We’ve been back in the States for about half a year now. In many ways, the return has felt quite seamless: we’re in the same house with Maine woods out our back door and a short walk to town out the front. Returning to our familiar public school has made the transition for the kids easy. There was much we valued about our kids’ school in Costa Rica, but here we notice some of the advantages that come with generous public funding: the ability to pay teachers well and to retain them, access to curriculum like the Lucy Caulkins Writing Project, and all sorts of professional services for kids with learning differences or particular emotional needs.
And yet there’s so much we miss about Monteverde. There are many ways in which Central America left its mark on us:
- Birds: Costa Rica still has me twitching every time I hear a bird. I’ve calmed down now that it’s winter, but this summer, even in our North-American, toucan-free backyard, bird calls stopped me in my tracks. One little chirp and I needed to know where that bird was, where it was headed, and how fit in.
- The kids are fine: Tim and I noticed a difference in how much Costa Rican parents discussed both their kids and their kids’ school experience. Strictly absent were mentions of child exceptionalism. Tico parents seemed to feel that teachers were in charge of all things child, which was maybe true, and maybe not. Regardless, their relatively hands-off approach was instructive to folks like us who are inclined to volunteer coach, attend school board meetings, and generally hover over our children more than we probably should.
- Español: We miss being ensconced in another language and culture. Now that we’re back in the States, we do what we can to maintain our Spanish–I listen to Radio Ambulante podcasts, and the kids chat with Spanish tutors in Guatemala over Skype once a week. But we miss living in the midst of another language, always having something for our brains to chew on and enjoying the constant challenge of trying to understand another perspective.
- Pretending we still live in a socialist nation: Costa Rica reminded us of how much we North Americans like to define ourselves by our work. The question “What do you do?” is less of a conversation starter in Central America. Tim and I find ourselves wondering about this difference and why we North Americans seem to take pride in overworking and over-committing ourselves. Maybe it’s the climate (you have to keep moving to survive in temperatures like these). Or maybe it’s class consciousness–as our Tico friend Allan pointed out, with their socialized government, Ticos really just have to worry about earning enough to eat. So when Tim and I find ourselves inclined to jump back into the rat race of North American life, we remind ourselves to slow down and repeat our new mantra: “Let’s just pretend we still live in a socialist nation.”
- Comida: Our family churns through black beans like we never had before, and thank goodness our small-town, New England grocery store carries masa. I mean, really, what is a meal without frijol y tortillas?
- More isn’t always better: It’s hard not to get swept up in the mania of kids’ after-school activities. In our small town, the menu of extracurriculars, even for elementary-aged kids, is phenomenal–piano, dance, yoga, skiing, hockey, rock climbing, swimming, basketball, art. Nevertheless, we miss the Costa Rican menu, which pretty much boiled down to one choice: soccer or no soccer. Beyond that, last year Liam and Reid climbed trees or built forts with their buddies after school, then they walked home. Now that we’re back in the States, we’re trying to remember to protect time and space for all of us just to be. Unscheduled existence is healthy, and the creativity that comes from it can be even better.
- Missed friends: One of the benefits of time spent abroad is that you discover more good people in the world. The drawback: when you leave, you miss them. We wish we could step through a magic door to visit the many good people in Monteverde: Javier in his taxi, Chris playing soccer in our backyard with the kids, Benito square dancing, Paul and his bellbird, Allan patiently pretending we’re capable of intellectual conversations in Spanish, Fern and her little dog Ceniza, Katy and her community yoga classes, the Quakers singing on Sundays, and so many other folks. We’re so grateful to have been welcomed into their lives for a year.
Tim put together this video set to one of our favorite Latin pops songs. It highlights some of our favorite images from the year.
Thanks so much for reading!