Latin America Gap Semester -- Thinking Beyond Borders
96% Rating
(19 Reviews)

Latin America Gap Semester -- Thinking Beyond Borders

Our gap year programs are exciting, supportive, and transformational. By combining daily language classes, homestays, working with inspiring local leaders, and engaging readings and discussions, we've created an opportunity for you to learn about things that matter to you and the world. With Master's level teachers as Program Leaders, you'll get mentorship and support to find the purpose and direction you'll need in the years to come.

Explore solutions to critical global issues in communities throughout Latin America in this 13-week program. This gap semester includes:

- Daily Spanish Language Classes & Immersion
- Living with Host Families
- Fieldwork with Local Experts
- Academic Study
- Guided Volcano Trek in Nicaragua

Itinerary – 13 weeks:
Orientation in Guatemala – 1 week
Unit 1: Guatemala: Food & Sustainability – 5 weeks
Enrichment: Nicaragua: Volcano Trek – 1 week
Unit 2: Costa Rica: Education that Empowers – 5 weeks
Culmination in Washington, D.C. – 1 week

Costa Rica
Program Tags
Adventure Travel
Cultural Exploration
Hands-On Learning
Language Immersion
Post-High School
Study Abroad
Volunteer Abroad
3-6 Months
Host Family
Primary Language
Age Min.
Age Max
Starting Price
Price Details
Program tuition is $13,000, including all costs except for airfare. Airfare is estimated at $1,750, though it varies based on fuel costs. Need-based scholarships and tuitions financing options are available. Learn more on our Financial Aid page.

Questions & Answers

Program Reviews

based on 19 reviews
  • Housing 9.1
  • Support 9.3
  • Fun 9.7
  • Value 9.1
  • Safety 9.3
Showing 1 - 15 of 19
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TBB Rocks

Thinking Beyond Borders was a life changing way to start my college experience. I think a good indicator of the quality of the program is that my college advertised and encouraged me to take this gap semester. TBB is not a normal gap semester, it's not just traveling around for fun, it is immersing yourself in and learning about cultures in a way you probably never could without a program like this. You learn Spanish first hand (at least on the South America Semester) with classes and host families, you learn about education and agriculture through fist hand experience, as well as more in depth seminars, and you meet new people from all over the world that will become your friends for a lifetime. 10/10 would recommend.

Yes, I recommend
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A Wonderful Opportunity

This program was exactly what I wanted and needed out of a gap semester. It led me to think more critically about myself and the world around me and has given me the tools and motivation to do something with my ideas and dreams. Additionally, it pushed me out of my comfort zone in ways I didn't even know I needed to be pushed. I taught math in a foreign language, I hiked a 16,000 foot peak, I ate cuy, I made relationships that will undoubtedly last a lifetime, and so much more that I can't even attempt to put into words. It is sincerely the best decision I've ever made and I'm so grateful for the opportunity. It has shaped my future and how I see the world for the better, and has left me with skills and experiences that will only allow me to prosper. I highly recommend to anyone looking for something more than a tourist experience abroad and have only wonderful things to say about the program and all involved.

Yes, I recommend

A Formative Experience

Initially, I was looking for a gap year that would give me an a greater depth of the Spanish language. But when I came across TBB it offered something a little more. Now that I say that, it wasn't just a little more, it was A LOT more. Not only did I get to further my understanding of Spanish culture and language, but I got to expand my understanding of the complex development issues in regard education and sustainability. While there was a lot of learning about the world, I think my most important learning was the active self-discovery. TBB really made us question our values and assumptions which is something I never had to critically do in the traditional classroom setting. I can't express my gratitude towards my parents and TBB for making this experience possible. 10/10 recommend to anyone looking to challenge his or her self but still maintaining a safe environment and strong support network to fall back on.

Yes, I recommend
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TBB Review SAM Semester

I would recommend this program to every person looking for a gap semester. I learned so much about other cultures, myself, and the specific units. We were able to have useful work projects while still being able to learn in seminars or Spanish classes. Most importantly, I always felt supported by the program. Living in host families was a new experience for me, but I can't have imagined it any other way. We were able to learn the language much more than we would have, and become really close with our families.

Yes, I recommend
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My TBB experience

When we were staying in Ecuador for 5 weeks, we taught english in a local high school in a small village called San Jose de Minas. I taught with another girl and a teacher from the school, and we always had the same classes. The students were between 11 and 15. We taught about five classes per day, sometimes even maths, which was really fun. One of my best memories about it is, how the students would get super excited when we would enter their classroom, and wouldn't stop asking us for help when they had to do individual work. Seeing their progress of learning was amazing. During the breaks they would ask us to play football or volleyball with them, and they would always greet us. It was an amzing experience. In the afternnons we had seminars where we learned about education and challenged our assumptions. One of my favorite seminar was called "Are students and teachers equal?". Beforehand, we had to do readings in shape of articles or books, and afterwards, at the seminars, we would al discuss it. It is more than just travelling and volunteering, but learning/studying abroad. I can highly recommend this program.

