Selfish in Costa Rica

When I first visited Costa Rica in May 2017, it was my first time in Latin America. The culture, the people, the music, the beaches absolutely swept me off my feet. I spent the week doing things I’d never done before: scuba diving, riding horses on the beach, skinny dipping, drinking beer in the bed of the truck in the middle of a rain storm. My friend Tori and I clocked countless hours laughing until our bellies hurt (something we can often be found doing together). We also spent time in heartbroken mourning together, as John had died only 2.5 months before then.

That week was unbelievably enriching and eye opening. I had found a sense of solace in the salty sea, an overwhelming calm in the colors of the setting sun. I knew I had found a place that could bring me peace and mend my tattered heart. When I climbed onto the US-bound plane, I told myself I was going to get back somehow.

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Back in Indianapolis, I had no idea what I was doing. I was looking at jobs that I knew I was totally capable of working, jobs that would allow me to live very comfortably on my own. As I scrolled past Marketing Manager this and Communications Coordinator that, I was underwhelmed by the idea of getting back to the 9-5, florescent light grind. I couldn’t imagine myself finding joy in the confines of a cubicle or office. My mom, the patient angel that she is, asked me, “Well, what do you want to do then?” In a moment of exasperation, I said, “I don’t know, maybe I’ll just move to Costa Rica.”

The idea stuck.

Through some Googling I found Costa Rica TEFL and applied for the November/December program. I sat down with my parents and created a savings plan (that I sort of stuck to). They graciously agreed to keep my cat until I got back. I got a job as a receptionist at a real estate company, downloaded Duolingo, and began my journey towards Costa Rica. I had a really great season in Indianapolis, spending a lot of time with old friends and getting to re-know a city I hadn’t lived in in a long time. I traveled around the States as much as I could to see my homies and even threw myself a going-away party with the goal of seeing as many people as I possibly could before I left.

On November 6, I boarded a plane back to Costa Rica, one-way ticket in hand. I moved to Samara and completed the Costa Rica TEFL program, forming incredible relationships and memories along the way. I hostel- and house-hopped for a few weeks after the program’s end, unsure of where exactly I would end up. I was determined to live by the beach, but was having a difficult time finding a full-time teaching job along the coast.

When I had visited Tori in May, she’d been working for a nonprofit in Guanacaste called Abriendo Mentes, an organization that provides free education and community development programs to the underserved beach towns of Brasilito and Potrero. She suggested I get in touch with them. One thing led to another and I found myself moving to Potrero in January to be AM’s new volunteer Adult English Teacher. I began doing some freelance digital marketing to bring in a little income. I was eventually put in touch with a nearby private school and offered a full-time teaching job that begins in March. Aside from all things work-related, I continue to meet and befriend the best people. The other AM volunteers and staff are a richly diverse and uniquely wonderful group of people and I’ve found fast friends in quite a few of them. Afternoons at the beach, movie nights, early-morning hikes, and meals together are aplenty. On weekends they don’t come visit me at the beach, I hop on the bus to go see a couple of my TEFL friends where they now live and teach in Liberia. Life in Costa Rica has been good to me.

Just a couple days ago, I was sitting in the weekly AM communications team meeting, discussing the overall goals of this year’s marketing campaign. I was listening to Kirsti, the Brasilito Site Director, speak about her community, a community that’s in many ways been abandoned by its government and the tourism industry that grows around it. She spoke passionately about the mothers and children that she sees every day, about the challenges they face, about ways we can help them overcome some of these challenges, and I was suddenly struck by a realization: I have been so selfish.

My coming to Costa Rica was entirely selfish. When I decided to make the move here, I was seeking something: peace, healing, relief, an escape, something, I’m not totally sure. I wanted to go somewhere new and live a completely different life, one entirely separate from the one that John and I lived together because I couldn’t stand going through the same old motions without him. I used earning my TEFL certificate as my means to get here, but I didn’t have a particular passion for teaching. I hadn’t actually considered that I would be thrust into a community or environment where what I was doing really mattered; all I thought about was moving to the beach, making new friends, and hopefully learning Spanish. Listening to how impassioned Kirsti spoke about her community and her work made me realize just how little I had really mentally and emotionally invested in this new life. Yes yes I know, I experienced something terrible and traumatic so my selfishness isn’t necessarily bad or unexpected, but now that I’m coming out on the other side in many ways and seeing a little more clearly again, it’s high time I – as the kids say – get my shit together.

This community does not need me. The school I’ll be working for does not need me. There’s an endless supply of people looking to do exactly what I’m doing and I know that I’m replaceable. But now that I’m here, even though my journey here was mostly ego-fueled, I need to really be here. I have the opportunity to get to know the people who bring so much passion and energy of out Kirsti. I have the privilege of doing good work and contributing something of value. I have the chance to sit down and be humble, all the while still going to watch the sunset every evening, making new friends, and continuing down the path of healing.

Turns out, what I didn’t know I was seeking has been right here all along.

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