In the summer of 2016, my family of four left the state of Maine and flew to Central America. Our tickets were one-way, and we each carried a single duffle bag and backpack. We were no strangers to international living: before kids, my husband and I had lived in Tanzania, France, Nepal, and Northern Ireland, and for the first two years of our eldest son’s life, we had lived in India. This time, we were bound for a year in the mountains of Costa Rica.
In part, we were seeking a break from our harried lives in the U.S. You know the drill: late-night work emails, coaching kids’ soccer games, rushed drives to piano and then hockey lessons, followed by an early wake up the next day to squeeze in adult exercise or snow shoveling or lawn mowing.
This year would be different. We would immerse ourselves in Spanish, spend more time together as a family, and learn everything we could from Costa Rica, a tiny nation which prides itself on strong social supports, land conservation, and a long-since abolished military. The trails through the cloud forest and the mot mots and other beautiful birds in our new backyard were icing on the cake.
Then in November, the unimaginable happened, and Donald Trump was elected the 45th president of the United States. The Canadian immigration website crashed as folks looked north, ready to flee the U.S. We understood the temptation to get out of Dodge, and though we had voted absentee, we also felt some guilt that we weren’t back in the homeland, fighting the good fight. We had already fled, only a to a place warmer than Canada.
Nevertheless, our view of America from afar affirmed our feeling that we Americans could use more experience living in, not just visiting, other countries. First–particularly for privileged white Americans like us–living abroad unfailingly provides a glimpse into what it feels like to be a minority: the person kids point at and chide for having “weird hair,” the fool who can’t muster up a basic word like “bread” at the bakery because she doesn’t speak “the language.”
Second, life abroad offers us fresh eyes on political “impossibilities”: Costa Rica has single-payer healthcare; in France, daycare workers are paid like professionals; and in India, women have held prominent political positions for decades.
Finally, for those who talk about making America great again, life abroad offers a fresh view on what already makes the United States noteworthy. Try staying healthy when your water contains fecal coliform. Try getting your kid to school on time over unpaved roads washed out in the monsoon. Once at school, try watching your child learn without any books. Suddenly American taxes start to feel a lot more reasonable.
Before November 8th, our family joked that we’d stay in Costa Rica if—horror of horrors—Trump were elected president. Now the joke’s on us as we feel the pain of distance, knowing our country is in turmoil. We will certainly be back in a year. In the meantime the need to learn from other countries feels more important now than ever, and we are eager students. We hope this website will inspire others, particularly families, to commit some time to life across the border. If it helps, just remember, there are options warmer than Canada.