Erin: De La Pura Vida
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Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Costa Rica, etc.
I’m Erin, a US expat originally from South Carolina. I was fortunate to be raised by parents who loved traveling. While I was growing up, we traveled all over the States and Europe and even lived in Denmark for a year. Being exposed to many different cultures at such a young age was really beneficial and I absolutely loved it. As I got older, that thirst for learning about new cultures and experiencing new things did not fade, it only got stronger. It took me just one visit to Costa Rica to know that I wanted more. I traveled for 2 to 3 weeks at a time every couple of months for a year before I finally realized I was going to have to move here, with my dog. I’ve been living in Costa Rica now for 3+ years.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
When I was a child, I always kept journals of my travels, so blogging seemed like a natural thing… a more convenient way to record my journey. The only difference is this journal is a lot more public!! I never expected other people would read it, but I get many emails everyday from people who identify with my situation, who just enjoy reading about my experiences, or who have questions about how to live and work in Costa Rica. These readers, along with my desire to keep a record, have kept me blogging.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
- I think my favorite entry is the one about reverse culture shock. That marked a significant time in my life in which I realized how much living in Costa Rica had changed me.
- This post: 3 Ways to Say No in Costa Rica without Saying No still makes me laugh, a lot. The comments really add to it, too. Apparently I’m not the only expat trying to fit in a little better.
- I still think a lot about my post 11 Tips for Driving in Costa Rica because I drive almost everyday and it’s like a sport! Also, I just saw a statistic in the paper that over half of Ticos have failed the driving test. Over half?! Imagine driving through a sea of vehicles that are operated by people who can’t even pass the test! So different from the South!
- The most popular post among my readers is definitely Teaching English in Costa Rica FAQ: Where, When, How. Apparently everyone wants to be an English teacher, who knew?!
Tell us about the ways your new life in Costa Rica differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
Dang … that feels like forever ago. Reverse culture shock is a bigger issue for me now. OK thinking really hard back to when I first moved to Costa Rica, I do remember some culture shock. I was living with a Tico family with old-fashioned values, so that added to the cultural differences. For example, we always ate at home – rice and beans every day. I remember the feeling that I would kill for a good old juicy US-style hamburger. Fast forward 3 years later and I now know a few places in Costa Rica that serve up a delicious US-style hamburger and I don’t even crave them that much anymore.
Other things that took a while to get used to:
- The standards in electrical wiring. I shocked myself in the shower a few times.
- Waiting in line at the bank for hours. Waiting, period.
- Traffic. Driving. Poor road conditions. Lack of urban planning. Lanes that are not big enough for the 18-wheeler trucks that are driving down them. Buses that think they are bumper cars.
- The pura vida attitude of sitting back and waiting for things to fix themselves. Hey, guess what? Most problems do eventually solve themselves if you give them enough time.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Costa Rica? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
I was not prepared to like it as much as I do. I thought I was only going to be here for a year, but it’s been more than 3 now. If I could do it all over again, I would sell everything back in SC instead of storing it in a garage. That stuff back in the States is like a huge mental weight now.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
When I was first learning Spanish, I would always try to directly translate the US sentiment of being happy or looking forward to something by saying “I’m excited.” Yeah, that translates to being horny. FAIL.
Right now I’m trying to live in a tree house in the jungle, so I’m dealing with an entirely new set of challenges. The birds attacking my house are the biggest problem. You can read about some of those challenges in this recent post.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Costa Rica?
- Sell or donate your material possessions before you come to Costa Rica. Hands down, the best thing I’ve learned here is how to live with less. I don’t need 90% of what I used to think I needed. For example, I don’t need a full set of silverware, fancy dishes, or 30 different types of Tupperware. The idea of fine China is completely ungraspable to me now. I’ve learned to reduce and reuse, and Costa Rica can teach you this trick, too, if you let it.
- Be calm and flexible. Things here take a long time and disorganization is everywhere. Anger shuts most Ticos down, but a smile will go a long way. If you are calm and flexible, you’ll learn how to deal with problems better and live with less stress.
- If you can help it, don’t set your heart on living in one particular place. Most of the expats I know had to move around a bit before discovering their perfect place in Costa Rica. …AKA be flexible ;)
How is the expat community in Costa Rica? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
The initial task of finding friends here was very difficult because I didn’t know where to look. I quickly discovered that I don’t have much in common with Ticas my age because they are mostly all married with kids, and without jobs. I’m not married, I don’t have kids, and I love working, so I looked to expats. There are a lot of retired people here and finding friends around my age or at least who shared my same interests seemed almost impossible. Once I figured out how to meet people, my new friends quickly became some of the greatest friends I have ever had because we are all sharing this awesome journey of living as expats in Costa Rica.
The trick? I looked online and in groups like professional organizations and InterNations. My blog has even helped – I’ve had a few of my best friends contact me directly with similar problems of trying to find friends! I also met some awesome people while I was teaching English, but most of them were only here for very short periods of time. We still keep in touch, though!
How would you summarize your expat life in Costa Rica in a single, catchy sentence?