Costa Rica:
Seeds of Change

How do we implement sustainable models of food production?
June 25 - July 26, 2022 Accepting Applications

Leadership Expedition In Costa Rica

Program Details

Our Costa Rica program is ideal for high school students with a strong interest in environmental sustainability, and particularly regenerative agriculture and organic farming. Your Sustainable Summer experience will span from Costa Rica’s legendary Pacific beaches to the tropical rainforests near its Caribbean coast. You’ll be living in or alongside some of Costa Rica’s most important biological reserves while learning about integrated sustainability initiatives to protect these valuable resources, and the many challenges that remain.

Picture yourself learning how to grow organic produce at a regenerative farming project on the edge of a national park. Or on a guided night hike through Costa Rica’s virgin rainforest, when the jungle really comes alive. You’ll feel the rush of rafting Costa Rica’s world famous whitewater, play soccer with local kids, and come to understand why the essential Costa Rican phrase – pura vida – is the perfect embodiment of this beautiful place and the Tico people that call it home.

This program is designed for the high school student that is passionate about food and agriculture and wants to build deep knowledge of food production systems. Students learn about advanced topics including agroforestry, earthworks, soil fertility and ecology, plant propagation, and whole systems design. Students will receive a Permaculture Design Certificate documenting the 72-hours of intensive study and practicums associated with certification.

Why Costa Rica

Costa Rica has been the model for sustainable economic development in Latin America for a generation. Costa Rica is widely considered an ‘easy’ place to travel by developing country standards, and we think it is a good choice for students that are looking to get their first taste of ‘adventure travel’ and life in a ‘developing’ country, although we caution that our itineraries are more challenging (in a good way) than many Costa Rica travel itineraries.

The Program

So what is this Sustainable Summer thing really all about?

Amazing destination? Check. Fun and authentic experiences? Absolutely. A smart, down-to-earth group of like-minded teens? Yup. An awesome itinerary In Costa Rica, first-in-class lodging, and a great group of participants is just the start. Our programs prepare teens to become environmental leaders through a collaborative, multidisciplinary, challenge-based learning approach.

Critical Inquiry

How do we implement sustainable models of food production? This essential question guides our experience studying sustainability in Costa Rica. Participants — through discussions, workshops, site visits, and fieldwork — will investigate important concepts in the field of sustainability, including regenerative agriculture; conservation; food systems; land use.

21st Century Leadership

A global citizen is someone who identifies with being part of an emerging world community and whose actions contribute to building global values and practices. Frugality, integrity, humility, and cultural awareness guide our mission in creating the next generation of environmental leaders and responsible global citizens. Instead of a "leadership" curriculum, we infuse our program with activities that develop global citizenship in our students.

Developing Lifelong Skills

Challenge-based learning is a collaborative learning experience in which educators and students work together to learn about compelling issues, propose solutions to real problems, and take action. This unique approach asks students to reflect on their learning and the impact of their actions and publish their solutions to a worldwide audience.


We use a tiered tuition model that leads to more socioeconomic diversity in our cohorts.


Our standard course fee, which represents the actual cost of operating our programs, including the administrative costs that are necessary to sustain our organization in the long-term. This is the suggested rate for families living in high cost of living areas with household net assets of greater than $650,000 and/or annual household income of greater than $180,000.

Tuition Assistance

Participants at this tuition rate cover only their direct participation costs, including lodging, meals, activities, in-country staff and transportation, and support for local projects. Participation at this level is based on the honor system. It is available to all families - no documentation required. We simply ask families to honestly consider their financial resources and ability to pay the full tuition rate.


Additional scholarship funding is available for students that are unable to participate at either of the other rates. Scholarship participants receive up to an 85% reduction of the standard course fee. Due to the limited availability of scholarship funds, a separate application is required, including a parent financial statement and recent tax return.

What's Included


in eco-lodges and other locally-owned (and often sustainably-minded) establishments


3 meals daily while in-country. Local cuisine, served family-style, is on order most days. Dietary restrictions can typically be accommodated.


