COSTA RICA JOURNAL (By Liisa Vexler) — I am so pleased to share with you my friend Tanya’s story. Tanya, Kurt, and the four kids are an example of how families flex and adapt as the kids get older.
We’re going to do part one today and I’ll save part two tomorrow.
1. I am so happy to have you share your life with my readers. Can you start with a little background on yourself and why you chose Costa Rica as your home?
Our names are Kurt and Tanya Rauzi and we have 4 kids…3 boys and one girl and are originally from the San Francisco Bay Area…Marin to be exact. Kurt and I both grew up in the Central Valley, then met in San Francisco after college, and lived there for 18 years before we moved up to Marin (just north of the Golden Gate bridge) so that all our kids could go to the same amazing little public school instead of the multiple separate private schools that would have been their fate if we stayed in San Francisco. And to say that we loved our life there would be an understatement…..half our hearts are still in Ross with our friends and family and always will be. But, Costa Rica and an international adventure called us.
Like most people, our love for Costa Rica started with a vacation…or rather a girl’s trip. I originally came to Costa Rica in 2008 on a girls’ yoga trip and knew immediately that we needed to bring our kids to see this beautiful land and all its animals (our kids are Animal Planet junkies!). So, I started looking on VRBO and HomeAway for a long-term house rental (like 2-4 weeks) for the summer of 2009. From what I had learned when I came with the girls, I knew that we wanted to be in a place/area called Guanacaste that is considered a Tropical Dry Forest or a dry zone, and the best place to be during the raining season (remember, the summer is the rainy season here), and so I zeroed in on this area while looking for a house to rent even though we had never been in this area before.
Almost immediately, a gentleman in Ocotal (near Playas de Coco) emailed back that he was looking for someone to house-sit his house and take care of his dog for 6-8 weeks and he wondered if we would be interested in this. Of course, we had not planned on such a long trip, but we decided to jump at the opportunity and go for it! We committed to 8 weeks in his house and then 2 weeks after that when we would travel to other areas of Costa Rica that we had not visited. Our summer plans were set and our kids, ages 13, 10, 6, and 3 were excited beyond belief……and in fact, it would be our youngest’ s first plane ride!
During that summer, we kinda became “regulars” around our new home-away-from-home as we became frequent visitors to beaches and restaurants around our house. We began to run into other families that were also living in Costa Rica and the kids began to ask, “They live here? Can we live here?, Where do they go to school? Can we go to school here?” Needless to say, this family conversation continued long after we returned home and in fact, continued for 3 years. Then, when our oldest was going into 10th grade and our second son was going into 9th grade, we suddenly realized that if we did not do it now, we would probably not be able to do this as we were not sure the two oldest boys would both want to leave their high school behind. We knew it was now or never.
So, we began our behind the scenes research and I say this because we did not include our kids in this process. We did research, we inquired, we set a budget, we discussed, we agonized, and then, again, decided to just go for it! In all honesty, we knew that there would never be a perfect time to do this. We knew that someone would not want to miss out on something, and we knew that if we included the kids in this decision, we would get 4 responses and possibly, a few objections. So, we laid all the plans, started cleaning out the closets and sheds, had a couple garage sales and started moving things to storage telling the kids we were getting organized. I know that some of you may not agree with this method, but with two teenagers, we had to be the parents and make the decision if we wanted to avoid a year of possible complaints or objections if we had included them. That in, and of itself is a whole ‘nother topic!
The other reason we waited to tell our kids was because once we had found the school we wanted to go to and applied, we got the 3 boys in, but our daughter’s 4th grade class was full. We have always joked that we told the school, “Oh, no, she is the one you want!”….but, in all honesty….we wanted them all to get in! So, our conversations changed to…do we go anyway? Do we homeschool? Do we just homeschool Marissa? Do we choose another school? By this time, other area schools were closed for the summer, so we were having trouble getting information and responses. We began to panic that this plan was falling apart, when on July 15th, Mr. Abel (the headmaster at La Paz Community School) sent us an email saying that Marissa was in! I happened to be up at Family Camp with the kids at the time and so Kurt and I talked on the phone and decided to sleep on it and talk again in the morning. That night, my mom and I cried for the distance that this plan would put between us, but also out of joy that we were gonna be able to make this happen for the kids. And so, in the morning, when both Kurt and I confessed that we really did not want to pass up this opportunity or regret not doing it later, we put the plan into motion, and one month later we had everything we loved best in storage, and everything else sold on Craig’s List.
