Published on Friday, October 11, 2013 by Regina Flores
When I first learned that my family would be moving to Costa Rica for a year so my mom could do research on some dirt she called “soil”, my world as I knew it suddenly seemed to come crashing down. As an utterly furious fifth grader, I could not picture life anywhere other than Bryan/College Station where I had my cool school and my BFF. I told myself that it wouldn’t happen, that it couldn’t happen, that there was no way we could possibly be moving to a foreign country.
Unfortunately, my mother was not joking about moving, so I said my tragic goodbyes and off we went to Costa Rica, bawling my eyes out and complaining to no end. Little did I know that my year living in Costa Rica would transform my outlook on new people and new situations for the better. The shift didn’t just occur in my character – it occurred in my perspective on culture and life in general.
We were headed to a place called CATIE, a private, gated community where people from all over the world came to do the same thing my mother said she was doing – “researching agriculture for tropical America.” When we arrived, I felt miserable and trapped. To put it kindly, the place did not appeal to me whatsoever. I looked out the window and saw no one socializing or playing outside. I felt like I was stuck in a barren desert. I thought I was the only child there, and it was a very dismal feeling. The truth was that all of my future friends were at school.
What happened when school let out caught me by surprise. I remember gazing blankly out the window of my empty bedroom when I observed a bus pull up, and when the doors opened, at least twenty students poured out. They looked to be around my age, and they all seemed very friendly and comfortable with one another. I wanted to be a part of their group, but at the same time I felt extremely out of place. After all, why would they want to include a strange newcomer in their tightly knit circle? I was intimidated and had no idea as to how to approach them.
Thankfully, they approached me. That same night, there was a knock at our door. When I opened it, I was shocked to recognize a group of children who had gotten off the bus. They had come to welcome us to the neighborhood and introduce themselves. I had never experienced such friendliness in my whole life. Their unexpected, warm gesture startled me, but I was overjoyed that I actually might have some friends at CATIE. I later discovered that these people were from countries such as Bolivia, Honduras and Brazil, and that in the weeks to come, I would realize they were some of the best people I had ever met.
The friends I made in Costa Rica turned out to be such positive, energetic, encouraging people. Yes, I initially judged their way of life as foreign and strange, but I grew to love it even more than my own culture as I gave their friendships a chance. Unlike many children in the United States, my Costa Rican friends never excluded anyone but instead reached out to everyone. They gave newcomers warm smiles instead of cold glares and invited new people into their group with open arms. My new friends’ gracious Latino culture demonstrated how to be a loving friend by giving unselfishly and putting the needs of others before one’s own. Their way of treating people impressed me and encouraged me to share their culture with people back home.
After packing up and moving to Costa Rica for a year, I learned that stepping out of my comfort zone can lead to unique, amazing experiences that may never come around again. I would take a chance like that again any day, and I encourage you to do the same.