Sustainable Summer


Sustainable Summer prepares today's teens to become environmental leaders. Our programs blend environmental education in remarkable places - from an organic farm in Cuba to the wilds of the Amazon rainforest to a rural school in the Himalaya - with leadership development, fun, and adventure. Our mission is to cultivate the next generation of environmental leaders though transformative summer experiences and field-based learning.



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Yes, I recommend this program

Incredible experience!

The Seeds of Change program in Ecuador was one of the highlights of all of my high school summers. Learning about sustainable agriculture in such a culturally rich and beautiful country was very impactful, especially when thinking big picture about agriculture and food policy. The participants on my trip shaped my experience in an enriching and amazing way-our discussions were thought provoking and open-minded and we all just had a lot of fun together. Our trip leaders were super engaging and fun, but also very organized. We explored a handful of different parts of Ecuador, the Andes and then the coast, which was beautiful. Everyone was excited and engaging with everything we did, which made the trip so great. Being around like-minded, environmentally-conscious people solidified my interest in the environment as well as my undergraduate study of environmental policy at a small liberal arts college.

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Yes, I recommend this program

Amazing Trip!

This was a wonderful experience with very knowledgeable and amiable staff and similarly delightful, like-minded students. We traveled throughout the Amazon and saw mountains, gorgeous waterfalls, and enjoyed many jungle hikes. The housing and food (lots of vegetarian options) were generally very good quality and the Ecuadorian guides that we had at each location were all a lot of fun and were extremely knowledgeable. We got to have a lot of very neat experiences (including white water rafting and milking cows!!!) and our group culture was very fun and respectful. Our leaders taught us a number of games and we would simply enjoy spending time with each other while traveling or before going to bed each night. The staff was also well aware of our safety and I never really felt that our activities or practices were endangering in any way.
This program, despite its name, did not focus on environmental issues quite as much as I had expected. We did go to several hydroelectric projects and discussed the implications of those, but besides that, environmentalism was typically only mentioned in our evening discussions and we didn't focus on it or learn quite as much as I had been hoping. Besides that, the Sustaining the Amazon trip was a wonderful experience and I would highly recommend it to anyone!

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Yes, I recommend this program

Sustainable Summer will grow you into an environmental leader!

I traveled with Sustainable Summer to Costa Rica in July of 2014, and had the most culturally immersive experience imaginable. Starting the first day, it became evident that my fellow participants and I would quickly become a family. 

We traveled to Rancho Mastatal, where we studied the ecological interrelationships between the human inhabitants, the agriculture, and the wildlife. All the food we ate had been grown on-site.

We thought critically about the current global energy crisis and the climatic issues generated by the greenhouse gasses emitted from the burning of fossil fuels. We discussed a handful of alternative energy technologies and solutions in depth, from hydroelectric dams to photovoltaic cells to geothermal energy harvesting to wind-power farms. We all devised a plan in which we could become more sustainable with our energy consumption back when we returned to the States. 

We went on a full-day horseback ride through the mountains to a beautiful waterfall. The view of the valleys were rich with a biodiversity of plants, and the waterfall itself was breathtaking like nothing we had ever seen before. We were led by a cowboy who could not speak English, so this proved as an opportunity in which we could really practice our Spanish. 

In Sarapiqui, we lodged by the jungle, immersed by a spectrum of bizarrely beautiful insects, frogs, sloths, birds, and howler monkeys. We hiked through the jungle with an ethnobotanist, who taught us how to identify medicinal and sacred plants and explained their anthropological origins. We tasted a variety of native plants, fruits, and endemic delicacies to discover new tastes alongside medicinal properties. We partook in a cooking class with a local family, in which we prepared aliments for a dinner we shared with them. 

We went white water rafting on a beautiful yet dynamically ferocious river surrounded by flora. Later, we visited two protected ecological reserves and took a private tour in the depths of the rainforest with scientists, where we conducted experiments and calculated equations regarding biodiversity and tree height. The rain was furious and the thunderstorms were like nothing we had ever experienced before. The rainy season of Central America is not something to be underestimated!

As we kayaked on Lake Arenal, we discussed reforestation, hydroelectric energy, bio digesters, compost, and much more. After hiking to an overlook of Arenal, Costa Rica’s largest volcano, we concluded our trip with a two-night stay at Rancho Margot. On our way back to Miami, the entire Sustainable Summer family reminisced upon all we have accomplished and how we have matured into the next generation of environmental leaders. The melancholy farewell will only be temporary, as the distances between us will never damage our friendships.

