Alligators 'n Roadkill

Alligators 'n Roadkill
On The Road


Sunday, April 21, 2013

Why We Came Back To The U. S. A.

I know that I have not done a very good job of explaining why we came back to the U. S., and I also know that many folks may think I’m just a negative kind of person, who is not happy anywhere, or it is my bad karma, or may have any number of wrong impressions.  Recently, on my forum ( a thread has been running all about why I came back to the U. S.  I did at first take exception to the implications in the original question from a forum member, but then an established ex-pat, one who had been in Costa Rica longer than I, entered the discussion with a very nicely written, well thought out response.  I would like to not only share this line of thought, but express my gratitude to Arden Brink, who said it all much better than I could ever do.
You can follow her Blog, by the way, at:
If you would rather just read what she had to say instead of following the link to the entire thread, here are her two posts:
Hi, everyone, I’m a lurker here — don’t think I’ve ever posted and, by and large, I’m not interested in much of the snarkiness that goes on here. BUT, with the thought that some folks might actually come to the group looking for real information, I thought I’d bite the bullet and jump in with a reply to Ron as well. [Warning:  LONG post. I'm making up for never posting with one epic post.]
Unlike John (and Carole) who have had really unfortunate experiences in Costa Rica, leaving them with a distinct dislike of the country, we moved to CR in ’06 and actually really loved it. We were very active in our local community, we rented for a long time and then bought, we volunteered at our local school, I was one of the founders of the Community Action Alliance, we had lots of friends, never were ripped off by our lawyer/builder/plumber/etc. so – in general — had a VERY POSITIVE experience.  And yet, about six months ago, we moved back to the U.S. (yes, initially to the shock and amazement of many of our friends) and we love it here.
So — what happened and how have we found it to be in the U.S.? Well, first and foremost, the U.S. is a BIG country, so as the saying goes, your mileage may vary and your experiences may be completely different. The motivation for us to come back came when we spent several weeks with our newborn granddaughter last year. Our kids already lived cross-country when we moved to CR which meant it hadn’t felt like any big “loss” to us to move “so far away,” so we were surprised to find how strongly we felt when the grandbaby entered the picture about *not* being a “once-a-year-visit” family any more. So that’s where the
process started.
Once we got into talking about it, though, we found that there was a lot about Costa Rica that we were “accepting” just because we were there and had planned on continuing to live there, so why complain about something you can’t change.  But the simple fact is that we DID find that costs had risen a LOT since ’06 so the entire logic of our being there for the “lower cost of living” wasn’t really panning out any more. The hassles and inefficiencies of a Latin American society were again something that we’d just accepted (with the “it is what it is” philosophy) but I can’t say we truly enjoyed those things. And even the idyllic year-round spring weather of CR becomes a little less idyllic as you begin to accumulate more rainy seasons under your belt.
What all that means is we represent an interesting “middle-ground” — I suppose if we’d absolutely adored living in Costa Rica and felt *no* dissatisfaction with anything, we might have figured out a different way to solve the family issues. And yet we weren’t deeply unhappy with CR by any means, so without the new grandbaby, we might have muddled along for who knows how much longer before feeling, much less voicing, the “what if we went back?” question.
HOWEVER, as I say, now that we ARE back in the U.S., we like it tremendously.  The array of food available to us is almost dazzling and we spend much less on much better food than we did in Costa Rica. Now, of course, there’s also very expensive food available here  but a key is simply that there is such a WIDE variety of food that with even a slight bit of “paying attention” you can eat much better for less money. And organic food is readily available, right in the supermarket in practically every “category” of food, not to mention the farmers market, whereas — as we came to sadly find out — pesticide use in CR is at a beastly high level, and you sure don’t walk into your local supermarket and find
an organic version of practically every kind of food you could want to buy (for only a small price increase over the non-organic version, in most cases). So, food has been a real winner here.
I say we moved “back” but we did not, in fact, move back to the place we came from. Our kids no longer lived in Maine where we’d been, and the whole point is to be near them, so we moved to Utah where our daughter and her family live (which has the benefit of also putting us comparatively close to our son in CA) and we’re lucky that the economy is Utah didn’t take nearly as big a hit as in some other parts of the U.S. So we’re not seeing any of that “dreariness” that seems to exist in other places.