On August 15, 2012 we landed with 18 suitcases, some boxes, some sports equipment, some bags disguised as car seats (ha ha…yes, we did this!) and were ready to start our great family one-year adventure. And now our new joke is that we moved here for one year, three years ago. Best decision ever.
2. From my experience moving to a new place has a ‘fairy tale’ quality on arrival. Was that the case for you and your family when you moved to Costa Rica?
I’d say that it was a fairy tale for 4 out of 6 of us. Our oldest son, who had had one year of high school, had the hardest time with the move. He has learning differences and has never been good with change, so this was doubly hard for him. We understood how he was feeling, as both Kurt and I knew we would have felt the same way if our parents had done this to us…but, we enlisted the advice of friends who had had similar situations happen to them when they were teenagers and they all said, hands down, it was the best thing their family ever did. So, we just crossed our fingers and hoped that he would come around. And he did, some.
Kurt is the other person who it may not always be a fairy tale for as he still only lives here part time. He has it the hardest because he has to fly back and forth about every two weeks and has to listen to our stories of fun and adventure when he is back up working in the states. The best part of this is that he has been able to slowly bring down all our belongings as his Platinum status allows him to bring 3-70 pound suitcases each time. He is now the master shopper and packer for the family and each time he returns, it is like Christmas.
Our oldest, Dominic, spent two years here in Costa Rica with us, but this year has chosen to do a homestay back in our old hometown so that he can graduate from his high school back there. I think that this experience is turning out to be a good one and I think he is also seeing that both places are great places to live. He is already planning all of his vacations down here and plans to return right after graduation to run summer camps again like he did last year. He is also now talking about taking a GAP year next year so that he can come down here and be with the family during his brother Zack’s senior year. It will be great to have the kids all home for one last year, but either way, I know that he is doing something that he is happy about and hopefully now also looking back on his two years here, a little more fondly.
As for the rest of the family, the fairy tale has not ended. Our other three kids love it here and never want to return to the hurried, over scheduled, excessive homework of our past life. We were only a few months into our one year adventure when the kids started lobbying to stay permanently. And since Kurt and I had already had this parental conversation prior to our arrival (ya know the one…if it works, will we stay?) and knew that they were on to something, and so we laid the plans to remain. Never has our family had more time for each other and been closer. How can parents, in good conscience, put an end to such a meaningful life to return to a one less magical, just because it seems like that is what we were supposed to do? So, stay we have.
3. Do you feel like you will live in Costa Rica forever? Will you go back to your native country or perhaps move on to somewhere new? Do you ever think about going back? Why or why not?
As I mentioned, we joke that we moved here for one year, three years ago and at this moment only time will tell. We have committed to 2 more years (4 total) when Zack will graduate from La Paz with a dual language IB (International Baccalaureate) Diploma. We have told the kid’s that we will re-evaluate at that point. Marissa has already spoken up and voiced that since the big boys will be in college, there really will be no need for us to go back to the states. She loves it here probably the most out of all the kids and feels that this is her home now. With Kurt here only part time, we feel that it is important to make sure that this is still working for us as a family as each year passes.
From what the kid’s tell us, they all feel that they see their dad more since we moved here even with him here only part-time. This is mostly because when he is here, he is here. He fixes breakfast for the kids, drives them to school, picks them up, goes to the beach with them, etc. Back in the states he used to leave before they were up and show-up just in time for dinner and our weekends were spent doing errands and running kids to multiple sports venues. ….in other words, our life used to be ruled by schedules, now our life is ruled by Pura Vida, and I am not quite sure that we will be able to go back to the rat race without always wishing we were back here…at the beach, in the sun, having fun.
4. Can you explain how you handle residency and/or working in Costa Rica? What can you tell readers about supporting yourself in Costa Rica?
Currently, we still do the 90 day visa runs. For such a large family, it will be really expensive for us and so we originally opted to spend that money on traveling, and we have! But, as we continue to love our life here, and as we have had more trouble at immigration due to so many stamps in our books, we have begun to think that we may want to have more permanent roots. I am a stay at home mom with the kids and have been since our first child was born, so our income is from Kurt’s investment company (Dedicated Capital) back in San Francisco that he still maintains. Because of the industry that he is in, he will always remain a resident of California, even if the kids and I obtain student visas (which is what I think we will apply for some time in the near future). When he is here, he works on the phone with his clients and employees and they have all supported him tremendously, so it has been easy for him to maintain.
