“If the butterfly didn’t know how to end its life in the cocoon then we would have a bunch of dead butterflies inside of tiny silk coffins, little lives that refused to change. Perhaps due to fear of the unknown. But lots of people are less fortunate than butterflies, they don’t know when to give up, say goodbye, let go, move on. You’d think the holometabolism of the butterfly is about not giving up, but it’s not; it’s about giving up and letting in the unknown. The attainment of the state of being alive is not about never giving up; it’s about having the courage to give up, and to let in, over and over again, while you readjust your compass and realign your path.” ― C. JoyBell C.
There’s nothing like moving to a foreign country to realize your path has been awfully realigned. For some expats, this experience is a welcome change. We moved here knowing our world would be turned completely upside down, and we looked forward to new challenges and lessons. Of course, we couldn’t have possibly anticipated all that we would encounter and just how much adjustment was necessary. But we came with an open mind, and really that’s all you can do.
We’ve noticed that our expat friends who have lived here for a number of years and have adapted well all learned to embrace the Pura Vida attitude. Very little rattles our cages (we don’t even jump when we see snakes anymore). We’ve learned to almost ignore the negative aspects of living here – and believe me, there are many. Rather, we’ve chosen to embrace all the benefits of living here, taking time every once in a while to remind ourselves why we moved here in the first place.
Nevertheless, like everything else in life, it is a journey. And you can choose to enjoy the growth and transformation that comes along on that journey, or you can choose to fight, kicking and screaming, all along the way. That last group are the expats that return back to their home within 2 years — estimated at 50%, according to the latest surveys. Not at all surprising.
Our metamorphosis has been fascinating. When we look back at where we were 10 years ago, all we can do is shake our head in amazement. We took stock and realized how incredibly different our lives are than whatever we could have possibly imagined.
We’ve gone from:
Giorgio Brutini dress shoes and 9 West high heels to flip-flops
Calvin Klein and Jones New York suits to tank tops and shorts
Air-conditioned restaurants to open-air thatched huts
Entenmann’s to baking my own desserts (and hey, my crumb cake looks and tastes just as good as theirs)
Make-up and manicures to barefoot and tanned all year long
Spending my lunch hours at Barnes & Nobles and libraries to a Kindle
Choice of 24/7 stores within a 10-mile radius to mapping out all-day itineraries to find everything needed at multiple stops within a 50-mile radius
Navigon to Waze (which is still often wrong and has us driving around in circles)
Observing wildlife in a zoo to battling cane toads with a broom
Frozen vegetables to farm-to-table produce
Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s to small, local boutiques
Long-distance phone calls to WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger
16 layers of clothing in the winter to bare minimum needed to be decent in public
Real English muffins to tortillas
Whole Foods to MegaSuper (if it’s not in stock, you go without this week)
Gallons/Inches/Miles to Liters/Centimeters/Kilometers (our Canadian friends have the advantage here)
Asphalted super-highways to rutted, dirt roads (with gravel if you’re lucky)
Always being busy to just “being”
Four seasons (summer, fall, winter, spring) to two seasons (dry and rainy)
English to Spanish (or in Gary’s case, a combination of Spanglish and charades)
Keeping up with the latest technology and gadgets to learning to identify which snakes in our area are venemous or friendly
Movies in air-conditioned cinemas to watching the sun set at the beach
Wearing a watch to having no concept of time
Other changes have been less tangible. We are slower to anger (we used to nickname each other Match and Spark back in NY- I was always reminding Gary I didn’t want to have to spend money on bail); less frustrated; less bills; less headaches. New Yawkers are notorious for minding their own business and ignoring everyone around them (if you don’t believe me, ride a New York City subway – nobody even makes eye contact). Here, it can be like Peyton Place (small-town mentality) and we wave and say Buenos Dias to everyone we pass, walking or driving, whether or not we know them. Families are also very tight-knit and “connected” here – (yes, think Godfather) – and we are careful not to yell at, talk down to, or offend anyone. Sadly, a lot of expats don’t realize they are the guests here – residency notwithstanding – and think they can treat the Ticos (Costa Ricans) and Nicos (our Nicaraguan friends to the north) shabbily. I chalk that attitude up to fear, like the author above says. A fear of the unknown. Living here involves learning to deal with a whole host of unknowns, and rather than face those unknowns as opportunities for growth, many shy away from the challenge. And, in doing so, they miss out on the best part of living abroad – a chance to embrace a totally new lifestyle. A chance to change all the things you didn’t like about your previous abode. A chance to experience a true metamorphosis.
We have readjusted our compass and realigned our path. And we will continue to do so as we make new friends and find new experiences. Our prayer is that all of you can do the same, whether you stay where you are or venture into a new direction. Above all, wherever you find yourself, find peace.
Cheryl, Gary and the hounds