How Studying Abroad In Puerto Rico Changed My Life

During my junior year of college, I was experiencing the worst financial struggles, as most college students do. I was frustrated with seeing the same people in my South Georgia, country-town campus. I was depressed by not achieving personal academic goals. All I wanted to do was to drop out of school and start over. I wanted to leave everything behind, but I knew that wasn’t a great idea. One day a friend of mine invited me to a study abroad forum. That night many students shared stories of their abroad experiences. They talked about the good times, bad times, and times when they wanted to give up. They all agreed that it was the best decision they had ever made in life, and they would certainly study abroad again. Instantly, I knew that I was going to study abroad the upcoming spring semester.

The following days I frequently visited Valdosta State University’s Center for International Programs. According to my major, my options were to spend the spring in Germany or Puerto Rico. Now I do not know a lick of German, but I could hold my own in Spanish. I decided to send my application to the University of Puerto Rico- Rio Piedras. It is the biggest, the oldest, and one of the most prestigious universities on the island.I began to scream in my linguistic class when I received the confirmation email that I had been accepted to study abroad at the UPRRP. For the first time in my life, I was about to embark on a journey, and I was not too sure where it would take me. I did not know what to expect, but I knew that I was going to find myself in Puerto Rico.

When I first arrived in Puerto Rico, I was terrified because, well, one, it was my first solo experience; two, my flight was delayed so I landed at night; and three, the taxi driver dropped me off in front of my dorm and left without helping me take my bags to the door. The next morning I woke up thinking, "where am I, and what did I do?" I even freaked out because I thought I did not have hot water, instead of just simply turning the handle. The day was spent getting adjusted to the Puerto Rican life. I made some friends, completing security errands, and had my first Puerto Rican dish, arroz con gandules y pollo. Some days I felt out of place, especially when it came to communicating in Spanish. I was super lost at orientation because Puerto Rican Spanish sounds like they sing when they speak, which I was not accustomed to. Therefore, I changed all my classes to English. I remember getting frustrated that my fears were stopping me from communicating with others until I met my best friend Mic, who inspired me to really immerse myself in the Puerto Rican culture. He inspired me to listen to the music, explore the island, and get to know the people.

I had amazing professors that semester who inspired me to stay in Puerto Rico. I took creative writing with Guillermo Rebollo -Gil, which allowed me to develop a new love for prose. Literature and our love for Puerto Rico united my classmates and I. During the weekends we would leave the San Juan area and head to Piñones, El Yunque, Rincon, Caguas, and many other colorful towns. I was introduced to the Afro-Boricua culture by my Spanish professor Maria Elba Torres Muñoz. She took me to events where I was introduced to many African influences on the island like their Bomba y Plena, many traditional foods like mofongo, and got to see that the African diaspora has impacted the world in numerous ways. This connection as a Liberian- American, made me want to travel to as many Spanish speaking countries possible so that I could learn about the many African descendants.

I began to fall in love with the Puerto Rican culture, and more importantly I began to love myself. I began to be patient with life, I saw the world in a new light, and I felt super connected to God. From this experience, I then returned home, switched my major from Special Education to Interdisciplinary Studies, and graduated the following May of 2014. Upon graduation, I traveled to Panama and Guatemala. Both places were amazing experiences but my heart belongs to Puerto Rico. In March 2015, I was accepted into the Graduate Program of Hispanic Studies at UPRRP. I officially moved back to Puerto Rico In July 2015. It was the best decision of my life. It has given me many opportunities to continue moving forward unafraid. I am a true believer that everything happens for a reason, I also know that you can achieve anything you put your mind to. I hope that you all get to experience studying abroad throughout your college years. It will definitely change your life.

If you want to keep up with my life abroad please subscribe and follow me on IG/ Twitter at @EssahCozett, or you can read my poetry here.

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