You’ll find answers here to general questions about Sustainable Summer. Many FAQs address considerations broadly applicable to our global learning programs. For detailed information about our program at Dartmouth College, or if you don’t see your question here, please check individual program pages for specific information about a destination or just give us a call!

What are Sustaiable Summer’s Essential Eligibility Criteria and Participant Policies?

Essential Eligibility Criteria
The mission of Sustainable Summer is to cultivate the next generation of environmental leaders. Each student must be fully committed to and capable of working hard, taking responsibility for him or her self, and working effectively in the group to achieve the goals of the program. The following Essential Eligibility Criteria state expectations of each participant.

  • Each participant must…
  • Act reliably around hazards to minimize risk even when not directly supervised.
  • Independently perceive, understand, and follow directions and instructions given by others to be able to successfully execute appropriate and perhaps unfamiliar, techniques to avoid hazards and/or manage risks. These directions may be given before the hazard or risk is encountered or may need to be given during exposure to the hazard/risk and out of necessity and practicality are often given orally.
  • Be able to stay alert and to focus attention for up to several hours at a time while traveling in wilderness terrain, attending classes, or receiving instructions.
  • If taking prescription medications, be able to maintain proper dosage by self-medicating without assistance from instructors or others (except possibly in emergency situations).
  • Work effectively as a member of a team. This may require problem solving on an interpersonal or group level as well as a willingness to accept differences.
  • Contribute to a safe learning environment—no verbal or physical inappropriate behavior of others is tolerated for any reason

Sustainable Summer Red Rules
Violation of the following “red rules” will result in immediate dismissal from a program:

  • NO engaging in activities that break US or local laws
  • NO sexual contact or exclusive relationships
  • NO sleeping in a room other than the one to which you have been assigned
  • NO body alteration, including piercing and tattoos
  • NO riding in motorized vehicles, unless authorized to do so by program staff
  • NO behavior that physically or emotionally endangers yourself or others, including 
specifically the use of recreational drugs or alcohol

Sustainable Summer Bullying and Inclusivity Statement
Sustainable Summer defines bullying as harassment, intimidation, or any act intended to exclude or harm another person physically or psychologically. We believe that any form, type, or level of bullying or discrimination is unacceptable and we have a zero tolerance policy on bullying and reserve the right to dismiss any student who bullies or discriminates against others.

What does Sustainable Summer do to provide a safe experience for students?

Student health and well-being is unquestionably the number one priority for every organization working with teens, and we’re no different. However, let’s start with a basic statement about traveling abroad (or anywhere, for that matter): No one can guarantee total protection from injury, illness, or death. We can, though, consider our actions in the context of risk, which is the ‘effect of uncertainty on objectives.’ Sustainable Summer has invested in the quality of its risk management practices by participating in the Risk Management Training offered by the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), an organization with over 40 years of experience managing risk in wilderness environments.

As a result of this training Sustainable Summer has developed a risk management strategy encompassing all levels of our organization. In order to mitigate the risk that is inherent in all international expeditions, we have invested time and resources in these practices because the health and well being of our participants is of the highest priority. All Sustainable Summer programs feature experienced staff using established industry-standard risk management practices to guide every decision. All trip leaders have CPR and Wilderness First Aid training, and at least one leader possesses advanced medical training.

All participants are automatically enrolled in our InternationalSOS emergency assistance, evacuation, and repatriation plan. We use private transportation when traveling between locations. We work exclusively with experienced local operators who have been vetted by our team. We conduct training with all trip leaders and establish clear protocols to mitigate risk and effectively mobilize resources in the event of an emergency. Please see our Safety page for a more comprehensive overview of our approach to student health and well-being. If you have specific questions about your situation, please contact us to discuss. Answers to some common questions about health and safety are below:

What happens if I get sick or hurt?”

