Amigos de las Americas - Costa Rica: Palmares

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About

It's the best of both worlds! Become part of a new community and live with a host family in Costa Rica. On weekends, travel around the region to meet up with other volunteers and Costa Rican students for fun, interactive workshops! You'll work with local youth in your community to design and carry out a project that meets community needs (and earning 215 service hours) while learning the meaning of "pura vida" with your new tico friends. In addition to leading day camps and working on your service project, you may spend your days leading English conversation circles, hiking around your town, exploring a coffee farm, learning to make tortillas, playing soccer, spending time with your host family, and becoming part of a new community.

Highlights
  • Live like a local with a host family
  • Collaborate with the community on an environmental project
  • Lead activities for local youth
  • Improve your Spanish through authentic cultural immersion

New virtual gap year program

AMIGOS & Tufts University just launched a new virtual gap year experience for fall 2020: the Civic Action Gap Semester! Explore social change across the Americas, make an impact through a civic volunteership, engage with your community, and earn college credit.

Questions & Answers

Reviews

9.44 Rating
based on 16 reviews
  • 9-10 rating 87.5%
  • 7-8 rating 6.25%
  • 5-6 rating 6.25%
  • 3-4 rating 0%
  • 1-2 rating 0%
  • Impact 9.1
  • Support 9.6
  • Fun 8.5
  • Value 8.8
  • Safety 9.7
Showing 1 - 8 of 16
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Crystal
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Palmares, Costa Rica

I had the privilege to serve as a Project Supervisor alongside the rest of the summer staff team and I would describe this opportunity as a once in a lifetime experience. I built the most amazing friendships with the members of my community, volunteers and of course my amazing staff team.

Not only are the members of the community very welcoming but the beauty of Costa Rica's nature is just fascinating. I was able to meet life long friends and build meaningful relationships. As for my incredible volunteers, I got to know them on personal level as I watched them blossom throughout this summer experience. I dedicated myself to providing them with all the support and resources that they needed to be successful leaders in their community, but ultimately they were all natural born leaders. Where they to built unbreakable bonds with their host families as well as learned a lot about themselves. Although I may be a bit challenging for some, I like to think of the quote "Nothing worth having comes easy".

As for the community members that I got to know, their humbleness and willingness to come together to provide an unforgettable experience for the volunteers is what I appreciated the most. They maintained the volunteers well being in mind and treated them just like family.

I had am amazing experience in Costa Rica as a Project Supervisor and I would recommend AMIGOS to anyone who is willing to adventure out of their comfort zone, build meaningful relationships, work on their leadership skills and explore Latin America.

If you did this all over again, what's one thing you would change?
I would increase the amount of AMIGOS staff assigned to each project location because of the intense workload that needs to be fulfilled. Nonetheless, I would not trade my experience for anything in the world.
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Emma
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Palmares

My six weeks with AMIGOS in Palmares were some of the best six weeks of my life. I loved, loved, loved this program. Everyone I met was so kind. Ticos (Costa Ricans) are genuinely kind and caring people. Everyone in my community was so excited to meet us, to have us in our homes, to offer us a meal. The other volunteers on my project were genuinely unique and funny and accepting and I loved spending time with them. My supervisor was so supportive of me and my partner and encourage us to enjoy our time there to the fullest. The project director was so sweet, and Casa de la Juventud was such an integral part of my experience; they made a great partner agency. If you're on the fence about AMIGOS, do this program. I promise you you'll love it.

What is your advice to future travelers on this program?
Throw yourself into it. Be open. Try and make friends, meet new people, talk to anyone you can.
Default avatar
esther
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Best Ever!

Amigos is really the best! Such a great program. My summer in Costa Rica is something I'll cherish forever. I learned more that summer then I ever thought I would. Everyone told me how great Amigos was, but I didn't understand truly how special it is until I experienced it for myself. Every day was a new adventure. Amigos gave me a family in Costa Rica, people I will never forget and who i have so much love for, and friends across the U.S. Amigos gave me the experience of a lifetime and memories to hold onto forever.

What is your advice to future travelers on this program?
Try something new every single day and talk to as many people as you can!
Rosalinda
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Vida!

I recently came back from AMIGOS this August. I was completely impacted by this program, in a good way. I have never felt so safe and at peace then I was with this program. I had this most amazing experience and would do it a thousand times more if I had the chance to. It really does help you find yourself and really makes you value your life back home.

What would you improve about this program?
I believe it could be improved by making it more affordable or including a lot more scholarships
Default avatar
Debbie
8/10
Yes, I recommend this program

The hardest but most important summer of my life

When I was 17, I had taken Spanish classes for at least 5 years, but nothing could have prepared me for that summer abroad in Ciudad Cortes, Costa Rica. It was my first time away from home for an extended period of time and I'd never experienced such difficulty in communicating or commuting before. Mostly, I never realized how much language shapes your personality and efficacy.

