FDU students enjoy 'pura vida' in Costa Rica

Victoria Francavilla paints local child Akil's hand so he can add his handprints to a bench in the bus stop. Students tackled refurbishing two bus stops during their time in Manzanillo, Costa Rica. (Photo by Melissa Hartz)

By Kenna Caprio

Winter break means one thing to Melissa Hartz, a graduate student at Fairleigh Dickinson University. It’s time to head to Manzanillo, Costa Rica.

“Manzanillo is a very special place to me — the community there welcomes us with open arms, so when you come back, it's like being welcomed back home,” says Hartz.

Hartz traveled to Costa Rica with ten other students from the College at Florham, Dean of Students Brian Mauro, and Head Women’s Lacrosse Coach Adrienne Carr on an alternative winter break service trip running January 10-18. This is Hartz’s second time going and the third trip run by the university to Costa Rica.

While in Costa Rica, students renovated the Manzanillo and Punta Uva bus stops; collected plastic bottles on the beach; applied fresh paint to barriers between the beach and the road; and performed cleanup work at the school.

“At the Punta Uva stop, much of the paint was peeling off, the weeds were overgrown and it needed a thorough cleaning. In addition to the painting, we had a new roof put on the Manzanillo bus stop, as the sea causes lots of wear and tear. We also moved and painted concrete cylinders that serve as a border to keep cars from driving onto the beach,” says Hartz. “It was incredibly rewarding to be stopped by locals on the street and be told how much they enjoyed our presence there and how beautiful everything looked.”

Benches in the bus stop now bear the handprints of local children Akil and Jail and handprints of some of the students. Brightly colored seats now also feature the phrase “pura vida,” which is considered a typical Costa Rican response to the question, “how are you?” It’s also a way of life in the country.

Prime examples of those leading the “pura vida” lifestyle actually happen to be expats and former FDU professors Dan and Rose Twomey. The Twomeys, who helped establish the connection between Fairleigh and Manzanillo, invited the group to visit their home for lunch and conversation as part of experiencing the country beyond service projects.

Traveler Lauren Kannenberg, a senior, says her trip highlights reel includes getting to know the Twomeys. She also enjoyed volunteering her time and having outdoor adventures in Manzanillo.

“Group members take ‘shifts,’ spending a few hours here and there fishing, hiking or cooking before returning to work,” says Hartz on her aptly titled “FDU in Costa Rica” blog.

Kannenberg lists “playing basketball and soccer with the local kids, the insanely muddy and rainy rainforest hike, swimming in the Caribbean, learning more Spanish” as top moments of the trip.

“One of my favorite evenings during this year’s trip was sitting in the community center and learning how to play dominos,” says Hartz. “I spent the majority of the night with two locals I had become very close with — they helped me with my Spanish, told me stories about their lives, and by the end of the night I had won two rounds — but I have the sneaking suspicion that they let me win.”

To read student accounts of the trip and see their photographs, visit Hartz's blog or Kannenberg's. A gallery featuring a selection of Hartz’s photos is posted on the FDU Facebook page.

‘Pura vida,’ meaning ‘the good life,’ is a typical response from Costa Ricans after being greeted with an ‘hola.’ (Photo by Lauren Kannenberg)

For Immediate Release

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