Tori Cook '16

Photo of Victoria Cook '16
Hometown: Highland, Illinois

Psychology and Spanish dual major

Dean’s List

Black belt in karate


“Studying abroad is something everyone should experience,” says Tori Cook, who studied in Costa Rica in summer 2014. “Besides the academic information you obtain, you also learn so much about the world, yourself, and what you are actually capable of doing.”

To improve her fluency in Spanish, she studied at the Heredia campus of ULatina, the country’s largest private university. Tori was the first McKendree student to receive a prestigious Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship, sponsored by the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Gilman Scholars experience other cultures, countries, languages, economies and alternate views to return home with a deeper understanding of the world.

The psychology-Spanish dual major would like to counsel disadvantaged children and families in low income Hispanic communities. Total language immersion in Costa Rica “was exactly what I needed to move my abilities to the next level,” she said. “Staying with a host family afforded me the opportunity to have day-to-day interactions with locals. They taught me things like how people typically (colloquially) greet each other in the morning. At times it was extremely difficult because the majority of people did not speak any English where we lived. I could communicate for the most part, but there were times where I just could not understand them or be understood for anything, which could be pretty scary.”

As she practiced conversational Spanish, Tori learned about Costa Ricans’ culture, values and beliefs, and witnessed their passion and pride for the national pastime. Her stay coincided with the Ticos’ surprising rise to the World Cup soccer quarterfinals and the huge celebrations that followed each victory. “Imagine what Chicago might be like if the Cubs ever won a World Series and multiply it by five,” she wrote in her blog.

During her free time, she hung out with her host family and enjoyed weekend adventures with other international students.


 Quotation GraphicWhitewater rafting was pretty intense, but it was also an absolute blast! All of the things I did on weekends - surfing lessons, repelling, snorkeling and rafting - helped me to develop my courage and ability to do things I never thought I would, as well as to see different parts of the country.”


Despite some initial anxiety about traveling alone and living outside her comfort zone, Tori found herself relaxing more and worrying less as the summer progressed. She adopted an attitude of que sera, sera and pura vida—the Costa Rican saying that represents happiness and a simple, peaceful life.

“Probably the most unexpected thing I learned had to do with essential human nature,” she reflected. “It’s pretty easy to perceive someone as completely different than yourself when they come from a different culture or speak another language. In the end, I found that people are basically good and most of them seem to be striving for similar long-term goals. It was humbling to be in an environment as a foreigner because I constantly had to rely on people’s patience and assistance. It gave me a greater appreciation for foreigners in the U.S. I now have a greater understanding of how frightening it can be.”

Learn more about McKendree University and the Study Abroad program.