“It was my fourth year at the University of Costa Rica (UCR). I knew that I wanted to go abroad, so I applied. It was a long process; we had to do interviews then write essays, and every stage was a step further. If God wanted me to go, I would go,” explained Ana Gabriela Pareja-Alfaro, one of Colorado College’s foreign exchange students. After all the hard work, Ana Gaby finally was accepted to study abroad after her second time applying and going through the rigorous application process. “I was really positive; this time I was finally ready. Everything felt so different, and I had grown as a person,” said Gaby while humbly describing her feelings. Gaby loves her experience here in Colorado; the new culture, people, the Block Plan, being able to practice and learn more English—it has exceeded her expectations. “I love to be here,” she says.
Aside from all the great things Colorado and the college have to offer, there isn’t a day that goes by that Ana Gaby doesn’t think about her home. She was born and raised in San Jose, Costa Rica. Living in the big city allowed her to enjoy how close in proximity things were to her house, while still having mountains and nature around her. “I live with my parents, my sister, and two dogs … My sister’s name is Maria Emilia, mother Leonor, and father Carlos” she described. Her face lit up while reminiscing on all the memories that she and her family share. “Sometimes my sister and I were in the room watching movies or would put on crazy clothes and painted our faces and then took pictures. We do crazy things. When we were little we had these ropes on the ceiling of our room, we then pretended we were Tarzan and Jane, jumping from bed to bed—my mother was always worried about us,” she said giggling. Her family has always been a huge supporter to her and her choices, allowing her to go out and experience life the way she wants but still instilling important morals and values that Ana Gaby’s cherishes. This strong connection between her and her family not only extends out to her close friends but to the entirety of Costa Rica. “Costa Ricans have a much deeper connection with each other, they are really warm … People here at CC are great, but yeah … I am missing the warm hugs,” she said laughing.
“Pura Vida (pure life) is Costa Rica. We use it for everything. You can use it for anything you want to say that is positive. Pura Vida makes you smile. It is so catchy and you feel good whenever you say it,” Ana Gaby says. Costa Ricans have surely grasped and mastered this concept of living the pure life. Like anywhere else, there are still those responsibilities—work, school, things that need to get done—but ticos (the native word for Costa Ricans) make sure of keeping certain aspects of life a priority over others. Food is a very prominent part of Costa Rica, “Comida tipica,” (the staple food) usually consists of gallo pinto (rice and black beans), carne (meat), platanos (plantains, usually fried), tortillas, and all the fruit that you could imagine. Food is a way for people to come together, cook together, and share special moments. Costa Ricans also share a love for music and dancing. “Dancing is such a big part of our culture. In every activity, people play music and people start dancing. One of the things that I like the most is that we get to express ourselves through dancing” she said. As a choreographer and dance teacher, these Latin rhythms have always been so important to her, whether that be Salsa or Bachata. That type of music has a special place in her heart. On a larger scale, every year on Aug. 2, thousands of people get together on a pilgrimage to walk to a specific church in the city of Cartago, usually with a certain purpose: favor or prayer to God. On Sept. 15, Costa Rica celebrates its Independence Day. Each town or city hosts their own parade filled with bands, food, music, and lots of people. Every year since she began school, Ana Gaby has participated in her cities parade, be it flag twirling or playing an instrument in her school’s band. “It is really cool because you feel like you are being a part of the country and you are proud of it. I love it; those experiences are like ‘I am Costa Rican.’”
Even thousands of miles from home, Ana Gaby still brings a part of Costa Rica with her. On Independence Day, she dressed up in a Costa Rican soccer jersey and painted the flag on her face. Even in Colorado, she continues to show her culture and country and is proud of it. You are sure to see her room filled with pictures of her family and friends as well as the Costa Rican flag on one wall. “One of the things that I would like to do is cook Gallo Pinto. I want to cook for the Italian house, where I live, but not just that … if there is a big event I would like to cook for that as well. I would like to have an event showing Costa Rica, for people to know and to see the beauties we have in our country, and of course Latin dances!” she expressed proudly. She has no problem of bringing Costa Rica here to Colorado, and that is what she hopes to continue for the rest of her stay at CC.