AQ Difference: Pura Vida in Costa Rica

Studying Abroad: Costa Rica 2015

Aquinas student Travis DeHaan is studying abroad in Costa Rica during the spring 2015 semester.  He chose this program not only because it is well tailored to his biology and Spanish interests but also because it offered the most excursions out of all of the AQ study abroad opportunities. Travis has traveled internationally before, however being thousands of miles away from his family for four months is something that was hard to prepare for. When asked about his feelings just before his departure, Travis said aside from missing loved ones, all he could think about was the warm weather, friendly people, and immense biodiversity that awaited him. 


Three weeks into his time in Santa Ana, Costa Rica, Travis said, “This is already the best experience of my entire life and I’ve still got three and a half months left of paradise.”  Even though he’s been to three beautiful beaches, walked through the most famous national park in the country, and climbed to the top of a mountain, Travis says the most amazing aspect of his trip has been the overwhelming generosity and amiability of the people who call Costa Rica home. 


“Sure there’s a large number of tourists who see the superficial Costa Rica - five star resorts nestled in lush rainforests with tiki bars in every direction,” he said. “But we see the heart and soul of this country which has been rated the ‘happiest place to live.’”

Studying Abroad: Costa Rica 2015 Studying Abroad: Costa Rica 2015

The only culture shock Travis has encountered thus far has been the sense of relaxation that proliferates throughout the streets of Santa Ana.  He said people are on “Tiko” (the name given to Costa Rica natives) time.  Every sense of worry or rush can be omitted with the simple phrase, “Pura Vida.” Travis thinks that’s the best culture shock he’s ever experienced.


The classes Travis is taking while in Costa Rica are also serving to enrich his experience. “Literally I have never learned so many things at one time,” he said. “Not only are you soaking up information about the tropical ecology and history of Costa Rica, but you also are getting immersed in Spanish because not a word of English is spoken in the classroom.  It’s the most efficient teaching I’ve had.” Travis added that one of his favorite classes is the Latin American dance class because it prepares you for the plethora of opportunities the city offers for live music and dancing. 


Overall, Travis said studying abroad in Costa Rica was a “no-brainer” choice for him. With meals and most excursion costs covered through the Aquinas study abroad program, students end up seeing more of Costa Rica than some of the people who live there. Travis stated that the main focus of his adventure is to not fret about school, deadlines or a bank account. Instead he is immersed in the culture and experiencing what “Pura Vida” truly means.


Studying Abroad: Costa Rica 2013
By: Zach Stepanovich
Zach Stepanovich

I was determined to wear my torn khaki shorts and summer short sleeve shirt to the Grand Rapids Airport on January 8, the day we left for Costa Rica.  I knew when the day’s travels were over I would not regret my choice of attire. After a few sad farewells and two flights prolonged by extreme anticipation, our plane touched down at the San Jose airport, just a few miles outside the bustling tropical metropolis that is the capital of Costa Rica. As the plane doors cracked open, the warm moist tropical air and blazing sun pushed through and it began to hit me; YES, Zachary Stepanovich, your  semester abroad in Costa Rica has finally begun.

“Pura vida” is something a native Costa Rican might say in response to my arrival, but I had yet to learn the true meaning of

this phrase. The leaders of this adventurous program are Don Jorge Acevedo and his wife, Doña Ana Porras de Acevedo. As a sophomore at Aquinas studying Spanish and English as a second language, I could not have chosen a better way to spend this spring semester and I am very confident in the program here. Don Jorge and Doña Ana have both traveled the world working in countless endeavors, including their work here in Costa Rica guiding students from many different walks of life in various forms of education and more.
Costa Rica is, plainly put, a little slice of heaven. And, as if that was not enough, Santa Ana, the town in which we live, is located at the base of a spectacular green mountain. From learning hands-on about the wildflowers like the Santa Lucia of the mountain, to visiting the great and vast Pacific Ocean, the presence of nature is omnipotent here in Costa Rica. After hearing for the first time the great call of a pair of macaws and watching a white-headed capuchin monkey steal bananas, I realized that this journey was not just about learning about another environment or culture but truly living in it. I was now beginning to understand, “pura vida.”

Costa Rica Costa Rica
I am enjoying meeting new people as well. My advanced Spanish conversation class is taught by the hilariously brilliant Dr. Gabriel Baltodano who also dabbles, to say the least, in surfing, taekwondo, triathlons, and on top of that knowledge of a motley of different languages. Wednesday and Thursday nights are spent with the charming Ms. Oona Jimenez learning a variety of Latin-American dances including salsa, merengue, and even belly dancing! At home, my host family has welcomed me generously and I have delighted myself in trying delicious dishes and have even ventured with them through coffee plantations to secret waterfalls hidden in the mountains.
As I begin my semester I already feel the Spanish flowing more easily from my mouth. Here in Costa Rica life is truly lived to the fullest and pulsing with new adventures every day, or as the natives (and I as well) might happen to say, “pura vida.”