The past 6 weeks have been very interesting for the Hinsons, to say the least! We made the huge move from North Carolina to our new home in Costa Rica (moved in on July 4th), tackled our residency paperwork, and received our shipment of household items sent ahead of time…including my Jeep. We’ve explored the local towns and markets, and discovered a few of our favorite restaurants along the way.
Fortunately we didn’t need to research school options for our 6 year old son Toby, since we’d long since figured that out. He would attend a terrific private bilingual school at the bottom of the mountain. About 45 minutes drive each way, but well worth it we thought. It was important for Toby to be around other kids from the states, to feel more at home during this big transition in his life. After doing our homework during previous visits, at least THIS aspect of our new life here was settled.
But when we arrived, the message from everyone was consistent. Do you really want to drive up and down that mountain road each day, especially during the rainy season? Do you really think it best for Toby to be around non-local kids? And the cost. What about the money spent for the tuition, not to mention for diesel fuel and wear & tear on the Jeep? These were the points we heard from everyone (Ticos and gringos alike), but we stuck to our guns on this. After all, we’d researched it and made our decision, so down the mountain Toby would go. It was best.
Then early one morning before Toby woke up, Jill and I had a chance to reopen the discussion and consider all the advice that we’d received. Not long into the talk, we realized that we what we were planning was a big mistake. It would be better for Toby to be with local “neighborhood” kids than with American kids, for so many reasons. Instead of his classmates living down the mountain, wouldn’t it be better for his friends to be just up or down the street. The fact that everyone at the school would only speak Spanish was, in fact, a huge positive. At 6 years old, picking up the country’s language should be relatively easy…if he has no choice. If he must learn the language in order to play with his friends, then he’ll learn it quickly we were told.
[As an aside…if you plan to move to a foreign country, please make plans to learn the language. Not just a few words and phrases to use during daily life, but actually chart a course to speak the language. First, it is a very basic courtesy to those who live here. Second, your appreciation of the country and culture will rise exponentially when you can converse with those in the country that you’ve adopted.]
Regarding the time we would spend driving Toby up and down the mountain (~3 hours per day), couldn’t that time be much better spent learning Spanish, starting a business, or simply enjoying the area and the people? And taking that further, what better statement could we make about our commitment to this mountaintop community? Telling our Tico neighbors that our son would attend the same local school as their kids was important. In North Carolina, our family was known for our involvement in the local community, from the Ruritan Club to the food pantry that we ran at our church. Did we really want to start a new tradition of community dis-involvement here?
So, the decision was reopened that morning, and the terrific advice from our local friends was heeded. Toby would attend Escuela La Trinidad, about 5 minutes drive down the road. We asked one of our friends if he could put us in touch with the teacher, and that’s when we learned that the current school session had started that day! We went to the school by ourselves and struggled to get information and ask about enrolling. The school year here runs from January to December, so Toby would be jumping in to the first grade mid-year. We provided all of Toby’s records that we’d brought and the teacher (maestro) told us he would inquire and get back to us soon with an answer. We took a local friend with us on the next visit, and he graciously provided translation services for us. The maestro told us that he’d checked with the school system, and Toby was approved to start the next day! After receiving a list of school supplies and uniform requirements, we headed out shopping.
On Toby’s first day of school, he couldn’t have been any more excited. He was up at the crack of dawn, dressed and ready to go. For a kid heading to a new school in a new country where his language wasn’t spoken, his unbridled enthusiasm was something special. We drove him to the school and dropped him off, and he was the happiest kid you’ve ever seen. Picking him up later that day, Toby was still beaming as he retold the events of the school day…to the best of his English speaking ability. The next morning, he was up and ready to go again.
Some very cool things have occurred since our son started school at Trinidad. First, each time the local workers have seen Toby dressed in the public school uniform, they’ve absolutely beamed. Compliments pour forth. Also, after a week or so at the school, one of Toby’s classmates handed us a big bag of beautiful (and delicious!) red beans grown by his family. Red beans are an important local crop, so this was a very special house warming gift. A week later, the same young amigo brought us a big bag of corn, bananas, squash, pejibaye fruit and an avocado…all from his family’s harvest, and all delicious. These gifts of food filled our bellies and warmed our hearts, and made us feel more welcome than any words…English or Spanish.
Did we make the right choice about Toby’s school? The answer appears to be a resounding yes. Not only does Toby love going each day, but he is being thoroughly challenged by the curriculum…and that’s saying something with Toby. He loves his teacher, Maestro Rudy, as well as the rest of the staff at the school. Combine that with the powerful social benefits of attending the local escuela, and I can most assuredly say…we’re glad we were wrong!