Miles from Muncie: Ball State students explore Costa Rican culture in San Jose

<p>Senior exercise science major Edlecia Ward found several "Pura Vida" signs while she was studying abroad in San Jose, Costa Rica in summer 2019. Translating to "pure life," Ward said the phrase "pura vida" had such an impact on her that she tattooed the phrase onto her calf. <strong>Edlecia Ward, Photo Provided.&nbsp;</strong></p>

Senior exercise science major Edlecia Ward found several "Pura Vida" signs while she was studying abroad in San Jose, Costa Rica in summer 2019. Translating to "pure life," Ward said the phrase "pura vida" had such an impact on her that she tattooed the phrase onto her calf. Edlecia Ward, Photo Provided. 

 Editor's note: Miles from Muncie is a Ball State Daily News series profiling Ball State students and their study abroad programs. If you have any suggestions as to who we should feature next, send an email to 

Throughout her travels in Costa Rica, senior exercise science major Edlecia Ward said she was greeted with the phrase “pura vida.”

While the phrase translates to “pure life” in English, Ward said, to her personally, it means to slow down and let everything fall into place. 

At the end of her five-week study abroad trip, Ward had the two words tattooed on her calf to remind herself to take her time and relax while trying to create a normal schedule back in the U.S. 

“I’m always on my toes,” Ward said. “I always have something to do. Once I complete a goal, I have to go to the next goal. I don’t slow down. I’m always going. I’m always moving. Sometimes, I need to learn to check myself. I don’t always have to be doing something.” 

Senior exercise science major Edlecia Ward shows her tattoo from Costa Rica that says "pura vida," which means simple life or pure life. Ward said she tattooed the phrase on her leg as a constantly reminder to slow down and relax. Eric Pritchett, DN Illustration

Living locally 

From May 25 to June 29, Ward studied in San Jose, Costa Rica, under The American Institute for Foreign Study (AIFS) program. There, she stayed with a host family, including a host mom, her son, and her son’s family who lived on the same lot. 

Ward was also given a Ball State roommate, senior Spanish and speech pathology major Tamia Manning. Ward and Manning first met during their freshman year and were reunited right before leaving for Costa Rica. 

“We lived in the same [residence] hall,” Manning said. “I didn’t find out she was going on the same trip until March, and I found out from [our trip’s] Facebook group page. We quickly got approved to room together.” 

During their stay in San Jose, their host mom made home-cooked Costa Rican meals, which Ward said was the most memorable part of studying abroad for her because it allowed her to experience Costa Rican culture closer than just touring the cities. 

“[A typical Costa Rican meal] is rice, beans, chicken and plantains on the side,” Ward said. “They usually make refrescos for the drink, which is simply a fruit mixed with sugar and water, and I usually had papaya or mango … Costa Rican food is so authentic. It’s seasoned to perfection.” 

Manning added that their host mom also cooked meals from other cultures, such as Peruvian food.

“Our host mom has been with the AIFS program for over 20 years,” Manning said. “She's had students from pretty much anywhere and everywhere. So, she also liked to adapt their cultures into her household, like decorations [and] meals. She would ask us questions to compare cultures.”

Because their host mother didn’t speak any English, Ward said she would communicate with her through body language and nonverbal cues. Manning also said she would help translate, which was good practice for her because she hopes to become a bilingual speech pathologist after college. 

“I was nervous just because there's different dialects in the Spanish language, and I wasn't too familiar with Costa Rican Spanish,” Manning said. “There's some dialectal and lexicon that's going to be different. There was one time when I was asking her for more toilet paper … but [Costa Ricans say] ‘rollo de papel,’ which is ‘roll of paper.”

Veritas University

Ward and Manning spent part of their time in Costa Rica attending Veritas University. Ward took a Spanish class for health professionals, as well as a health care and conflict class, and Manning took a cultural heritage class and an advanced conversation class to finish her Spanish major. 

In both classes, Manning said her professors made the classroom feel like a home and her classmates a family.

“They're like literally parents — they're so sweet,” Manning said. “Costa Rican culture is very touchy. They hug a lot. Every morning, all the professors would greet each other early really loud, ‘Buenos dias!’ It’s a custom that every time they see you, they greet you.” 

With her classes, Ward volunteered at a nursing home and at Linda Vista, an elementary school, where she worked with 10 and 11-year-old students from a lower-class area around San Jose. 

“This experience was very humbling because you learn to appreciate the little things in life,” Ward said. “Those children I was working with did not have AC, much school supplies or a stable learning environment. However, they were smiling. They were grateful.”

At Linda Vista, Ward said she helped with activities and asked the students what they wanted to be when they grow up. She said some told her they wanted to be teachers, veterinarians and policemen.

“It was just crazy [to me] because of the saying, ‘you become a product of your environment,’” Ward said. “They live in a lower class area, [so] they only know what they see. One student, he said he wanted to be the leader of his block because that’s all he sees, and that’s all he knows. It was humbling … to reach out to the younger generation and encourage them to do things with their life.” 

Around the country 

Ward and Manning also had the opportunity to explore San Jose and its surrounding cities, including Vista Los Suenos Adventure Park where Ward saw Costa Rica’s sights from atop a mountain and zip lined across 12 different lines. 

“I kept telling my family when I would call them — it's just things that a picture can't really capture,” Ward said. 

Manning said she was able to add to her stone and gem collection with healing stones from an indigenous tribe she visited. She also visited Basilica of Our Lady of the Angels in Cartago, Costa Rica, where she took home holy water. 

During her travels, Manning said she was able to recognize the U.S.’s influence on Costa Ricans because of the clothes they wear and the music they listen to. 

“I got in an Uber, and [the driver] was telling me, ‘I don't speak a lick of English, but I love the 1970s, early 1980s English music, like disco,’” Manning said. “I'm like, ‘I listen to that [kind of music] at home.’ We had a whole conversation, and it was the longest Uber ride I’ve had. We talked for like 30 minutes.” 

Now having returned home, Manning said her study abroad experience helped her feel more confident in her goals of living or working abroad. She said she also wants to encourage other students to study abroad in Costa Rica because there isn’t much difference between the Spanish spoken in the U.S. and Costa Rica. 

“My host mom has seen the shift — less and less people are coming to Costa Rica,” Manning said. “I think people just prioritize Spain and Argentina over any other [Spanish speaking] countries … You could go from the classroom to [speaking Spanish in] Costa Rica and be fine. I definitely want to get people to come to Costa Rica. It’s more than just for vacations.” 

Contact Nicole Thomas with comments or on Twitter @nicolerthomas22.  


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