Sustainable Summer was definitely an experience that has shaped who I am as a leader, an environmentalist, a student, and a teacher. It is beyond a doubt that I recommend this program to all students worldwide, as the knowledge and skills I've aquired on this adventure will be indispensable throughout all aspects of my life.

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Yes, I recommend this program

Once-in-a-lifetime Experience

Venturing through the dense layers of the Amazon forest, engaging in lively and scholarly conversations with the local Kichwa people, and examining the impact of our nation's thirst for non-renewable resources, I discovered my future passion for environmental science.
This summer, I set a goal to learn more about the world and myself. Sustainable Summer fully helped me achieve this goal. Myself, along with thirteen other students, left behind our indulgent, urbanized lifestyles and traveled to Ecuador to expand our knowledge of sustainability. The result was an unforgettable experience- emphasized by the helpful leaders, amazing accommodations, exciting activities, and intriguing lessons. Furthermore, the program allowed me to experience what a career in environmental science would entail, and supported my belief this would be a suiting career for me.
Sustainable Summer was honestly one of the best experiences of my life, and I can only hope others are able to experience this amazing opportunity.

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Yes, I recommend this program

Unreal Experiences and Adventures

The experience was unlike anything I could have imagined. In the Galapagos, I got to swim with a penguin and a sea turtle, made friends with a sea lion, touched a white-tip shark (by accident), and saw dozens of marine iguanas and blue-footed boobies. On the mainland, I had a wild monkey jump on my back, a millipede crawl on my face, and of course hiking with the interspersed sheer rock cliff. Not to mention having a Tribe Leader of the indigenous Kichwa people tour me around a small part of the forest and feed me natural remedies.
Yet, my perspective shifted during my adventures in the Amazon. While the experiences were unforgettable, they weren't the focus of the trip. I got to see firsthand what is being threatened by modern needs.
I saw the conservation efforts in the Galapagos with the fight to keep it as natural as possible, yet still keep it open to humans. I learned the land and forest in Ecuador must be protected; yet one of the major financial resources is the boil beneath the Amazon.
It's very easy to sit at home and say, "Oh, I love the rainforest and I support the movement to protect it!" Meanwhile, global environmental threats and concerns only continue to grow. What Sustainable Summer has taught me is that there is no reason why I should wait until someone else takes charge of these issues to work on and resolve them.
Everything from planting gardens, to composting, or even bans against plastic bags makes a huge difference. Returning from my trip to the Amazon, I am going to bring the skills and knowledge with me so I can spread awareness about the threatened rainforest, and help create meaningful change in my own urban wilderness.

What would you improve about this program?
I think the trip to the cacao farm could be cut. It was hot out, getting there was difficult, and no one was really in the mood for natural chocolate and its extreme bitterness... That's really the only thing I would change!


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Alumni Interviews

These are in-depth Q&A sessions with verified alumni.

Joshua Nodiff

Joshua Nodiff is a senior at LaGuardia High School, in the Technical Theater Department. Amongst his work in the Tech Department, Josh has designed and constructed the props and set pieces for countless performances that LaGuardia has produced, though he primarily serves as the residential audio engineer for the school. He is currently the sound designer for LaGuardia's upcoming production of "In The Heights". Josh is also the President of LaGuardia’s entire student body, and leads the school's Student Government Organization. He is an activist, an environmentalist, and is determined to heal the planet.

Why did you decide to study abroad with Sustainable Summer in Costa Rica?

I chose to study abroad with Sustainable Summer because it stood out to me as the perfect match for my diverse interests.

I am profoundly passionate about environmental science, which is the core educational component of Sustainable Summer.

I love adventuring, and the itinerary for the Sustainable Summer program stood out as an incredible series of adventures, from horseback riding to a waterfall, to kayaking to a volcano, to white water rafting through the rainforest.

I also chose the program because I love Latin American culture, and traveling to Costa Rica resonated as a wonderful opportunity.

What made this travel experience unique and special?

This experience was unique because of the locations we visited, and the activities we did at each location. For instance, we visited a permaculture ranch in which we lived communally, growing our own food and working with the farm animals. Living communally provided me with a sense of shared responsibility and solidarity, which was certainly a transformational and eye-opening experience. At other locations, we hiked with ethnobotanists who taught us about medicinal and sacred plants and indigineous culture. The balance of adventure alongside intellectuality, community, and local activism enabled Sustainable Summer to be special experience in my life.

