Costa Rica | Middle School

Service, Culture, & Adventure

Explore the different themes of Putney programs — Cultural Exploration, Language Learning, and Community Service — on this Middle School student travel program in beautiful Costa Rica. Together with a group of students and staff, enjoy the tropical white-sand beaches of the Pacific coast and take adventurous day trips, immerse yourself in local culture, and spend a week volunteering in a local village.

June 25, 2017  –  July 16, 2017
At A Glance:
  • Adventure
    Outdoor exploration, hiking, biking, swimming, and other active pursuits
  • Beach
    Stay on the ocean with time to swim, surf, boat, or snorkel
  • Language
    Opportunities to practice or learn the language of your host country
  • Service
    Focus on community-based projects in collaboration with a partner village
Completing grades 6 – 8
US Gateway City:
New York
Middle School
22 days
Typical Group:
28 – 30 students, 6 leaders
$ 5,790 + airfare
  • Complete meaningful service projects in your host village
  • Join a game of pick-up soccer with new Costa Rican friends
  • Surf, snorkel, and kayak on gorgeous tropical beaches
  • Glide above the rainforest canopy on a zip-line adventure

Join a game of pick-up soccer with your new tico friends in the village.

Surf, fish, snorkel, and kayak on a tropical Costa Rican beach.

Fly high above the rainforest canopy on a zip-line adventure.

Spend a weekend exploring the Arenal Volcano and relaxing inhot springs.

Leader Profile: JONATHAN PERRY

Education: Tufts University, B.A., Anthropology, B.A., Latin American Studies; The Fletcher School at Tufts University, M.A.L.D., International Development and Global Political Economy

Jonathan is based in Bogotá, Colombia, and has worked in international development and cooperation, education policy, and social finance. Most recently, he has been at… read more

Jonathan is based in Bogotá, Colombia, and has worked in international development and cooperation, education policy, and social finance. Most recently, he has been at the Colombian Ministry of Education, where he authored the 10-year policy framework for early childhood education and advised the director for early childhood education. Previously, he worked at Instiglio, a non-profit social finance advisory firm, and the World Bank’s office for Latin America and the Caribbean. Born in Venezuela to Colombian and American parents, Jonathan has worked and lived in six countries across Latin America and speaks Spanish and Portuguese fluently. He loves being outside, playing music, reading, and keeping up with world news. He has led Putney Community Service programs in Argentina and Peru, and has also been an instructor on Putney’s Pre-College at Amherst College program. In 2016 he was the Director of Middle School Costa Rica.  


Departure • Travel Day • Meet your fellow middle school student travelers and a Putney flight escort in New York, and fly together to Liberia, Costa Rica. To learn more about how we organize travel, click here.

Settling In • 2 Days • Begin together as a large group at your home base on the Pacific coast. Get to know your leaders and fellow group members and have an in-depth orientation to become acquainted with Costa Rican culture. Then, split into two smaller groups to create a small group experience. Half of the group travels to our community service host village, while the other half remains at our base on the coast.

The Villa • 7 Days • Visit the incredible sites of the Guanacaste region on adventurous day trips and participate in staff-led enrichment activities at the Villa. Surf with professional guides at the beautiful Playa Grande, join an afternoon ceramics class with traditional artists, hike and explore at Rincon de la Vieja National Park and learn about its geothermal energy, and visit Lomas Barbudal Biological Reserve to scout for the capuchin monkeys that inhabit this region. During days spent at our residence, engage in informal Spanish instruction and lessons in ecology and biodiversity, snorkel in a nearby bay, visit the local farmer’s market, take cooking lessons, photograph, draw, and paint, take salsa lessons, and play games of frisbee on the beach.

Arenal Volcano • 2 Days • Between your time at the Villa and your transition to your host village, join together as a large group at a beautiful, sustainable eco-lodge tucked into the forested valley at the base of Arenal Volcano. Kayak on Lake Arenal, ride horseback through the rainforest to a remote waterfall, take a night hike to see the lava flows, zip-line high in the forest canopy, and soak in thermal hot springs. The group then splits again, heading to the host village and the Villa.

Host Village • 7 Days • Spend a week in a small village tucked into the hills overlooking Lake Arenal. Get to know local residents as you work alongside them on small-scale construction projects. Spend time teaching English to the local children or try your hand at milking at the town dairy farm. Play soccer with new friends in the afternoons or relax together as a group. To learn more about how we structure our Community Service programs, click here.