5. Can you compare family life in Costa Rica to family life where you are from? How do your kids like it? This is a hot topic for people looking to move abroad with families. Will the schools be good? Will they adapt? etc…
Our kids have thrived beyond believe. We have had the most amazing surprises happen to us once we moved here. Things that we did not anticipate or even think that we were looking for, and they are all a part of why we have remained here in this little slice of paradise. First, our kid’s are attending La Paz Community School and is a placed based, project based education…..so for us, the homework almost disappeared and gone were the crying sessions and fights over 3-4 hours of homework for our kids. Gone were the mommy and daddy projects (these are almost all done exclusively at school now…yeah!) and gone were the assignments that we could not help them with (cause they now do the work in the classroom WITH their teachers). Our second son, Zack, said to me one day, “Mom, this is awesome. I am no longer teaching myself math. Our teacher teaches us the math and then we work on it in class with him and we can ask questions.” It seems that all schools would do it this way, as it makes the most sense, right? But, unfortunately, it had not been our experience. La Paz also teaches math in a spiral, so every year the kids revisit every area, just in a more advance manner. Again, pure genius. One of my good friends said to me recently, “It seems like you have found the answer to the ‘Race to Nowhere’,” and I couldn’t agree more.
I had been running a parent led group called Every Kind of Mind back at our kid’s old school. It was a parent education group that focused on learning and parenting with an emphasis on helping kids and families with kids with learning differences. I already knew that school was probably harder on my kids without learning differences as they did not have the accommodations to make school bearable as our oldest son did. Our oldest son was also a big reason why we wanted to move to Costa Rica and try an alternative education….we wanted him to have as much of a normal experience as possible and be able to participate without being excluded or segregated. His two years at La Paz were amazing. He had mentors and peers that supported and loved him and there is no doubt, that even though he longed to be back at his old school, he had a great experience and great support. He already seems to be looking back on his time here with fondness and we are extremely glad and thankful.
At first, our kid’s found their heads spinning with 50% or so of their day in Spanish. I could totally relate as I spent many a field trip trying desperately to listen to what they were saying in Spanish so that I could learn something. But, by December, I noticed that they were picking things up and ordering in restaurants and helping me when we got lost or needed something at the store. In fact, our daughter, Marissa had said to us, “We have to stay here at least two years so that we can be fully bilingual” and this comment was a big reason we stayed a second year. It was in the second year that we noticed that they all were now bilingual (except our oldest who was not doing Spanish due to his Dyslexia…but, even he has learned some Spanish!). Now, they correct us and roll their eyes at us. I guess it is our turn to practice up on our Spanish!
We love our school. It has been perfect for us and for all of our kids with all their individual needs and differences. Since we arrived 3 years ago, there have been many new additions to the choices for schools in our area and I have many friends who are having wonderful experiences here with their schools. How could that be? I am sure it is the lifestyle the area has to offer. For us, it has been a lifestyle that is much more family centric. I cannot remember a Saturday back in the states when we woke up and said, “What shall we do today?” and this happens to us almost every weekend here. Now, as we have become more and more involved in the school and community, we have gotten busier, but not even close to what it was like before. Mostly because of the smaller amount of homework and the sports teams do not have crazy, family-unfriendly schedules. We spend much more time together as a family either cooking in the evening, or traveling to nearby countries, or exploring in our area. We laugh more, have family movie night more, and sleep-in more. Pura Vida suits us for sure.