All trip leaders have current first aid and CPR certifications, and can treat basic medical situations on-site.  Sustainable Summer has clearly defined protocols in the event of a health/medical emergency.  All participants are automatically enrolled in an InternationalSOS plan, which includes 24/7 phone access to travel medicine professionals for consultation and emergency assistance. In the immediate areas we will be visiting, medical clinics are available for a broad range of health issues, but participants with more serious needs will be transported to the nearest major medical facility that adheres to similar standards and practices as medical facilities in the United States.

I have special dietary needs. Can I still go?

Sustainable Summer is eager to accommodate medical or dietary needs, as circumstances permit. We are not able to provide alternate meals since most of our food is served ‘family-style’ from locally harvested sources. We will typically eat whatever is fresh that day, so students with dietary restrictions should plan to speak to our program directors before enrolling to ensure we can accommodate their needs.  Programs also require a certain level of physical capability, so students with any concerns about their fitness should contact our office to confirm this is an appropriate program for them.

What about bugs, spiders, snakes, and other ‘scary’ creatures?

Healthy ecosystems depend on insects and other “critters” for balance.  You should look at the FAQs for the individual programs to get a better sense of the types of “critters” or vector diseases (malaria, Dengue, etc) you might encounter while traveling. We will review prevention measures during orientation and have standing medical procedures in the unlikely event of an incident. We take these risks seriously and will provide you with our pre-program guide, that covers our student health policies in more detail, after you enroll in the program. Please call us with any specific questions.

What vaccinations do I need?

The short answer to this question is that we don’t tell families what they should and should not vaccinate against. That’s a decision for you and your doctor. The Center for Disease Control website is the resource that your physician will likely use in making recommendations, so check that out if you’re curious. For enrolled students, CDC recommendations are provided in your Program Preparation Guide. For students going to Ecuador on a program with us, please see this travel health page for some additional information that is intended to parse through some of the nuances of the CDC recommendations for Ecuador.

Who are the Sustainable Summer trip leaders? What is the student:staff ratio?

There are typically two Sustainable Summer facilitators, one male and one female, on each program. All Sustainable Summer facilitators are professional educators. We also work very closely with our local partners. English-speaking guides, specialists, and instructors will be with us throughout the program. The student:staff ratio will never exceed 7:1.

Questions about Travel and Program Details

How many participants are there? Should I come with a friend?

Sustainable Summer trips typically consist of 10-14 students, ranging in age from 15 to 18. Most students do not enroll with a friend, but pairs of students are welcome to come together.

How do we get to our host country? Is there a chaperoned group flight? How do we travel in country?

Sustainable Summer organizes a group flight from the United States, which all participants are encouraged to take. Program pages on this website specify departure airports, flight schedule, costs, and other information on the group flight. Detailed information about international travel will be provided upon enrollment in the program. We only have an adult chaperone/escort on some of our programs. Please see our flights page for additional information.

Once in country, all travel will be by private coach when we are traveling any significant distance, although we may occasionally use other transport when traveling locally. This can range from a cattle truck to the local bus. Traveling like a local is part of the experience!

Do I need to speak Spanish? Will there be opportunities for me to take Spanish classes?

No Spanish is required to participate in the program; however, students with a basic command of the language will find numerous opportunities to practice their Spanish with native speakers. Students who have not previously studied Spanish will get a crash course in ‘survival’ Spanish during our orientation. Because all course instruction is in English, students who do not speak Spanish should be able to participate fully in the program.

How ‘academic’ is the program? Are we ‘learning’ the whole time?

We are looking for intellectually curious and academically motivated students. However, there’s also plenty of opportunity for rest, relaxation, and fun. Activities on our programs include surfing, hiking, rafting, kayaking, and horseback riding, just to name a few examples. We also think bouncing down a dirt road in a cattle truck to visit an indigenous tribe or spending the day learning the basics of permaculture on an organic farm, to name a few educational examples, is pretty fun, too.

Is this a community service/volunteer program? Can I get credit for community service?

