From Doubtful to Determined

How a Mentor and Study Abroad in Costa Rica Changed My Perspective and Direction

My name is Ashley Tingle and I am a graduate and alum of Coker College, class of 2012. I received my bachelor’s of art in psychology with a minor in Spanish. I am from Latta, S.C., a small town just about 45 minutes from Coker, so I did not go far from home to attend college. In other words, I did not step too far out of my comfort zone. I started my journey in 2007. You might be thinking, five years to complete your degree? Yes, five long years. However, like most anticipated plans, how I ended my journey was not how I started.

When I began college in 2007, I was a full-time employee and student. I majored in physical education and thought that was what I wanted to do. I struggled tremendously with juggling a job and trying to go to school, not to mention the lack of interest for what I was studying. College was not at all what I imagined and hoped it would be. It was hard, at least for me! I was miserable and indecisive about life because of the track I was on. I really did not know what life would be like for me after graduation.

It wasn’t until I met Spanish professor Don Mac (Dr. Mac Williams) when things started shifting for me. I did not know it at the time, but he would be a lifelong mentor, in every facet of my life. Like any college curriculum, Coker requires students to take a foreign language, and so Don Mac was my instructor. I thought, “Great, I’m already bad at Spanish (reflecting back on my high school years), this should be interesting.”

Interestingly enough, his style of teaching and charismatic nature drew me in. Occasionally, outside of class, I’d go talk to Don Mac about the struggles I had in class and in other courses, as well. One day, I needed to do some venting. I was at a pivotal point, two years into college. I was still unhappy, clueless, and not doing well in school. I lost my scholarship, and from there things were never back on track. By this time, I had already enrolled in his second course to meet my minimum requirement for foreign language.

Sitting with Don Mac one afternoon (I remember it like it was yesterday, literally a two-hour discussion), we discussed the possibility of me changing my direction and minoring in Spanish. I thought, “What’s the catch?” He pitched the idea of study abroad, assuring me I would still be able to graduate within three years. Convincing as he was, I had already thrown out the option well before we talked. There was no way a small town girl like me could one, afford study abroad, two, get on a plane for the very first time, and three, go to another country with a huge language barrier! I was stubborn, but he somehow broke through.

Of course, it wasn’t that easy. I was scared! I pitched the news to my family and even they were shocked. They had every reservation that I had, but they were supportive. The second semester of 2009, I began my new journey of majoring in psychology and minoring in Spanish. In 2010, I was off to Costa Rica. (Might I add, none of this cost me additional money outside of my college expenses and I was actually given money back!)

I arrived in Costa Rica, and from there it was a huge roller coaster ride: Culture shock (to be expected), adventures, traveling, learning, and good food! I attended a university there where I studied Spanish full-time and was able to transfer the credits back toward my minor. With so many nerves about only going for a semester, would you believe I decided to stay an additional semester? Oh, and I decided to live on my own! The second semester in Costa Rica, I got involved in some volunteer work through the university where I was able to do an internship. I was able to help tutor English for the locals, work with disabled children, and mentor students in an after school program.

The experiences I gained over the nine months of my trip abroad were like no other. Though I was scared and completely outside of my comfort zone, the experience developed me into the person I am today. Learning a new language in itself is extremely hard, but to immerse yourself into another culture is a huge challenge. Yet, it was an extremely rewarding experience. I got to see a whole new world outside of my box. I was forced to adapt, look at things with a new perspective, experiment, and grow up. I gained friends from all over the world who I am still connected with today, not to mention a whole family I lived with who still consider me their family. Studying abroad made me a new person. When I came back, I wasn’t the scared girl I was in the beginning; I was happy and free. The most important part was that Don Mac was there, coaching me every single step of the way. And when I returned, it did not stop!

Reviewing my grades from prior to changing my path compared to when I graduated, there was a significant difference. The difference was that I had someone who believed in me. I had someone who knew, in spite of how timid and doubtful I was, that I could do it and be successful. After I graduated college, I decided to enlist in the United States Army. To say the least, plans changed. However, experiences have taught me that you adapt, overcome and keep going. My time at Coker and studying abroad has led me to become a 2nd Lieutenant in the Army. Since then, I have completed my Masters in Human Services Counseling, with a specialization in criminal justice.

To this day, I still reach out to Don Mac for words of wisdom and mentorship. I still say, if it wasn’t for him, I would not be where I am today. If I can offer any words of advice, I’d definitely like to say, don’t be scared––step out of your comfort zone. It is worth it and will change your life!

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