Swanson School of Engineering Study Abroad Scholarship Blog Post Two: Language Barrier

Hi, my name is Leanne Boody. I am a rising sophomore in the Swanson School of Engineering. I participated in Pitt’s Plus3 program studying in Costa Rica for two weeks to learn more about the country, with a focus on the coffee and banana supply chain. 

Leading into the trip, I was well aware of my limited Spanish. I intended to try and learn some conversational Spanish in my free time. However, my spring classes kept on going without much regard for my language pursuits, and Spanish took a backseat. Basically, I showed up in Costa Rica with the ability to count to ten which was about as useful you’d think. I didn’t think this would be a huge problem as my two other abroad experiences to Africa and Europe had never involved language barriers. I was very wrong, as very few Costa Ricans (Ticos) speak  Spanish, including our host mom.  

Communication was a lot of smiling, nodding, and pointing at first. One of my roommates spoke some Spanish, but this offered limited help when we were trying to understand what exactly it was that we were eating. By the end of the two weeks, I had picked up a few words, but nothing near conversational. I really relied on my two friends who spoke fluent Spanish throughout the trip. I would recommend figuring out who in the group has the best understanding the language, and it might not be a bad idea to stick close to them when out in unfamiliar places. Beyond that, Google Translate can be helpful for things like signs and menus, but not that helpful in bonding with your host family. 

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