Thoughts From an Alum Who Did Both!
Verto alum, Marie Foster, shares her take on the differences between her London and Costa Rica experiences with Verto.
By Marie Foster:
I spent my year abroad studying in London and Costa Rica. While I absolutely loved and learned from both incredible experiences, Costa Rica and London were wildly different.
After studying in both, I fell in love with each.
If you’re trying to decide which location is right for you, read on to see the breakdown of Costa Rica versus London!
To start off, Costa Rica is more rural and biodiverse than London’s bustling and culturally dense city.
The main difference between London and Costa Rica is that in London you can explore sites and landmarks forever and never get bored, whereas in Costa Rica, there’s less to “do” but more space to spend time with the places you’re visiting, and build relationships within the community.
There are also some fundamental differences in the Verto housing and campuses:
London: Flat-style Housing + More Independence
Housing wise, in London you’ll live in flats. There are usually 2 rooms, 2 bathrooms, a kitchen and a living room. Your classes will be a walk or tube-ride away to the Study Center. While you’ll have tons of support from your on-site staff, you’ll be responsible for cooking, cleaning and navigating the big city (like a real adult!).
Costa Rica: Dorms + Campus Vibes
In Turrialba, you’ll live on a campus with a cafeteria and dorm-style housing. It feels more like a Verto bubble, and more like a college campus. While you’ll definitely be leaving campus to explore Turrialba and beyond, keep in mind that you’ll be based mostly out of this campus and spend a good amount of time there.
London: Travel is Easily Accessible & Lots to Explore
One of the perks of studying in England is that you can easily and inexpensively travel anywhere in Europe. That being said, I actually regretted not spending more time in the UK itself, because I used all of my free weekends to visit Europe and there’s so much to see within the UK!
I wish I had designated time to visit Wales (the Lake District!) and the coasts of England (Jurassic Coasts), or honestly, London itself. London is HUGE and even after an entire semester there, I feel like there was so much more to discover!
Costa Rica: Enjoy Less Places, More Deeply
Costa Rica is a small country, so getting to know it felt manageable and made it feel like home. We traveled throughout Costa Rica, so I feel like I know about 60% of the country! Even so, I can’t wait to go back and keep exploring because there is so much to do in CR.
No matter where you went, there was always something gorgeous to see, time to relax in new spots, coffee shops to try, and beautiful beaches or jungles. I highly recommend visiting La Fortuna and Puerto Viejo while you’re exploring Costa Rica.
London: Too Many Delicious Choices to Choose From
London has the biggest variety and best quality of food that I’ve ever had. Since meals are not included on the London program, you’ll get to enjoy cooking for yourself and eating out. I loved trying a new restaurant every time I ate out and finding the cutest markets down random streets. There are tons of food markets with vendors from all over the world! You’ll never find them all, so find some you really enjoy. Pro-tip: the market in Exmouth is about a 10 minute walk from Ability Towers and has some incredible gyros.
Costa Rica: Less Restaurants, Yay Cafeteria!
Keep in mind that Turriabla, Costa Rica is a small, rural town. They have a lot of Italian restaurants and a few cool instagram businesses (check out @togosushi03 on Instagram for the best sushi in town). However, meals are included in your Verto Costa Rica experience and CATIE (the campus) has a well stocked cafeteria and plenty of food so you don’t have to stress about cooking. They also have a big kitchen, so if you’re missing food from home, you can always make it! Also, Barrio Escalante of San Jose has some incredible restaurants, especially for plant-based eaters.
Coffee & Cafes
London: Loads of Cafes & Perfect for People-Watching
London’s cafes are a great place to people-watch because they’re so busy! They’re perfect for a friend-date or quick study session between classes.There’s even a coffee chain named Pret that has a fantastic coffee subscription program (unlimited drinks) and is free for the first month.
Costa Rica: Less Options But Great Coffee and Vibes
On the other hand, Turriabla has 2 coffee shops, Kiv and Honey Dipper. Both are cute, small shops that are great to study in and have incredible, locally made kombucha. Also, you’ll go to San Jose a few times, and you have to check out the coffee shops in Barrio Escalante. The coffee shops are peaceful and full of plant walls and gardens that will let you live out your fairy and mushroom dreams. And of course, the coffee itself is incredible too.
What I Learned
London: Initiative and Agency
London taught me about both community and personal agency. I visited organizations in London improving business, entrepreneurship, and sustainability fields and it was inspiring to see how even 2 people could build something so impactful.
I also learned about internal initiative because I had to take ownership of my experience to make the most of it. I learned to cook for myself and balance my schedule with taking care of myself, completing school work, and exploring the incredible city I was in.
Costa Rica: Nature and Connectedness
Being so immersed in nature was really impactful. I saw first-hand how everything is connected, the earth and people, each society to one another.
I saw how one individual can affect the local community, and how communities can affect entire ecosystems or the world. I built on the examples I learned about from London, and got to apply my own agency into volunteering and creating my own impact.
- Bring your favorite products. Yes, there’s loads of products in your new locations, but if NyQuill (for example) can get you out of a cold in 2 days, bring it so you don’t have to experiment!
- Don’t bring too many books! I promise there will be cool bookstores and you’ll find new books that you want to bring home. You don’t want the extra weight in your suitcase, especially because that weight could be in souvenirs, or of course, new books!
- You don’t have to bring your whole wardrobe. If you don’t wear certain clothes at home, you won’t wear them during your semester either! There will be plenty of opportunities for shopping, especially thrifting on both semesters, so don’t be afraid to leave behind some of your favorite outfits and find new ones!
- Make sure you pack for the weather! It will rain a lot in both Costa Rica and London, especially in the fall semester, but Costa Rica will be warmer and humid and London will be cold. Pack appropriate clothing and shoes for this!
- Have a blast. Leave your expectations behind and embrace the new. Say yes to new opportunities and see where they take you. You’re only there for a few months so take advantage of it!
Both semesters were incredible, and I grew immensely.
If you like staying busy, are a go-go-go type of person, and love exploring cities, I’d say go fall in love with London.
If you’re more of a homebody, curious about connecting deeper with nature and communities, fall in love with Costa Rica.
Either way, you’ll have a blast, and hey, who says you can’t do both like I did!
Interested in starting college from Costa Rica or England? Submit your application today to get started!