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To Costa Rica with Love: Strangers in a Strange Land

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There’s something about the title How Stella Got Her Groove Back that makes me cringe. I’m not sure if it’s the folksy appeal to a universal feminine experience, or merely the use of “groove” as a euphemism for “sexual awakening,” but it definitely rubs me the wrong way. And it’s not just the title; the whole premise is too contrived. Who really visits the tropics with an obvious chip on her shoulder, has the good fortune to meet and fall for a handsome stranger, and emerges miraculously transformed for the better? Chick-flick hogwash, I say! Or so I thought—until Costa Rica; until Trevor.


It was the summer before my last year of college. I had just endured four years of what can only be called a masochistically heavy school workload, grueling night shifts at the campus newspaper, an ill-fated long-distance relationship, and the dizzying divorce of my parents. My proverbial groove was not quite lost, but it was definitely misplaced. I found an obscure monthlong language program in Costa Rica that offered exactly what I craved: complete anonymity and the great unknown.


Trevor was in the mysterious unmarked van that picked me up from the airport to take me to my homestay (the fact that I voluntarily entered said mystery van attests to my … we’ll just call it “open” … state of mind). He was in the program, too. The absurdity of our circumstances bonded us immediately, and we became inseparable. We took dance classes together, volunteered at an orphanage, and ranted with taxicab drivers about the poorly structured taxation system of Central America … or about turtles (I’m still not sure—our combined Spanish was mediocre at best). When we came back to the States, we mustered a few meager attempts at keeping our relationship alive, but it was clear: what happens in Costa Rica stays in Costa Rica.


I realize now that my chance romance with Trevor was anything but: I traveled three thousand–plus miles with the intent of recovering my gosh-darned groove in life and love—I just didn’t know it yet. Whether his name was Trevor, Tom, or Taye, I would have met Mr. Serendipitous Stranger in Costa Rica and he would have changed my life, because, for the first time in a long time, I was open to it.


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