Guided activities, from the adventurous to the cultural, augment sustainability-focused learning opportunities.

Dynamic Learning Opportunities

Place-based. Interactive. Fun. If you love getting your hands dirty and being outside in wild and beautiful places, this program is for you!

Emergency Assistance

As part of our risk management and emergency protocols, we enroll every participant in an ISOS emergency assistance and evacuation plan.

2 Program Facilitators

Our international field team includes returned Peace Corps volunteers, college professors, seasoned wilderness guides, sustainability graduate students, and similar.

Pre-Program Materials and Support

Students and parents receive comprehensive and prompt pre-program support.

Not Included

Tuition does not include airfare or personal expenses such as laundry, snacks, souvenirs, and internet or international phone calls, and other incidentals.

Is This The Right Program For Me?

Is This The Right Program For Me?
We're glad you asked! More than almost anything else we do, we strive to build a cohort of intellectually curious youth from all over the world. Here are a few questions you can ask yourself to establish alignment between your interests and the program's focus. If you are intrigued by any of these questions, then this is likely a great program for you!
  • What is the true impact of eco-tourism and how can you guarantee local people benefit?
  • What is the role of traditional ecological knowledge in conservation efforts?
  • How do principles of tropical ecology guide sustainable agricultural practices?
  • What is the relationship between cultural conservation and environmental conservation?
  • What are the environmental impacts of different agricultural systems; permaculture, agroforestry, regenerative, organic?


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 and is typically 6:1 or less.

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.


We believe that there is significant value in disconnecting and not letting technology interfere with the immersion experience. Students are not permitted to bring a cell phone to the program, and there are no opportunities for students to communicate directly with family and friends at home. We have adopted a “black and white” policy owing to the considerable gray area for anything less than a complete moratorium on both cell phones and “direct” communication between participants and friends and family at home. We are confident that this is the best approach given our program structure and objectives, and this policy is based on years of student and field staff feedback. We encourage any skeptical or concerned parent or student to contact us to better understand our rationale. Students should also not bring their phone “only for use as a camera.” Students are welcome to bring a camera, but our facilitators will help establish appropriate use. Taking pictures can be a lot of fun, but they can also be a distraction and, in certain situations, culturally insensitive. Laptops, video games, and iPads/tablets are similarly not permitted.

All facilitators have current first aid and CPR certifications, and can treat basic medical situations on-site.  Sustainable Summer has clearly defined “standing orders” in the event of a 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.


All of our programs have a detailed risk assessment and emergency protocols that we develop with our local partners and which are updated annually. Some risks and protocols are specific to certain geographies and not applicable to all programs (high altitude, urban environments, ocean, etc). Broadly speaking, here are some of the measures we take as an organization to manage risk and prepare for the unexpected:

  • All participants are automatically enrolled in an InternationalSOS emergency assistance, evacuation, and repatriation plan (included in the cost of program tuition).
  • We work closely and directly with our local partners. For example, we don’t simply contract a whitewater rafting trip through a tour agent — we vet the specific rafting operator to ensure their equipment is properly maintained; their guides are appropriately maintained; they have emergency response plans, etc.
  • We conduct a pre-summer annual training with all facilitators and establish clear protocols to mitigate risk and effectively mobilize resources in the event of an emergency.

If you have specific questions about your situation, please contact us to discuss.

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.


We have found that often times the risks parents are most concerned about ones that – while potentially very serious – are also highly unlikely whereas some of the risks that we concern ourselves with administratively are rarely at the forefront of parents minds. For example, in Costa Rica, there may be a very small chance of contracting a serious vector disease, like Dengue Fever. While we certainly have epidemiological risk on our radar (particularly if hyper-local environmental or geographical factors dictate enhanced precautions), we spend a lot of our risk management cycles on the same “mundane” risk factors that exist in comparable environments in the US. Things like water safety and students’ emotional safety. In Costa Rica, we are also concerned with food safety and transportation safety. Through careful risk assessments, program planning, staff hiring and training, and a student-based approach to risk management, we reduce the potential for incidents. When an incident occurs, our field staff work with our administrative team and ISOS Emergency Assistance team to respond. We have dealt with serious incidents in the field in the past and are confident in our ability to effectively manage risk and respond to emergencies if and when they arise.

