One summer, I lived in Costa Rica.
It all started in the spring of 2014. I needed to fulfill a work requirement for grad school, and despite my best efforts, I hadn’t landed a domestic internship. I had applied to jobs in New York, DC, and maybe even Boston, but to no avail. As the academic year came to a close and the summer was in the offing, I was out of ideas. The only place that had offered me an opportunity was a healthcare consulting firm in Costa Rica, and the closer I got to the end of the academic year, the more I realized that I was destined to spend my summer there. I’d been so adventurous in my early twenties, but pursuing this opportunity meant traveling to another country I’d never been to, living among people I didn’t know, and speaking a language I loved, but that I hadn’t spoken regularly since high school.
The night before my flight, I hung out with my roommates and my stepbrother. My roommate and my stepbrother Dave were discussing all the times they’d been mugged in foreign countries, while my other roommate watched a powerful and jarring movie about the HIV crisis. As my anxiety steadily climbed, I wondered if I could actually do this. I had no idea what I was in for, but I also knew that I didn’t need that many hours to fulfill the requirement. If the experience was not to my liking, I knew I could bail, but I didn’t want to go into this summer with that mindset. I hoped for a successful journey, even though my confidence was nonexistant.
I’m not sure I slept at all that night, but when my alarm went off at 3 am, I felt relieved. The wait was over. I got up, grabbed my bags, and left. My roommates wouldn’t be up for hours, and it was strange to leave the apartment knowing how long I’d be gone, but the best thing I could do was to keep moving. I was energized, but also exhausted. I spent what little energy I had on calling a car to take me to the airport, and then making sure I boarded the right plane.
I slept for most of the flights (there were two), and I remember feeling nervous when the plane touched down in San Jose. I remember standing at that cabstand outside of the airport, more or less praying that someone would come for me, and that they would know who I was. I’d trusted that the company who brought me out here had made the necessary arrangements, and yet I had no idea who was coming to pick me up. All the taxis were red and looked the same. Many other drivers offered to give me a lift to my destination, but I didn’t even know how to get to where I was supposed to go. I was too self-conscious to attempt my terrible Spanish, and despite my naps, I was drained from what had already been a long day.
As luck would have it, my driver found me. Maybe I just looked ridiculously American, and it wasn’t a challenge to pick me out of a crowd. I got to the hostel in the early afternoon, and after talking with the proprietor for a bit, a stocky and bald Columbian man named Gabriel, I adjourned to my room, which I’d share with another person for a few days while he searched for an apartment. I was grateful that he spoke English, and also for how friendly he was. At the conclusion of our conversation, I took two hour nap. I needed to recharge the batteries before I did anything else.
I woke up to a brand new life. The person I shared a room with found a place to live a few days after I arrived, and Gabriel offered me the entire room for as long as I’d be there. I’d have my own private room, a place where I could be alone if I needed to be. Thus began my summer living in a hostel, near the San Jose airport.
Each morning I was there, breakfast was provided. I’d grab some toast, a glass of juice, a cup of coffee, and I’d find a place to sit at the kitchen table. I would converse with whomever was already sitting there. I’d learn people’s names, their reason for travel, and I enjoyed meeting people from different countries and all different walks of life. For that first week, I was leading a charmed life that seemed in no way real. I was still Adam, but I was living in a different world, populated with people who were so very different.
The rush at the beginning was amazing, but it faded. In time, I’d come to realize that the job wasn’t what I hoped for. I met so many people, but given the hostel’s proximity to the airport, turnover at the hostel was high. I met new people almost every day, but it was like speed dating with people I’d never see again. I got tired of trying to forge relationships with people who were leaving, of never getting to know anyone aside from the proprietor and his family. At the end of the first month, I think I calculated that I only needed a few more weeks to fulfill my requirement, and I strongly considered heading back to New York. I didn’t know how much longer I could keep this up.
Then everything changed.
Nothing in life stays the same for long. One day, I walked into the hostel’s common room because I heard someone speaking, a person I couldn’t place. He was holding court with some of his friends, and he was speaking with charisma and intelligence. I liked him almost immediately. While his friends were only staying for a few days, he’d be staying the rest of the summer to get his certification to teach English.
Shortly thereafter, two more people joined our group, people who’d be staying long-term. One ended up working at my company, and with this group now formed, I wasn’t as eager to get back home; New York could wait. We bonded over our shared situation, and while we still chatted up the other people who stayed at the hostel, we found comfort in the close friendships we forged. We traveled together, and got to know each other’s personal stories. We watched movies and cooked together, and even played soccer with Gabriel’s kids. The hostel became a fun place to live, and was constantly filled with excitement.
It’s strange living in a place where people constantly come and go. You get sick of investing yourself in people who never stay, but when you find people who stick around for a bit, you’re able to drop your guard and develop a true relationship.We only spent about two months together, but living in close quarters speeds up the process of getting to know someone.
Most of the people you meet in life are only there for a moment or two, but it makes you appreciate the ones who stay. These people let you in and allow you to become part of their lives. They enhance the quality of your life and make you a better person in the process. I would never live in a hostel again, but that experience taught me so much about myself, things I wouldn’t have learned otherwise. Thanks for reading.