Small Wins

If you haven’t figured this out yet, I will let you know that moving to a new country is hard. While I am still extremely excited for this opportunity and adventure, sometimes the little things can be tiresome. Dropping myself into a new home, new language, new job, new friend group, new dating culture, new driving rules, new food, new routines, and just new everything can sometimes hurt a little. Or a lot.

The big picture stuff is why I’m here. A change of lifestyle, a new way of seeing the world, new adventures, and all of that. But in the day-to-day, sometimes the details can really get you down. Like when you still haven’t used your ATM card because you don’t have the energy to communicate about it with the bank people. Or like when your computer just decides it doesn’t want to turn on, so you can’t print the things you need for your next class period. When you move to a new country, one thing you give up is your feeling of competency.

Now, I am aware that I am not great at everything. Like any other human being, I am better at some things than others. And I like to think that I have a growth mindset. But in general, I really like to feel competent (I don’t think I ever realized this until I was faced with feeling incompetent every day of my life). For example, now that my flight home is booked (see ya on December 21, Dirty Jerz!), I keep thinking about how amazing it is going to be to go to a restaurant, open a menu, and magically understand every word with little to no effort.

I’m not writing this as a sob story or to get attention or trick you all into being like, “you can do this! You’re so amazing! Just take it day by day!” (although thank you to everyone who has encouraged me for the past year). I don’t need sympathy, and I am very happy here. I just wanted to give a little bit of context for my list of small wins. Because if you are reading this in the States and have never moved to a new country, you may be wondering what the big deal is about something like resetting a bank password. Haha. But really, sometimes you just need life to give you a win.

Ok, so with that being said, here are a few of the small wins I had this week!

Graded an entire class’s worth of tests is less than a week

Ok, if you know me at all, is actually a HUGE win. My juniors did a mock IB exam paper on Thurs/Fri, October 29/30. I graded them (with lots of comments) and returned them by Wed/Thurs! I was extremely proud of this accomplishment and hope to keep it up. Going to Starbucks on Sunday helped. Must remember to use that strategy more.


The best part about grading at Starbucks was that it felt like home.

Logged onto bank web site and connected all my bills

You have no idea how strict they are about bank security in Costa Rica (which, of course, is a good thing). But seriously though. Your user ID is this long ID number that I’ll never memorize (more about memorizing numbers later in this post). But then, there’s the clave dinamica, which basically translates to changing password. They give you this card that has rows and columns of numbers. Each time you want to do anything on your account, they’ll give you a randomized series of coordinates (for instance, B3, J5, A1). Then you have to find the numbers that match the coordinates and enter them in little boxes. It’s a great security measure but can be challenging sometimes when you just want to get onto your account, and reading everything in Spanish already feels like deciphering a code.

San Jose, entrevista Sr Roberto Sasso sobre formas y proteccion contra el fraude electronico en cuentas corrientes y otros. El Banco de Costa Rica actualemente ofrece de forma voluntaria a sus clientes las tarjetas Clave Dinámica. Fotos Mario Rojas/La nacion 30 enero 2008 1030am

San Jose, entrevista Sr Roberto Sasso sobre formas y proteccion contra el fraude electronico en cuentas corrientes y otros. El Banco de Costa Rica actualemente ofrece de forma voluntaria a sus clientes las tarjetas Clave Dinámica. Fotos Mario Rojas/La nacion 30 enero 2008 1030am

(I don’t know what that caption says, but I am not deleting it in case there is important copyright information for the image that I found online. It’s not my clave dinamica in the photo; it would be dumb to post that info online!)

So anyway, once I logged in to my bank account, my dear mae Brian (“mae” [pronounced “my”] actually means dude, but I use it as a term of endearment for Brian) helped me get through the tedious process of linking all my utility bills through my account. I am pleased to say that next month, I will be able to pay my rent, cable, electric, phone, and water through my online banking system.

As a side note, the utility thing is pretty cool here. If I wanted, I could just bring a copy of any of my bills (electronic or hard copy) to the grocery store, show the cashier my account number, and pay my bill with cash right then and there. That’s pretty much how I’ve been managing until Brian helped me complete the magical task of setting it all up through BCR (that’s my bank).

