Who are you?
My name is Ben von Jagow and I am a Canadian-born traveler and aspiring writer. I spend half the year playing professional football in Europe and the other half is spent working and traveling in Latin America.I am currently living in Puerto Jimenez, a beautifully verdant and quaint seaside town on the Osa Peninsula, in the south of Costa Rica.
Where, when, and why did you move abroad?
After graduating from the University of Western Ontario I took a job in the Canadian banking industry. I progressed fairly quickly and within half a year was offered a position as a financial advisor. Although I was thrilled, a part of me recognized that if I took the promotion I would never leave the organization. I wanted to see the world and such a decision seemed to only distance me from that goal. I decided to take a six-month trip to South America and return back to work, but when I arrived in Chile I knew I was never returning home. I fell in love with the culture and the lifestyle and haven’t looked back since.
What challenges did you face during the move?
Communication has always proved to be a bit taxing. Learning Spanish has been a bittersweet part of adapting to life in Latin America, and though I am progressing each day, I want nothing more than to be fully fluent. Unfortunately, that isn’t how learning a language works. My level of Spanish is at the point where I can talk to most people but alas that does not mean I can effectively communicate with them. I cannot talk about things like salt and vinegar chips, snow days, refrigerated eggs, free water at restaurants, or mail delivered to your doorstep and be understood.
How did you find somewhere to live?
The old-fashioned way, I explored. I wandered through a few countries, spending more or less time in a city depending on how well it resonated with me. I have lived and worked in Chile, Peru, Ecuador, and Columbia. I am currently working in Puerto Jimenez as a blogger for a yoga resort and have fallen in love with the Costa Rican coast.
Are there many other expats in your area?
Puerto Jimenez is a quaint town situated in the heart of the Costa Rican jungle. The population is small and the services are rather conservative. One Friday night I happened upon a bar called Buena Esperanza, or Martina’s for those in the know. The bar was filled with far more people than I anticipated, and not just people, Gringos! Puerto Jimenez has quite the expat community, all of whom congregate at Martina’s bar on Friday night.
What is your relationship like with the locals?
The locals, or Ticans, are phenomenally cordial here in Puerto Jimenez. On long walks to the beach or the grocery store, it isn’t uncommon for someone to stop and offer you a lift. I have never felt unsafe here; in fact, I have always felt their warm hospitality.
What do you like about life where you are?
Plain and simple – the lifestyle. Every day brings about a new and different adventure. Everyone is laid back and stresses tend to dissipate under the warm sun. You can’t be sad when you’re by the ocean, that’s just a fact.
What do you dislike about your expat life?
Though there is very little I dislike about the expat lifestyle, there are definitely things from back home that I miss. Ball sports that aren’t soccer, Sweet Chilli Heat Doritos, snow, driving, having access to a cupboard, summers spent on the lake, and my dog, to name just a few.
What is the biggest cultural difference you have experienced between your new country and life back home?
Though this question could fill an article on its own, the most prevalent cultural differences between here and back home are value-based, especially in terms of family and work. Back home there exists this cultural obsession with determining a person’s worth through his or her job. To the people of Costa Rica and Latin America, that’s all work is, a job, a means to make money so they can spend time with and support that which truly matters, their families. That is the largest difference that I have noted – we, back home, are career-orientated, while the Latin Americans tend to be more family-orientated.
What do you think of the food and drink in your new country? What are your particular likes and dislikes?
I have a bittersweet relationship with the food here in Costa Rica. The fruit bodes rather well with me due to the variety, the freshness and the ease of acquisition. I often pick fruit directly off the tree here, something I wouldn’t do even if I had the opportunity in North America.
The only concern I have in regards to the food stems from the overall eating habits of Latin America. The demand for healthy food is nowhere near as high as back home, and as a result, sandwiches tend to be swimming in mayonnaise, soda accompanies all meals regardless of the time of day, and snacks like chips and cookies are readily available wherever you go. Here you may say “Ben you are an adult. Surely you can exhibit some self-restraint.” Not true.
It always happens on long bus trips. At some point in the ride, someone will remove a plastic container from their bag, and peel off the lid. Instantly the aroma of the snack will begin to pervade through the bus, signaling to others that it is now, in fact, snack time. The next thing you know everyone is pulling out grease-filled bags filled with scrumptious looking snacks. Aromas from empanadas, arroz con pollo, baked goods, and seared fish begin to waft through the bus. And there you are sitting, trying to tell yourself that you’re satisfied with your carrots.
What advice would you give to someone following in your footsteps?
Make the leap. Whether you’re dissatisfied with your current situation, you have a multi-million dollar business idea, or you just want to see the world, Ben says “make the leap.” Far too many people in this world are dissatisfied with their job or their life in general and very few will ever consider being proactive and changing it. If you’ve come this far you’re part of a rare breed. It isn’t supposed to be an easy decision, to drop everything and move to a foreign country, and that’s where the romanticism lies. The move will stimulate us, challenge us, and force us to adapt. And it is only when we circumvent those barriers that we as humans can grow.
What are your plans for the future?
I will spend the next half year working and traveling in Latin America. In April I will leave for Europe to play professional football. In all likelihood, I will be playing for a team in Germany and pursuing my Master’s Degree at the same time.
Ben von Jagow is a Canadian-born traveler and aspiring writer. For more of Ben’s work visit him at benviajando.wordpress.com.
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