Yes, I recommend
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Best experience of my life

TBB was the coolest experience of my life. It was so much fun and my group, including my program leaders, became a second family to me. Still TBB is definitely not a vacation, the program is very challenging and only the right fit to people who are willing to invest a lot of learning effort. If that is the case though, you will experience much personal growth through your trip, many of your assumptions will be challenged and you will come out of the experience very inspired and motivated.

Yes, I recommend

South America Gap semester

In general I felt that I have learnt a lot from TBB even though there were ups and downs throughout the course of the program. Yes, people got caught drinking alcohol and yes people were caught doing marijuana which led to their expulsion, but overall I think for those of us that remained we were all honest and truthful and just plain love one another.

I guess I will start with Ecuador and how I felt in Ecuador. I felt the time in San Jose de minas was really good and allowed us to understand the local Ecuadorian culture, but I did not really like Mindo all that much because there were so many insects and so many little things that really irritated me. I also felt like the San Jose de Minas was a good place to begin our journey, and thinking back on San Jose de Minas now seems like it was a long time ago and even though I was not implicated in the drinking events at Pataqui, I think that it was just important to acknowledge the wrongdoings that we had on the trip. I really enjoyed our time in Ecuador because I felt we really connected with our host families and being able to understand that really was a highlight for me.

I also really enjoyed going up Macchu Picchu, even though the hike was really tough at times and having to bear the cold in the tent, I felt like it was so rewarding once we arrived at Macchu Picchu or like the township of Aguas Caliente was really nice.

I also really enjoyed Cochabamba and all the Cochabambinos that we met . I really enjoyed everything in Cochabamba probably because it was a modern city I guess maybe because I really enjoy being in a city. I felt like the Mizque trip could have been shortened to just like a couple of days not going for the whole week, and also the Jardin Botanico Daniella didn't really give us something really solid to work on for the entire week really and we were just mostly shovelling dirt and stuff like this which was really meaningless. I mean yes we want to help but we want to feel like things we are doing are important and meaningful. Thats the way I feel.

How can this program be improved?

I would feel that perhaps that Ecuador was really good and I really enjoyed everything about Ecuador. I also really enjoyed everything about Peru but I felt like we could have maybe spent one or two more days in Cuzco.

I would feel that if we had another week or like 2 weeks in Cochabamba it would have been so much better and I guess shortening the Mizque trip would have been good because while I learnt about sustainability and other things I felt we didn't really do very much in Mizque so which is the rationale behind why I feel like we should shorten Mizque but instead spend more time in CBBA. I also think that it would have been good to lengthen the program just slightly.

Yes, I recommend
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Fun with Thinking Beyond Borders in South America

The South America Gap Semester with Thinking Beyond Borders was the best time of my life. For those who do not know what it is, it is an educational gap year program that involves traveling to four countries: Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and the US. In Ecuador, the focus of the program is Education. I worked with the rest of my group in a school in San José de Minas, Ecuador, teaching the children English. We stayed with host families in San José de Minas and the people there are genuinely some of the nicest people I have ever met. I improved my Spanish massively and had some fantastic times with my host family and the group. After, Ecuador, you go to Peru to hike Machu Picchu. We did the Salkantay Trek which was fantastic. It is truly incredible seeing Machu Picchu. Surreal. After Peru, you go to Bolivia. We stayed in Cochabamba, Bolivia with host families and during our weeks there we worked on three different projects. My favourite project was one focused on permaculture. Cochabamba is awesome. It is a proper city, so there are plenty of things to do. I went to the gym regularly and went out to eat often. It's great in Bolivia because everything is super cheap. Towards the end of Bolivia, we travelled to Salar de Uyuni. The salt flats were the most beautiful natural phenomenon I have ever seen. Being with some great people and watching the sun set on the Salar was an experience I will never forget. Finally, after Bolivia, we went to Washington DC to speak to several organizations such as the World Bank, the Peace Corps and NRDC about how they see development and what they do to tackle some of the issues we saw during our trip. The program is just fantastic and the people that sign up for this sort of stuff are super interesting. You make great friends, learn a lot about yourself and the world and have great fun while doing it. Do not think twice about signing up. It is legit.

How can this program be improved?

The only thing was maybe removing one project in Bolivia.