How has this experience impacted your future? (Personally, professionally, academically, etc.)

Sustainable Summer has certainly impacted who I have and will become as a person, an activist, and a leader.

The experiences I've been a part of and the people I have met have shaped me by allowing me to realize two very important axioms: humankind has destroyed the longevity of our environment, thus it is up to our generation to heal the planet; and every single person is a leader in his or her own way.

Leaders come in all shapes and sizes, and the most important ability is to be able to recognize the leadership in everybody you encounter.

What is one piece of advice you would offer someone considering studying abroad in Costa Rica?

Costa Rica is beyond beautiful and full of vibrant color and wildlife. Don't feel discouraged if you don't speak Spanish! You do not have to speak Spanish to make the most out of this adventure, so no worries. However, if you do speak Spanish, this will be a perfect opportunity to practice your linguistic skills. Everybody will ultimately pick up some basic Spanish and Costa Rican colloquialism just by traveling through the country, so if you've always wanted to learn Spanish, this adventure is a great orientation to the language.

Staff Interviews

These are in-depth Q&A sessions with program leaders.

Jeff Sharpe

Jeff has a BA from Bucknell University and an MA from Dartmouth College, where his thesis research focused on globalization’s impact on water resource management in developing countries using Ecuador as a case study. Jeff is a former Division I swimmer and an avid skier and whitewater kayaker. He enjoys adventure travel, playing guitar, following the latest news in politics, and environmental conservation advocacy. Jeff is the Executive Director and a Board Member of Sustainable Learning Inc.

What position do you hold at Sustainable Summer? What has been your career path so far?

I am the Co-Founder/Director. I’ve worked in the education and/or educational travel industry my entire career (13 years). Most of my professional experience has been with start-ups as a founder or principal. Sustainable Summer is the first non-profit venture I’ve founded, and also the one that most closely combines my three passions: travel, the environment, and entrepreneurship.

Did YOU study abroad in high school?! If so, where and what inspired you to go?

I suppose that depends how you define “study abroad.” I did several service trips through my youth group to places like Puerto Rico and St. Thomas (as well as service trips in the US to Appalachia and elsewhere). I also went to France one summer with a group from my high school. France was kind of silly and pointless in retrospect. I’m not that into European travel now and probably didn’t realize it back then, but I was studying French in high school (also a mistake – Spanish is so much more useful) and the opportunity to travel was there, so why not?

The service trips were more interesting for me, and my desire to engage in “voluntourism” probably stemmed from some ill-conceived notion that that type of service work makes a meaningful difference in other people’s lives. It doesn’t really, at least not in any long-term, significant way. It’s much more beneficial to the “giver” than the “receiver.”

What does the future hold for Sustainable Summer - any exciting new programs to share?

We’re a fairly young organization, so we’re currently focused on getting all the little stuff right before we take on the world, so to speak. In the travel industry, the broad strokes are really easy, but it’s the details that set great organizations apart. We’re focused on delivering really outstanding value to our students and a truly unique educational experience, so we’re concentrating most of our efforts on making our existing programs amazing, before we add new programs.

This is all the more challenging because we have more complex itineraries and logistics than the typical travel program, and a very nuanced curriculum. Plus, we don’t subcontract for services. All of our programs have been developed from extensive on-the-ground research by our founders. Case in point: I’m writing these interview responses from Ecuador, where I’m wrapping up yet another trip to meet with our local partners – my third in the last 12 months.

What about the future of the high school study abroad industry? How do you think international education will change over the next 10 years?

I think we’re on the cutting edge of the trend that is going to replace “service learning” as the dominant category for student travel to developing countries. I’m not entirely sure what semantic label will eventually be applied to what we’re doing at Sustainable Summer – we call it “environmental leadership programs” - but I think students and parents are becoming increasingly aware of topics like global climate change and food justice. I think a gradual shift will happen (or is happening) away from service learning towards travel programs with more of a pure educational focus in these subject areas.

Just look at the growth of WWOOFing among the adult population – that will trickle down to the high school demographic over time. Though the high school demographic is especially interesting in this area of travel, because progressive secondary schools are starting to integrate sustainability into their curricula in really meaningful ways, and just about every university is now offering some type of study abroad experience for students interested in environmental science and related fields; but in the high school abroad industry, there’s really no one else that’s doing what we’re doing, at least not as an open enrollment program. However, give it 10 years and perhaps “environmental leadership” will be as commonplace a term as “service learning.”