6. What about healthcare? Is that a concern?
My husband’s company still carries our insurance and it includes international coverage that is just part of our regular coverage when traveling. But, to be honest, we have not had to use our insurance for anything so far and we have had several things that would have been very large medical expenses back in the states happen to us, and it is far cheaper to just pay for the services (at a private clinic) then to pay what would have been our co-pay. One of our boys has even gotten braces. We paid $70 for molds and panoramic photographs and x-rays, $200 when they put on the top braces, and $200 when they put on the bottom braces, and we will pay $50 every month until they come off. This will end up being about 1/3 of what it would have cost us stateside. Our daughter got a spacer and it cost $90. We spent all day in the emergency room at Beachside Medical Clinic running tests on one of our kids that was really sick. Once we determined it was an infected mosquito bite that was causing our youngest son, William’s high fever and swollen hands, we were given a bill of around $80 and about $30 in medications and supplies. Remember, we were there all day, with multiple people and doctors taking care of him. Amazing. When our kids get their teeth cleaned, it is $30 each. As a result, we do this more often than we would in the states. Our son had to get gravel out of his hands and leg after a fall at school and after some pain shots and 3 hours with the doctor who stayed with us the entire time, our bill was $80. I had blood work and nebulizer treatment the other day for a bad chest cold. 4 hours in the clinic with all the tests and constant care and it was $106. Dr. Andrea is one of the best reasons to move to this area and her constantly growing Beachside Clinic is a wonderful addition. Never have we received such care and all without waiting in the waiting room for hours either!
7. What do you wish you did differently in planning?
Nothing really. We did a pretty good job. I think that doing it all so fast in the last month was a homerun for us. It was super hard on Kurt and I with many long hours for us packing and sorting, but it really was the best way. We did not have to think about it too much….we just did it! But, in hindsight, if we would have known that we were going to stay longer than 1 year, we would not have put so much in storage!
8. Is there anything you wish you brought with you that you don’t have?
We did pretty well on the packing part. I’m a fairly organized person, so as we went about our daily lives, I made lists of the things we were using and started piles of this and that to go in our suitcases. But, I can honestly say that we brought too many clothes, especially for the kids. This has been our first experience with school uniforms and in reality; our kids wear their uniforms, swimsuits, and sports clothes almost exclusively. I was glad I brought a few special outfits and extra swimsuits as I already knew that the salt water was hard on them. I have wished that I brought more toys and more dress-up/pretend play clothes for our youngest two. Having Kurt bring things down as we need them has also really helped us. In his first few trips down he brought us mostly items from Costco, sports equipment that we had not anticipated needing…..like tennis racquets, helmets for our bikes, wet suits for our new sport of spearfishing, our camping gear (our oldest boys have used sleeping bags and our tent many times on overnight field trips), and snorkeling gear, etc.
Since we had sold our bikes, we bought new bikes down here and have picked up what else we have needed either on Tamarindo Garage Sale or on Amazon and Kurt brings it down, or we get it at a local store here. It has really helped us to have Kurt going back and forth to get things from our storage or to bring down the next size tennis shoe, for example. It’s kinda cheating, but with 4 kids and the high prices of goods down here, it really helps us out.
8. How are your language skills? Does that make a difference to your life?
Kurt and I both took Spanish in high school/college, so while we had a base, we were pretty rusty. Having a Spanish speaking housekeeper has been a huge help. She teaches us Spanish and we teach her English as we go about our days and we are super happy to say that we are much better due to her, but now that our kid’s Spanish has far surpassed us, it has made us focus a little more on becoming more fluent and less Spanglish-y. Being able to understand has helped a lot, but being able to converse will be so much better once we get past the base we have and begin to understand and use a more advanced form. While there is no doubt that with so many expats here in this area, it is completely possible to live here without speaking much Spanish, I feel that our life has been enhanced by the many local people that have come into our lives…and speaking Spanish to them is a must. So practice up!
9. Do you have anything more that you would like to share with my readers? They would love to hear your stories and your insights.
One of the best things that happened to us is that we opened up our home to one of the boarding students at La Paz and we have had Selene (originally from Italy) as a member of our household for this past year. It has been so great for Marissa to have another girl in the house (they share a room) and for the two older boys to have another companion in the house to talk about school with and teenage things. I think we can all say that having Selene join our family has been amazing and that we highly recommend this. Just like living in a foreign country has added a new and exciting element to our lives, so has having Selene join us. And I think I can honestly say that it has helped keep teenage angst at bay with her here…..a good thing to consider if you also have teenagers in your home!
And Tanya has even more to share. But you’ll have to pick up the book to find out what she has to say. She is a wealth of information about family life here because she has kids of all ages. Her youngest started here at 7 and she has one who is off to college next year.
Thank you so much for your insights Tanya. I appreciate it and I’m sure the readers do too!