Expat Diaries: Linking to Your Past

My blog has always been about my new life in small town Costa Rica, as it should be. That was the point, how I got talked into this whole mess. But after a three-week whirlwind through LA, Las Vegas and NYC, I’m feeling more of a need to re-connect with my city roots. And I’m feeling weirdly guilty about it. Why? Simply because I spent most of my trip feeling pretty uncomfortable in those three cities I used to call home.

I now feel so much happier living on a dirt road in a house with plenty of space, than any cooped-up apartment I’ve previously inhabited. (No one is more surprised than me.) But I still lived in a big city for most of my adult life, and I love that about myself.

Ten months in a sleepy pueblo can’t really erase 14 stressful years of history in bustling big cities, can it?

Can it?

I called my blog The Jungle Princess, because city life had spoiled me just enough to be teased “princess” when I first moved to Coco. But that’s been almost the only recognition of my past that I’ve admitted to. Most of my expat friends here come from a big city in Canada or the US, but we hardly ever talk about it. Brynn and I sometimes laugh about the short time we overlapped in Manhattan, and Lisa and I have the only longer talks about New York, because we both worked and lived for years in NYC. But that’s all.

Well, it’s time to fold some more of that big city girl into the dialogue, both online and off.

After all, at the end of the day, I’m still the only person in my new small town attached to her BlackBerry, and instead of hoofing it on a bike, I call myself a taxi. I think fast, I talk fast, I sometimes can’t turn off my brain in order to get a good night’s sleep. I also compare myself to others more than I’d like and work too much at my computer, even as I live near the beautiful beaches of Costa Rica.

That’s just me, and it’s not going to change. And for all the best reasons, I might add. I have my BlackBerry with me at all times so that the news agency I started from scratch after losing my job doesn’t miss a sale. I work hard so I can save my money. Some day, I want to build a house or have a family. I saw debt creeping up on me once, and I never want to see it again.

I have dreams, and they’re not going to go away.

But I have not tried to bring the cosmopolitan pitfalls down here to Costa Rica with me. Instead, I’ve been working hard at changing to adapt to my life here. (Again, that was the point.) In fact, when I was in NYC, I couldn’t believe how insecure I felt in the clothes that make me so happy down here in the tropics. And the BlackBerry? I get relentlessly teased in Coco for checking it every so often; when I was in NYC, people had it out on the dinner table. My life now is no longer measured with immediate victories, like breaking a cover story in a magazine or buying a new couch. I sleep soundly for the very first time that I can remember. It doesn’t kill me to tap out long text messages on my local keyboard-less cell phone. I laugh when I hear monkeys.

But expect to start seeing a little bit more of the old me on my blog. Or at least the life I left behind. I miss people who were edgy, racy, clever, had a glimmer of danger in their eye. Nightlife? I now want nothing to do with it. But maybe I’m still interested in people who are. I’m not sure yet.

Let’s face it, any move requires a lot of sacrifice. I gave up so much in order to come to Costa Rica. It was well worth all of it, of course. But I now choose to recognize my past and my connection to it. Sometimes acceptance is the first step in letting go. Pictured here? Me getting my city on in Vegas and Manhattan with my closest friends during my recent trip. I couldn’t wait to come back to Costa Rica. But it doesn’t mean I don’t miss my past.

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I'm a life-long travel junkie journalist who works hard to find adventure in everyday life after two years of travel and expat living.

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  1. Peace and contentment. Kinda underrated in the States, heh? Looking forward to getting out in the big, wonderful world with (and almost near) you soon.

  2. I LOVE this blog! And I LOVE all of the new colors and the design. Abby, you are my hero.

  3. Aw, thanks, guys! I am so happy to be back in a quieter atmosphere. There’s finally enough time to fit everything in!

  4. I read your blog… every word of it. It rings true to me as well, although I’m a bit of a different sort. I grew up in a small town of 6000 people, and moved to the city. I think now I’m forever a city boy. Despite the cowboy hat, white t-shirt, and blue jeans that I prefer. As usual! Good stuff!

  5. Love this post — so poignant! I know that whenever I lived overseas, I suffered from the “grass is always greener” problem. When I was in the States, I wanted to be overseas. When I was overseas, I missed everything about being in the States. For the past several years, I’ve been in DC and rarely traveled much. I realized that as much as I love exploring other cultures, I am happiest when I’m at home. It’s all about balance, and it sounds like you’ve found that. You can bring the best of city life and your old world into your new world in Costa Rica. Sure you’ve left some things behind, but those pale in comparison with what you’ve gained :).

  6. Love this post 🙂

  7. Hi Abby,

    I can completely understand it. We all fall back to the familiar. You know the familiar, you know what to expect and you know that you can do the familiar.

    We are in the same boat. After over 100 days of travel (which doesn’t sound much, but with 2 kids wow!) we are starting to think that perhaps we should be pulling up somewhere for a while. Putting the kids in daycare so they can play with some other children and we can take a rest 🙂

    We have the next 2 months planned, but after that we’ll probably do that for 3 months or so and then head over to you neck of the woods for some more travel. Expect some visitors to Coco. Unfortunately the 2 little people are loud 😉

    Just because your in a small village, doesn’t mean you are a small villager! It just means your in a small village 😉



  8. Thanks, Colin!! We’ll be so excited to meet (all of) you guys. Coco loves visitors! That’s such a great plan. Let the kids play and then come to Costa Rica after rainy season! As for the “not a small villager” comment — that’s exactly what I was trying to say and couldn’t find the right words!

  9. Thanks, Brendan! In your cowboy hat, you’d fit right in here — and also my hometown of Albuquerque. Even though it has at least half a million people. (Probably way more.) I’d never been to a small town before I moved here. (I thought that WAS a small town.) I love it!

  10. Oh, I can’t wait to hear where you’ve lived overseas! Yes, bringing the best parts of both worlds together, that’s the point, right? I wish I were doing it a bit more gracefully!

  11. Thanks, Abbie!!

  12. Great post! I didn’t know you lost your job and that it was part of the impetus for moving–it was for my move to Australia, as well.

    I think it’s healthy to recognize and to let our loved ones at home know that we haven’t completely changed. There are things I miss everyday about the States. But there are things I have found in Oz, for instance, sleeping through the might and being less stressed, as you described, that eluded me in the States. The end result, no matter where you wind up, will be an amalgamation of all the parts of you that developed in your respective cities.

    Look forward to reading more!

  13. I know just precisely how you feel Abby! There was a lifestyle with my friends back home that just doesn’t manifest on the road, and though I am ok with that, going home and experiencing what was once so routine can cause a bit of nostalgia no matter how much you love your current life choices.

    Looking forward to seeing a bit more of “Abby” in the posts before I actually see you in person at TBEX! 🙂

  14. Rich Bravo says:

    Maybe I’m a city-dwelling zombie, but where are you supposed to put your blackberry if not on the table? (Sometimes I stack my iPhone on top of my blackberry.)

  15. Lovely reflection and honest post Abby. I don’t think it’s bad to reconnect with your connected past if that makes sense. I’m actually looking forward to doing the same soon. I will still be working and connected to my phone and computer, but I can’t wait to just stroll around Florence at night, lapping up gelato not worrying about the latest email.

  16. I can completely relate. I’ve spent the past ten months feeling completely uncomfortable in the town I grew up. After living abroad everything that used to be so familiar seemed so foreign. I know when I move there will be things that I will miss painfully (my family for example) but the positives totally outweigh the negatives.

    As for the full night of sleep… I am envious. I can’t remember what it is like… Or to not have my phone on the dinner table.

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