And despite being liberal democrats in a largely republican state (and buddhists in a largely mormon state) we’ve found people to be very open, welcoming, incredibly nice, and really a pleasure to be around. (And although one of the reasons we moved to CR was to have the “adventure” of having to learn to speak Spanish, and we did become what I would call “functional” in the language, it’s actually still very welcome to us to be able to live our lives back in our native language.)
Housing costs here are slightly higher than in CR, but not by a lot. Our dear friends who also just moved back here with us bought a somewhat larger house here for about the same as they’d sold their house there for. Of course, their house there was sold furnished and had great views off to the Gulf of Nicoya and toucans in the yard, which they don’t have here, but they do have mountain views here, a lovely yard with apple and maple trees, a paved street in front of them, and a great array of services, stores, medical care, etc. all around them. They feel that it was a comfortable and worthwhile trade.  We’re renting, partly by choice, partly because we’re not “mortgage material” at the moment. And I actually think it’s never a bad idea to consider renting when you move someplace new until you get the feel for it. On the other hand, if buying is an option for someone — whether in the U.S. or Costa RIca — if you decide to sell after five years, you could theoretically afford to take a pretty
big “loss” even over your original purchase price (much less over the purchase rice + profit that most of us tend to expect when we sell) when you compare it to the “loss” of what you could have spent in rent. The challenge often is that folks often don’t *want* to take a $40k to $80k loss on the purchase price of their house even though they would’ve easily spent that on rent over those same five years. So I don’t think it’s nearly as simple an argument as people suggest.
What’s more expensive here? Veterinary care, for one, as well as medical care for humans — IF you have to pay out-of-pocket or buy “regular” health insurance. In our case, both our friends and we (my husband and mom, anyway) are able to make use of their Medicare which makes the U.S. a winner hands-down in that regard. And Utah turns out to be a very “healthy” state so that a back-up plan of catastrophic insurance for us non-Medicare-age youngsters is actually less than we were paying the CAJA in CR (when you combine us and my mom). Of course, if I just need to go to the doctor or dentist here, it will definitely cost more than it would in CR.  Cars and gasoline, of course, cost much less here, while insurance “costs more” here only because we barely carried any insurance (too expensive) in Costa Rica.  Our utilities here — electricity and gas — are much less, our satellite TV is less for way better service, although our cell phone here is more expensive, primarily due to our having a “smart phone” here with much more extensive service than we had in CR. (Basic cell service is a real bargain in Costa Rica, although buying the phone itself is not.)
Much has been written about the huge percentage of people who move to Costa Rica and move back within a year — strongly implying that they hadn’t “done their homework” and had made, for them, a “wrong choice” to move. I never saw that to be true — at least, *nowhere near* the 40 to 60% figure often touted – but what we ARE seeing, now that some years have passed since we moved to CR, is that for a large (and growing) number of people, it’s a great life adventure that they’re glad they undertook, but in the end, it’s not something they want to be permanent after all.
Although I *do* somewhat understand the reaction of folks still living IN Costa Rica to the tales of those going back — that somehow the “returnees” have made a mistake that they could have avoided if they’d been more diligent somehow, smarter, better, rented instead of bought, etc. etc. — in my own experience that’s a misplaced reaction. Why do we turn it into an endurance contest? Or why do we judge it as a “mistake” at all if someone decides to return?
Truthfully, I think the next ten years will see probably a majority of folks returning since I think, deep down, many people will find that underneath it all, they don’t want to be “ex-patriots” for the rest of their lives. And that’s fine. And for the ones that *do* decide to stay in a foreign country forever?  That’s fine too. Neither one is somehow better than the other. And I think people will continue to move to CR. And many of those folks will return as well.  All good.
A little long for a Yahoo group posting? Yep. But seems like maybe some real information might be useful to those folks looking for it. As I say, YMMV and this is ONLY our experience. We’re totally glad we moved to Costa Rica. And we’re totally glad that we’ve now moved to Utah. And who knows where we’ll be in another six years.
But we now have a LOT of friends from CR who are now living back in the U.S. and not a single one of them says they regret moving back, even though most of them don’t regret having moved to CR in the first place either.
Take from that what you will.
And, then, later in follow up, she posted this:
— In, “lenpetry” wrote:
Would you say that those who adamantly defend Costa Rica against any and all criticisms are in denial, or do they truly not care about the many small problems you mention? >>>

