Chelsea is a senior in college who spent this summer in Costa Rica, learning Spanish in an immersion program. While there, she was assigned to live with a Costa Rican host family and experienced a few life-changing “aha” moments along the way. She was kind enough to share her insights with me.

This is Chelsea’s story:

All of the students in the immersion program were assigned to live with a host Costa Rican family. We were told the families came from varied socio-economic levels, and while I was prepared for living a simpler life for the summer, I thought we’d have most of the same comforts as in the United States. To my surprise, I ended up in a small home with open ceiling rafters, no hot water, a tiny bedroom (which meant little privacy because of the close quarters), no wi-fi. As I walked into the house and saw the open ceiling rafters and realized my bedroom was so tiny that I would be living out of a suitcase for the summer because there wasn’t enough space for a dresser or a closet, I knew this wasn’t going to be quite the summer I had anticipated it to be. It was going to be more of a challenge than I was prepared for.

But I also assumed  all the other students in the program ended up in a similar housing situation. I didn’t have any contact with those students until after the first weekend. And then I discovered that a good majority of my friends had been placed in large houses with families who were well-to-do. I went to visit one of my friend’s host homes and was surprised to see how comfortable it was. I was surprised . . . and a little jealous.

On the way back to my host family’s home, I thought of how much easier it would be if I were spending the summer in a better home. With hot water. With wi-fi!

For the first few weeks, I had trouble transitioning into this ultra-simple, rustic lifestyle. The host family spoke no English, and I was trying to converse in rusty Spanish. I was really struggling. Finally, I decided  the only way to get through the next eight weeks was just to . . . get through it.


But then a turning moment occurred. My host mother showed me how to get the cold water a little warmer so  my showers weren’t icy cold. She laughed at me, in a gentle way, because I’d been suffering through cold showers needlessly. I started laughing at the situation, and then we were both laughing. It was a breakthrough moment! I started to view this host family’s generosity toward me as a blessing. The lack of modern conveniences receded and became less important. What became important was getting to know this kind family.

And then I started to notice the “upside” of a modest household: a small house meant the family interacted more. It wasn’t that they didn’t have problems or friction, but they couldn’t avoid each other. Family conflicts were dealt with quickly, simply because they had to live in close quarters with one another. I noticed how appreciative they were about the simplest things: an unexpected gift, a shared recipe from a neighbor, herbs brought in fresh from the garden. They shared everything they had. Also, a small house meant they interacted a great deal. There was lots of conversation after meals. Cafécito was a word they used for sitting around and having coffee together, sharing stories about their day, laughing, and enjoying one another. Oddly enough, the smaller space led to a richer life.

After a few more weeks, I started to notice how I had benefited from a summer of simple living. My friends in the program who had been assigned to more well-to-do families with larger homes and wi-fi spent most of their free time on social media with friends and family in the U.S. instead of being fully present in Costa Rica. By summer’s end, I was aware  I had grown much closer to my host family than these other students did with their host families.

The first week, I entered my host family’s home with a feeling of pity for their modest circumstances. Eight weeks later, I left their home with an awareness of how rich and blessed they truly were. They might not have had much materially, but they certainly had the most important things.

What about you? Was there a moment in your life when you discovered an “Aha!” moment about a surprising benefit of living with less? I’d love to hear your story!

[Tweet “Can a smaller space and a simpler life actually lead to a richer life? @SuzanneWFisher”]


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