The Pros and Cons of Teaching in Costa Rica

 
Pros-Cons-Teaching-in-Costa-Rica

As usual, before moving to Costa Rica and accepting my contract I did very little research. To be honest, when making major life decisions I go on my "gut feeling" rather than reading what other people say (so ironic, because now I'm writing this for you to read). I knew the school I would be teaching at focused on sustainability and had an inquiry based curriculum, and it had my magic word that I find it very difficult to resist - "rural". This is was I found to be the pros and cons of teaching Costa Rica based on my personal experience living in a smaller town (not the capital city where most international schools are located): 

Pros

1. You are surrounded by a country known for its biodiversity. I've never seen such colourful birds, butterflies and constant spottings of wildlife. I'd wake up to the sounds of howler monkeys right outside my window and I literally lived in the jungle surrounded by trees and fruit that would just fall down in abundance. 

2. Beach life and eternal sunshine. Need I say more? Obviously if you're teaching in Costa Rica, aka tropical paradise, you're going to want to find a school or living situation that is close to a beach or in the forests. The lifestyle you live in Costa Rica is close to nature and naturally you spend more time outdoors. We were at the beach every weekend, hiking, trail running or mountain biking. 

3. Costa Rica is vegan/vegetarian friendly and health conscious in general. There are an abundance of tropical fruits and many of the expats who have made Costa Rica their permanent home have bought along their kombucha, natural healing, organic produce preferences and crystals along with them. I was constantly surrounded by others who were looking for alternative ways to living that were more natural and aligned with sustainability. We'd just open our back door and chuck vegetable off cuts and fruit peels into the jungle, giving it back to the earth and whatever creatures lurked outside. 

4. You get to practice slow living, get down to basics and escape the hustle and bustle. You spend so much time in nature that you become more accustomed to more natural ways of being. You're no longer surrounded by malls and even advertising! I remember our town putting up its first "billboard" and it looked so out of place. You are not constantly being bombarded with information but instead are surrounded by nature and fresh air. 

5. I found myself surrounded with positive, conscious, like-minded individuals. I feel like many people choose to move to Costa Rica because it offers an alternative lifestyle away from the fakeness that a western society can so often bring. These were people you could be yourself with, that accepted differences and you could have an actual conversation with without them constantly being on their phone. 

Cons

1. Its very expensive. I had this idea that Central America was cheap and boy was I wrong! Prices are on par with that of Europe - seriously. I would sometimes think about how local people even managed to survive, and basically many of the people where I lived would live in a bigger town (away from the beaches or forests) which meant rent was cheaper and they would live off of simple staples. You're able to find all of the western luxuries but you're going to have to pay for them. Coming from South Africa and living in Asia, most of what you'd expect to pay there was tripled in Costa Rica. P.s the teaching salary DOESN'T triple along with it and there is little opportunity for saving, but some things are worth more than money right? 

2. Flights to Costa Rica from any other part of the world (besides the USA) are ridiculously expensive, and so are flights within Central and South America. When I first booked my flight to Costa Rica I made the mistake of thinking I could easily transit through the US, because I would be staying in the airport and not leaving. Unfortunately, as a South African I needed to go for an interview at the US embassy for something as simple as a transit visa. I didn't have the time or the money at that point and had to opt for flights through South America instead with a hefty fee.

3. There are tons of tourists. I mean technically I was a tourist but what I mean is I wasn't just passing through. At high season it can be difficult to go anywhere without it being overcrowded. On the plus side, low seasons are amazing. You constantly have whole beaches to yourself and in the rainy season the country is so beautiful - everything turns green and lush. 

4. Most of the international schools are located in the capital city, San Jose. This is an inland city and it takes hours to get to the beaches where most people would rather be. As foreigners we are not permitted to work in a government school and therefore have limited options. 

 

The teachings of cycling around Costa Rica

 
Cycling-Around-Costa-Rica

In 2016, while teaching abroad in Costa Rica, I decided to go on a real adventure. I didn't have any plan at all about what I was going to share about my experience cycling around Costa Rica for a month, towing my rather large dog in a trailer. Dylan has his story but what I wanted to share is a little different. 

Sometimes our cycle around Costa Rica feels like a dream that didn't really happen. Firstly, because I would never have imagined (even probably a month before we actually began) that I would do something of this magnitude or be so "adventurous". I knew I was an adventurous person in trying new things, dealing well with change and being out of my comfort zone, but I honestly was not adventurous in the physical, athletic sense. At least in the way of when I say the word "adventurer" you picture a rather gnarly individual who looks like they can take a beating. 