This program is not intended to be a “community service trip.” All of our programs feature partnerships with local organizations with a strong commitment to improving and sustaining the local community and we will actively engage in a day or two of volunteer work during the program. On request, Sustainable Summer will provide documentation of the program fundamentals and service hours. If you are looking for a community service program, we strongly suggest you review some of our thoughts on service learning.

What is Sustainable Summer’s cell phone/technology policy?

We believe that there is significant value in disconnecting and not letting technology interfere with the immersion experience. Students are permitted to bring a cell phone to the program, however phones are only to be used during designated times, typically about once per week, when it’s appropriate to check-in with friends and family back home. Since phones are going to be relegated to rare usage, students should not plan on using their phone as a camera. Taking pictures can be a lot of fun, but they can also be a distraction and, in certain situations, culturally insensitive. Students are welcome to bring a camera, but our facilitators will help establish appropriate use. Laptops, video games, and iPads/tablets are not permitted. An iPod or mp3 is permitted, but usage will be restricted to longer travel days and other times deemed appropriate by facilitators.

As parents, when will we receive updates from the group and be able to reach our son or daughter?

Communication via cell phone or Internet is often not possible for several days at a time during programs. When we are out of cell phone range, our staff always has an immediate means of reaching emergency assistance should it be needed, for instance, via short wave radio or satellite device. Students are typically able to make contact back home about once per week. Our field staff will attempt somewhat more regular group updates via our blog and social media. In the event a parent needs to get a time-sensitive message to our field team, our office will attempt to patch it through in as timely a manner as is practical.

Do we eat “local” food? Can you accommodate dietary restrictions?

The short answer is “yes” and yes.” See individual program pages or call us for more information about your specific dietary considerations.

Questions about Applying

Am I eligible to participate?

You must be at least 15 years of age and no more than 18 years of age on the program start date to participate.

We are able to accept students from any location worldwide, although if you are applying from outside the United States there may be special visa and insurance requirements as part of your participation. Please email international@sustainablesummer.org prior to submitting your application.

Is there an application deadline? How do I apply and enroll? How do I pay?

Please see our Application Policies for more info.

Will I be accepted? Should I apply? How do I know if this is the right program for me?

Sustainable Summer is not for everyone. In addition to the age requirements (15 – 18 years old), in general, you should have a strong interest in environmental sustainability and the requisite physical and emotional maturity to handle the experience of traveling with your peers in a developing country. Use our Compare Programs page to help you assess which Sustainable Summer is the best fit for your interests and comfort zone. See our Application page for more info on how we make acceptance decisions.

Do I need to speak Spanish? Will there be an opportunity for me to take Spanish classes?

No Spanish is required to participate in the program; however, students with a basic command of the language will find numerous opportunities to practice their Spanish with native speakers. Students who have not previously studied Spanish will get a crash course in ‘survival’ Spanish during our orientation. Because all course instruction is in English, students who do not speak Spanish should be able to participate fully in the program.

How do I enroll?

All students must complete an online application at SustainableSummer.org/Apply. A $35 non-refundable application fee ($70 after April 1st) will be required to submit the application. Applications will be reviewed on a weekly basis, and students will be notified via email of the acceptance decision. Enrollment information will be provided with the acceptance decision.

Financial Considerations

How much does the program cost?

We operate on a tiered tuition model, which makes our participation in our programs accessible to families from across the socioeconomic spectrum. Please see our tuition page for additional information.

How do I enroll at the “tuition assistance’ level?

Once admitted to a program, there is a two-step enrollment process. First, the student reviews and acknowledges our Essential Eligibility Criteria. An enrollment email will then be sent to the student’s parent. Parents select their tuition tier during this step in the enrollment process. Enrolling at the “tuition assistance” level (20% discount on tuition) requires no additional documentation or application. It is offered based on the honor system. Please read more about our tiered tuition model for guidelines on choosing a tier.

What’s included in the cost of tuition?

