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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Lesson

I've been in Costa Rica, living near San Jose, for the past 3 months (I just returned from my first border run). I've taught English for about 2 of those months. But during that time, and even before, the country itself has been teaching me. I've found its most important lesson to be this: "Go with it."

The lesson began a few months before my scheduled arrival. I had researched and brainstormed about the trip for over half a year. Finally I'd come up with a solid plan. Everything was going fine. And then the plan blew up in my face. I was left with a choice: fall back to regroup or trudge forward. I didn't want to delay the start of my life in Costa Rica, so I chose to forget the plan and just wing it. So far it's worked out.

In fact I've had plans fall apart, crumble to dust in my hands, on several occasions here. Part of that is the dynamic (or chaotic) life of teaching ESL. Students don't always show up. Teachers don't always show up. Classes are cancelled, moved, rescheduled, expanded, delayed, or altered in any number of ways, often minutes before they are supposed to start. A school's curriculum may change, mid-course. A time-tested lesson plan may suddenly fizzle, leaving you to confront a dozen blank, unresponsive faces. Don't panic. Expect the unexpected. A good attitude goes much further than a good plan. Go with it.

The other part of the challenge is simply Costa Rica itself. This is a country that has changed drastically in the past 20 years. Its economic base has shifted from agriculture to tourism and technology. The infrastructure wasn't ready for this growth; the roads are falling apart and there are power and water outages weekly, if not daily. It faces all of the problems that come with modern society: crime, drug abuse, pollution, corruption, etc. At a deeper level, the country is still struggling to find its identity, to balance what it was with what it hopes to be.

But if you're willing to accept that, if you can come here and adapt to the culture, rather than expect it to change for you, then you'll reap great rewards. If you can be flexible, patient, and understanding, then you'll enjoy a country filled with friendly people, stunning natural beauty, charming quirks, and... of course... the best coffee you'll ever taste in your life. It's not for everyone, of course. But to those who are even remotely considering the possibility of living in Costa Rica, I say this: Go with it.

I think you'll be glad you did. I certainly am.