Immerse yourself in the life of a rural Latin American village on this summer Spanish language program in Costa Rica for high school students. Practice your Spanish with a farmer while you harvest coffee beans, learn to lay blocks as you build a wall at the community center, run a day camp for children, and delve into Costa Rican life during a week-long family homestay.
- June 23, 2013 - July 23, 2013
- Students completing grades 10-12
- Language Learning
- Typical Group:
- 16 students, 2 leaders
- 4.5 week(s)
Our home is a small town tucked into the southern Talamanca Mountains, where we immerse ourselves in village life. For two and a half weeks, we join enthusiastic friends from town, interacting with them in Spanish to work on important municipal and environmental projects identified by community leaders. Putney group leaders design dynamic language lessons to complement your real-life learning. In addition, choose an independent project of your own design to explore an aspect of local culture—past projects have included interviewing village residents about issues affecting their town, learning to cook local recipes with a señora and her family, creating a map of our host village, and organizing a soccer tournament. Spend late afternoons and evenings chatting with new Tico friends, hiking to hidden swimming holes, learning new songs on the guitar, playing games of futbol in the town plaza, and attending local fiestas. During your time in Costa Rica, you can expect to complete between 60 and 80 hours of community service volunteer work.
Life in the village is simple, but the days are full. For the first two and a half weeks, we live together in a house located in our project village. We form cooking and cleaning crews each day to help local women prepare delicious comida of rice, beans, chicken, eggs, fresh tropical fruit, vegetables, and juices. Each morning we head out to project sites in small groups to mix cement, lay blocks, teach basic English or health education to schoolchildren, and work with farmers to harvest coffee beans, pineapples, and other crops. Use your expanding Spanish vocabulary as you work with local maestros de obra to learn basic construction techniques and complete much needed renovations and repairs. Your leaders create fun, hands-on language learning activities–scavenger hunts, interviews, projects, and nightly games–all designed to expand your fluency.
Next, join a local family for a week-long homestay and full immersion into Tico living and Spanish language. Projects and other group activities continue during the day and we eat meals with our homestay hermanos and hermanas.
“We wanted Katie to gain an increased sense of independence and confidence, as well as have an opportunity to practice and improve her Spanish. We also feel that international travel broadens one’s horizons, opens one’s mind and generally makes a person more compassionate and understanding. The program absolutely met these expectations. Having several lengthy conversations with her homestay mother were a breakthrough for Katie. She is very shy and doesn’t say a lot in English; in Spanish it’s even harder for her. She told us that these evening chats gave her the confidence to try and speak Spanish in other venues. Her confidence level as regards to speaking Spanish increased dramatically. She told us that it was one of the greatest experiences of her entire life.”
– Jan Hansen, Chapel Hill, NC
After our homestays, we say adios to our families, and begin five days of adventure travel. First, we head into the mountains at the base of Cerro Chirripó National Park to a sustainably run ecolodge, our base for two days of adventure. Hike the lushly forested hills, learn to make cheese, or relax in natural hot springs. Then travel southwest along the coast to beach bungalows for two days of snorkeling, surfing, and exploration in and around a renowned national park. Spanish speaking and learning continues as we interview wildlife guides, help cooks in the kitchen, see a movie in Spanish at the cine, play card games, and interact with friendly Ticos.
At the end of the month we undertake one last challenge together—a white water rafting trip down the Rio Pacuare. With professional guides to teach us the basics, we dive in, quite literally, to this exhilarating rafting trip through virgin rainforest. It is the perfect setting to reflect on all or your experiences and how much your Spanish has improved during our time together in Costa Rica.
- Volunteer with local teenagers to rebuild a community center, school, or church.
- Chat with Tico friends from town as you hike to hidden waterfalls and swimming holes.
- Learn to cook traditional Tico meals with your homestay señora and her family.
- Conduct an interview with a wildlife guide in Spanish.
