How Did You End Up In Costa Rica?

Probably the first step along the path that led me here was when my parents were talked into buying a set of encyclopedias. It cost them quite a bit of money at the time, looking back, but to my credit I made good use of them. Along with the encyclopedia itself were some companion sets of books, one of which was called ‘Lands and People.’ It was somewhere around 7 volumes and covered most of the countries of the world. At first I was interested mostly in Japan and Germany, (WW II was barely a decade behind us then) and I only looked at the pictures. As the years went by, I made my way through most of the pictures in all the volumes, and probably read some of the words too.

I always enjoyed geography in school, and the idea of visiting and even living in a foreign country interested me. In high school I remember thinking how cool it would be to be a foreign exchange student, though I had the good sense to realize I wasn’t all that great of a candidate (no foreign language skills, rather rough around the edges, somewhat anti-social, etc.). By the time I got into college I had 3 years of French. I regret not taking Spanish now, but what’s done is done. In my sophomore year I took a class in physical geography, and that’s where I first paid serious attention to Costa Rica. And what got me interested? The beaches? The unspoiled forests? The volcanoes? The wildlife? Well, actually it was the climate. There was a chart in the back of my textbook that showed average daily temperatures for various types of climates using assorted cities around the world. Now, I was born in California’s Santa Clara Valley, and I was used to pretty mild weather, but I was pretty impressed by a place that seemed to be virtually the perfect temperature all year around.

San Jose wasn’t the only place, of course.

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia had a nice climate, too. So did Cape Juby, Morocco. But I filed this info away at the age of 19 or 20, and it would resurface from time to time. At this point, mercifully, we will leave my life history and hit the fast-forward button. By my mid-late 30s I had a decent job and 2 weeks of paid vacation. I made my first overseas trip. I don’t count Canada (nice place, but too much like the USA for me to count it) or day trips to Tijuana and Juarez. I spent 2 weeks in Ireland, and felt like I had finally done a little wish fulfillment. It would be over 10 years more before my next trip, but while I was overseas, I was thinking how cool it would feel to live in a foreign country.

Internet opened some new horizons for me as well. In the late 90s I began to make friends with people from all over the world, via Internet Relay Chat (IRC). When I got to be around 50 I started doing some more traveling. I started with Northern Europe and eventually added Central and Eastern Europe, Mexico and Brazil. By this time I was seriously looking for a place to retire, and the sooner the better, I felt. I found Petropolis in Brazil rather attractive, and I knew a few Brazilians from Internet too. But it was so far from the USA, and I spoke no Portuguese.

A Spanish class?

At the time I had about 1 semester of Spanish. I was actively doing research by this time about relocating, and I had done a fair amount of reading about Mexico and Costa Rica. I had already seen some of Mexico, so I thought I would take 2 weeks and see what Costa Rica was like. It had been ‘on my radar’ for decades. Time to take an in-person look.

In my two week visit I got a taste of life here, and began to think seriously of giving my fantasy a trial run. When I returned back to Northern California, I enrolled in a Spanish II class and began making plans. Five months later I was on the ground starting my experiment. I’ll get into the ‘trial run’ in a near-future post. Hasta Luego!

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  1. I took three years of Spanish in high school, and by the time I got to college was able to remember just about everything after doing a semester of Spanish grammar. That was the foundation and four years of living in Costa Rica did the rest.

    I agree it’s a lot better to have some formal education in the grammar before attempting to assimilate new words and develop your conversation skills. At least this way you know to get answers to your questions, and if someone corrects you already have an idea why.

    Of course the locals were polite enough to mostly ignore my overuse of “usted” and occasional use of “tu” for about three years before I realized I had learned to talk a bit like a tico with Mexican grammar.

  2. I've been a sort of jack-of-all-trades, master of none as far as languages. Spanish, French, German, Swedish, Russian, … Spanish is a good choice being from the U.S. as it's pretty easy to get on-the-ground experience with it. I started in my 20s making several trips all over Mexico, dipped down to Guatemala and Belize. Probably have 2-3 years formal education from college.

    As far as learning Spanish here, it has one big pro – the people are so helpful and patient with a new learner – and one con – too many Ticos speak English! LOL.