How do "small" and "local" provide a blueprint for a sustainable future?
Days: 21 • Group Size: 10 - 12 • Ages: 15 - 18
June 25 - July 15 Very Limited
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Costa Rica: Bridge to the Future

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Costa Rica Summer Program

Costa Rica has been the model for sustainable economic development in Latin America for a generation. On this program, you’ll spend most of your time living in or alongside some of Costa Rica’s most important biological reserves while learning about integrated sustainability initiatives to protect these valuable resources.

In this Sustainable Summer Program…

  • You’ll visit an indigenous community and learn traditional agricultural practices
  • You’ll learn about the implementation of renewable energy at a variety of scales
  • You’ll harvest crops and practice permaculture at an organic farm
  • You’ll develop homesteading skills such as fermentation and soap-making
  • You’ll learn about natural building and work with natural building materials and techniques

Your Sustainable Summer experience will span from Costa Rica’s legendary Pacific beaches to the mist shrouded slopes of the Central Highlands to the tropical rainforest.

Our Costa Rica summer program is ideal for high school students with a strong interest in environmental sustainability, and particularly renewable energy and agriculture. Costa Rica is widely considered an ‘easy’ place to travel by developing country standards, and we think this program is also 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 itinerary is more challenging (in a good way) than many Costa Rica travel itineraries.

Picture yourself living on an organic farm on the edge of a national park, where you’ll help produce the food that sustains the local community. 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.

Not sure if this is the right option for you? Use our Compare Programs page to help you assess which Sustainable Summer is the best fit for your interests and comfort zone.

 

Learn

how sustainable energy and agriculture solutions are designed

Explore

tropical rainforests, hidden valleys, and pristine beaches

Ride

horseback to a towering waterfall in Cangreja National Park and raft Costa Rica's legendary whitewater

2017 Facilitators *

Skyeler Congdon

Read Bio

Haley Ross

Haley Ross

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Costa Rica Testimonials

Sustainable Summer has COMPLETELY changed my life. It exceeded my expectations in so many ways, and because of the amazing things I have experienced and learned, I feel like a more confident, knowledgeable, and worldly person. Our group was extremely intellectual and forward-thinking, and I learned SO much about the world and sustainability from our […]

  Kate,  student from Santa Ana, CA

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Student Stories
 

Core Curriculum & Program Components

Much More Than A Tour

Amazing destination? Check. Fun and authentic experiences? Absolutely. A smart, down-to-earth group of like-minded teens? Yup. An awesome itinerary and first-in-class lodging are just the start. Our programs prepare teens to become environmental leaders through dynamic place-based learning.
 
Field Studies
How do "small" and "local" provide a blueprint for a sustainable future? This essential question guides our experience studying sustainability in . Participants – through discussions, workshops, site visits, and fieldwork – will investigate sustainability with the understanding that truly sustainable solutions take into account not only the environment, but also the people, culture and economy of a given place.
Leadership Activities
Our approach to leadership development is adapted from the Stanford Graduate School of Education’s youth leadership curriculum.
Design Thinking Challenge
Participate in a half-day design thinking workshop, including a real innovation challenge applied to a local community problem. Design thinking is a formal process innovators use to create solutions to problems. We'll learn about human-centered design, and then engage members of the local community to conceive a project that is usable, sustainable, and lead to better outcomes within the community.
Independent Project
Learning happens best through a constructivist approach of inquiry, action, and reflection. Students should be prepared to engage in an independent project for the duration of the program that follows this approach. It can take the form of journalism, photography, film, research, advocacy, or other. Some students (for instance, those in an IB degree program) may find that they have a school-related project that can connect to Sustainable Summer. Others will be asked to develop a project concept through a guided process pre-program. The final "deliverable" is completed after the program.
Case Study
It's easy to be green when you have the time, resources, and autonomy to do so. But the real-world is far more complicated. We'll work through a multi-stakeholder case study related to a local issue so students can better understand the process of negotiation and comprise that is needed to implement sustainable solutions.
Sustainability Action Plan
All students develop a Sustainability Action Plan, which outlines a proposed sustainability initiative to complete back home. The SAP is considered a work in progress that gets “workshopped” in small group settings throughout the program. The final version is shared with the group at the end of the program and “accountability partners” are established to encourage implementation of the outlined action steps.

Program Tuition

Each program has a tiered tuition rate: standard (full tuition), tuition assistance (83% of tuition), or scholarship (as low as 15% of tuition).

How It Works

$ 3995
  • 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.
$ 720 - 3355
  • 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

Accommodations

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

Meals

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

Immersive Activities

Guided activities, from the adventurous to the cultural, are a regular part of the itinerary.

Dynamic Learning Opportunities

Place-based. Interactive. Fun. Our programs prepare teens to become environmental leaders.

Ground Transportation

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!

2 Full-Time Professional 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, $95 InternationalSOS membership (required), or personal expenses such as laundry, snacks, souvenirs, and internet or international phone calls, and other incidentals.

Flights

We designate a recommended group flight for students. 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 provide the below information as a courtesy to prospective families for planning purposes.