- Raft down the Rio Pacuare, through class 3 and 4 rapids, bordered by lush, primary rainforest.
What to Expect
This is a Spanish immersion program. You must have completed at least two years of Spanish, be eager to speak in Spanish with both native Spanish speakers and within your group, and to immerse yourself in Costa Rican life and culture. For most of each weekday, we are actively involved in community service work. This work, as well as afternoon and weekend activities, can be strenuous, and you can expect to spend most of each day outside. Everyone participates in all of the group’s projects on a rotating basis, and everyone lends a hand in meal preparation and cleanup. Since we live in our village as the local people do, accommodations are very simple with separate space for boys and girls, and basic bathroom facilities. You should come to the program with an open mind, eager to participate in new experiences and interested in exploring another culture and way of life.
At Putney we take pride in our reputation for careful, thorough planning and attention to detail. The descriptions of our high school summer programs abroad are based on our experiences in previous summers and our plans for this summer. It is inevitable that some things described here will not happen exactly as presented. To get the most out of the Putney experience, participants need to be flexible in responding to unforeseen situations, and creative in taking advantage of unexpected opportunities. We expect Putney participants to share responsibility for the success of their experience.
Putney organizes escorted international flights. Please consult us for fares.
Learn about last year’s program by reading the 2012 Language Learning Costa Rica Blog.
This program begins and ends at Miami International Airport.
Departure • Join your group to begin a month of village-based language learning and community service in the mountains of Costa Rica. The group flight departs from Miami International Airport where you meet one of your leaders who accompanies the group to San Jose, Costa Rica.
San Jose • Spend two nights in the capital city of Costa Rica where you learn about the country’s history, language, and culture. Get to know each other and get ready for your stay in the host village.
–Zoe Barbati, Central Bucks East High School, Holicong, PA
Your Host Village • Travel to the host village–your home for the next two and a half weeks – situated in Costa Rica’s southern Talamanca Mountains. Live together with your group in a simple community house as we collaborate with local people to complete several useful service projects in town.
Southern Coast • Midway through the stay in the host village, take a break from village life to explore Costa Rica’s southern Pacific coast. Stay overnight at a hacienda known for its commitment to sustainability and conservation. Interview the hacienda’s owner about his vision for ecotourism, zip-line and hike through lush forest canopy, visit an orchid garden, enjoy delicious comida tipica, and walk on a completely deserted beach.
Homestay • Join a local familia for a week-long homestay and full immersion into Tico living and the Spanish language.
Talamanca Mountains • After saying goodbye to your project village, travel inland to the base of Cerro Chirripó, Costa Rica’s highest peak. Stay two nights in bungalows made of sustainably harvested bamboo, replete with gorgeous vistas. Wake to the sounds of howler monkeys, hike to a waterfall and relax in natural hot springs. Harvest vegetables from the farm to use as ingredients in a delicious home-cooked dinner, and more.
Southwestern Coast and Rainforest • Travel to a sustainablly run ecolodge owned by a Costa Rican family. From bungalows situated in the rainforest and overlooking the Pacific coast, explore the area to learn about Costa Rica’s astounding biodiversity, interview local wildlife experts in Spanish, hike along the coastline for a picnic lunch, and snorkel and swim in the ocean.
Rafting in San Jose • Spend your last two nights in San Jose. On the final day of the program, white water raft with professional guides down the Rio Pacuare.
Return • Fly with your group and a leader from San Jose to Miami, Florida. Bid a fond hasta la próxima to your new friends, and continue home on a connecting flight.
This itinerary represents our best projection of the group’s schedule. However, we may implement changes designed to improve the quality of the program.
