In Costa Rice, Pura Vida literally means pure life, however, the real meaning is closer to “plenty of life”, “full of life”, “this is living!”, “going great”, or “real living.” The phrase is commonly used both as a greeting or a farewell to express that things are going well, or as a way of saying “thank you”.
Pura Vida and how to use it correctly was somewhat confusing to me prior to my trip to Costa Rica last month to see several therapeutic programs and a school, but now I truly get it as I reflect on my trip and the adventure I had.
To say that the culture and location of Costa Rica is conducive to working with teens and young adults, as they face obstacles in their lives, would be an understatement.
The culture in Costa Rica prides itself on extended familial relationships and support systems and the natural beauty, diverse ecosystems and unique wildlife are a perfect setting for both healing and learning.
The Therapeutic Boarding School (TBS) I visited with a group of colleagues was state of the art and impressive in all aspects.
The school campus is located close to the capital San Jose but remote enough that you can hear Howler Monkeys from afar. The open classrooms and dorm-style living quarters, built specifically for the their purpose, had a welcoming feel from the moment you stepped foot on campus. The team of professionals onsite, from the nurse, to the teachers, to the administrators and therapists, are impressive and diverse. They are made up of Americans and Tican’s with rich professional backgrounds and impressive educational accolades.
Students were engaged and the overall feel of the school was dynamic. Simply put, students were doing. Project learning and experiential learning seemed to be everywhere from science class, where students learned about the diverse ecosystem of the rainforest, to a music class where an instructed improvisational jam was taking place, to a home economic class where students were learning how to cure bacon and to enjoy the fruits of their labor.
Students were engaged and the overall feel of the School is dynamic. Simply put, students were doing….”
The student population, all male, was available to talk with us and fully engaged in our tour. They were excited about their upcoming learning trip to Nicaragua and for what comes next as several were in the college application process.
One of the highlights of the tour was visiting a nearby orphanage where the boys volunteer. Having a TBS where students can immerse themselves in a new culture and learn a second language, is an opportunity for many young men we work with to re-engage while learning about themselves and getting back on their academic path.
We made a stop at a Young Adult Transition Program and met with several students.
Once again, we were reminded of why Costa Rica is an ideal place for teens and young adults to gain skills in a safe and unique environment. We learned about internships and volunteer opportunities for these young adults as well as their plans to use the skills and support learned when they re-engage in college or work stateside.
Next we went on an adventure with a Young Adult Therapeutic Wilderness Program. We met up with a group and staff, deep in the rainforest at a beautiful base camp where students sleep and regroup between adventures and home stays.
We had an amazing dinner of Olla de Carne – a Costa Rican beef stew prepared for us by the students & staff and learned about the program.. We learned how the Costa Rican culture is integrated into the program and met the dedicated team made up of both Ticans and Americans. Several students introduced themselves in Spanish, as learning the language is a part of this program. The next day we headed out and ran a river with the students and staff in partnership as our guides. It was truly exhilarating and a perfect opportunity to see first hand how the group process works and students (and us educational consultants) engage in Adventure Therapy. We learned a lot about ourselves and the process and left the river with new skills and huge smiles.
Finally, we visited a beautiful National Park and took part in cultural and ecological learning that would benefit any young person, especially one that might be struggling to find meaning or purpose. These programs use this process to engage struggling kids – and it works.
I experienced the phenomenon of Pura Vida during my tour of these Therapeutic Programs in Costa Rica. There is no doubt that these programs pull people into an experience both culturally, and emotionally, that can change them forever.