¡Pura Vida! Life as a Language Minority

¡Pura Vida! Life as a Language Minority

By Stephanie Nelson

Padnos Scholarship recipient, Stephanie Nelson, is immersed in language and family during her travels to Costa Rica. 

What is a typical day look like here in Puntarenas, Costa Rica? Well, my day usually starts around 6:30 a.m. when my host mom or dad usually has breakfast waiting for me. We greet each other with a "buenos días" and a kiss on the right cheek. Breakfast usually consists "gallo pinto" (rice, beans and shredded chicken), scrambled eggs, sometimes an avocado, "pan dulce" or sweet bread, and coffee. Costa Rican coffee is absolutely delicious! I may or may not become an addict. Most mornings I will sit with my parents eating and conversing in Spanish. I love talking with them in Spanish because I learn more from conversing with them than I do in my Spanish conversation class, because of the individual attention. They also have formed a habit of quizzing me on vocabulary in the morning.

One of my favorite aspects of this study abroad experience is making big mistakes. Learning how to communicate with a language other than your native language can create some very entertaining situations.

For example, over lunch one day, I was trying to ask my papi if my host sister Keylin was hungry (¿Keylin tiene hambre?). Well papi kept responding, “Tiene un novio.” After a few minutes of frustration, papi called my host sister, Hellen, over to translate. Turns out, he thought I was saying “¿Keylin tiene hombre?” Hombre means “man.” That was pretty funny; thankfully, I am not the only student that has made mistakes. One student used the word “embarazada” (pregnant) instead of “vergüenza” (shame, embarrassment) to describe himself as embarrassed. He made that mistake for three days before we discussed the different meanings in class.

In Costa Rica, the concept of time is very different. For classes and formal occasions, you are always on time. Everything else is what we call “Tico time.” When meeting a friend, it is normal to be 20 minutes late. Everyone takes their time and makes sure to relax. Time passes much slower here than it does in the United States.

This concept of time goes hand-in-hand with a saying in Costa Rica: “Pura Vida.” The phrase is commonly used as a salutation or an answer to ¿Como está usted? It means “Pure Life” or “life without worries.” This embodies a principle that the Costa Ricans live by: to relax and enjoy life, to take time to smell the roses, or to take life as it comes. I would also describe it as the peaceful life; it has more significance for me now that I have been here for a while.

My school is around the corner from my house, so every morning I walk to school. Each classroom is individually air-conditioned. There is no central air conditioning system. Most buildings here in Puntarenas do not have air-conditioning, but have open-air architecture. The windows do not have screens, which makes for some interesting visitors at times. I'm usually in class until noon, allowing me to return home for lunch. When I come home, I usually find a few friends of my host family hanging out and eating lunch with us. Once a week, I volunteer at a primary school and lead an activity to help the students learn English. The 7- and 8-year-old children are so adorable.

In the afternoon, I usually have free time to either take a nap or go to the beach. Some nights I have a Latin American dance class or a Latin American cuisine class. USAC (this needs a full name) usually has an organized event like a movie night or indoor soccer. One night we played soccer against the locals. They are so much better than we are, but we managed to keep up.

Some nights, I will watch television with my family. Costa Ricans love their television. A popular show here is “Combate.” Every Tico talks about it. "Combate" is a game show with two teams, blue and orange. It is like "A Minute to Win It," as the players have to complete an obstacle course, spin 20 times and then kick a soccer ball, or scooter through a narrow space as many times as possible in two minutes. They come up with some crazy challenges. Each team accumulates points and the team with the most points at the end wins that episode.

Family is very important here, so I try to spend as much time as possible getting to know the individuals in my host family.

I must confess that I have only been in Puntarenas, Costa Rica, for 13 days. But even this short time has made me look forward to the adventures that I will experience in the next nine months. My hope is that other students will be inspired by my experiences to study abroad and discover new worlds. ¡Pura Vida!

Page last modified January 24, 2017