“What was it like to visit a foreign country?” the cheerful teachers ask in each class on the first days of school. Eager to build new relationships and connect with the students, these teachers’ simple question misses the point: Costa Rica is not a foreign country to me. Costa Rica is the family I love, the food I crave and the friends that can’t be replaced. Costa Rica is home.
My mother was born in Jamaica and moved to Costa Rica at a young age. Ever since I was a baby, I have spent a few months each year with family in the beautiful country.
I wake up at my grandpa’s house, smell the rain on the trees and go downstairs to eat Gallo Pinto, a traditional Costa Rican meal. I drive to my cousin’s house and we talk for hours on end about the year we have spent apart. I go to get lunch with my friends who provide the best memories. In the evenings, I return to my cousin’s house to share another Costa Rican meal with all my relatives there. These moments, these meals, represent the communion that I invariably crave when I am away.
Part of the experience of going to Costa Rica hurts me. Whenever I arrive in Costa Rica, I know my days there are limited and will pass by quickly. I know I don’t speak Spanish fluently, making me an obvious foreigner when combined with my blonde hair and pale skin. I know that I will not see my family again for months. What hurts most of all is returning to a country where I have never felt I truly belong. This is not to say I am ungrateful for my life in the United States; I am aware of my privilege to live here and I have been given a wonderful life here. However, the United States has never felt like the place I belong. In America, I wake up to the sound of my alarm, eat a hurried breakfast of cereal, drive to school and juggle responsibilities each day without the joyful interactions of my extended family and friends.
I often respond to the teachers’ questions with a vague answer such as “it was fun,” because it would take far too long to explain that Costa Rica is more than just a vacation destination to me.
As a teenager, I am eager to find the place in the world where I am called to contribute. My passion for Costa Rica leaves me with unanswered questions about who I am meant to be and what I am meant to do, but I believe passion is the driving force of happiness, success and fulfillment. I know the path toward finding my place in the world that awaits me will be long and trying, but I will walk it with the knowledge that it is leading me to find my true calling and purpose in life. Whether the place I belong ends up being Costa Rica, the United States or somewhere entirely new, I am determined to travel the distance to find out.