This morning was cool and wet, something I can say with confidence to be a rarity here in the Central Valley region of Costa Rica. I can say this because today marks my first anniversary in Costa Rica. One year ago today, I moved from my comfort in Canada, tucking my poor cat Asia into the space under the seat in front of me, and braved the 14-hour trip south (counting the six hours one spends in Houston during the layover).
It’s been a year of utter chaos, extreme stress (I now look back at what I used to think was stressful, and have realised a tremendous amount of new strength), and unbelievable challenge and testing. It’s been mixed with wondrous discovery, gorgeous vistas (even though we’re hours from a beach), many new friends, and a truest definition of experience: skills and memories that can’t be acquired any other way.
Yes, I can already hear you asking the question: So it’s been a year in. What do I think after all this?
It’s been a tough ride, and the ride is far from over. We’ve had to learn a lot to work down here, we’ve had to work with a lot of people, and those aforementioned unbelievable challenges have made life interesting down here. That, and until a little while ago, Murphy lived in my broom closet.
I’ve bitched about a few things that have driven me crazy, and I’m happy to say that some of them don’t bug me as much as they did. It’s a form of acceptance / complacency, I suspect, but some of it is also understanding more about how things work here and not trying to force my way of thinking onto them.
Well, that, and I’ve got a few people who know shield me from having to deal with some of those things day after day.
I still feel like an outsider, though. Simple reality: I’m gringo, and I don’t speak serviceable Spanish. I can get by in simple situations, but I find myself often asking for people to repeat things, and I get stumped easily when trying to give even simple instructions. Reason? Lack of practice. I default to English too easily, so I never get to reinforce my own habits.
It’s, as the saying goes, all part of the fun. (Though I will say that not everything has been fun. See above note about extreme stress.) It’s all part of experience, and education, and being someplace that’s not as familiar as home.
Above all else, it really helps me appreciate how things are in North America. For all the trivial complaints that I hear from my friends (and used to have myself), I now realise how good things really are, and that most North Americans have no idea how good they have it.
Sure, you can go on vacation to far-flung places in the world and see things you’d never see at home. But you’re a tourist in all senses of the word. You’ll never experience what it’s like because you know, even in the back of your head, that you’re going home. There’s escape (most of the time). But when you’ve moved to a new country, it doesn’t work the same way.
Do I miss Canada? Well, does a Hoser drink beer? Same answer. Of course I miss my birth country. There’s so much about nearly every part of Canada that I miss. Being in a tropical country is hard for many reasons, not the least of which is language and temperature (I’ve been wearing shorts and sandals for a year — I’m uncomfortably warm most of the time). But it’s also the distance from family and our friends.
I don’t have any friends outside of the ones I work with down here. The internet is there to keep me connected with friends both home and abroad, but the reality is that here I often feel very alone. That’s a part of the last year I’ve struggled with nearly every day. When things go horribly wrong, when you’re stressed beyond reason, when all you want to do is rant about how things are, that’s when a friend helps most.
Slowly, things change. Things get better. And things will get better.