Embracing la “¡Pura vida!”

Valerie Nierenberg, Candidate B.A. Sociology & Spanish, May 2017
Study Abroad in Costa Rica

During the 2016spring semester, Valerie Nierenberg studied in Costa Rica through a program with International Studies Abroad. She spent four months in the Central American country where she lived with a host family in San José, attended Universidad Veritas, developed lasting friendships with locals (“ticos”) and other international students and traveled around the country to see and do all that she possibly could.

Universidad Veritas, which has a student body of around 2,000, specializes in the arts, specifically design and architecture. Nierenberg took intensive Spanish grammar and translation (meeting four hours per day for a month), sociology, and Costa Rican culture courses. “I will never forget the first day I walked into the classroom for my Costa Rican culture course. I was the only American in the group of seven students and one professor, and the only female. We learned about famous artists and musicians, cultural myths and national heroes. It was by far one of the most challenging academic settings I’ve ever experienced, but I learned so much both explicitly through the lectures and classwork and implicitly through observation and participation in a culture course full of locals.”

Nierenberg noted that everyone was incredibly kind, and after a short adjustment period, she felt at ease in the country. She said her host family, a single mom and her 12-year-old son, were always extremely helpful. “Every morning, my ‘mamatica’ Clara fed me a ridiculously large portion of gallo pinto, a traditional Costa Rican dish of rice and beans and joined me at the table to converse in Spanish, sometimes for hours. In the evenings, I helped her son Daniel with his English homework, and he showed me popular Costa Rican songs and his favorite video games. I was quickly exposed to the Costa Rican catchphrase ‘Pura vida,’ which translates to ‘Pure life,’ and expresses the relaxed, optimistic lifestyle of the people. Costa Ricans even say they live on ‘tico time,’ because, compared to Americans, they are not so anxious to do things hurriedly or promptly. Lateness is nearly always acceptable, if not expected.”

Nierenberg lived in walking distance from Veritas, farmer’s markets and supermarkets, a gym, restaurants and bakeries. When she needed to go somewhere else, she found the transportation system easy to navigate.

Because Costa Rica is a small country, it is easy to take a bus almost anywhere. Nierenberg enjoyed the unique biodiversity of Costa Rica as she visited beaches on the Caribbean and Pacific sides of the nation as well as volcanoes, cloud forests, museums, water-falls, national parks, mountains that peaked above 13,000 feet and indigenous ruins at Guayabo. “I hiked 12 miles at Tapantí national park, visited a coffee plantation, went white water rafting at Río Pacuare, and attended a soccer game between rival Costa Rican teams. I was even able to take a bus across the borders to Panamá and later to Nicaragua.”

Nierenberg concluded that living in Costa Rica for four months was the most rewarding experience of her life. “I encourage those of you who are reading this to consider studying abroad, and, if you have questions regarding Costa Rica, to feel free to reach out to me and visit the TU Center for Global Education. ¡Pura vida!”