Today on the Expat Extra, I am featuring Steve & Martha Friedman. They are living their Costa Rican dream ON THE BEACH. Yep – they reside in Playa Hermosa (which means “beautiful beach,” how appropriate is that?) in the Guanacaste region. I’ve been to Playa Hermosa, and it is a charming little beach.
I find it fascinating that Steven & Martha have also lived in Scotland before, so they are no strangers to living in a different country with a different culture. So, here you go – I present to you, Mr. Steven Friedman:
1. Where are you from? Tell me about you and your family and where you came from.
We moved here from Denver in 2013. Prior to this we had lived on a small Ranchette just south of Metro Denver with horses, dogs, cats and chickens. Both of our careers had pretty much taken a turn for the worse a few years prior and keeping up the expenses of living there was not going to be a long term solution. We knew we had to downsize, but we didn’t know where and how. When my wife announced that we should move to Costa Rica after going to an International Living Seminar, I thought she was crazy. Like many Americans my perception of life in Costa Rica was living in a grass hut with a dirt floor in the middle of the jungle in steamy temperatures with snakes and bugs crawling everywhere. But since we still didn’t have much of a plan B, I figured it was worth a look. I started to search the Expat Blog sites and found Andy Brown’s Boomer’s Offshore Blog site which really helped me to put things in perspective. At the time he was offering Expat Discovery tours so we decided to check it out.
2. Where do you live now, how long have you been there, and how did you decide to go there?
We decided to live in Playa Hermosa in Guanacaste province, just west of Liberia. We had visited some of the towns in the Central Valley, and liked them, but three things were the deciding factor. The first was a dream to live by the ocean, the second was it seemed possible to live in a well-furnished modern home or condo at a price we could afford, and third, we really had a chance to meet the other expats in the community and felt that we would have an instant support network available to us.
3. Have you lived anywhere else around the world?
We had the opportunity to live in Edinburgh, Scotland in the 1990’s courtesy of a contracting job my wife got with IBM. It gave us out first taste of what it was like to live in another culture, and experience some of the trials and tribulations of what that entailed even though they spoke the same language; sort-of.
4. Are you ever homesick?
I don’t think you ever get over being homesick. I tend to be very much emotionally tied to the seasons, and really miss the transition between them. In Costa Rica, it’s pretty homogenous, except for a Rainy and Dry season. Foods are probably the thing I miss most. I really miss all the readily available Ethnic restaurants in the USA.
5. Have you experienced Culture shock?
I don’t think so. Yes, there are a lot of things that are different here and it took a bit of time to catch on to that’s the way things are here. Andy’s orientation and videos helped prepare us for a realistic look at what we were going to face. I think some expat tour operators love to paint the glorious picture of everyday living in Paradise. I think that doesn’t really give people a realistic picture of what it is really like living here.
6. What is your best tip for moving to another country?
Wow! What really amazes me is all the stuff we did right coming here. You can read about our preparations and lessons on our guest post on Greg’s Blog lesson in The first year in Costa Rica-lessons.
7. How is your life different now, than back home?
Probably the hardest thing for me to get used to is the slow pace of things. It wasn’t that I was a “go-go-go!” person back in the USA, but the rhythm of things here is much much slower. You really have to re-invent yourself down here to be happy, and that’s taken some time to accomplish. There are many changes that are due to factors completely outside of living in Costa Rica, such as both of us being retired and now with lots of time on our hands. Also living in a very small community of expats and learning the social mores that come with that.
8. Do you do anything work-wise, or are you retired? Tell me about a “typical” day for you.
As I said before we are both retired. One of the things that became readily apparent to me in our first year is that the women have things very well organized, but not so much for the guys. I did a rather tongue and cheek blog post on this in Greg’s Blogs titled What do You DO there? For me a typical day begins at about 6:30 when our cats decide it’s time for their breakfast. After coffee and checking email, Facebook, and news on the Internet, I’ll go for my beach walk and swim, and come home and maybe try to work on my Digital Artwork or Satricial Blog. A lot of time is spent just getting stuff done – food, gas, whatever. My wife is involved in a lot of organized stuff such as Yoga, Water Aerobics, Canasta, Mahjong; so her calendar is pretty filled up.
9. Do you have any funny stories from living abroad? Please share!
There are so many, I can hardly list them all. One of the funniest is when I went with a friend to pick up a part for his house alarm that got held up in customs – The 72 colones moment.
10. Is there an expat community where you live?
There is a very strong expat community here in Playa Hermosa. I’d say it’s about a 50-50 mix of Canadians, who tend to stay only a few months of the year, and Americans who stay year round. As I said before, the women tend to be very well organized – not so much the men. To me the MOST important factor in deciding where to live is how connected and accessible the expat community is where you live – especially if you are not fluent in Spanish. There are so many things that you will encounter getting through your first year here that without a good support network, you are going to feel very overwhelmed.
11. Tell me one or two of the “best” things about living in the country you are in.
I like the fact that I am in a mixed culture of Ticos and Gringos that really do get along. I speak enough Spanish now that I can hold a conversation with my Tico neighbors and barber. I also like the fact that I am living in a mixed expat community that isn’t totally dominated by USA-eccentricity. I like the fact that I feel safe in my community and not in a place that is obsessed with guns to keep it so.
12. Is there one piece of advice you’d give someone considering moving here?
Don’t commit yourself too deeply till you’ve been here at least a year and seen what is like to live here both in the nice season and rainy and hot and dry ones. Rentals are cheap down here, and while it seems very tempting to buy or build that dream house right away, it can turn out to be an albatross you’d wish you hadn’t done. Start now by finding a network of people who have made the crossing and find out what their experiences have been and tap them for advice. Most people I know are happy to share; just beware of people who have something to sell you.
That’s all for now folks! — Jen