Costa Rica is Calling

Enjoying a day at Lake Arenal in Costa Rica. Alejandro Carazo

Written by  March 31, 2020

It's time to pack up and leave Montana—with a career and a toddler in tow.

After 10 years of living in the United States, my husband and I began considering the possibility of leaving Montana and returning to Costa Rica. To me, Costa Rica feels like the path well-travelled: I've been to the country a dozen times for work, travel, and family visits. Plus, I am well aware that the country—a quarter the size of Montana—hosts more than three million international visitors each year. But I knew this trip to Costa Rica would be different. It would not only be my husband and I—today, when I refer to "us," it also includes our young son. Now, I'm a career-driven mother. Returning to Costa Rica would not be the same as when I arrived for the first time 14 years ago.

The lifestyle left behind

I first arrived in Costa Rica to work as a whitewater rafting guide. The rivers here are lush and abundant, making the river-rat in me fall in love immediately. Believe it or not, this small Central American country has numerous rivers to ride a raft, including the Pacuare, Savegre and Naranjo Rivers where I worked. This was my lifestyle: travelling and working as a guide from season to season, floating to the next opportunity as easy as a kayak catches current.

I gradually left this life behind as I entered grad school to study sustainability. Still, I carried Costa Rica and its rivers with me during this academic journey, incorporating my beloved rivers into projects for courses like international development, biodiversity conservation and business practices. I took these courses hoping to someday help address sustainability challenges in an international setting.

As a former international traveller and adventurous rafting guide, I wondered why I felt trepidation about this move. Did becoming a mom change that part of me so much? Now that my career in rafting is over (although the river will always be part of my life), it is an interesting and intimidating prospect returning to tiquicia (a local word for Costa Rica)—this time committed to my new career. How can an expat mother establish herself as a sustainability and conservation professional in a small town of this foreign country? It's going to take perseverance and creativity.  

As a former international traveller and adventurous rafting guide, I wondered why I felt trepidation about this move to Costa Rica. Did becoming a mom change that part of me so much?

Letting it sink in

The first conversation about “the move” led to many more. Were we really going to do this? Can we afford to? What will we do? Where will we live? So many questions added to the excitement and nerve-wracking nature of the process. When we decided to make the move, the reality started to sink in. It’s incredible how much energy it takes—both the physical and emotional—to prepare for an international move as a family. I was grateful we were going someplace familiar.

Although thoughts of the upcoming move were overwhelmingly optimistic, I was, at times, brought down by the “what ifs”. What if I can’t find work? What if something happens to our son (these included several dreams about snakes)? What if we just don’t like it?

Well, I thought, we can always come back sooner than expected—and that’d be okay. It has to be, right?

The reality became more real as we got closer to the departure date and told more people about our decision. In my full-time job at a conservation nonprofit, I was especially concerned about telling my colleagues. What would be their reaction? Work was good. I was growing in many aspects and getting traction on new projects. The idea of leaving made it harder knowing that I’d be leaving this position behind. But I had to do it. It was time for a change—time to flex those "travelling" and "living in new places" muscles that had been left unused.

Taking the flight

Getting every little detail ready for the flight was like nothing I had experienced before. We were moving our entire lives. Well, everything that we couldn’t fit into our Bozeman, Montana storage unit. That meant a lot of things needed to get done: from cancelling our Internet and composting services to gathering all the products from the States that we couldn’t live without.

We worked full-time at our former jobs until almost two weeks before our departure to Costa Rica. In retrospect, that was crazy. During that time, we said, “see you later" to our ‘97 Forerunner, as we decided to ship the car down to Costa Rica. We figured that having a reliable car we know—and our son knows—would be the best option. Plus, this allowed us to get all our extra luggage down to Costa Rica.

Other than that, we were like buzzing bees during our last 10 days in Bozeman—packing, moving, cleaning and spending time with friends. The door to our storage unit was officially locked with less than 12 hours to spare. Loading up six massive duffle bags at the check-in for our flight felt like the final send-off. In that moment, I took a sigh of relief. We had made it. We were going to Costa Rica and whatever we did not have, we did not need. This has always been something I tell myself when all is packed for a river trip. Time to get in the current and see what happens next.

Now we are reaching the four-month mark in Costa Rica. We are feeling settled into life in La Fortuna, a small town northwest of San Jose. Work seems to finally be working out: I am consulting for a tourism company, while my husband is getting into a regular guiding routine. We're not sure how long this move will last, but for the moment, as we gain consistent work to support our family, I believe we can make it. Time will tell.   

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Published in Work Abroad Blogs
Aisling Force

Aisling is an artist, ex-raft guide, and sustainability professional. Costa Rica is her ‘temporary’ home, where she’s reconnecting with her husband's family and supporting her son’s exploration and development. She is currently working as a freelance consultant in sustainable tourism.

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