Student hit her stride while studying in Costa Rica
By Ashlee Larrison
GCU News Bureau
When Hailey Borrowdale Mendez was prepped for her opportunity to study in Costa Rica, she was warned about the phases she likely would go through.
The honeymoon phase.
The “I hate everything that’s different” phase.
And, finally, the “everything is OK” phase.
It’s the culture shock that comes with integrating into a foreign culture. But the Grand Canyon University senior never left the honeymoon phase of her two semesters with Students International.
“The relationships I’ve built here, the culture that exists here, I feel like I fit in somewhere,” the Honors College student said. “I know that this is my place.”
Mendez was mainly in Costa Rica from the beginning of the spring 2021 semester to the end of July but also studied in Ecuador for two months.
It worked well with her major, Sociology with an Emphasis in Social Work. Her classes included one on people and culture and another on transformational development, and she also did an internship. It also motivated her to add a minor in Spanish to her degree program.
“GCU was amazing about it,” Mendez said. “They had no problem transferring the credits and getting me that minor so that the classes I was taking here would actually count for something.”
Mendez grew up around Spanish speakers — her mother’s family emigrated to the U.S. from Puerto Rico in the 1970s and ’80s — and took Spanish courses in junior high and high school, but she never considered herself fluent. Then she got to Costa Rica and had to speak Spanish, and now she believes she is as fluent in Spanish as she is in English.
“I love my level of fluency, but I know that I’m not 100% fluent,” she said. “I think that for people who didn’t grow up Spanish speaking, I feel like in that way my story is a little encouraging because I didn’t grow up speaking Spanish but people on the street here always mistake me as a local because I just put so much work into it.
“Being in Spanish-speaking countries for the last almost eight months has completely changed everything.”
Language wasn’t Mendez’s only area of growth. She also strengthened her relationship with God and her faith as an adult.
“God was just always this parental figure for me,” said Mendez, whose mother died when she was young. “I didn’t have this faith in God because I had studied it, I had faith in God because it was a necessity for me to survive.”
Being around missionaries in a country that emphasizes faith motivated Mendez to build her relationship with the Lord. Costa Rica also gave her a new perspective of the world and her place in it.
“For me, it was more of realizing that my place doesn’t have to be the United States just because I was born there,” she said. “I think I just knew I didn’t belong there, but I didn’t know why before I studied abroad because the States is all I knew.
“Being different in the States doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with you. It just means that you probably fit in somewhere else.”
Although Mendez plans to finish her senior year in Arizona, renting an apartment with a friend she made in Ecuador, she’s eager to return to Costa Rica. She has talked with Students International staff members about returning next summer to be a liaison between the short-term team and the permanent staff. After that, she hopes to do another internship or possibly even start an English site.
“That’s my dream,” she said.
For now, Mendez will act as a student representative for Students International on campus in the hope of motivating others to take advantage of the opportunities provided to them through GCU’s connection to the organization.
“I think it’s beautiful that GCU makes it a priority to have relationships with so many organizations and that they give their students the opportunity to get to know other cultures and to grow their perspective,” she said. “There are schools that students have to pay their normal tuition and their study abroad tuition for their study abroad summer when they’re not even on campus. The fact that GCU just lets us pay our study abroad tuition is amazing.”
To those on the fence abut whether to study abroad, her advice is simple:
“Life is so short, so if you want to do something, if you feel like you’re meant to do something, if you feel like God is calling you to do something, then you’ll find the means to do it.
“The door is so much easier to open than you would think.”
Contact Ashlee Larrison at (602) 639-8488 or [email protected].
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