Tuition includes all accommodations, meals, activities, curriculum and instruction, ground transportation, pre-program materials and support, gratuities, and contributions to service projects. Scholarships and financial aid are available.

What’s NOT included in the cost of tuition?

Tuition does not include airfare, entry or exit fees, travel/trip cancelation insurance, and personal expenses such as laundry, snacks, souvenirs, and internet or international phone calls. Most of our global learning programs also require a $95 InternationalSOS membership fee, which provides emergency assistance, evacuation and repatriation coverage. Please see individual program pages for airfare information and a breakdown of any entry or exit fees.

What are the payment terms and refund policy?

A non-refundable deposit is required to secure enrollment in the program and is applied against the cost of tuition. Enrollment deposits can be made online, or by check or wire transfer. The balance of tuition is due by April 15th for Early and Priority round applicants, and within 30 days of enrollment for Regular round applications. For all other applicants, the balance of tuition is due within 15 days or 7 days prior to the first date of the program, whichever is smaller. Tuition balances are payable by check or wire transfer. Please see our application and enrollment policies page for more information.

Are scholarships available?

We have financial aid and other scholarships available. Please see our scholarships page for more information.

Participant Resources

Here you will find answers to frequently asked questions and resources for enrolled participants. If you’re already signed up to go on a Sustainable Summer program, you’ll find useful information here that will help you prepare for your summer with us. Don’t forget to check out your MySummer account for all of the participation forms, our Program Preparation Guide, and other important info.

Please give us a call or email if you can’t find what you’re looking for or have any questions.

Where can I find participation forms?

Forms and other participant information are accessed through your MySummer account.

Where can I find information about the group flight, airfare, visa requirements, and other travel details?

In your MySummer account.

How do I pay my tuition invoice?

In your MySummer account.

How do I return forms to the Sustainable Summer office?

Please upload them to your MySummer account. This is by far the easiest and most efficient way for us to receive your information. Other methods increase administrative work on our end, which has an impact on student tuition. As an extra incentive for families to use MySummer, we will credit your final tuition invoice $25 if we receive all required participation forms through MySummer before April 1st.

Can I fax/mail/email you forms instead?

If you’d rather fax your forms to us, this is the number: 646.712.9439. Please ensure multi-page forms are faxed as a single document. You can also email a scanned copy of each form to forms@sustainablesummer.org. Again, ensure multi-page forms are emailed as a single document. If you’re not sure how to combine multiple pages into a single document, a quick Google search will yield several free, easy ways to do this. Lastly, you can mail to Sustainable Summer, 212 S. Oxford St. #3A, Brooklyn, NY 11217. Please note, we charge a $25 administrative fee for processing snail mail. Don’t worry about including any special subject lines, cover letters, or other information when you submit forms. As long as the student’s name is on the form, we’ll figure it out.

How will I know if you received my forms?

Check the “Participation Forms Status” section of your MySummer account for a record of all received and outstanding pre-participation items.

I have a question about my participation forms. Who should I talk to?

Call us at 646.504.5046 or email info@sustainablesummer.org. We’re glad to help.

Should I bring my computer and cell phone?

We believe that there is significant value in disconnecting and not letting technology interfere with the immersion experience. Students are permitted to bring a cell phone to the program, however phones are only to be used during designated times, typically about once per week, when it’s appropriate to check-in with friends and family back home. Laptops, video games, and iPads/tablets are not permitted. An iPod or mp3 is permitted, but usage will be restricted to longer travel days and other times deemed appropriate by facilitators. There will also be internet cafes in in some of the locations we visit, and it is emphatically not necessary to bring any type of internet capable device to communicate with home. Please note, even if students disregard our “cell phone” policy and set up an international calling or data plan, they should be aware that cell service and/or Internet may not be available for several days at a time. In general, we may be in a “communications” blackout period for as many as 7 days at a time. Our staff will always have an emergency communication device available and the means to coordinate a rescue with emergency professionals.

