I REALLY FEEL LIKE I WANT TO LIVE ON THE BEACH
There comes a time in every expat’s tenure when the question of belonging arises. Not just in the sense of wondering if I fit in to the culture and country, but more a feeling that you are being tested. I often like to refer to “hitting the eject button” as the decision taken by many to pack it in an go home. In six plus years of living in Costa Rica I’ve seen my share of friends come and go. I’ve had over 150 teachers under my direct employ, met countless retirees and entrepreneurs, and can safely say that I’ve watched more than 85% of them return home eventually. This is not a failure rate. Something so oversimplified would be insulting to those whose life choices are both personal and complex. Rather its more attune to people perhaps having found, or not, what they were expecting here – not only in Costa Rica, but within themselves. Businesses folding, teachers and writers not earning enough to survive, social factors, retirees simply getting fed up, and more are broad strokes that shouldn’t be made to paint so many detailed works.
The bigger challenges that we sometimes face here in Costa Rica aren’t as simple as cost of living, the language barrier, or immigration. It is often a matter of trying to define what “home” is and means to you. When I fly to Canada I feel now like a visitor. So much so that I actually need to buy travel insurance from Blue Cross to enter my native land with socialized healthcare! I’m questioned at immigration, I am shocked by the width (and often presence of) sidewalks, and the prices make me recoil in fear. “How can anyone afford to live here?”, I ask. I feel like a tourist with an extensive background knowledge of Canadian culture and language. Like a long-time student of French taking their first trip to France I get to stretch the legs and run around a bit and take theory into practice. This is in no way a description of home.
Home is arriving at SJO and recognizing the mountain ranges. Home is smelling the air, hearing Spanish, and feeling comfortable. Home is getting into the cab and knowing every bend in the road while you chat with the driver and await the inevitable statement, “Oh, you’ve been here too long.” (they use too as so here) Home is everyone on the street waiving and belting out “adios!” as you walk up to your apartment.
What begs to be addressed here may be whether I’ve simply played the record so long that the groove is now well-worn. Patterns and predictability are in part what define our level of comfort. We feel a sense of control over our environment and act in ways that outcomes have certainty. It’s easy to budget, plan, and be lulled into that false sense of security that comes with developing community relationships and friendships. It gets too easy, and you’re not afraid of much anymore.
This is a meandering post, but such is my current state. Being in the midst of a major career shift brings a natural dose of doubt and anxiety. However, I find myself presented with options and compelled to face questions that perhaps should have been addressed long ago. What makes me happy? What do I really want to do? These lie beyond simple spreadsheets to calculate costs and feasibility.
At times it feels as if you’ve been kicked out of the nest. When are we clinging and when are we fighting for what we want? Big questions. Patience and trust that things are being handled is the only path for now.
Lately, I really feel like I want to live on the beach. Huh.