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Monday, June 25, 2007

Beneath the Veneer

By Tony O.

As an ESL teacher abroad, I have a unique opportunity to truly get to know Costa Rica. It's one of the most appealing aspects of the job. I've met numerous wonderful locals. I've seen amazing sights. I've experienced the culture in a way that would be impossible as a tourist visiting here for only a week or two. I've had the opportunity to dig deeper. Instead of just observing, I'm participating.

That means I see more than what the tourism council wants me to see. I see beyond the fancy hotels and beautiful beaches. I see the reality of daily life. I see the blemishes that are so easy to overlook during a whirlwind tour.

Friday night, my roommate and I came home to a shocking scene. Our apartment was broken into. The thieves made it past two locked gates. They simply removed the locks entirely. They stole TVs and laptops. We're lucky, I suppose, that they didn't take other valuables. Our neighbors helped us by calling the police, providing us with a chain and lock for our gate, and even driving us downtown to file a report.

This is the reality of life in Costa Rica. There are bad people that do terrible things. And there are good people that show incredible kindness and generosity.

It's been a few days since the robbery, but I'm still trying to sort out my thoughts. I feel violated and frustrated. I'm angry and homesick. I've been slapped in the face with a reminder that I'm not here on vacation. This isn't all fun and games. There's no tour guide looking out for me to make sure I stay safe.

I don't say this to discourage people from visiting or teaching in Costa Rica. There's crime everywhere, and this could've happened just as easily in the US or any other country. I would still recommend this experience to everyone. But it's important to know what you're getting into.