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May 2016
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Meet the Angloinfo Expat of the Week

Meet the Expat #95 – Sarah McArthur, in Costa Rica

May 24, 2016

1. Where do you live now, and where did you move from?

Right now I live in sunny San Jose, Costa Rica. Originally I’m from a town outside of Boston.

Hiking through the rainforest next to the beach on the Caribbean coast

2. Is this the first time you’ve been an expat? If not, where have you lived before? If so, what was the leaving process like?

Actually no, I moved out of the US about four and a half years ago. First, I lived in Hamburg, Germany and about four months ago I moved to Costa Rica.

3. How do you spend your time? Do you work?

I moved here because my boyfriend (who is German) got a job at a German school here. We had been looking to get out of Germany and go somewhere a little warmer. We figured that it was best for him to find a job first because I teach English and he teaches German. It is typically a lot more difficult for him to find something.

Anyway, he got a visa here through his job, but I did not. I spent the first three months trying to find a job that would give me a visa. After a while, I realized that it’s pretty hard to get a job that’s willing to sponsor you for a visa in Costa Rica. I now do private English tutoring and leave the country every three months.

I also do a lot of writing in my free time, particularly for my blog The Wanderlanders, where I write about how Millennials can have a successful life abroad.

My dad visited me in Germany last year in the autumn, so of course we had to stop at an Oktoberfest tent in Berlin

4. What do you miss most from home?

Ugh, so much! First and foremost my family. My sister is my favorite person ever and I miss her terribly. I also miss some food, but that has gotten easier with time. I would kill for some Chipotle sometimes though!

5. What do you appreciate the most in your adopted country?

People are so friendly and it’s warm out every day! I absolutely love the weather. Germany was usually cold and rainy, it really started to get to me after a while. I find my boyfriend and I are much happier here.

6. How did you make new friends in your new home?

I got really lucky and have a great group of neighbors. I spend a lot of time with them. My boyfriend also has some awesome colleagues that we spend time with as well. I’m hoping eventually I’ll find a more steady job here so I can meet more people, but for now, it is fine. We try to travel most weekends anyway, so we don’t have so much time to spend with friends.

I came across this cool rock that looks exactly like a monkey while deep sea fishing on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica

7. Have you started learning the language? Any tips on the best way to do it?

I had nine years of Spanish in school, but that was about eight years ago. I thought I would pick it up again easily, but I learned Spain Spanish and I find the Spanish they speak here in Costa Rica is much different (or maybe I just don’t remember anything).

I try to put myself out there as much as I can. I go to the farmers market every week and I’m forced to speak Spanish in that type of setting. It can be a bit intimidating, but people are usually patient with me because it’s kind of obvious by looking at me that I’m not from here.

Also, try out Duolingo! It is the best free app that I’ve found for learning the basics of a language.

8. Do you obviously stand out as being foreign? What’s your experience with this?

Yes, I really stand out here. In the touristy areas, it is fine. There are a lot of European and North American tourists here, but where I live is mostly Costa Ricans. I find men staring at me a lot, but so far nobody has bothered me, in fact, most men are more helpful, but not in an inappropriate way.

Sunrise on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica

9. If you have children, what are your observations on Third Culture Kids?

I don’t have any kids, but I’ve actually met several adults here that were raised as Third Culture Kids. The ones that I have met feel they don’t really fit into the culture here because they grew up going to private English speaking schools. The problem is they also don’t fit into the culture of their parents because they only ever traveled to those countries on holidays.

10. Any tips for beating home sickness? 

Yes, when I moved abroad I read a lot about how important it is to try and embrace your new culture and make friends that speak the language. I don’t agree with that. I think it is obviously important to feel comfortable in your new culture, but it also helps to have friends in your new country that are from your home country. Sometimes I really need to hang out with people that can relate to me on a cultural level. Also, schedule Skype sessions with your family and visit them as much as you can.

11. What’s the most common question you are asked about being an expat?

“How can I do what you do?” People always want to know how I moved abroad. I may have moved to be with my boyfriend, but we moved to Costa Rica without any idea what we were doing. It is not always easy, but I believe everyone can move abroad if they want to, and I think everyone should at least once in their life.

One of the two craters at the top of Poas Volcano in Costa Rica

12. How does the cost of living compare to where you were before? Anything that really surprised you as being particularly cheap or expensive?

Rent and utilities are a lot cheaper here, but food is so expensive. I buy most stuff at the farmers market, but everything that is imported is costly. Also, I had gotten spoiled in Germany with great public transportation. Here there are cheap public busses, but they are not always on time and don’t go to all locations I need. We really want to buy a car, so that is another expense we didn’t have to worry about in Germany.

13. Are you settled here now? Or do you plan to move on one day?

We plan on staying here for a year or two, but not long term. I’m not ready to have children yet, but when I do, I don’t want to raise them here. We don’t really know where our next destination will be. I think we have a few more years of traveling left before we find a place to settle down.

14. Would you share something embarrassing that happened to you as an expat (but that makes you smile when you look back)?

Haha, the list is extremely long. Um, once in Germany I accidentally lit my hair on fire from a candle on the table in a full bar. It also happened to be the first night I met all of my boyfriend’s friends. One of his friends put it out quickly and I didn’t damage too much hair, but we had to leave the bar because the smell of burning hair stunk up the whole place.

15. And finally, if you could give one piece of advice to someone considering moving to where you live, what would it be?

Visit first. It’s a great place, but a very different country. I think it’s best to get a feel for it before you commit to a life here.

 Sunset on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica

Keep in touch!

As well as on Sarah’s blog The Wanderlanders you can follow her adventures on Facebook and Twitter.

Would you like to be featured? Send us an email to [email protected] with your responses, together with at least four good quality photographs.

by Angloinfo World Editor. Find out more about Angloinfo World Editor here.