Pura Vida: How a cross cultural exchange changed my point of view

Hannah Long

Today, seniors swarm the halls wearing celebratory shirts with “college” written on them. At a prestigious, high-pressure college preparatory school like Horace Mann, going to college is an expected next step after graduating high school. For many students here, attending one of the country’s most selective colleges is their only goal. However, throughout the rest of the world, college is not automatic. In fact, even attending high school is a privilege many do not have.

However, I don’t want you to get me wrong. I’m not trying to say this culture is bad– I am inspired by the motivation of Horace Mann students, and I am incredibly grateful for the amazing teachers, education, and opportunities here.

What I am trying to do, however, is simply share the way in which, after living in the Horace Mann bubble since sixth grade, spending a month in Costa Rica expanded my perspective.

The summer before senior year, the Lembo-Sperling travel grant gave me the chance to travel to Costa Rica with a company called Cross Cultural Solutions. I brought my passion for travel, education, and the Spanish language to Costa Rica, where I helped with construction and taught English at underfunded rural public schools for four weeks.

When I arrived in Costa Rica, surrounded by lush greenery and endless blue skies under the summer sun, I could immediately see how happy people were. When I was lost at the airport, everyone around me rushed to help. I met two Cross Cultural Solutions staff: Franklin, originally from Nicaragua, and Carlos, a native Costa Rican. They were two of the sunniest, most positive, and most enthusiastic people I have ever met. I visited local families who poured their hearts into creating traditional Guatil clay pottery and making their signature Turrialba cheese. The air was filled with joyous exclamations of “Pura Vida,” island’s motto meaning “pure life.” In a country where over half of the population cannot attend college and many of the public schools are barely functional, I could feel the abundance of love, happiness, and enjoyment of life among its people. This atmosphere felt very different from the high intensity and stressful environment that can often be experienced at school.

One Sunday, we went to Tamarindo Beach to learn how to surf. Our instructor was a lean man with long blonde hair and a stereotypical “surfer bro” charming, chill vibe. As I waited for a wave to surf on, I asked him about his story. A man who I thought was in his twenties was actually only 16 years old. He had dropped out of high school because to him, “it’s a waste of time.” He planned to one day invest his money in something that becomes super successful and become rich. Meanwhile, he became a surf instructor to support himself because he enjoys the sport and beach life.

This ethos of life surprised and enlightened me–  I realized that there are an infinite number of ways to live a happy and fulfilling life. Going to a top American university is a far cry from the only worthy and successful endeavor.

So, I encourage you to keep your heart and mind open to all the possibilities and surprises of life and the world. When you come upon something which fulfills your sense of purpose, dive into it with passion and energy, even if it is not the exact path a school like Horace Mann expects you to take. As Carlos once said to me, “life is like a hot tamale. You cannot tell what is inside of it, but when you bite into it, it is delicious.”