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 risk management practices to guide every decision.


Healthy ecosystems depend on insects and other “critters” for balance. 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.


Should I bring my cell phone and computer?


Should I bring a camera?

Since phones are not allowed on the programs, students should not plan on using their phone as a camera. Students are welcome to bring a camera, but our facilitators will help establish appropriate use guidelines.


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.

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.  


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.


We designate a recommended group flight for students, which most students take (but are not required to do so). This flight is not typically chaperoned by someone on our staff. Students, whether arriving on our group flight or independently, will be met at the international arrivals area by our staff. Very detailed travel and booking instructions will be provided to all participants upon enrollment.

We typically designate a group flight in early January. Historically, we have used an early evening departure flight on American Airlines out of MIA (Miami), which allows students from all over the US sufficient time to arrive and connect with the international flight. Return is typically an early AM departure from Costa Rica, landing at MIA late morning. Students connect to a domestic flight home from there.

For budgeting purposes, round trip airfare (including a domestic flight to our international gateway) typically runs about $600 – $1000, depending on your origin airport, time of booking, and other factors.

If you have questions about flights, please contact us.

You will not have regular access to laundry facilities during your program, but participants on our longer Global Learning Programs 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. 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.


We are looking for intellectually curious and academically motivated students. However, there’s also plenty of opportunity for rest, relaxation, and fun. Activities on the program include surfing, hiking, rafting, and kayaking, just to name a few examples. We also think hiking through the jungle to visit an indigenous community or spending the day learning the basics of permaculture on an organic farm, to name a few educational examples, is pretty fun, too.

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. 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. Students are not able to make contact back home during the program. Our field staff will provide “regular” group updates via our blog and social media. “Regular” varies a lot depending on the program. Updates can come as frequently as every 3 days or as far apart as 7 or more. We understand that most parents want photos and a window into the experience, but keeping parents happy is not our staff’s priority, and providing updates comes at the expense of “group time” and other program priorities. If, as a parent, you want an organization that will churn out a lot of posts and photos, we advise that you look elsewhere. There certainly are several student travel businesses that have a “daily update” policy for their field teams because they know that generally correlates with great customer reviews. We’re just trying to be candid about the fact that that approach doesn’t work for our programs without shortchanging the student experience and/or compromising program objectives to which we assign a greater value.

We encourage all eligible students with an interest in sustainability to submit an application to Sustainable Summer. You must be a high school student at least 15 years of age and no more than 18 years of age on the program start date to participate. For example, if you turn 15 on June 1st and the program start date is June 28th, then you are eligible. If you turn 15 on August 1st you would be ineligible. Graduated seniors are eligible to participate in our leadership expeditions (although not our leadership academies).

Itinerary and Other Program Details

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Program Staff

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Costa Rica Testimonials

Application Process

  • Step 1

    Apply online. Your application will include a brief admissions essay that articulates clear interest in sustainability and our program. There is a $35 application fee
  • Step 2

    Phone interviews. Upon submission of our online application form, students are invited to schedule an admission interview. Additionally, we also speak with his or her parent(s). The interviews are scheduled and conducted separately. The interview is the ideal time for parents and students to also interview us and ensure that our program is the optimal fit for your summer.
  • Step 3

    Admissions decision. We base our acceptance decisions on the applicant's ability to demonstrate interest in sustainability issues and to contribute positively to our community of students. Students and parents will be notified via email of the acceptance decision and provided with enrollment instructions. Admissions notifications are issued shortly after both interviews (student and a parent) are completed.
  • Step 4

    A non-refundable deposit secures enrollment in the program. Enrollment deposits are made online by credit card and the enrollment form must be completed by a parent.