Costa Rica O.E. (Beer Fest vs. Tree Hugging)
As opposed to doing an O.E out of England, drinking pints and hitting Oktoberfest etc, I took the road less travelled and decided to move to Costa Rica to become an English Language Teacher.
I had completely unrealistic visions of myself wearing white linen, in a beautiful open-air country school, where the birds would tweet, and I would be surrounded by delightful knee-high children, bubbling away in a foreign jibber. I imagined that when I left the teaching job they would all sign a little handmade card that would say “We will miss you Miss B!!” and “Good luck!”
As I left the capital city of San Jose, Costa Rica, in a taxi at 3 a.m., on the way to the small coastal town where I would complete some teacher training, I passed transvestite prostitutes on the street who looked at me and licked their lips. I took one look at the local public school and decided it looked like a prison. The classrooms were dark concrete cells, with chicken wire on the windows, covered in graffiti and probably about a zillion degrees inside.
From Day Uno, I began sweating like a peanut in a box of raisins. Based on what I know about pirate folklore (which is sort of what I based my decision on) I always thought living in the tropics would be glamorous… white sand beaches, coconut trees, clear blue ocean, treasure chests fill of gold, just waiting to be dug up. You just never imagine that there will be biting ants in the sand, or that you’ll develop some sort of weird fungus on your toe from an itchy bite that won’t heal in the humidity. (My toe is better now).
I was offered a teaching job, but at the same time told not to accept it, because I wouldn’t make enough money to support myself. I comforted myself with the thought that if I seriously wanted to teach English, I would have gone to Asia anyway. Therefore I must not be that serious. I brought a surfboard and was determined to use it between the hours of 4 and 5 p.m. (so as not to develop aggressive skin cancer). But I lucked into a job on my second day in the country and haven´t stopped working since. Two years later I sold the surfboard, having never once got it wet. I never had the time. (Nor have I ever developed a tan).
As a photographer working in the rainforest, my income varied. Some days I made a big fat zero dollars and I had to try hard to keep my spirits up… especially when getting the shit scared out of me by snakes of questionable motive. (Being instructed that I would need to immediately kill the snake if ever bitten did not help. Everyone seemed to have a machete but me). Some days I could make up to $30. Which was marginally better. My ears pricked up at an invitation to teach English in Saudi Arabia for $3,000 per month, but Mum helpfully pointed out I wouldn´t like it there, on account of the public beheadings and stuff. Six months of this went by and American tourists would say to me, “You’re living the dream!” I sort of was. But thank God I worked my way up. Two years, six jobs, two business trips to the United States later, I now appreciate my current air-conditioned office in a luxury community a hell of a lot more than I did the snake-infested, sweltering jungle. Not that it wasn´t nice to share that particular “office” with the toucans, monkeys, sloths, poison-dart frogs and giant butterflies.
But there are not many New Zealanders in Costa Rica. Perhaps if there were more, I would not have had to explain that New Zealand is actually not a town located in Australia or Europe and guesses as to my nationality may have been more accurate than South African? English? North American? Swedish? No wait… Scottish?? (How, how, do I sound Scottish???)
This is a far cry from the experiences of my older brother, who in England often ran into people he knew from school (“Oh heylo! You here for the running of the bulls too? Mint!”). Without the presence of any fellow countrymen by my side, I sort of feel like the only gay Eskimo which can sometimes be more depressing than it is a novelty. So having gone and blazed the trail for the Costa Rican O.E., after having arrived and found that I can make it without screwing up or having to skulk home with my tail between my legs, I sincerely invite other New Zealanders to come and have a go of it with the Latinos. And I will possibly consider allowing you to sleep on my couch in exchange for a pot of Golden Syrup or a similar swag of goods. The money’s not always great here, I don´t ever recommend you watch the news, it’s way too hot than is humanly comfortable and the sun is unnecessarily close, but I do promise you good times! (And boy will you learn a lot.)