Costa Rica to the US: 5 Tips To Take Home While Working Abroad

Me sitting on a hill in Costa RicaI am from Costa Rica, a tiny, beautiful country located in Central America. When I’m home, I can hop into a car and venture to see mountains, beaches, volcanos or waterfalls in only a few hours. There is beauty everywhere the eye can see. One pastime I miss the most is climbing to the top of a tall hill after a long day at the office; sitting in the grass and watching a picture-perfect sunset, that people travel from all over the world to see.

So, why would I ever leave this little slice of paradise? Let me tell you; it wasn’t easy.

My adventure to the U.S. started three years after I joined Emerson. I got an excellent opportunity to be a deputy for a year abroad. It would be a lot of first times in my life. I would be living alone, in another country and miles away from my family. Still, I said yes, because I wanted to embrace the adventure and growing opportunities! 

At an early age, my parents inspired me that I could do anything I put my mind to. I love the quote “If you can dream it, you can do it,” by Walt Disney. It’s part of what inspired me on the path If you can dream it you can do it. Quote by Walt Disneyof chemical engineering and getting my degree.

So, in March 2018, I would put my dreams to the test when I arrived at a wide-spread Texas town called Round Rock.

Round Rock, Texas, is just a 24-minute drive from Austin, the capital of Texas. If you’ve never visited the area, it can be overwhelming at first. I was now living in Austin one of the biggest cities in the United States (a long stretch from one of the smallest countries in Central America.) The first thing I noticed was the number of highways, music, millions of people and great food.

Size comparison between Costa Rica and the United StatesOne huge cultural shock I experienced was realizing how big everything was here. A local saying is “Everything is bigger in Texas,” but they weren’t kidding! My cube, the highways, the city, the food portions, even the people are taller, (though I am kind of small for a Costa Rican.)  

Fast forward, a month into my assignment with no family or friends to relate to in such a huge area and I began to feel overwhelmed.

I realized that to make the best of this experience; I needed to work hard at creating a personal, abroad community and lifestyle.

Here is how I tried to lift my spirits in a whole new environment.

I joined a group to meet new people.  In Costa Rica, I was part of HOPE, a Social Responsibility Committee, and participated in Women in Stem activities at our office. Due to my experience, one of my coworkers asked me if I wanted to be apart of the Women in STEM committee in the U.S. I accepted, which led to fun activities to get to know my coworkers and Tatiana Arauz with the Women in STEM Group and Golfing networking. The group helped me adapt and let me get to see the town. I went to a golfing lesson and learned a ton at a design thinking workshop. Now I’m part of the committee of the Protégé-Mentors program and have a great mentor who has helped me through my transition.  

I learned to emphasize the positive and be “in the moment.” I wasn’t happy living alone in Austin. I missed my family, the food, the streets, basically everything from Costa Rica. After another bad day, I realized I had two choices: focus on the positive or the negative.  I often trapped myself in negative thinking by focusing on all the things I missed. This mindset didn’t let me enjoy the things that were right in front of me. So, I changed my mindset to focus on being “in the moment,” whether this meant going out and exploring the city or taking a class. I had to expand my gratitude. After all, not everyone gets the opportunity to go abroad.

I established a daily routine. In Costa Rica, between college, my family, and my friends, I always had something to do at home. When I first came to the U.S., I found a TON of free time to preoccupy and no routine to replace the one I left behind.  It made the days long and made me feel lonely. I started to establish my ‘abroad routine’ to fill in the gaps. I would go to a gym after work, start yoga classes and on the weekends go to a Youth Group at St Williams Church. As soon as I established a new routine, I started feeling better. Here is a great article on why establishing a routine is a great way to get the most out of your abroad experience, still be productive and avoid homesickness.

I was proactive and started taking courses online. I love to learn new things. In Costa Rica, I was working on getting my Master’s degree. When I came to Austin, I had a lot of free time, so I took advantage of it and took some online courses. I was able to get my SCRUM certification on a virtual course as part of my Masters. Websites like Coursera or edX are great resources to take free online classes and learn something new.

I got out of town and explored the country.  I love traveling and working abroad can give you an excuse to take an opportunity to see more of the country you’re visiting.  While living abroad, I made a list of all the main attractions I wanted to visit. It’s easier and cheaper to travel when all your flights are domestic. For example, I went a week to Boston last Summer for an Entrepreneur Program at Babson College. I also visited my godparents for Thanksgiving; they live in New York. It was a great experience because even though it wasn’t my first trip alone, I hadn’t explored such a big city all by myself.  If you’re visiting the area here is an Austin List.

Life begins at the end of your comfort zone. It’s been a year already, and I realized that life begins at the end of your comfort zone. This has been one of the greatest experiences of my life. I learned to live day by day, be happier and grateful. I have met beautiful people that make my life brighter, and I’m more independent. You always have to say yes to new opportunities. No matter how intimidating they seem, you will grow to face the challenge.

Soon I’ll be back to Costa Rica, and I know that I won’t be the same person that left that country 16 months ago. I’m going back to college to finish my Master’s degree and can’t wait to share with my team all the fantastic things I’ve learned abroad.

How has working abroad helped you? Reply below to comment!

  • Great story Tatiana! So happy to hear this past year has been such a rewarding experience for you!
  • This is a great article and spot on! I had the opportunity to spend four years in El Salvador in Central America and followed a similar path to be part of my new community. At first everything seemed strange, but we made choices to dive into El Salvador culture versus staying in the small NA community that existed in country. Best experience of our lives. If you ever have the chance to go abroad, even with kiddos, I highly recommend it.
  • Great story Tati! sharing your experience can inspire others to how manage being new in a new Country, office, etc. We are waiting for you in Costa Rica, we will be bless if you decide to be a member of Emerson CR - Women in STEM group See you soon!
  • Thank you for sharing your story. I had a similar experience when I studied abroad in England for a semester in undergrad. It brought back memories. I wish you all the best in your future endeavors.