Yes, I recommend
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Thinking beyond borders re Krisztina Gabot

My daughter just returned from the south America semester and I was impressed at how the program was handled and what the participates accomplished. I am so glad my daughter had this opportunity. Everyone she met has helped her grow in so many ways. I know she plans to keep in touch with members of TBB and hopes to do more with them. We were able to maintain some contact as well as read a blog she established. The program really expands a student's outlook of the world.

Yes, I recommend
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Awesome Experience!

I chose Thinking Beyond Borders because I wanted to be challenged in a new way intellectually, physically and emotionally. All of these aspects were met and I had an amazing time. I was challenged to think about development and global issues in new ways and was pushed beyond my comfort zone in many circumstances. TBB offered amazing support from the program leaders and from our on site resources. Although at times I felt that our projects were not giving to the community as much as I hoped, I gained a lot from all of my experiences. I would definitely recommend this program to anyone searching to learn about development and the global world and about yourself.

Yes, I recommend
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Broadened My Perspective

I just came back and miss it already. I learned so much about development, made great friends in and out of our group, and reexamined myself in the process. The great thing about this program is that it isn't a gap year semester where go to South America and pretend to "save the world." TBB acknowledged that we would gain more than we gave and really looked at volunteering through a critical lens. I would not have gained the same knowledge if I had just gone to a school to teach English. We all asked ourselves why they needed to learn English in the first place. It was also just so fun! My host families were amazing and everyone should do the program!

How can this program be improved?

I wish there wasn't a rule against drinking alcohol- although I understand the need for it. Sometimes it created a barrier in relationships. However I also understand the safety aspect and the fact that we were there to learn not party.

Yes, I recommend
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Learned so much

At first, the main reason for me going on the program was to fill my free time for the Fall. My impression was that I would be part of a group of students that would just travel around, live with families and be involved in weekly seminars discussing readings and local issues. The program was far more than that. I came out of it with a greater understanding of what it means to be an agent of change and how much more incentive I have to pursue my goals for college. I've never been able to say that I 100% fully appreciate every experience I went through, every person I met, and all of my volunteer work that made an impact. I'm walking away from this program with much greater knowledge on what goes on outside of my world. Thinking Beyond Borders is a very special program that opened up my eyes to reality and the developing world.

How can this program be improved?

I wish there were more accurate schedules. There were times we were told something, but didn't follow through.

Yes, I recommend
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TBB is Experiential Learning at its Best

Putting our barely 18 year old daughter on a plane to South America, knowing we'd not see her for 13 weeks and knowing she was going to encounter some very challenging situations, was nerve-wracking. Yet TBB exceeded expectations, providing her with a transformative educational experience. No college course could compare. The program is experiential learning at its best. The home-stays were safe and supportive; the service projects were compelling; the seminars were challenging; the program director and leaders were always communicative. Our child has grown immeasurably. We will always be grateful to TBB, and look forward to having our younger children share in the TBB experience when they are ready to graduate from high school.

Yes, I recommend
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time of my life

There is not much I can say, except that I had the most wonderful, enriching, mind-widening, and rememberable 3 months of my life. Not only was I able to dive into new cultures and become parts of 2 wonderful families, but also learned the importance of asking questions and got inspirated by seminars about education und sustainable agriculture. This program definitly covers all spectrums you would want a gap year program to cover and can make you gap year meaningful!

Yes, I recommend
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Multi-faceted & perspective-altering