Memorized my phone number

This one was huge. I don’t know what it was about my number that made it impossible for me to remember for three months (maybe because it’s 8 digits instead of 7?), but the other day I went to purchase my plane tickets home, and I suddenly realized I didn’t have look at the screenshot of my phone number that I have saved on my phone! I just knew it! Sounds silly, I know. But let me tell you, it was embarrassing when every time I went to the grocery store to put money on my SIM card, they’d ask me my number and all I could say is, “En realidad, no se. Un momentito, porfa.” (Translation: Actually, I don’t know. One small moment, please.)

Purchased Tide

When I arrived, the school gave us a little welcome package in our apartments, and one thing in it was a bottle of laundry detergent. It took me until now to go through the bottle. I have really been missing the smell of Tide, but it seemed silly to waste this bottle, even though my skin didn’t love it. Tide is pretty pricey here, but I finally bit the bullet and got myself a jug of it. Some things are just worth it, ya know? So, while this purchase does not represent me overcoming all sorts of insurmountable odds, it did make me happy enough to include it here. I washed my sheets yesterday and went to sleep last night to the sweet smell of home.

Cooked some stuff

Because I am always so tired and completely not creative in the kitchen, I go out to eat a LOT here. I am trying to cut back. My friend Amanda (please say hi to her so she can feel famous) and I eat dinner together most nights, and we are working on cooking more. So, on Wednesday, after an extremely long and confusing time staring at meat in the grocery store, we decided to get a pound of chopped meat and make tacos. We made ourselves a delicious taco dinner that night and saved half the meat for meatballs. We made the aforementioned meatballs on Friday, and they were delish!

IMG_9280 IMG_9313

As a side note, most sauces come in packets instead of jars here in Costa Rica. They’re amazing. Once I squeezed the sauce out of the pouch, it was completely flat and took up almost no space in the garbage. C’mon, United States. Enough with the giant jars already!

I don’t think I used exactly this brand, but you get the idea.

(Also, no judging about using pre-made sauce. One thing at a time, people. Remember, we’re focusing on the small wins here.)

Ordered Smashburger without sweating

I remember the first time I went to Smashburger here. I was alone, homesick, probably crying, and definitely sweating. I had had a rotten day and was looking for something that felt like home (finding actual Heinz ketchup there certainly did the trick). The ordering process was extremely stressful, despite the huge smile and tremendous patience from the guy behind the counter.

Since then, I have been to Smashburger a LOT. It is still my comfort food of choice, and Amanda and I go there a lot when we aren’t feeling as culinary as we were on Wednesday and Friday. We went this Thursday, and when I sat down, I realized that I had gone through the entire ordering process without one moment of confusion, panic, or despair. Now, it could just be because I have all the questions memorized, so even if I don’t understand the Spanish, I could order flawlessly, but whatever. It still made me extremely happy to think back to how scared I was that first time and realize that I no longer feel that way.

Spoke all in Spanish for about six minutes straight

I am still taking clases de español cada miercoles. (Spanish classes every Wednesday). I haven’t missed a class yet, even though I’m always completely exhausted from school, and just the idea of using my brain for two hours right after school is draining. The same was true this week; I was so tired and really just wanted to skip class (but don’t worry; I didn’t!). As it turned out, we had an oral exam (she doesn’t tell us about tests in advance, which I’m thankful for. She actually doesn’t even give us our grades, even though I know she reports grades to the office. I like that; she gives great feedback, and that’s all I need).

Anyway, the exam. She started a timer and asked me to tell her everything I could about my parents. I ended up speaking for about six or seven minutes, pretty much straight. She spoke a little bit to ask some questions or fix my grammar, but overall it was just me talking. Aside from telling my teacher that my mom has green leaves instead of green eyes (I said hojas instead of ojos), I was pretty pleased with my performance! I got decent feedback, too. I was far from perfect, but she told me that when I make errors, I recognize and correct them right away. She also complimented my pronunciation, which is actually the feedback I have been getting from some of my tico friends and students, so that felt good.

