Spencer’s Journal – Costa Rican Culture Shock

Zack smacking a piñata at a church youth activity – one of his first steps toward opening up at church.


Adjusting to our new life in Costa Rica has been more stressful on us than we’d like to admit, especially to ourselves, I think.  After 2 months, I am feeling like we’re a bit more settled, but looking back, even as little as 2 or 3 weeks ago, I notice our little behaviors that indicate just how unsettled and stressed we were.  Whether we wanted to admit it or not, Costa Rican culture shock has taken it’s toll.

Hanson Family Stress Indicators

For Laura and me, I think our major stress indicator was our voracious appetite for books and movies.  We had this constant craving to consume and immerse ourselves in fiction.  Any chore or obligation seemed only to be an obstacle between us and our fiction.  It makes sense in hind-sight.  We were stressed, and fiction provided that much needed escape from the pressures of reality.  I remember feeling especially disappointed whenever a movie or book was coming to an end.  I wanted it to keep going.  Of course I did.  Facing reality was uncomfortable business.

Laura’s Fiction Addiction – caught red-handed


For Zack and Austin, I think their major stress indicator is shyness.  They have always been shy around unfamiliar people, so the constant stream of unfamiliar people has made for a 2 month shy-fest.  They were fine as long as nobody tried to talk to them, but as soon as any attention came their way from anybody other than me or Laura, it was automatic shutdown.

I didn’t realize how much negative emotional tension had built up inside of me because of Zack’s and Austin’s shyness until yesterday when they started to open up in confident and talkative ways, first to our neighbors, and then to our dinner guests we invited from church.  Until this negative tension started to dissipate, I didn’t realize how heavy it was.  Zack was running back and forth from our neighbor’s house telling us how much fun he was having playing with the little neighbor girls, how they let him ride their bikes, how he had played their video games, and how he had invited them over to play Starcraft 2 and eat cake for his birthday.  I was so relieved to see him interacting with other people, I was ecstatic that the little booger had intruded on our neighbor’s family time, invited himself into their house to play their video games, and then invited them over to our house for a Starcraft 2 party complete with non-existent cake.  We’ll work on manners and permissions another day.  For now I’m just stoked he’s opening up.

Biggest Stress Contributors for Me (Spencer)

  • Money.  I’ve got to figure out how to make money, or else I’ll be going back to a cube in about a year.  I have a lot of ideas I’m excited about, which I’ll cover in some later posts, but dealing with this uncertainty is stressful.  I monetized our YouTube videos this month, which has earned an estimated $22.71 so far.  This is very encouraging for me because money is actually coming in, but also very nerve-racking because we obviously have a long way to go.
  • No car.  Not having a car is certainly cheaper, but it makes every task away from home a bit (or a lot) more cumbersome.  There aren’t websites with published bus routes and schedules that we’ve been able to find, and I’ve asked.  Any information about bus schedules we have to milk from the locals, drop by drop.
  • Language barrier.  I can get by with my Spanish, but Laura can’t, which means we can’t divide and conquer like before.  It’s stressful to feel needed for so many little things that Laura would otherwise do herself.  And of course, it’s also stressful to feel limited in being able to communicate my thoughts and feelings with the locals.  Communication is such a fundamental part of human existence.  I appreciate communication more every day.  I am constantly reminded just how dependent my life is on cooperating with other people, and how communication is the heart of that life-giving cooperation.
  • Zack’s and Austin’s shyness.  I think a major stressor of being a parent is feeling like our children’s actions are our own, but having no power to control their actions.  I think this is why parents don’t like their children to do silly things, like jump on a park bench, for example.  Parents wouldn’t jump on a park bench themselves, so when their child does, their mirror neurons kick in, and they feel as if park strangers are staring at them jump on the park bench, so they make it stop.  I’m not sure if this is scientifically correct, but either way, when I see my boys shy and anxious, it weighs on my emotions almost as if it were myself that were shy and anxious.

To be honest, it is actually kind of difficult to pinpoint the causes of my stress.  Perhaps this is because my stress is not mostly caused by one or two big things, but the sum total of thousands of things that add up like straws on a broken camel’s back.  Everything from not finding the same brands and ingredients in the grocery store to being frustrated by low shower pressure.


The stress of major life-change continues, but I feel like I am coping with it better by the day.  I’m excited and hopeful for my opportunities to make money.  We’re slowly but surely becoming more mobile as we master the bus system.  I’m making progress with my Spanish.  Zack and Austin are finally starting to open up to friends and neighbors.  And, we’re finally going out on our first big family adventure here in Costa Rica.   On Wednesday we’re headed over to Punta Uva, Puerto Viejo to spend a week on the Caribbean coast to celebrate Laura’s and Zack’s birthdays, and to exercise our new-found confidence!

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