Interesting question, and not to nit-pick about “language” but the very word “denial” tends to carry a negative connotation, doesn’t it, which makes the distinction a particularly interesting one.
What I’ve observed over the years is that while some people do, indeed, find right from the beginning they are “bothered” by the cultural differences in Costa Rica (they are, perhaps, the unknown percentage who do actually return home rather promptly), most people seem to experience what we might call a honeymoon phase. The oddities and exasperations are all part of the adventure, likely not even to be experienced as “exasperations” at all, except perhaps for the pseudo-drama of it when relating their experiences to sympathetic friends.
In fact, I see a lot of newcomers react quite badly to perceived “criticisms” of Costa Rica and, again, I can really relate from our own experiences. It’s only natural, even if subconscious, to feel that other people going back, or even just expressing dissatisfaction with CR, is perhaps a judgement (however unintended) of your own choice to move to CR — an implied questioning of your own wisdom, if you will. (And who amongst us likes to have their wisdom questioned?)
Is this denial? I would simply call it looking at their experiences through the optimism that’s appropriate to someone newly embarking upon a life adventure (of their own choosing) and goodness knows *we* certainly experienced that. We truly couldn’t understand folks who “gave up and went home” because we “enjoyed”
all those oddities as part of our chosen new lifestyle. And yes, I’m ashamed to admit, to at least some small degree we probably judged them as somehow deficient in their capacity to adapt while we were clearly superior in *our* ability!
Then, as years goes by, as I’ve noticed now — and not just “transferring” our own experiences to everyone else, but from many conversations with now many friends who have returned — when those same oddities and exasperations have perhaps lost some of their charm, well, I guess “denial” would be a potentially accurate term, although again I’m not entirely happy to imply the negative overtones that we apply to the word.
Until such time as you actually DO — for whatever reasons — voice the “what if” question, and then decide to, indeed, return, there you are — *living* in Costa Rica. Is it going to serve your life any better by acknowledging – dare we say complaining about — those issues? Or is it just a good, solid “make lemonade out of lemons” approach to life?
I’m sure people care about and are “bothered” to greater and lesser degrees by the challenges — as I’ve often commented, we really did NOT consider ourselves to be significantly bothered — but “being bothered by” is not a static and defined thing. It’s a matter of our own “choosing” how we will experience things, how we will “process” if you will what we experience, and is a very fluid thing.
I do find it difficult to believe that there are very many gringos who are truly NEVER bothered by these things (as one might think when reading the vehement discussions that do take place!) And, ironically, I tend to think that those who are the most adamant that there are no problems whatsoever in Costa Rica, and certainly none that would ever in a million years send them back to the U.S. (or Canada), *those* are the folks that I would be most inclined to apply the denial label to.
Perhaps even then, though, it’s a matter of emotional survival. I suspect there is the unspoken (unrecognized, even) fear that if they started “allowing in” the “realities” they might be opening the floodgates, and then — god forbid – they might be the ones back in the U.S. someday. And, for anyone who considers that a failure of some sort… well, you can see why they don’t want to open Pandora’s Box.  To me the very willingness to acknowledge the challenges while making a choice (for however long one chooses) to live in CR *anyway* is the sign of a healthy relationship with the country and with themselves. But, I think that’s true no matter where you live — I guess it’s just that we see less “all or nothing”
attitude if folks were to be discussing, say, the relative merits of living in one state vs. another.
Let’s face it — many Ticos are all too aware of the challenges of living in
Costa Rica, and many will quite freely criticize the very things that come up to gringos as negatives — rising costs, crime rates, problems with the CAJA, etc. etc. — but the simple truth is the overwhelming majority of them don’t have the option of simply picking up and moving to the states (or anywhere else for that matter). So are the ones that don’t complain living in denial? At least, when relating to Ticos, one could argue that “the way things are” is all they’ve ever known (unlike most of us who have come from a place where things are, actually, quite different) so they might genuinely be less likely to be bothered by some of the same stuff for they have no personal point of reference.  But, for most gringos, I think the challenges are there to be seen by anyone with their eyes open. The choice then simply becomes how to “interact” with and “feel” about those challenges, which (after yet another epic-length post) brings us back around to my original position that to stay in CR is good, if that’s
your choice. To return to your homeland (the U.S. for most of us) is also good, if that’s your choice. To condemn others for *their* choices, not so good in my book. But that’s just me.

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