Pura Vida: Junior Savanna Edmunds’ Experience in Costa Rica

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While in Costa Rica, Savanna had the opportunity to interact with so many incredible people while immersing herself in the Costa Rican culture.

Savanna Edmunds, Staff Writer '15

During the summer of 2013, I had the most amazing experience of my life. I traveled to Costa Rica with the People to People Student Ambassador Program, a leadership program created in 1956 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. The program gives students from different countries the opportunities to meet, get to know each other, and break down cultural barriers. I traveled with 24 students from all over Pennsylvania and 12 students from Chicago. Some of my activities included a home stay with a host family, volunteering in an orphanage, working with indigenous amphibians and reptiles, visiting the Institute of Biodiversity, completing various service projects, making traditional Costa Rican recipes, learning farming methods, white water rafting, zip-lining through the rainforest, and surfing.

I embarked on my adventure to Costa Rica on June 30 and traveled back home on July 14. While in the Veragua Rainforest, I explored nature and learned to adapt to my environment. I must admit, I was extremely terrified of the black leopard, lizards and enormous insects, but, most of all, the snakes and tarantula spiders really petrified me. Although I was frightened, it did not stop me from completing the vigorous day-to-day tasks and endless number of hikes through the lush landscape. The beauty of the rain forest, fresh air, and my eager courage kept me yearning to explore more.

One of the most memorable experiences I had while in Costa Rica was the opportunity to live with a host family for three days. We traveled by bus from the Veragua Rainforest to San Jose to meet our native host families for the first time. When we arrived in San Jose, they were excited to meet us and escort us around their beautiful city. Two other delegate members and I were matched up with a young family: Luis, Julissa, and their two-year-old daughter Nazarath. During the home stay, we visited parks, played several games of soccer, traveled to the highest mountain top in San Jose, helped Julissa cook every night, and met other members of the family. We shared stories, looked at family photos, and learned about their culture. We drank Costa Rican coffee and enjoyed Torrejas, a Mexican dessert similar to French toast, while we relaxed in Luis and Julissa’s home. We also surprised them with house warming gifts from Pittsburgh such as, Steeler Terrible Towels, Pirates hats, and Penguins t-shirts. After spending the first day with them, I realized that we shared many of the same family values such as the importance of education, respect for elders, and open communication. Learning about their culture, traditions, and seeing the breathtaking views were truly unforgettable.

What impacted my life the most while on my Costa Rica expedition, was visiting the orphanage, spending time with the children, and painting a school. At the orphanage, the children ranged in age from six months to eighteen. When we arrived at the residential home, the children ran up to the gates with huge smiles on their faces. We played basketball, soccer, volleyball, jumped rope, made bracelets, and swung on the swings with the children. While there, all of the delegates sang happy birthday to a boy who turned 18 that day. He said, “Gracias! Este es el mejor cumpleaños de mi vida! PURA VIDA!” The English translation is, “Thank You! This is the best birthday ever! Pura Vida!” Pura Vida is a phase that has come to characterize Costa Rican culture – literally meaning Pure Life. The delegates donated extra school supplies, t-shirts and shoes for the children. The orphans were very appreciative and joyful.

The next day, we spent our time with young children from the neighboring country, Nicaragua. These children and their parents moved to the slums of Costa Rica to find jobs to support themselves. Throughout the day, all of the children and delegates walked around a camp site exploring nature, swimming, coloring and painting a portion of a wall. The other delegates and I found amusement in watching how fast the children could run up a tree, shake the branches, and knock the fruit to the ground so they could eat it. They were so excited to have one-on-one attention and the privilege of being able to go swimming. At lunch time, I tore my sandwich into two pieces and gave it to two little girls who may not have the opportunity to eat much more than that later. It warmed my heart to see their happy little faces while eating the sandwich.

This experience was eye-opening not only for me, but for all of the other delegates as well. It definitely made me appreciate the great opportunities I had experiencing another culture. Overall, President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s People to People Ambassador Program one-hundred percent fulfills their mission statement: Giving students from different countries the opportunities to meet, get to know each other, and break down cultural barriers.