In 2011 Katie Eckberg transferred to EIU and became a major in the dual licensure program in Special Education and Spanish. Given her special interests and the unique program she had entered, Katie realized how important it was for her to study abroad.
She had begun studying Spanish her freshman year of high school and had continued throughout her first years of college. However, she knew that just doing Spanish in class wasn’t enough for what she wanted in her future career:
“I’m really good at reading textbooks and telling you everything, but I didn’t really know how to speak. So I knew I had to get abroad to practice that.”
After talking with her major advisors and consulting with the Study Abroad office on campus, Katie decided to attend the Universidad Veritas in San Jose, Costa Rica for the spring semester of her senior year.
The program she chose at Veritas was an intensive immersion program that required several hours of class each day in which the sole language of instruction was Spanish. In addition, she lived with a host family who only spoke Spanish.
A typical weekday would start with a 6 a.m. wake-up call followed by an elaborate breakfast prepared by her mama tica, which is what she called her Costa Rican host mother. Her classes would begin at 8 a.m., would last four hours and included speaking, reading and writing assignments. After class she would explore San Jose, tutor other students or hangout with her host family. On weekends she traveled with friends:
“As soon as classes were done on Friday I would have my duffle bag ready, and we would go straight off to wherever we were headed.”
Katie also learned to overcome and ultimately to appreciate cultural differences. For example, she learned that Costa Ricans had a different attitude toward time than what she was used to back home. She noticed, for example, that most people wore watches but never really looked at them.
“If I was going to meet my Costa Rican friends at 2, I wouldn’t leave the house until 2:15 because they weren’t going to get there until 2:45. Americans go minute by minute, but in Costa Rica they hardly even pay attention to time.”
Katie learned that for Costa Ricans the idea that “time is money” had little meaning. However, for the people she learned to live among, “relationships are the most important thing that comes with time spent together."
Her mama tica also taught her little things like to avoid smiling at strangers because they think you’re flirting or if you go to someone’s house even just for coffee, it is polite that you bring something.
Katie insisted that she learned the most by watching how her host family would interact and then emulate them in her interactions with other people.
More than anything Katie credits her EIU professors with giving her the skills and knowledge she needed to study abroad. In particular, Dr. Kristin Routt, one of Katie’s Spanish professors, was exceptionally helpful in preparing her for the her time abroad.
“The professors all have this thirst to get to know other cultures and their languages. TheDepartment of Foreign Languages gives you opportunities to learn more and do more,” opportunities that are only available through language study.
Katie’s career plan is to become certified as a bilingual special education teacher. She intends to work with students with disabilities in a bilingual classroom setting.