Should I bring a camera?

Since phones are relegated to rare usage, students should not plan on using their phone as a camera. Taking pictures can be a lot of fun, but they can also be a distraction and, in certain situations, culturally insensitive. Students are welcome to bring a camera, but our facilitators will help establish appropriate use guidelines.

How do I do laundry?

You will not have regular access to laundry facilities during your program, but participants on our longer Global Learning Expeditions will typically have the opportunity to do laundry once or perhaps twice during the trip when we are in a larger town with laundry services. There is no opportunity to do laundry on 9-day Global Learning Adventures. It is the student’s responsibility to pay for laundry. The price will typically range from $1/kg to $5/kg. Our packing list will provide more information on this topic. We find that a “laundry prevention plan” coupled with occasional hand-washing works perfectly fine for most students.

How do I get to my host country? How do we travel in country?

Sustainable Summer organizes a group flight from the United States. See your MySummer account for details.

How much spending money do I need?

See your Program Preparation Guide for specifics (in your MySummer account). All meals and program-sponsored activities are included in the cost of tuition, so students will only need spending money for souvenirs, laundry, personal items and incidentals.

Ecuador uses the US dollar as its currency, so we recommend students withdraw cash prior to leaving the United States, as ATMs can be few and far between where we will be traveling. $100 should be more than sufficient for most participants, unless they plan to purchase many souvenirs for family and friends. We recommend students also bring an ATM card, in the event they need to withdraw additional funds.

Costa Rica uses the Colone, although the US dollar is also accepted in many places. However, to get the best rates, we recommend using Colones. Bringing $100 in Colones to Costa Rica is an easy option, although there are numerous ATMs that will dispense Colones at a better exchange rate in Costa Rica. There are several ATMs and a money exchange at the airport that students will be able to use. $100 should be sufficient for most participants, unless they plan to purchase many souvenirs for family and friends. We recommend students also bring an ATM card, in the event they need to withdraw additional funds.

Cuba has two currencies, the Cuban peso (used by Cubans for most daily transactions) and the Cuban Convertible Peso (known as the CUC, which is what tourists typically use). US dollars can be exchanged for CUCs in most hotels. It is not possible to buy CUCs outside of Cuba – they must be exchanged in country. The exchange rate is always 1 CUC for 1 USD, but there is a 3% exchange fee on all currency exchanges and a 10% penalty for USD exchanges. (Exchanging USD for Canadian dollars in advance of travel, and then exchanging your Canadian dollars for CUC is a good cost saving tactic to consider, especially if the USD to Canadian dollar exchange rate ir particularly favorable.) Students should plan on having enough currency on hand for the entirety of their program. Although there are ATMs in Cuba, as of Dec 2015, we are not aware of any that will accept an ATM card from a US bank, although this will likely change in the not too distant future. Cuba is one of the more expensive destinations in Latin America for travelers. $200 USD is an appropriate amount for most participants on a 2 week program that plan on purchasing a few souvenirs, paying for Internet service once or twice, perhaps having laundry done once, and getting a few snacks here and there.

How do we stay in touch?

Students should not bring a cell phone with the intention of using it on a regular basis. Typically about once a week, students will have an opportunity to email home, make a Skype call, use Facetime, etc. over a wifi connection. We will encourage all students to check in with family during these times. We will also maintain a program blog with photos and trip updates. We are usually able to update this every 3 days on average, but sometimes as much as a week will pass before we can access an appropriate internet connection. In case of emergency, family members will be able to communicate via our office important information to their students in as timely a manner as is practical.

What vaccinations do I need?

Certain inoculations may be advisable, depending on the program. Please see your Program Preparation Guide in your MySummer account for specific recommendations from the CDC.

What should I pack?

You can download a packing list from your MySummer account.

Can I get in touch with other participants before the program?

Yes. Login to your MySummer account to join our online community.