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Pura Vida is a saying in Costa Rica that translates literally to “Pure Life”. I asked Julio, one of our coordinators, how many different ways Pura Vida could be used, and this is what he told me:

If someone asks  “¿Como está?” (How are you?), you can reply “¡Muy bien, Pura Vida!”

If someone says “Gracias” (Thank you), you can reply “¡Pura Vida!”

If someone does a small favor for you, you can reply with “¡Pura Vida!”

More than the literal phrase though, is the spirit and essence of Pura Vida. Although we’ve only scratched the surface of everything that Costa Rica has to offer, learning what Pura Vida means to me, and how I have felt it in every new experience here, has been a journey.



On the first day of the DukeEngage academy we did an exercise where we sat in a circle and talked about our goals, hopes, and concerns about the trip. I mentioned wanting to improve my conversational Spanish speaking skills. I got this opportunity not only through the classes that we took, but also by going to the farmers market, painting with students from a local high school, talking to the farm owners on planting days, as well as cooking a “cena typica” (typical dinner) at the Monteverde Institute.




Within days of being in Costa Rica, I started to notice that a lot of the nuances of Spanish as it is spoken in Costa Rica reflects the dispositions and values of the people here.

For example, in the Spanish classes I had taken in high school and college we always learned “you’re welcome” as “de nada” meaning literally “of nothing.” But here, I was surprised to find out that “con gusto” which translates to “with pleasure” is the common way to say “you’re welcome” and nobody ever really says “de nada”. Additionally, when we took Spanish classes in our first few weeks here, we learned that the “tú” form of verbs isn’t really used, and that here, people use the more formal and polite “usted” form of verbs to communicate the same thing. Costa Ricans are known for being very kind and welcoming, and I’ve felt that every day since we’ve been here.




We’ve now been in Costa Rica for nearly 5 weeks, and we recently had our biodiversity day for our forest integrity study. We learned about, and collected data on, birds, insects, and butterflies. Mark Wainwright taught us the proper butterfly-catching technique. When you spot a butterfly, you swing the net in a figure 8 motion — down, up and around, back down and around again. If done correctly, you’ll have a butterfly in your net. Then you flip the net over itself and the butterfly is trapped inside and ready to be identified.



A group of us set off to the new forest that we’re studying with the goal of catching as many butterflies as possible in 30 minutes. We walked quietly along the trail, waiting for butterflies to emerge. However, as soon as we saw one, it was game over. We began to swing wildly and quickly realized that it was difficult to exhibit the same grace that Mark had shown during his demonstration. We looked crazy. But I remember just laughing and feeling fully present in that moment, despite looking ridiculous.



Every day there are small moments like eating fresh fruit after a hard planting day, turning our flashlights off during a night hike and listening to the forest, or taking a bumpy ride in the back of ‘El Blanco’ with the rest of the group, where I can’t help but feel calm and present. We have a wonderful group out here that I’m so glad to be a part of; and it’s the friendships and connections I’ve made, was well as those moments, that have made this a summer to remember.

¡Pura Vida!