Central America is a tropical paradise made up of seven countries surrounded by white sand beaches, exotic cultures, and crystal clear waters.
As a study and volunteer abroad location, Central America has many opportunities for high school students to learn a new language or study another subject of their choice, volunteer, or simply immerse themselves in a unique culture through travel.
The relaxed lifestyle, convenient location, and warm weather makes Central America a great location for high school students looking for a complete and out of the ordinary experience.
High school abroad in Central America is perfect for students who want to learn Spanish, study biodiversity, or travel off the beaten path without going too far from home.
If you choose to participate in a high school abroad program in Central America, your options will include:
- Spanish immersion programs
- Study abroad
- Volunteering or service learning trips
Study Spanish in Costa Rica
For anywhere from 2 weeks to 2 months, high schoolers can immerse themselves fully in Spanish language and culture. While learning Spanish, you will likely live with a carefully selected host family in the country of your choosing.
By living with a local family, you will experience the traditional cultures of this beautiful country. Enjoy home cooked meals, learning Spanish, and any additional volunteer or travel opportunities the provider has in store for you.
Study Abroad Programs
Whether it is just a spring break or a full semester, if you choose to study abroad in Central America as a high school student, you can spend your time learning more about biology, nutrition, administrative health, or ecology. Depending on the program you choose, you could gain hands-on experience working with medical professionals, or spend time in a research center in the middle of the rainforest. Your options are as diverse as Central America.
Volunteering / Service Learning Trips
Central America also has opportunities for high schoolers who want to volunteer, rather than study, abroad. Most of these projects will be related to education, community development, or environmental conservation -- sea turtle conservation being a particularly popular option -- but there are opportunities to branch out into a different field if none of these interest you.
Planning Your Trip
Throughout Central America, you typically won't need a visa if you are staying for less than 90 days. However, we'd advise double checking on the consulate website or with your program provider to make sure this is the case.
If you are participating in a program that's longer than 90 days, like a semester abroad program, you'll have to apply for a student visa. Certain countries allow student paperwork to be filled out upon arrival and most programs will assist in any specific forms need to make your high school experience smooth sailings. However, if you have the option to take care of this in advance, that's obviously preferable.
Note: Allow extra time for paperwork to be processed.
Generally, housing is all based on the program that you chose. Most programs in Central America have what is called a homestay. This means you live with a carefully selected host family . Parents can rest assured knowing that these families have been thoroughly checked and will treat your child as their own.
If you are not staying with a host on spring break or shorter summer programs, the program will provide housing.
Program costs will range from $700 - $2,000 USD for the week long and summer programs. Semester programs range as low as $2,000 - $7,000.
However, additional costs tend to be quite low. Because most programs have you living with a host family, your accommodation and often a good portion of your food is taken care of as part of the program fee. Host families are typically responsible for providing 2-3 meals a day -- breakfast and dinner -- though not always.
Either way, Central America is a very inexpensive part of the world. An inexpensive meal for one will not cost more than $5 and a morning coffee with a pastry will be roughly $1. Plan to budget an additional $20 or so per day after program fees and housing to make sure you have enough for personal expenses, additional meals, phone credit, and anything else not included in the program fees.
Though much of Central America is along the coast and warm, other parts -- especially in higher elevations -- can get quite cold. No matter where you go, make sure to pack:
- Bathing suit
- Rain jacket
- Good hiking sneakers
- Sunscreen and bug repellant
The rainy season is from September to February, which definitely calls for a rain jacket. Be sure to pack light clothing because the humidity can get exhausting at an average 75%.
Health & Safety
Yellow fever vaccinations and malaria pills are recommended for several, but not all, countries in Central America. Costa Rica, for example, has no cases of malaria while it's neighbors to the north and south (Panama and Nicaragua) do.
With the recent outbreak of the Zika virus and the prevalence of mosquito born illnesses in the region, it's generally a good idea to take precautions against them by using mosquito repellent and wearing long sleeves and pants at dawn and dusk, when they're most active.
Central America has a reputation of being unsafe, however, the crime rate is dropping every year. Practice smart traveling, use the buddy system and listen to locals when they say to avoid certain areas.
You should also be wary of pickpockets, especially in crowded areas, and avoid walking by yourself after dark. Use common sense and don't abuse drugs and alcohol.
Also, be careful of riptides when swimming in the ocean and check your boots / shoes before putting them on to make sure there are no scorpions creeping around in there!
Contributed by Brittany Gibson
High School Programs in Central America
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