Reuniting • 2 Days • Return to the beachside Villa to enjoy the last few days together. Share stories of your adventures, participate in final night activities, say goodbye to your Putney family, and prepare for your journey home.

Return Home • Travel Day • Fly from Liberia, Costa Rica, to New York with a Putney flight escort, then continue on to your final destination. To learn more about how we organize travel, click here.

This itinerary represents our best projection of the group’s schedule.  However, we may implement changes designed to improve the quality of the program.

A Day in the Life: THE VILLA

Due to the traveling nature of this summer program abroad, each day is different. Here is a snapshot of a day in the Villa.

8 AM Breakfast at the Villa restaurant together as a group
9 AM Day trip to Playa Grande for surf lessons with professional guides
12 PM Lunch at a beachside restaurant together as a group
2 PM Ceramics lesson with a traditional artist
4 PM Short hike to swim in a waterfall on the return back to the Villa
6 PM Dinner at the Villa restaurant together as a group
8 PM Game night incorporating Costa Rican culture
9 PM Group meeting to discuss the day and upcoming schedule

Alex really enjoyed being in Costa Rica. It was an experience for him to see another culture and way of life.

— Jenifer Brooks & Bruce Thorpe, New York, NY

What to Expect

This summer program offers students the chance to be a part of an active, engaged Putney community while living and learning in fascinating and beautiful Costa Rica. Specifically tailored to students completing 6 – 8 grades, this middle school summer travel program combines many diverse elements of the programs we have run for more than 60 years.

Community Service • The service portion of this program is designed to provide the opportunity to learn about another culture by forming meaningful relationships with local people and undertaking a shared community service experience together. You should come to the summer with an open mind, eager to participate in new experiences and interested in exploring another culture and way of life. During your time in the host village, you can expect to participate in several different service experiences — light construction projects where you may learn to mix cement or paint a community building, environmental projects such as planting seedlings or shadowing local farmers, and educational projects such as teaching English to local children. All students participate in each of the group’s projects on a rotating basis, and everyone lends a hand in meal preparation and cleanup. You can expect to complete 25 – 30 hours of community service work. To learn more about our Community Service summer abroad programs, click here.

Independent Project Pursue an independent project and explore an aspect of local culture of particular interest to you — learn to cook gallo pinto, interview local girls and women about gender roles in the community, or organize a community-wide soccer tournament.

Language Practice Proficiency in Spanish is not required. However, students who study Spanish in school will have opportunities to practice while communicating with local people. Students who do not speak the local language will have the opportunity to learn some basic language skills.

Physical Activity • This is a physically active summer program. Community service projects, soccer, swimming, rafting, horseback riding, and hiking are all activities in which you might participate during this program. You do not need to be at peak fitness to participate, but it is important that you have a desire to be physically active, and that you are excited about trying all activities.

Accommodations • The Villa is a small, family-run hotel located just 100 meters from quiet Playa Hermosa. Rooms are doubles with air conditioning. There is a restaurant, a pool, a salón comunal (meeting room), and a basketball court on the Villa grounds. While in our host village, we live in a community center. Living conditions are basic but comfortable. We sleep in sleeping bags on sleeping pads on the floor. Leaders reside with the group throughout the program.

Meals • While at the Villa, we eat meals at the adjoining restaurant. During our stay in our host village, meals are prepared by local women. Students take turns helping to prepare our meals and form cooking and cleaning crews.

Highlights from my experience include surfing on a flat white beach, learning Spanish vocabulary, jumping off a waterfall, and living in a small community and really connecting with the locals.

— Dylan D., Bentley School, Oakland, CA

Ask Us

Call Kelsey at 802.387.5000 or email

The Middle School Costa Rica summer program is directed by Kelsey Burns. If you have questions, are interested in receiving more detailed information, or would like to talk further about the program or any of our middle school student travel abroad summer programs, please get in touch!

Kelsey Burns

St. Lawrence University, B.A., Spanish

A Vermont native, Kelsey has led Language Learning programs in Spain; Community Service programs in Ecuador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, and Ghana; and directed our Middle School program in Costa Rica. She has worked as an associate director at Putney since 2003, and coordinates programs in Spain, Costa Rica, and the Dominican Republic. Kelsey loves to travel, ski, dance, make music, and spend time with her family.