Background • In 1949, declaring itself a peaceful nation, Costa Rica disbanded its army and has since enjoyed six decades of democracy and peace. It is well known for its astounding biodiversity, innovative approaches to ecotourism, warm and inviting people, and miles of tropical beaches. Although a tiny country, Costa Rica has incredible geographic diversity. Within its borders you can travel from tropical rainforest to deserted beaches to active volcanoes, all within the span of a day. Because nearly 30% of Costa Rica’s land is protected, it is an ideal destination for recreation, but also for learning about ecology, biology, conservation, sustainable development, and other environmental issues.
Population • Costa Rica has a total population of just over 4 million, with 1.5 million living in the capital city of San Jose. San Isidro, with a population of 70,000, is the largest city in the southern province of Pérez Zeledón. Our project and homestay villages are located in a rural, mountainous area in Pérez Zeledón and have populations of under 1,500.
“Because our group was leaving Las Mesas just a few days before my birthday, my host family threw me– and also her son who shares the same birthday as me– a birthday party. My host mom spent the day preparing arroz con pollo and her son’s wife made a homemade birthday cake complete with homemade icing and guava jelly. The fact that they would spend so much time just to give us a birthday dinner made this memory special.”
–Rebecca Federman, Riverdale Country Day School, Tenafly, NJ
Language • Spanish is the official language of Costa Rica. Latin American Spanish uses the second person plural Ustedes form. Costa Ricans, on the whole, appreciate attempts to speak Spanish and are eager to help out with vocabulary and grammar.
Climate • Costa Rica has only two seasons: wet and dry. We are there during the wet season when rain is common but intermittent and not necessarily a daily occurrence. It is quite warm—in the 80′s most days—so the occasional rain shower is welcome!
Cuisine • Typical Costa Rican cuisine is hearty fare—rice, beans, and fruit are offered at almost every meal. A typical lunch consists of gallo pinto (rice and beans), fish or chicken, vegetables, cheese, tortillas, and fruit.
Currency • The Costa Rican currency is known as the colon. The exchange rate is roughly 500 colones to one US dollar. The best way to access cash is by using an ATM card.
Voltage • Electrical outlets are identical to those used in the United States: 120 V/60 Hz with standard two and three-prong plugs. There are a limited number of outlets in our group house that can be used for charging electronics.
The Language Learning Costa Rica program is directed by Lauren McDowell. If you have questions, are interested in receiving more detailed information, or would like to talk further about the program or any of our high school summer programs abroad, please get in touch!
Lauren McDowell: Washington and Lee University, B.A., Spanish, Economics. Lauren lived in Spain during college, and has been on the go ever since. She led Putney programs to Ecuador, Cuba, Costa Rica, and Spain. When not traveling, Lauren enjoys yoga, reading, and being a mom. Her two young sons will one day join Putney Student Travel groups themselves. Lauren coordinates programming in Latin America and acts as our liaison to the Putney Open Door Fund scholarship foundation.
How To Apply
STEP 1: LOG ON.
STEP 2: HOLD A SPACE IN THE PROGRAM.
You can hold a space in a program by completing the Online Application Form, submitting a signed Agreement Form, and providing the $700 Application Deposit by Mastercard, Visa, or Discover Card through our secure online system or by sending a check to our office. Our admissions staff is also available to take credit card information over the phone. We will hold a space in a program for a reasonable time, pending completion of the full application process. See Step 3.
After March 15, we will hold a space temporarily as above, but we must receive full payment by check or wire transfer within three days to continue to hold a space in the program.
STEP 3: COMPLETE THE APPLICATION PROCESS.
Before we can make a final admissions decision, an application must be complete. In addition to the Application Form and Application Deposit described above, a complete application includes:
- Applicant Statement - Attach a statement explaining why you would like to join a Putney program and what you feel you can contribute to it. Your application cannot be processed without this statement. Approximately 150–300 words is sufficient. Global Action applicants’ statements must be 300-500 words addressing these questions, and detailing their interest and/or experience in the country and issues on which they wish to focus.
- Two Teacher Reference Forms
These documents are available as part of our Online Application. We review a completed application within a few days, and notify families of our admissions decision by e-mail.