We would go to restaurants some nights and bond with one another. We would also all walk together to shops, bakery, and get ice cream after school. I also loved volunteering with them at the garden. We were able to have so much fun together, while planting trees and learning about saving the environment. They were so amazing and kind to me and I will never forget them. All of the students were close with their teachers and SPI workers. We all loved our SPI group leaders, Camila and Christina, or, as we liked to call them, Ayer y Mañana. They were amazing and so cool. We were able to think of them as one of us and would make jokes and laugh about the funniest things. They made the trip so much more fun, interesting, and memorable. Being able to stay in a homestay made this trip special too because I was able to meet an incredible Costa Rican family and really get to know them well. They were like a second family and I am thankful to have been able to spend my time with them. We often went to one another’s tica family, so that really stretched my social relationship with other tica families. I feel that by meeting all these people and sharing a special relationship with them made this trip the best trip I have ever been on.

SPI-Study-Abroad-Costa-Rica

The 2015 SPI Monteverde group: una famila for life!

SPI-Study-Abroad-Costa-Rica

4) What was your favorite part of the program?

I can honestly say that everything in this program was perfect. I cannot chose only one aspect that was my favorite. Each part of the program was like a nice layer on a cake. The icing on the cake for me was probably being able to go to La Isla Tortuga. I enjoyed that this program incorporated other activities (like the cooking classes and dancing classes) that really exposed us to the Latin American culture and Costa Rican cuisine. I really like the trips that we had to the coffee factories because it gave us a lot of history of coffee in Costa Rica.

My favorite memory of this trip was the boat ride. I enjoyed the ride there with all the music, dancing and entertainment that we had. Our entertainer knew how to keep us on our feet and the island was so beautiful that I felt like it wasn’t even real. The view was beautiful and the water was breathtaking. I enjoyed the view and the nice breeze. We participated in various activities planned on the island, and it was an amazing way to spend time with my new friends. They say a picture speaks a thousand words because the picture I took on this trip will leave you speechless. I felt like I was in paradise. I literally sang to every song that was played because I felt like I was listening to my playlist on my phone. We were all having so much fun jamming to the music from all around the world from every era and language. Upon arriving to the island we had activities ranging from jet skiing, surfing ,motor boating etc. The food that was served on the island was so amazing and so delicious. I enjoyed every minute spent on that island.

SPI-Costa-Rica

Paddle-boarding fun at Isla Tortuga.

5) Do you think it’s important for students your age to study abroad?

It’s important for kids my age to study abroad because it opens many new opportunities and creates an experience that they will never forget. To be able to learn a language, one must be surrounded by the people who speak the language. If anyone is passionate about a language, they should push themselves to study abroad so that they can actually learn the language and the rich culture and history that comes with it. Going abroad motivates one to push themselves out of their comfort zone. To study abroad is an experience of a lifetime and I feel that everyone should be able to do it. You end up meeting new people, trying new things, and learning new things. It’s important for kids my age to be open-minded and try to go abroad, because it’s a decision you will never regret and it will change your life. You will leave having learnt so much, and will always remember your experience and memories there.

SPI-Study-Abroad-Costa-Rica

Soaking up Costa Rican culture at a local cafe!