First day of first grade in Costa Rica, and I must admit I'm a little nervous.  I start grinning as I watch them bound off the bus with big smiles on their faces.  "How was your day?"

Sam and Will talk over each other as they tell me how much they like their new school.  "And do you want to hear something ridiculous, Mom?  We have English class.  English!  We already know English!"

My husband calls it a gap year on the front end.  We live in Monteverde, Costa Rica, three hours from the capital of San Jose, or more depending on the weather and on road conditions (unpaved, bumpy, and winding around the mountain with no guardrails).  Our twin boys attend el Centro de Educacion Creativa — the Cloud Forest School —    with half the day's instruction in Spanish and the other half in English.  And 95 percent of the students are Costa Rican.

To our delight they are having no problem picking up the language.  They are pulled out of class every day for a Spanish as a Second Language session, but I think they probably learn most of their new language on the playground.

They are living in a new culture, learning a new language, and appreciating a completely different ecosystem.  Monkeys and coatis visit our back door looking for bananas.  Agoutis gobble up the fruit and vegetable scraps we toss in the woods.  Walking to the bus stop, the boys can recognize bird calls and look for blue-crowned mot mots, toucans, and white-faced parrots.  They ride horses every Saturday with Hipolito, a grandfatherly farmer; their soccer coach is a former professional Costa Rican player.

In October, tropical storm Nate wreaked havoc, causing numerous landslides and washing away part of the main road.  We were completely cut off from Santa Elena, the town where we buy groceries   2½ miles away, and were without water, electricity, and internet for almost a week.

But the boys witnessed a community coming together sharing food and fellowship.  The Friends School opened its doors for an impromptu "camp" and fed the children lunch.  Neighbors gathered at the coffee shop and brought butcher paper and paints for the children, hula hoops, and drums.  The restaurant put out pots of coffee, a tub of ice cream, and a sheet cake so people could help themselves.  Anything to help pass the time.

It has all been more than we hoped.  On a recent weekend, my husband and boys set out on a hike to San Luis.   When they reached the valley three miles away on a steep descent, they were hot, tired, and thirsty.  Undeterred the boys asked a farmer in Spanish if they could borrow three horses to ride home instead of walking up the goat path.  He agreed and off they went trotting back up the mountain.  Evelyn, the farmer's daughter, a graduate of the Cloud Forest School, came along with them so she could take the horses back home.

My husband's horse galloped ahead, and he would stop in the shade and wait for the boys to catch up.  All he could hear were peals of laughter as they chatted with their new friend, thinking how much our lives have changed in just a few months.

Susan Giampetroni and family traveled from Merion Station.

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