This post features Alexandra K. the Grand Prize Winner of this year’s weShare project competition. weShare is EF’s personalized learning experience, designed to encourage students to share their travel stories and highlight the unique things that sparked their curiosity on tour. Each year, EF’s judging panel awards students across the country who go above and beyond with their projects. Alex won the grand prize of a Global Citizen Scholarship and will attend the 2017 Future of Food Summit in Milan, Italy.
As soon as Alex stepped off the airplane in Costa Rica, it was clear that she was in for a week filled of new experiences. While the influx of Spanish initially felt overwhelming, Alex knew that she couldn’t let her initial feelings of culture shock overwhelm her. It was time to experience all of the moments she had been waiting months for. And she had a research question to explore—one that she had been thinking about for months.
Prior to leaving for tour, Alex was inspired by weShare to explore a topic she was interested in while traveling. As an aspiring physician hoping to one day specialize in genetics, the decision to connect her interest and passion with her weShare project in Costa Rica came naturally. “I came across an article about Nicoya, a region of Costa Rica found to have an exceptionally high life expectancy, and I knew that this was something I wanted to look into more” she said. “I wondered if genetic factors were truly the only thing contributing to this statistic…I thought maybe there could be more.” Alex hoped that her findings on tour would help her reach a conclusion.
Observations and Discoveries
While in Costa Rica, Alex stayed observant. Her first observation? A stark contrast in lifestyle compared to what she was used to. “People generally seemed more laid back, everywhere you looked you could see people laughing, or being active riding around on bicycles” she described. This contrast was further exemplified during a visit to a local Costa Rican school where she was able to directly compare her schooling experience in the US with that of her peers in Costa Rica. “It just felt different. The kids had a mid-morning snack break, the schooling didn’t feel as high pressure, and as a result the kids seemed happier” she described.
Following the guidance of her Spanish teacher, Alex continued to make mental notes throughout the trip. Fast food restaurants seemed scarce, messaging around conserving the environment was prevalent, recycling was a must, and adopting a “pura vida” or “pure life” mentality was encouraged by all. Alex began to pinpoint these differences in lifestyle as possible factors contributing to the longer life expectancy of the region. These assumptions were later confirmed during an in depth conversation with her tour director Chris, a native Costa Rican.
What first began as a light conversation developed into an intense discussion causing Alex to reflect on her own life. Chris explained how the notion of “pura vida”—the idea that it is important to focus on the positives and not dwell on the negatives—is an important pillar of Costa Rican culture. This was a very different approach to life than the fast-paced and, at times, stressful lifestyle she felt as a high school student preparing to apply to colleges in the U.S. The conversation prompted her to not just think about how it related back to her research question, but also to wonder how she could bring the mentality of “pura vida” back home.
Reflecting Back Home
Back home, Alex compiled all of her observations and notes. She realized that there were many more factors that possibly contributed to her life expectancy question than she had initially even anticipated. Furthermore, Alex realized that all of these factors could tie back to living according to “pura vida” as her tour director had explained in their discussion. Alex’s topic had taken a turn from being primarily about genetics, but that was okay. “Maybe ‘pura vida’ wasn’t just a phrase, but rather a lifestyle that actually leads to longer life-expectancy” she thought.
And thus Alex had reached her conclusion. “It was interesting to me because what I had intended to be a very science intense project, ended up being mainly philosophical and sociological” she later described. “My experience pushed me to think about the bigger picture to realize that there are more things in life than I see right now…more things than history tests and SATs and you just need to go out and see it for yourself” she said. “It led me to conclude that maybe what we all need is a little more ‘pura vida’ in our lives.”