What Does “Pura Vida” Actually Mean?

This summer, I had the wonderful opportunity to complete a three month physical therapy internship in Costa Rica. I volunteered in two locations, the first being a day center for elderly adults and the second being a more traditional physical therapy clinic. The mornings is when I would volunteer at the day center helping the seniors with whatever they needed, giving an informational talk about a certain health topics that seniors face, leading group exercises, and shadowing the physical therapist that would come once a week. At the second clinic, I would shadow the same therapist every day, helping to set up and take down the treatment room, running therapy machines, and just generally doing anything the therapist needed. This internship matched very well with my global theme and challenge. The theme I chose was public and global health and the challenge was to witness the impact of physical therapy and whole body wellness on kids with disabilities in areas other than the United States. Unfortunately, because of the recent pandemic, the project I originally signed on to did not happen, but I was able to work in a therapy clinic instead. In this way, I was able to both see how physical therapy impacted people of all ages in Costa Rica and compared it to the US. The thing is, this internship was way past global themes and challenges. It was a time of personal growth, specifically in the realm of the phrase “pura vida”.

View from my host house in Naranjo, Costa Rica

The first thing you learn about Costa Rica and the people who live there is that going with the flow is their way of life. There is no strict schedule, and stress appears to be very low. This was completely different from what I came from in the US. My anxiety was at an all time high, as I was stepping into a completely new country alone, but after staying three months, my view on life has completely shifted. I realize now it is because Costa Ricans recognize humanity and they place it above most other things. Everything from bus schedules to doctors appointments are almost never on time because peoples experiences are placed above. This actually played a big role in how the clinic conducted their business. Although the therapist was often late to his appointments (the patients never cared), he would always ensure the full time was spent with them. Also, if the patient complained of another injury during the appointment, he would treat that injury. I saw the balance between humanity and professionalism, something that I hope to incorporate in my life as a future physical therapist.

Me running a therapy machine in my afternoon clinic

I think that “pura vida” can be applied to both my global them and challenge along with my day-to-day life. To me, “pura vida” reminds me to look for the humanity in situations. Arguably, humanity is what has formed the theme public and global health. As a member of this theme, we are trying to find answers to health problems around the globe, hence helping humanity. My challenge was already humanity based, just specifically in physical therapy. It does raise questions about how different physical therapy is across the globe, and if it is humanity based as it seems to be in Costa Rica. I know I will consistently use “pura vida” in my day to day life because it means so much more than go with the flow.

Me on beach at Cahuita National Park