From Concrete Jungle to Tropical Rainforest

A toucan in Manuel Antonio CC0

How I realized my dream of taking an adult gap year. 

Like most graduates, I followed the nine-to-five path. Early mornings kicked my butt. I’d wake up at 7 a.m., drag myself out of bed, dress with my eyes closed and leave without ever touching my hair. Makeup? Yeah, right. Like anyone has time for that at the crack of dawn. Rush hour was the bane of my existence. I’d make it to the subway and, true to the New York City metro, the train was being “held at the station due to train traffic ahead of us.” 

For three years, I endured the monotonous routine of administrative work—data entry, meetings and phone calls. I was the most disorganized employee at the job. My desk was covered in weeks’ worth of paperwork, but “don’t worry, it’s here somewhere.” Most of the day, I’d sit behind my computer desk pretending to work, but really, I was Googling the best travel routes through Central America, the most affordable party hostels, and constantly checking airfare “just because.” Nothing about working in an office felt right to me. So after my first solo international trip to Mexico, I came back to the office determined to live the life I envied. If all of these young travel bloggers could do it, so could I. But there was still a very real factor that kept me hesitant. How the hell was I going to pay for all this?

If all of these young travel bloggers could do it, so could I. But there was still a very real question. How the hell was I going to pay for all this?

My job had its perks in my new quest. Working with a large Chinese immigrant population in higher education, I realized they all came to the States for one thing: a better life. But in America, they weren’t going to get a better life unless they learned English. And, after speaking to a number of my students about the high demand for English teachers in China, I got my answer; I’d teach English abroad. Only, I wasn’t ready to go to China just yet.

My trip to Mexico left me longing to travel Latin America. I researched a number of countries in the region where I could take the TEFL course and finally decided on Costa Rica. The diverse ecology, protected rainforests, and tropical beaches all appealed to me. If I was going to go back to school for another month to complete a certification, it was going to be a school in paradise. I applied, interviewed, and was accepted into the program just two weeks after returning from my trip. Again, hesitation set in.

“Am I really going to go through with this?” “Can I save enough money to start this venture?” “Is this insane?!”

All of these questions ran through my mind as I delayed putting down a deposit for the course. But I kept getting signs from the universe that I was on the right path. One Saturday night, while working my second job at the casino (because you don’t live in NYC and not have a second income), I was talking to a co-worker. Without having told him about my plans, he randomly said “You know where you should go? Costa Rica.” I tilted my head in curiosity. Was this a sign from the universe or mere coincidence?

Then days later, I got an unexpected call from a former student of mine. I can’t remember exactly how the conversation started but I remember him saying “I know you. You want to travel, see the world. That’s what’s right for you, so follow your dreams.” At that moment, I knew I was going to go through with it. What else was I working so hard for? I put down the deposit and reserved my space in beautiful Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica.

Most people supported me, some doubted me. They all motivated me. I packed my bags and Su (I just couldn’t leave my dog), and moved my life to Costa Rica the day after Trump was inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States. (This convinced me more than anything that this move was destiny.) I settled in my own apartment surrounded by the rainforest (compared to a lifetime of roommates in the concrete jungle), and successfully completed my TEFL certification after four short weeks of hard work, beach exploration, hiking commutes, and monkey neighbours.

I was filled with pride as I concluded the first stepping stone of my journey. I’m not sure where this accomplishment will lead me, but it definitely isn’t over. Living in Latin America has made me realize I’ve got ways to go learning Spanish, so studying abroad is an option to consider; I’ve been approached with various opportunities to volunteer my English skills to communities in need, in exchange for food and shelter; I could look for a job teaching English, as planned, or maybe I can do it all. 

Now that I’m abroad, I’m aware of the numerous possibilities that will contribute to my personal growth, and all the ways I can directly contribute to the country welcoming me. I’m overwhelmed with gratitude, more open-minded to different ideas, and confident that my gap year in Latin America will affect my outlook on life, love, and all things travel.

Add this article to your reading list
Published in Work Abroad Blogs
Tishely Ortiz

Tishely Ortiz is currently doing a gap year abroad with Maximo Nivel. She recently completed a TEFL certification in Costa Rica and will be traveling between Costa Rica, Guatemala and Peru teaching English, studying Spanish and volunteering in local communities.


Join the Verge Community

Verge Magazine Membership

Join our community of savvy travellers and put nearly two decades of inspiring articles, authoritative information and expert advice to work for you.

Show me more > Login >


Travel Intelligence Bulletin


The latest openings overseas—direct to your inbox.

Subscriber Login


Travel with purpose; travel for good. Articles, resources and events for ethical and meaningful travel, volunteering, working and studying abroad.

Verge believes in travel for change. International experience creates global citizens, who can change our planet for the better. This belief is at the core of everything we do.

Like what you see?

Follow us on social media