From first to third world living

Spanish teacher Joe Haus's life in Costa Rica

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On a trip to Costa Rica with Young Life International, Spanish teacher Joe Haus learned a new language, found a passion in teaching and built a family.

Haus applied to go to Russia with Young Life wanting to use his knowledge of the Russian language from college, but wasn’t able to. Having to choose between the Philippines and Costa Rica, he chose the latter and lived there for seven years.

“I knew no Spanish. I had never taken a spanish class before living in Costa Rica,” Haus said. “It took me longer than most people, because I’m not a natural language learner. I was probably there at least a year before I was really comfortable communicating anything complex. It was probably another year after that before I really became kind of fluent and my accent wasn’t so bad that people could understand me.”

Costa Rican culture is very different from the United States. Children live with their families until they’re married and move a few houses away.

“The people are the best part,” Haus said. “Very friendly, outgoing, want to get to know you, they’re welcoming. It’s not like some other places you hear like France where they’re just tolerate of presence. They’ll tease you, but it’s a very friendly kind of teasing and make fun of you, but in a way not to make you angry in a bullying kind of way, but to embrace your flaws and they expect you to tease them back.”

Costa Rica is a third world country so there are little forms of transportation. Haus traveled mostly by foot and bus.

“I had a car every now and then, but mostly I took public transportation everywhere,” Haus said. “I had to take the train every day last week and it reminded me of Costa Rica because you have to think ‘the train leaves at this time, I have to leave my house, it’ll take me this long to get there,’ otherwise I’ll miss the bus. It’s a very satisfying feeling to catch the bus just as it’s pulling up, so you’re not waiting there too long and you don’t miss it.”

Contrary to other food in South America, the food is repetitive and lacks flavor. Haus spent many days eating rice and beans.

“The food is pretty bland, it’s not what you think of when you think Latin food,” Haus said. “It’s beans and rice pretty much with every single meal. For breakfast in the morning they’ll take the leftover beans and rice and make what you call gyo pinto. They fry up the rice and the black beans and it’s delicious, it’s just a weird thing coming from here where breakfast is sweet cereal, pancakes, waffles, super sweet and then breakfast there is beans and rice.”

All American holidays are celebrated, except for the Fourth of July. Costa Rican Independence Day is celebrated instead with bright white dresses and parades of children walking down the streets.

“The one that was the hardest for me was thanksgiving, because they don’t celebrate thanksgiving,” Haus said. “That was a weird week because I really enjoy thanksgiving, it’s my favorite holiday. I typically try to find some other Americans to hang out with on that day and watch football.”

With Young Life, teachers and students were broken up into communities that competed with each other. Haus and his wife were in opposing communities and their first encounter wasn’t particularly romantic.

“She was thinking this obnoxious gringo should go home,” Haus said. “It wasn’t sparks, romantic sparks flying, it was friction sparks.”

Among the beaches, palm trees and people, the local produce is a main attraction.

“In my mother in laws neighborhood there’s a guy that drives around and he’s got fresh produce in the back of his truck,” Haus said. “You just call him up and he shows up and it’s like the HEB produce section arriving at your front door.”

There’s been talk of the Haus family moving back to Costa Rica, but the pros haven’t outweighed the cons, so they compromise one month in Costa Rica in the summer and 11 months in the United States.

“It’s a mixed bag,” Haus said. “There’s lots of things down there that’s appealing, my wife’s family the experience for my daughter to grow up and be a master of spanish and english and a different culture, that’s appealing and of course being close to the beach all the time that’s appealing to my wife. The downside is, it’s not cheaper, it’s actually a little more expensive plus all the city, the stress of the crowds and the pollution. Both of us as teachers can make a better living here.”

After his experience, Haus wants every Spanish student to experience a hispanic culture.

“Maybe not seven years in costa rica, but a week or a month of living with a Costa Rican family and getting yourself immersed in the culture,” Haus said. “I think it’s life changing and a world view and it’ll make a positive change on your decisions and how you pursue your career and education is here. I think it’s good to step aside and view another culture form a different angle.”