Looking back at my time on the South America gap semester with Thinking Beyond Borders (TBB), I realize how much we accomplished, how many varied experiences I had, how many new and different perspectives & experiences I was exposed to.
The overarching theme of the program is international development, and we broke this down into a more specific focus in each core country (education in Ecuador, sustainable agriculture in Bolivia). In order to explore these themes, we had an extensive reading list and ten seminars in each country (20 in total). The readings included high-level development theorists, articles about current issues, novels, and more. The seminars were all question-based and the intent was to ask more questions & delve deeper, never to come up with definite answers. (The questions ranged from, "What is development?" to "Does education oppress or liberate?") This is very consistent with TBB's philosophy overall, which is to instill curiosity & a passion for learning in its participants.
I decided to take a "gap year" for a lot of reasons but always resented those people who said it must be because I "wasn't ready" for college; in retrospect, they were exactly right. I don't mean that I wasn't ready to live away from my parents, handle the work load, or navigate a new social scene. Rather, I wasn't ready to make every element of college (from personal relationships to required classes to choosing what major to pursue) meaningful for me as a unique individual. My experience abroad with TBB gave me the time I needed to feel refreshed and motivated after high school and the tools I will need to make education relevant to my life.
As well as readings and seminars, we spent our time working on projects in each of the core countries. During the education unit in Ecuador we worked in small groups in local schools. Most of these schools had just one or two teachers for all students from kindergarten to 7th grade. We taught English, computers, math, geography, whatever the teachers felt was needed. Though we all formed relationships with the kids and loved spending time with them, we did discuss feeling unqualified or underprepared, and, consequently, working in the schools might not have been the best form of "aid." Regardless, I know we learned a lot from it (about what it means to teach, especially with limited resources; about what an education system very different from our own experience is like; about what to do and what not to do within a service project so as not to impose one's own values on the affected community).
In Bolivia we studied sustainable agriculture and worked on a reforestation/beautification/community garden project at a community center in a poor, peri-urban area with no electricity and limited water. Again, we had a lot of fun with the project, and, I think, really did accomplish something, planting more than 100 trees, painting several murals, and working with kids taking classes at the community center to fix up playground equipment, water gardens, etc. Initially, however, there was a lack of communication between our group, the Bolivian organization we were working with, and the community, that led many of us to feel concerned about what would happen to the project in the long-term because we didn't see evidence of community buy-in.
Yet another element of TBB is media projects. In small groups and pairs, we worked throughout the course of the entire trip on projects that answered, or at least pursued, a question we chose and we communicated our findings through whatever media we chose. In my group, there was a photojournalism project about the environmental implications of development, a bilingual podcast about what it means to be a woman (featuring interviews with women we met throughout our travels), a slam poem about stories and representation in mainstream culture, and more.
We presented these projects to a few staff members at our partner organization in Bolivia and then to our families during the final week in Washington, D.C.
Of course another big part of the program is living in homestay families in both Ecuador and Bolivia. In Ecuador we lived in a rural farming community of just about 100 families: 24 de mayo. For many of them, it was their first time hosting volunteers. In Bolivia, we lived in Cochabamba, the fourth largest city in the country, and our families there were notably better off than our families in Ecuador, and most of them had also hosted many volunteers before us. In Bolivia some people lived on their own with their families and others lived with at least one other volunteer. I think everyone had pretty unique relationships with their families, and faced different challenges with living in a foreign culture totally immersed, but it was definitely overall positive for the group. In my experience, my Ecuadorian hosts really made me feel like part of the family. In my (limited) free time, I was always with my siblings or parents, learning to cook, learning to dance, feeding the chickens, going to a discoteca, walking around the finca (farm). There was also an awesome sense of community in 24 de mayo, so many of our host families were close friends and it was easy to get to know your neighbors. In Bolivia, I also spent a fair amount of time with my family and enjoyed talking to them about current events or comparing our experiences in our two different countries. My mom and 97-year-old grandma (!) took wonderful care of me, cooking yummy food and making sure I was healthy. In both countries, I found that homestays were as valuable as you decided to make them; at first, in Ecuador, I was very nervous and didn't really reach out to my family but as soon as I asked them to help around the house or learn a new skill they were ecstatic and excited to teach me and spend time with me. A few of the kids from my group will be trying to go back to visit our families in Ecuador this summer!
The final element of the program was Spanish language classes, which we had several times weekly in Ecuador and just once in a week in Bolivia. They were in smaller groups broken down based on skill level (which, in our group, ranged from 0 Spanish experience to a much more advanced level). The classes were a great time to ask questions about things we heard in host families that we didn't understand or work on grammar, as well as practice speaking and writing. We often had discussions about current events and culture in the country we were in or had homework to write short essays about a topic of our choosing.
Between Ecuador and Bolivia we had an "enrichment week" in Peru, where we stayed in Cusco for a few nights and then trekked to Machu Picchu. It was a lot of fun, as well as educational, and summited the trek was so satisfying. In each core country we also had a few excursion to beautiful and interesting locals like Otavalo, the largest indigenous market in South America, and Toro Toro National Park, where we had the opportunity to see dinosaur footprints and go caving.
The final week in D.C. is another thing that makes TBB really unique. We had a busy schedule and met with many organizations, from the Peace Corps to Oxfam to the World Bank, had a few final seminars about re-integration to the United States and reflecting on our experience and what it had taught us. I think this was a great way to sort of sum up because we met many people in all stages in their lives and careers who were working with the issues we had discussed. Prior to TBB, I wasn't exactly sure how to pursue a career that would allow me to travel, get to know other cultures, and do "service" of some kind, and it exposed me to tons of new options that had never occurred to me before. This week also put our experience in perspective for me; I thought a lot about what it means for me to be a U.S. citizen, and obligation that I have to leverage my privilege to make disempowered voices heard.
Overall, Thinking Beyond Borders gave me the space to do a lot of personal exploration, and guided me through exploration of other cultures and complex ideas about my power as a consumer, my identity in a global context, and more.

How can this program be improved?

I think increased communication between TBB & its partner organizations sooner, especially regarding the projects, would have allowed us to be more effective and feel better prepared.

Yes, I recommend

About Thinking Beyond Borders

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