“Pura Vida” in Costa Rica can mean a number of things: hello, goodbye, good luck, see you later, oh well, cool, no worries, and so on. The literal translation is “pure life,” an accurate description for the relaxed lifestyle of Costa Ricans. The sentiment expresses an eagerness to enjoy life in a peaceful, stress-free manner. The ambiguity with which pura vida is used allows it to apply to nearly every situation in life as either a greeting or perspective.
When I decided to study abroad in Costa Rica, I knew I had made the right choice when I learned about pura vida. What other country has a national life motto? The message behind pura vida was immediately intriguing, but the skeptic in me wondered if people really lived by those words. Mere days after arriving in San José, I experienced firsthand the sincerity with which Costa Ricans believe in pura vida.
I am incredibly lucky to be living with a wonderful host family for my stay in Costa Rica. My Tico parents made me feel at home right away and were endlessly patient with my stumbling Spanish and grammar errors. I even felt comfortable enough to confide in my Mamá Tica about my fears concerning my ability to communicate in Spanish. I worried that I would never be able to express myself properly and in turn, never fully immerse myself in the Costa Rican culture. My Mamá Tica listened intently as I explained my concerns, then shook her head, smiled and said, “pura vida.”
I don’t know what response I had been expecting, but pura vida certainly wasn’t it. But before I could react, Mamá Tica went on to explain that there was no reason for me to worry because whatever Spanish I could speak would be enough, as long as I continued to push myself – and enjoy the time I had. I realized then that there were two ways I could spend my five weeks in Costa Rica. I could worry and stress constantly, or I could seek pura vida and savor every moment. The choice was an easy one to make.
So what has pura vida taught me in my two short weeks of living in Costa Rica? It’s taught me to make conversation with taxi drivers and café baristas, no matter how clumsy my sentences sound. It’s taught me to go to salsa dance classes and introduce myself to Tico students. It’s taught me to explore downtown San José – and be okay with getting a little lost on the way home. In short, it’s taught me to take a deep breath, and live, pura vida style.