Our designated round trip group flight:

Escort On Outbound Flight Only

Outbound Flight

Miami (MIA)
San Jose (SJO)
American
1031

Return Flight

San Jose (SJO)
Miami (MIA)
American
1238

Important

  • Do not make any flight reservations until explicitly directed by Sustainable Summer. Enrolled families - please check your MySummer account for more information. This is the only source of completely accurate and up-to-date information about our fligth logistics.
  • Not all of our group flights have a staff escort. Please see above for specifics and our Flights page for additional details.
  • Students NOT traveling on our designated group flight will be assessed a $35 fee if they arrive on a flight other than our specified group flight and/or a $35 fee for departing on a non-group flight ($70 total). Students must verify BEFORE BOOKING all non-group flight travel itineraries

21-Day Itinerary

  • Arrival
    Most students will arrive on our chaperoned group flight into the international airport outside San Jose, Costa Rica's capital city. It's a short drive by private transport from the airport to our hostel in Alajuela, where we will begin our orientation period. Day 1
  • Orientation at Rancho Margot

    The next morning, after breakfast we'll travel north to Rancho Margot, a stunning eco-lodge on the shores of Lake Arenal. Rancho Margot is the perfect destination to become acquainted with Costa Rica and your fellow students. It is fully self-sufficient, yet at a truly impressive scale - two different micro-hydro turbines provide all their energy needs; chickens, pigs, and cows number in the hundreds, yet exist in healthy, environmentally sustainable way; and the entire property of several hundred hectares has been reforested in the last decade.

    During orientation, we'll become familiar with local customs, health and safety protocols, and share our individual and mutual goals for the program.

    We also will begin our investigation of sustainability as a subject of inquiry, as we learn about the various sustainability initiatives on the farm and consider how the systems and philosophies in place at Margot can inform a shift to more sustainable communities elsewhere in the world. No visit to the beautiful Arenal would be complete without some dedicated to exploring the surrounding countryside. We'll have some time for a short hike in the area, as well as kayaking on Lago Arenal.

    Days 2 & 3
  • The Rainforest

    We'll then move on to the Sarapaqui region, one of Costa Rica's most important biospheres. We'll be staying at an eco-lodge on the edge of Costa Rica's largest National Park, Braulio Carrillo. The surrounding jungle is primary rainforest that serves as a critical ecological corridor. Much important research has been and continues to be conducted in the area. Conservation efforts have maintained the native forest on the southern side of the Rio Sarapiqui, although the numerous pineapple farms that dot the northern side serve as a constant reminder of the threat of development.

    During our five nights in the area, we'll conduct biodiversity research with a local scientific organization; take an ethnobotany course from a local expert; go whitewater rafting on the Rio Sarapaqui; and go for a guided night hike through the tropical jungle. It's not all adventure and sustainability, though. We'll also take in some with local culture. You'll learn to make the perfect gallo pinto and friend plantains in a cooking class and polish your Merengue, Salsa, and Cha-Cha skills in a Latin dance class, too.

    Days 4 - 8
  • The Cloud Forest

    Leaving Sarapaqui, we'll travel south and up in elevation to Paraiso Quetzal, a beautiful cloud forest lodge situated on a ridge overlooking Costa Rica's southern valley. After lunch, we'll have an afternoon hike in search of the elusive Quetzal, seen rarely throughout Costa Rica, but living in abundance in this area.

    While in this area, we'll visit a cooperatively owned wind power facility and hydroelectric project and learn how the projects are producing clean energy at fair rates for rural communities that previously had no access to the grid. This segment of the program encourages reflection on the sources, uses, and economics of renewable energy. One of the principle questions we will consider is the size and scope of a project, which we will continue to explore later in the program.

    We'll also visit a flower exporter and a coffee cooperative in an effort to better understand both the global supply chain as well as issues of equity and social justice associated with agricultural production and consumption.

    Days 9 & 10
  • Mastatal

    Winding our way through the craggy, jungle clad valleys of the central mountains, our next destination is Mastatal and Cangreja National Park, one of Costa Rica's least visited, but most remarkable destinations.

    We'll spend a little over a week at Rancho Mastatal, an environmental learning center and eco-lodge situated on the park's boundary. Rancho Mastatal is a sustainability pioneer that practices natural construction techniques (locally harvested woods and bamboo, earthen structures, etc), sustainable food production, and renewable energy generation.

    The American operators work closely with the surrounding community on conservation initiatives to help preserve and protect the last remaining virgin rainforest in this region of Costa Rica. Sustainability education of both local and foreign students is an important part of Mastatal's mission.

    During our time there, we'll study many of the initiatives that make Mastatal a stunning example of sustainability, from their use of biodigesters and rainwater catchments to traditional agricultural production methods and reforestation efforts.

    We'll visit the Zapaton Indigenous Reserve, play soccer with the local kids, and fill our minds with knowledge about the principles of permaculture, tropical ecology, and other remarkable subjects that are being practiced every day at Mastatal.

    Days 11 - 18
  • The Coast
    Our final days of the program will be at the beaches of Playa Esterillos, where we'll reflect on our time in Costa Rica, share our Sustainability Action Plans, and prepare to say farewell. Days 19 & 20
  • Departure
    We'll wake up for breakfast and perhaps a final swim in the Pacific and then it's about 90 minutes driving by bus back to the airport in Alajuela for an early afternoon flight back to the US. Day 21
  • An Important Note About Itinerary Changes

    Sustainable Summer reserves the right to change, alter, or amend the program itinerary. Changes can be made for various reasons including changes in weather or road conditions; to take advantage of a new activity or unscheduled opportunity (such as a local festival or event); to accommodate the health needs of an individual participant; or due to changes in activities or schedules of our local partners and providers.

    The itinerary shown here is based on previous programs and the anticipated day-to-day activities for this program. However, as with any travel experience, some changes may occur.