And I think this is basically the point of telling you my story. To push you away from the idea that we are a certain way, that we have a personality or traits that we are defined by. It's just not true. They are boxes we made up for ourselves, or have been brainwashed into believing. Boxes that have walls of ideas that we limit ourselves to. When I was younger people would constantly tell me "you're so quiet". I grew up thinking that was a part of me. Why? Why do I need we need to stay the same, or even think that changing is a bad thing. After my travels people are constantly telling me "you've changed" and are sometimes even saddened because I am not how they remember. To me this means growth is happening, and I honestly haven't felt like I've changed at all but rather become more and more my most authentic self. 

Now that that's out of the way, let's talk about the cycling. I think a part of me was tired of seeing Dylan go off on these epic adventures while I stayed at home. Not because I didn't want to be alone, but I was sort of jealous that he was off seeing these amazing things and I wanted a part of it too. He had talked about "cycling the world" for years and it was always something that I was completely closed off to because I really and truly just didn't know how to ride a bicycle (yes, really). Once I was open to it I learned pretty quickly and cycling was so much fun. I think I must have had the childhood experience rather late because I would literally squeal with joy while we were riding. Cycling is so much easier than running - I had trained for half marathons with Dylan before and that was death. 

I was also determined to bring Charlie, our dog, with us. Anyone who knows me, knows how much I love my dog. This made it fairly easy to get into the right state of mind with the whole "you're going to be towing a heavy load for 60 km a day" thing. I think that's what made this whole trip feel like a task that not only I would accomplish, but really nearly anyone could too (provided you are in a state of good health). It's that I was determined to do it. 

The first week was an adjustment period physically and mentally. I had to learn how to listen to my body in a new way and see food as fuel over anything else. It's amazing when you feel totally depleted, like you can't carry on, and after 10 minutes of eating a piece of fruit or some nuts you're a new person. I found I had to eat a handful of nuts every 10 kilometres to keep me going. The thought of trail mix still makes me feel a little queasy now because I definitely over did it on the trip. I saved candies for the steep climbs (okay, even little hills) and would pop them like pills when I saw an incline in the distance. Uphill is the worst and I've never understood why there is the expression "it all went downhill from there" with a negative connotation attached to it. Downhills are literally the best - you don't do anything but rest! 

Dylan had an app so he could see and plan out what kind of climbing we would do each day, and so we could prepare for what kind of distance we were going to cover. I almost felt it would be better if I didn't know I'd be spending the whole day climbing a mountain because I dreaded it so much. After a while I think this turned into reverse psychology because I'd talk it up so much in my head and then when I started doing it, like our 3 day non-stop climb up The Road of Death (that's literally the translated meaning), it actually wasn't that bad. I think by then I was also getting fitter and it didn't take long before the muscles in my legs became more defined. 

The first few days were also so tiring. I would just fall asleep everywhere and anywhere in the middle of the day, even though I was going to bed just as the sun set every evening. I remember not being able to keep my eyes open and just wanted to sleep for hours. To be fair, we were also in the hottest part of the country during this time so it made it a lot tougher. Once we got further into the centre it got cooler. 

It's so funny that when you live in a house or are constantly in man made buildings you aren't as exposed to the elements. I don't think I'll ever look at trees the same again. I've always loved trees for their beauty, but man oh man their shade giving abilities are by far one of their biggest assets - you know, besides the whole oxygen giving thing. The sun would be beating down so hard and I'd feel like I couldn't carry on, but seeing a tree in the distance would motivate me to pick up speed just so I could have a rest under it in the cooling shade. 

I also learned what an amazing machine the body can be. Never in my wildest dreams did I think this body of mine would be able to exercise for 8 hours every day - and even thinking of doing it now sounds like a daunting task. Mornings were for pushing out the kilometres, and it slowed down as the afternoon approached with frequent breaks midday in that tropical heat. There were times where I'd hit a wall, thinking I couldn't carry on. I'd often just ignore my mind and literally 20 minutes later I'd forget how tired I was and be okay again, cycling for another hour or so. It would baffle me! I'd be thinking I was going to die one moment, and the next be totally okay. I can't explain the impact this lesson has had on me because it can be applied to so many different aspects of life, especially when you're having any kind of tough time - trusting that everything in the moment is okay, and then everything just is. 

I would encourage anyone and everyone who has the physical capabilities to try something like this. It doesn't have to be cycling for 30 days, but it should be something you find scary or difficult physically. I've found that when we push our physical and mental boundaries amazing things happen, and we learn so much about ourselves and life. 

I really am the most average, normal human being and if I was able to achieve this, anybody can. You can achieve anything you desire.