Today marks the halfway point in my time here in Costa Rica. Three weeks ago today, I flew into San José and three weeks from today I will be flying back into Cincinnati. I can’t believe I only have three weeks left here, especially after the way the past three weeks have just flown by!
I’ve been spending a lot of time this week thinking about how content I’m feeling here. One morning I woke up thinking about how the Nicole that was in Spain two years ago wouldn’t believe it if someone told her that in two years she would voluntarily go abroad again and actually be happy most of the time. Although I miss my family, friends, and certain things about home, I have almost never found myself being homesick here. And if you followed along while I was in Spain (or even have read that blog since then), you know just how amazing that really is. It’s quite miraculous, actually.
I know a lot of that has to do with the fact that I am healthy and don’t have a nasty bacterial infection raging in my intestines. However, I can’t help but wonder how I’ve grown in the past (almost) two years to allow me to have the almost entirely positive experience that I’m having now. Even in my everyday, American life, this feeling of contentment is not consistently present.
For those reasons (and many more!), I’ve been spending a lot of time reflecting on my everyday experiences here. Sometimes I find myself reflecting on experiences as they happen (I’ll share one of those moments shortly), but most of the time I reflect after the fact. I’ve spent hours laying on my bed, filling my little orange journal with whatever comes to mind. Stories, thoughts, emotions, observations, you name it. On a daily basis, I’m amazed at what I’m learning here. Not only about working with special needs children, like I signed up for, but also about myself and about life in general.
Take Monday, for instance. One of the teachers at the school, Marcela (the one who plays lots of music for her students), also teaches dance at a little studio in another town. I unwillingly got roped into going to one of her belly dancing classes. Belly dancing, can you believe it? Honestly, I didn’t really want to go. But I went because she was really excited about me coming, and I figured it couldn’t hurt to try something new and spend a little time with her outside of school.
The class was an hour and a half long. At some point about half an hour into it, I realized that I was really enjoying myself. We were just learning basic moves, but I was having fun being there and learning. Immediately after I realized I was having a great time, it hit me: I would NEVER do this at home. I would never go to a belly dancing class, and if I did I would be too embarrassed about trying to dance in front of other people that I definitely wouldn’t have a good time. But there I was, laughing and dancing in Marcela’s little class (that she was teaching in Spanish, by the way), having a blast.
It’s not like the idea of pushing myself out of my comfort zone is a new one to me. Every year at camp the idea that the best things happen outside your comfort zone is at the forefront of many of the leadership lessons. I’ve tried to keep that in mind for years! But it wasn’t until that moment in the dance studio that it really hit me.
And a that moment a bunch of pieces in the puzzle of why I’m so content in Costa Rica came together:
- Coming here at all was a huge step out of my comfort zone. After being so homesick in Spain, I was terrified of leaving home for another country again.
- Every day I go to work in a special education school, having no prior experience working with special needs children. Each day there is a new challenge. I love it, but it’s totally outside my comfort zone.
- I take two public buses each morning and each afternoon to get to and from the school. That may not seem like a huge deal, but I avoid taking the city buses in Columbus because I’m afraid I’ll end up somewhere I don’t want to be.
- I live with a Costa Rican family, and for a week now I’ve been the only American student living here, and will be until I leave.
- I’m planning on going to museums in San José and exploring them on my own in the upcoming weekends. That’s also something I would never do at home.
Sometimes even smallest things seem like the biggest leaps out of my comfort zone. But here’s the thing: each little step I take outside of my comfort zone means a tiny expansion of its reaches. With every moment that I push myself to do things I might not be entirely comfortable with here, I am growing.
I hope that’s something I can take home with me when I leave in three weeks. I think I needed this very strong reminder that pushing myself to my limits is the only way change will ever happen. I’m slowly learning that I’ve been living my life pretty stagnantly, and I want that to change.
It feels pretty good to be content, despite the normal highs and lows. I can’t believe I had to come all the way to Costa Rica to figure out exactly what I was missing!!