Hello everyone! I am starting something new that I’m very excited about. Every now and then (under no set schedule, as I live in pura-vida-ville), I am going to be doing a little segment called “EXPAT EXTRA” where I will be interviewing an expat and telling you their story.
So, here is my first ever EXPAT EXTRA! Today I am featuring the young and lovely Jennifer Turnbull-Houde. I feel a certain connection to Jenn because she and her husband Matt landed here in Costa Rica just a month after we did in 2013 – so we are kinda anniversary twinkies. They quit their cushy jobs in Boston and moved here to live a more simple and happy life, very similar to us, except they did it in their early 30’s! Here in Costa Rica, they work hard on their blog, books, and trip planning services – but now they are working on something they love, and in a place with no more winters (win/win!). Check out her homemade jam she makes (below) – the picture alone is making my mouth water!
1. Where are you from? Tell me about you and your family and where you came from.
I’m originally from Maine but have moved around a lot throughout my life. Both sides of my family are Canadian and I was born in very northern Maine, close to the Canada border. Shortly after that, my family moved to New Hampshire and later southern Maine. After spending my college years in Massachusetts and law school in Vermont, my husband and I moved to Boston for work and lived there for seven years.
2. Where do you live now, how long have you been there, and how did you decide to go there?
My husband and I now live in Costa Rica in Central America, quite a change from New England and its fierce winter weather. We’ve been here since July 2013, though we spent much of our first year and a half exploring the country and only recently put down roots on the Southern Pacific Coast near Dominical.
Moving to Costa Rica at the age of 32 was quite a big decision for us. Both my husband and I left good jobs, loving family and friends, and lives we were very happy with. There were some things, though, that we wanted to change. We were both working a lot and the speed of the day to day wasn’t always sustainable and certainly not healthy. We knew that we wanted to start a family soon but couldn’t imagine doing that with the way things were. I was also dealt a big life lesson with the unexpected passing of both of my parents at a very young age. It really taught me to appreciate every moment and enjoy what I have.
The trajectory that our careers were taking didn’t fit this life mantra. Logically, my next move as an attorney would have been to work at a law firm or in-house at a company, which would have meant even more hours than I was currently working. My husband, Matt, was already working 50 or more hours a week as a manager at a busy landscaping company and was so stressed that he had high blood pressure in his early 30s.
Costa Rica was the answer for us. We had visited on vacation several times before and absolutely loved it. Although at first, our idea of moving somewhere so far away at such a young age seemed crazy, we started to put together a long-term plan for how to make it happen and eventually did it. We’ve been here for over two years so far and don’t have any regrets.
3. Have you lived anywhere else around the world?
Nope. Costa Rica is the first place I’ve lived outside of the United States.
4. Are you ever homesick?
Yes, more so now than ever. I am actually seven months pregnant and we’re expecting a baby boy this November! We are very excited about our new arrival but not having family and friends close by has been much more difficult than I expected. There are many times when I want to share something, little things that aren’t a big deal, but don’t because it’s not as easy anymore. Luckily, though, we’ve been able to stay in close touch with many people through Skype and Facebook. Even better is that some of our friends and family are planning to make the trip down to Costa Rica after the baby is born.
5. Have you experienced Culture shock?
I’m not sure if it was culture shock per se, but when we first moved here, it took me a while to get used to things. Everything is a lot simpler and slower in Costa Rica than in the United States. On the whole, this is definitely a plus, but it did come as a shock at first. We knew about the pura vida mentality of worrying less and enjoying life more from our trips, but visiting a country as tourists is very different from living somewhere. We had to get used to eating differently, learning a new language, and feeling a bit like outsiders trying to adapt to a new culture.
6. What is your best tip for moving to another country?
Be flexible and accepting. Things are going to be different from where you came from but that’s probably one of the main reasons you moved in the first place so embrace it. Be patient when the differences are frustrating and you will be a lot happier.
7. How is your life different now, than back home?
My life is a lot simpler than it was in Boston. I often joke that we are homesteaders, as we often find ourselves making things from scratch when something is not available or too expensive. I love to cook and back in the States, I was very spoiled. I could get basically anything from all around the world at our neighborhood Whole Foods and I didn’t hold back much with buying whatever I wanted. Now that things are more limited and we’re on a budget, we’ve had to adapt our eating, but I’ve enjoyed the challenge.
Aside from that, the pace of my life is a lot slower. While I still work quite a bit because we are growing our website and business, I can set my own schedule and do things at my own pace. This was one of the main reasons we moved and it has been great to see it actually happen.
8. Do you do anything work-wise, or are you retired? Tell me about a “typical” day for you.
Since we’re only in our 30s, we’re definitely not retired, but our typical work days are a whole lot better than they used to be. Matt and I have a travel and moving blog called Two Weeks in Costa Rica. We actually started it before moving, after we wrote Two Weeks in Costa Rica, which is a travelogue about one of our past vacations. Back then, we used to blog only once in a while when we had time in between working. Now it’s our full-time job and we write about the different places we visit in Costa Rica and expat life. We also recently published a guidebook to help people with trip planning called Top 10 Costa Rica Itineraries and design customized vacations for travelers. This is definitely enough to keep us busy for just about 40 hours a week, with a little wiggle room for days where we just want to relax and go to the beach.
9. Do you have any funny stories from living abroad? Please share!
I can’t think of anything particularly funny, but the craziest thing that has happened these last two years is when we stayed with an indigenous community in Panama and had to share space with tarantulas. The community was completely off the grid and didn’t have running water, so if “nature called” in the middle of the night, you had to go outside. What do you find outside in the middle of the Panamanian jungle at night? Creepy, crawly tarantulas! It was frightening to say the least but in whole an amazing life experience that I’ll never forget.
10. Is there an expat community where you live?
Yes, Costa Rica in general has a huge expat community with many people from the US, Canada, Europe, and elsewhere. The area where we’ve been living since last February near Dominical also has a strong expat presence and we’re hoping to make more connections with people in the coming months.
11. Tell me one or two of the “best” things about living in the country you are in.
The climate/weather is absolutely perfect. And the wildlife is amazing. Right in our backyard, we can find everything from monkeys and sloths to toucans and parrots. We love hiking and exploring nature so Costa Rica was the perfect fit for us.
Jennifer Turnbull-Houde lived in Boston, Massachusetts before moving to Costa Rica with her husband in 2013. She left her job as an energy law attorney to travel and write about her adventures exploring Costa Rica. Jennifer is the co-author of Two Weeks in Costa Rica and Top 10 Costa Rica Itineraries.