Here is a piece I wrote for my Off Campus Study class as a reflection on a “significant experience abroad”.
I learned to ride a bike at the age of nineteen on a bumpy dirt road in Costa Rica. The road was thick with the traffic of pedestrians, other bikers, and even a few cars. My friends were almost literally riding circles around me.
“At least the road is flat, Emily!” they said. “Imagine if you had to learn to ride on a hill!”
“I’d be dead,” I muttered. I was terrified.
The whole thing had started earlier that week. Cat had heard about Puertoviejo de Talamanca, a Caribbean beach-town, and was completely enchanted with the idea of spending the weekend there. The rest of us agreed to try it out. After all, why shouldn’t we? It promised to be fun and cheap. When the COSI staff described it to us, they talked about the bikes.
“Is very cheap. You can rent bikes and go to the beach,” they told us in their accented but near-perfect English. My stomach knotted up every time the bikes were mentioned, but I told myself everything would work out. I can probably pull it off. I almost had it the last time I tried. And if not, I’ll just walk. It’ll be fine.
I tried several times to warn the others, but they didn’t seem to get it. When the time came and we actually found ourselves at a bike-rental shop, I had to tell them straight.
“Okay, guys. I’ve never actually ridden a bike before.” I think they were a little shocked.
“Emily, how old are you again? What do you mean you’ve never ridden a bike before?” They resolved to teach me.
“You’ve just got to keep peddling. Don’t move your arms so much. No, don’t stop, keep peddling!” At least one of them rode steadily beside me the whole time, giving me encouragement and staying safely between me and the traffic.
I peddled through the bumps, rocks, dips, and mud. I talked aloud, coaching myself through the hard bits. When we passed people walking or biking in the other direction, I complemented myself on not running into them. Passerby started to stare. At one point, afraid I was losing my balance, I threw out a hand to steady myself on a parked car. The car alarm started going off. That was embarrassing. When I finally got off the bike, I was shaking with adrenaline. But the point is I did it. I actually learned to ride a bike and made it to the beach and back without incident.
While it isn’t necessarily the most significant experience I had while abroad, it is certainly indicative of what the trip was like for me. I tried new things with only minimal fear of failure. I ate new and different foods, went surfing and rappelling, and spoke to strangers in a different language. And I tried biking even though I had failed at it in the States. But this story isn’t just about trying something new, it’s also about friendship. It would have been easy for the others to laugh at me or ride ahead and make me walk to the beach alone, but they didn’t. Here were these people I had met essentially only a few weeks before, and they were already being such good friends to me. The entire trip abroad was a great bonding experience for us, four people who definitely would not have been such close friends otherwise.