In the summer of 2016, my family set out for a gap year in Central America.
Our itinerary: a month of intensive Spanish lessons in Guatemala, followed by a school year in a Costa Rican cloud forest.
Our goals: more family time, lots of Spanish, and the opportunity to learn from other cultures.
Our family joke: if Trump gets elected president, we’ll already be in a place warmer than Canada.
We voted absentee—I wished I had packed a tropical-themed pantsuit—but when the November elections rolled around, suddenly our joke lost all its humor. We were dismayed– and in many ways ready to come home–but suddenly the need to learn Spanish, to hear U.S. immigration stories from this side of the border, and to understand how other nations conceive of and govern themselves felt more pronounced than ever. The fact is, Costa Rica isn’t just home to good surf and macaws, it’s a nation that has conserved a quarter of its land, that has abolished its military in favor of funding education, and—get this—that values humility, perhaps more than any other trait, in its political leaders. In fact, some of the residents of our hometown of Monteverde are descendants of American pacifists who emigrated from the U.S. to Costa Rica over 60 years ago after their young men were imprisoned for refusing to register for the draft.
So, our family hasn’t applied for Costa Rican citizenship, or even residency—we’re coming home at the end of our family gap year—but we’re taking notes. I’ll be writing regular updates here to share what we’re learning, to provide moments of virtual escape (God knows we’ll all need a bit of that over the next four years), and perhaps even to inspire other families to consider packing up and heading out for a spell. Not to give up on the United States, just to step out of our wonderful, crazy, sometimes juvenile country as a sort of family study abroad to realize that…wait a minute!…there are other ways we could be running this show. If it helps, just remember there are options warmer than Canada.
Katie Quirk is the author of A Girl Called Problem, a middle-grade novel set in post-independence Tanzania. Her current project, Sari Swinging: One Mom Opts out of the Work-Family Grind, is a memoir about the challenges of finding work-family balance in America and her unconventional solution: moving to India with her newborn son. To learn more about Katie and her work, please visit katie-quirk.com.