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Rugby Offers Opportunity to Improve Spanish Skills

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Study abroad in Costa Rica with IFSAStudy abroad in Costa Rica with IFSA

Ella Gianino discusses how practicing with the local White Wolves ruby team helped her overcome language barriers and experience an additional facet of the Heredia community.

How did you get involved in rugby in Costa Rica?
My host family and I usually go to the neighborhood park to play soccer in the evenings. It was at the beginning of the semester, and we were kicking around on the futsal court when we saw a team arrive for a practice on the grass field carrying rugby equipment. My host dad, knowing I play rugby, got so excited and immediately headed to the field to ask the coach if I could join in on practice. Thankfully, not only were the practices coed, but they were more than happy to welcome me to practice with them, which I did twice a week during my semester abroad here in Heredia.

Study abroad in Costa Rica with IFSA

What has been your experience?
Becoming an honorary member of the Heredia White Wolves has immeasurably added to my experience in Costa Rica. I have created a whole new circle of friends and mentors, as well as improved my Spanish through the demanding, rapid-fire communication style of sports. Of course, it was also a great way to stay fit and prepare for my summer and fall seasons, and to experience life in the Heredia community beyond Universidad Nacional and my homestay.

I have been able to share aspects of my culture and experiences playing rugby in the U.S. with the team’s coaches and vice-versa, which has been a wonderful learning opportunity, and allows me to learn about a side of Costa Rican culture that I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to observe. I have made friends on the team that I’m sure I will maintain connections with long after I leave the country, and I will definitely miss training with them twice a week.

What has been one of the main challenges?
A main challenge at first was definitely the language barrier and my ability to communicate quickly and effectively with the team. However, through developing my fluency with the IFSA program overall and by practicing the common phrases we use during practice, I became much more confident and capable when it came to on-field communication, which happens at a much snappier pace than the everyday conversations. Of course, joining any new group is difficult, especially with the challenges language presents, so I was more reserved at the beginning. However, I quickly overcame that (there really isn’t much room for being shy in rugby) and soon was laughing and goofing around with the rest of the team like we’d been playing together for ages.

Ella Gianino attends American University and studied abroad on the IFSA Universidad Nacional Partnership program in Costa Rica in Spring 2022.