Started a new book

I am embarrassed to admit this, especially since I know that some past and possibly current students are reading this, but aside from schoolwork, I haven’t read a book since I got here. I have just been blocked. I think my brain just hurt really bad from all the change (especially the Spanish immersion, which I love but is also really tiring), and instead of reading before bed, I’ve been drawing, texting, watching all the chick flicks on all the Netflixes, or playing mindless games on my phone. I have really missed curling up with a good book every night. I even downloaded Rainbow Rowell’s newest, but that hasn’t been able to hook me yet.

So, yesterday I had some time on my hands, and I downloaded Amy Poehler’s Yes Please, and I have been blowing through it! It’s just the perfect book for me at this point in my life. It’s funny, relatable, witty, wise, and honest. I can’t even count how many lines I’ve highlighted already, and I’m only 57% in! It just feels really good to read something for myself again.


One of my favorite lines thus far.


Also, she favorited my tweets. ❤ ❤ ❤

Went from counting to dancing

About three weeks ago in my dance class, I realized that I was doing the steps to the music instead of just counting them out clumsily. Tonight, I went to my friends’ home for dinner and dancing, and I realized that I actually somewhat knew what I was doing! I spun around a bunch of times, didn’t fall on my face, and stepped right back into time when the spinning was done. I only crashed into my partners a couple of times rather than every five seconds, and I didn’t have to watch my partners’ feet the entire time. So, I think I might actually know how to dance! How bout that?

Wrote this post

Ok, now I’m just rambling. Sorry this wasn’t the most exciting post in the world. To be honest, I really wrote it more for myself than for you (not to sound rude or anything). It was nice to take some time to reflect and think about some of the little successes over the past couple of weeks. Now when something happens that makes me feel incompetent, I can come back and read this post and hopefully be inspired to compile a whole new list of small wins! So, if you are having a rough time or a bad day, take a few minutes and make a list of little things that have gone right for you in the past week. I promise, it helps!

I hope to write again soon; I have a post percolating now about living in a compound, but I have to find out what my fellow gringos think about it. I wouldn’t want to make too many of the secrets of Gringolandia public!

Ok, buenas noches, and gracias por (I almost typed gracias para but then I remembered that it is siempre gracias por) leyendo! ¡Ciao!

Oh, and here are some random photos I felt like sharing, even though they have nothing to do with this post.


I decided to decorate the wall of the compound with paintings I had made. All of these are my work except the orange pumpkin on the white background. I was proud of my little gallery! It has since fallen down due to heavy rainfall. Haha.


I just thought the lighting was pretty cool as I was walking to the store one day, so I took a quick snap of it.


They just opened a beautiful new cafe across the street from my apartment. You have no idea how happy this makes me!


Tonight when I was at my friends’ house, I spent some time lounging on their hammock. Instant zen.


Had a great time dancing with new friends! Of course we had to capture the moment with a group shot. 🙂

(I’m hoping another small win is having zero grammar errors in this post. I know Ethan will tell me if I do!)

2 thoughts on “Small Wins

  1. When i was in Paris there were times I had to go on the internet to pay bills etc, because I was in another country my accounts (several) were on high alert and making it very difficult for me to sign on. They’s send me a code to my old email address I used to open these accounts, it was a mess LOL so I totally get it! As for the food, I’m also not very creative, but I haft tell you… and Amanda that your dishes look delicioso! The first time I went into a supermarket in Paris, errrrr uuuuhhhh… looking forward to seeing you in December chic XO~!

  2. Ok, so I’m late to the party in reading this, but I love this post! I love hearing about your achievements, and love picturing you at the moment you have the realization that you’ve learned or absorbed something that you’ve been working on. It’s such a great feeling and I’m so happy for you! I would imagine that every time you feel it, you feel that much better about your decision to be there; not that you had any regrets, just nice to have confirmation.

    And…. (I’m sure you’re expecting this from me) What does Amanda think about your meat habit (which I’m hoping you didn’t partake in there, but I’m sure it came up)?

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