Gap Year Semester in Latin America with Thinking Beyond Borders

Video and Photos

With one of my classes and the other girl from the group who taught with me.
At the high school with students and other group members, watching a basketball game.
With my host family in Ecuador.

About

Explore solutions to critical global issues in communities throughout Latin America in this 13-week program.

Our well-established gap year programs are exciting, supportive, and transformational. You will engage in fun language classes, enjoy extended homestays, and have the opportunity to work with inspiring local leaders on projects that make a difference. The result? You'll learn about things that matter to you and the world. With Master's level teachers as Program Leaders, you'll also experience mentorship and support to help you uncover your purpose and direction.

Itinerary – 13 weeks:
Orientation in Guatemala – 1 week
Unit 1: Guatemala: Environmental Justice and Sustainability – 5 weeks
Enrichment: Peru: Machu Picchu and Cusco – 1 week
Unit 2: Costa Rica: Education that Empowers – 5 weeks
Culmination in Washington, D.C. – 1 week

Highlights
  • Living with host families
  • Fieldwork with local experts
  • Combine field work experiences, fascinating readings, and daily seminars to make learning meaningful
  • Daily Spanish language classes & immersion
  • Visit Machu Picchu and Cusco

Questions & Answers

Reviews

97%
based on 22 reviews
  • Housing 9.1
  • Support 9.4
  • Fun 9.8
  • Value 9.2
  • Safety 9.4
Showing 16 - 22 of 22
Default avatar
Sarah
9/10
Yes, I recommend this program

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.

Default avatar
Pauline
9/10
Yes, I recommend this program

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!

Default avatar
Markita
9/10
Yes, I recommend this program

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.

What would you improve about this program?
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.
Default avatar
Meg
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

TBB Changed my Life

Anyone wishing to have a gap year experience that gives them the chance to marvel at the world's wonders, make a rewarding community service impact, and learn more about oneself should do TBB. It transformed how I see the world, my country, and myself. Now, I feel more fulfilled and know how I want to cultivate a meaningful life as an agent of change.

What would you improve about this program?
If I had to change one thing, I wish I could have done a semester program, come home for the holidays, and gone back to TBB again for new units, new countries, and more experiences.
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L.
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Authentic Opportunity

TBB offers a tremendous opportunity for learning about oneself as well as the world. Extremely well organized, communicative, well run organization offering an authentic experience to volunteer, learn a language and be part of local communities in the countries visited.
This is not a vacation, rather an experience to set goals, be mentored, experience personal growth while seeing the world. I highly recommend TBB as they are truly a quality organization and have given my son an opportunity of a lifetime.

Default avatar
Brennan
9/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Academic and Cultural Engagement!

From the Program's orientation in Mindo to the final week in Washington, DC, I always felt like I was engaged in something important. TBB's fusing of academics and culture opened the door for growth.

Default avatar
Teddy
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Never looked back

An incredibly productive and character building program that pushed us intellectually while still being FUN. I cannot picture myself having done anything different and will cherish the lessons and experiences my whole life.

What would you improve about this program?
My group was a little small which caused some minor issues but recently the numbers have grown extensively so it should not be a problem.
Response from Thinking Beyond Borders

Since his South America Gap Semester, Teddy has passionately pursued studies related to how to use business as a means of changing the world. During college he studied and interned abroad in Brazil and Portugal, and is graduating college with multiple exciting job offers.