Ten Family Goals From Our Year in Costa Rica

Lee Heidel
Nov 9, 2015 · 6 min read

Our family is an efficient, tight little unit.

The organizational chart is a simple one: A dad (that’s me), a mother (that’s my wife) and a nine year old girl ready to take on the world (that’s our daughter).

Savannah, GA is our base of operations. Known throughout the world for its southern grace and hospitality, the oak trees weep with Spanish moss and the clip-clop of horse-drawn carriages break up the chatter of songbirds in the historic district’s lush, green network squares. Bright culinary, art and music scenes keep the town from being too stuffy and set in its old world ways.

Yes, Savannah has its share of problems. There’s the troublesome crime rate, high levels of poverty and political corruption; but it also has good people working hard to make a difference, many of whom we count among our network of friends.

Overall, Savannah is a good fit for our clan. Living in a place that others visit on vacation is a point of pride and we cherish the gift of beauty, history and community that the city has provided to us.

So why in the world did we move?

Things in Savannah were good. Our business was thriving. Our daughter successfully lotteried in to a challenging, engaging public school a few blocks from our house. What were once neighborhood acquaintances were steadily becoming best friends.

But something was missing.

The Backstory

Two years ago the three of us spent a month on the rugged Pacific coast of Costa Rica.

The closeness to nature was surreal, with jaw-dropping, panoramic vistas of sky and water. Monkeys and iguanas dangling from the trees. Olive Ridley sea turtles laying eggs by the thousands, steps away on the beach. SLOTHS! The ever-present circling of vultures.

The area we stayed in was remote. It was over an hour to the nearest market with the added challenges of traversing broken highway infrastructure and multiple river crossings. We were committed to working remotely during that month, and while maintaining contact with clients back in the US was difficult, we found balance. But mostly, we found time for each other.

Being segmented from the realities of recognizable home life made our family closer as we relied on each other for more than just basic needs but also for entertainment, humor and companionship. Taking a break from the every-day made each smile more memorable, each excursion more adventurous and even the rote banalities of cooking and cleaning more exciting.

But like all fantasies, it had to end.

Returning to life as normal was hard for me. The first few weeks after a vacation always are. But this was stronger, more intense. I wanted to go back but knew that it wasn’t in the cards. Like most young families we had a mortgage, commitments and investments in staying in place.

I had to go back.

The Unlikely Circumstances of Our Return

Our simple, two-story brick Colonial-style home in Savannah is located across the street from a church. The parish was embarking on renovations and needed some extra space. On a whim, they asked if we would consider renting.

“No,” we said. “Where would we live?”

That night, as I laid in bed, the answer was obvious. We would live in Costa Rica.

In addition to being a saint, my wife is a planner. Once our scheme was hatched, a whirlwind period of number crunching, estimating and layers of preparation followed in blinding succession. We could make it work; but it would be close. Things would have to magically fall into place.

Things magically fell into place.

We made a lowball offer on a gorgeous rental house and it was accepted. The local international Montessori school had room for our daughter. We found a cheap car. Everything was coming up Milhouse. Like a snap of the fingers, we were off.

Sadly, Paradise Isn’t Our Forever Home

We’ve committed to a year in Costa Rica. That covers the contracted rental of our home in Savannah. We’ve settled in the town of Nosara, a much more established area convenient to school, shopping and other people. Thankfully, the looming nature outside our windows continues to be intense and ever-present.

At the end of our year, we’ll go back to Savannah and our old roles and responsibilities will be waiting for us. In the mean time, we’re celebrating the following realities of our life as “Temporary Ticos” in Costa Rica.

  1. More, Higher Quality Family Time
    Despite the requisite school, friend and work obligations of our new home, we’re still finding extra moments to be together as a family. Some of them are active, goofing around in the pool or making surfing trips to the beach. But many of them are quiet and still. We read together, create art together and play games.
  2. Becoming Closer with Nature
    Countless hours have been spent by our family pouring over wildlife guides, sketching birds or attempting to identify beasts in the jungle. When you live in close physical proximity to some of the most extreme, diverse wildlife on the planet, it encourages respect, curiosity and creativity along with a strong desire to be more conscious of the impact of humans on these delicate systems.
  3. Relishing a Fresh Start
    The allure of starting over in a new place where no one knows you is a refreshing prospect. You can get a tattoo, change the way you dress, grow out your hair or pick up entirely new mannerisms without fear of having to explain your evolution.
  4. Shutting Out Meaningless Distractions
    During a year of heated political debate in the States, it’s been amazing to leave the rhetoric, anger and divisiveness back home. Stepping away from our media-saturated environment has created more headspace for important thought and reflection.
  5. Learning More About Ourselves
    Whether it’s in yoga class, personal meditation or experiencing new ideas, cultures and beliefs, getting outside of our comfort zone has meant challenging ourselves to listen closely to body, mind and spirit.
  6. Nurturing Hobbies and Talents
    When we boarded the plane for Costa Rica, we had three carry-ons. Our dog, my guitar and our daughter’s viola. Everyone thought we were crazy but having those instruments has been a life-saver. We “jam” together on instruments, paint together with watercolor kits and cook together in the kitchen. And we’re constantly working to get better (and have more fun) with all three.
  7. Creating New Relationships
    One of the most amazing things about this part of Costa Rica is the vibrant community of expats hailing from all over the world. Being in a new environment causes bonds to be formed quickly and we’re relishing friendships made with Swedes, Canadians, Australians and of course other American and native Tico families.
  8. Increasing Our Empathy
    While in many respects, Costa Rica is an advanced nation, there is still a noticeable level of poverty in our community. Being new to the country and the language gives us fresh eyes to view the immigration issues in our home country. There are regular teachable moments to express thankfulness for our own situation and finding ways to help others in need.
  9. Volunteer Work
    Working East Coast hours means that we have extra daylight to burn. That time has been filled by volunteering at the howler monkey rehabilitation center SIBU Sanctuary and at our daughter’s school. Giving selflessly is truly its own gift.
  10. Building Our Family’s Future
    All of these disparate things culminate in the most important reason for our move to Costa Rica. The time spent on developing our inter-personal bonds as well as reclaiming parts of our selves makes for a solid base to build upon.

I don’t know if we’ll ever live abroad again. But we’re determined to let these daily lessons come back with us and we’ll share a bit of Pura Vida with our friends and family back home.

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