I was living in a small rural town with sporadic water and electricity which almost made it harder than never not having running water or electricity. The host family I stayed with didn't really seem to care about me, even when I got "calentura," or heat stroke, and fainted for the first time in my life. They seemed to be in it for the money from hosting, which was even more isolating and depressing. I was bitten so badly by mosquitoes that my joints wouldn't bend anymore and I had to go to the "hospital" for cortisone shots where the doctors and staff laughed at "la gringa estupida." I couldn't believe the "zancudos" (mosquitoes) could bite through jeans and thick socks!

The whole 2 months was an extreme culture shock despite the year of training and cultural sensitivity classes we'd taken. I dreamt of home frequently and couldn't sleep because it was so hot and humid, and we didn't have any air conditioning or anything. Every night I had to splay out all my limbs on my cot to try to stay cooler, making sure my hands didn't touch the greased up legs of the cot (done to prevent insects from crawling up it).

My first night there in my bedroom, I was astounded by an enormous cockroach about 3 to 3 1/2 inches on my pillow. I ran to tell my host mother in my broken Spanish and she called her son. He came into my room, looked at the beast of a cockroach, and silently retrieved a huge machete. He whacked the thing in half on my pillow, just leaving it there, and walked out of my room without a word. Welcome to Costa Rica!

I forget what I used to get the cockroach off my pillow, but immediately after that I noticed a strange insect that I've never seen anywhere since. It was on the wall next to the window with its menacing stinger, doing push-ups. I was bewildered and terrified despite trying to remain calm.

The only thing/person who saved me from going insane was my program partner, Amy, who was the only other person in town who spoke any English. We bonded very quickly to say the least. Unfortunately for me, she lived about 2 miles up the bumpy dirt road and my feet were my only means of transport. She and her host family, however, had air conditioning and a car!

A few weeks later while walking through town with Amy and her kind host mother, I saw a dead insect in the road the size of a softball. I pointed it out to them and they didn't believe it was an insect. Upon first glance, it did look like a rotting orange or trash, but it had antennae, wings, and legs! (20 years later, I've traveled to about 25 countries but have never seen the biodiversity and gnarliness of Costa Rica matched.)

During my 2 months in Costa Rica, in addition to endless insect bites, I developed coprophobia- the fear of solid excrement- and could no longer have a bowel movement. I gained 15 pounds, intestinal spasms, and parasites.

But despite all of the extreme hardship, that summer was by far the most important summer I've ever had. It taught me the meaning of gratitude, and gave me a deep appreciation for language and communication. I now have a lifelong compassion for foreigners and people who struggle with English or whatever the primary language is. Ciudad Cortes opened my eyes to how much we have and take for granted here in America, especially our advanced medicine and technology.

I wouldn't trade that experience for anything.

What would you improve about this program?
More support in the field, or more personal accounts of that particular program in that exact city before choosing it.
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Kelly
6/10
Yes, I recommend this program

It's not perfect..

Disclaimer: My Amigos experience isn't recent!

I am tired of reading endless reviews that Amigos is perfect..it's not! I 100% support Amigos, am I very glad I did it twice and I recommend it. But it's not perfect.

First, Amigos has real weaknesses. Poor families aren't paid to feed us, and in rural Paraguay people can not speak much Spanish--so communication is very hard. Communities do not understand the rules Amigos sets for us; people try to just take project supplies.

More importantly, the word on chatboards is that every family who hosts an Amigos volunteer is perfect; that's not true! If you had a perfect experience with your family of course that's wonderful-- but NOT EVERY VOLUNTEER WILL! That should be both obvious and okay, but Amigos is so into "positive thinking" that negativity isn't allowed-- even with a "negative view of things" is actually a realistic view of things.

I had real problems with my host family. The mother abused her child and screamed at both her children and me constantly. I was left completely alone for 24 hours, and my host mother threw a fit that I--not knowing what else to do-- asked neighbors to feed me. I was told to grow up and be culturally sensitive..even when my family planned a weekend trip and didn't even tell me. But Amigos won't let us leave our area without permission and I was to go 7 hours from my town for a weekend; we were leaving 20 minutes after they told me about this trip!

I moved; Amigos wasn't happy that I made that choice. My route leader (project helper for volunteers) did (with words) say that she'd support me, but she also told me that "this WILL be discussed in Amigos in the future" and that I would be labeled as a bad volunteer.

Of course Amigos can't ensure that "your family is perfect..or your money back! :)" but it is clear that there is an "Amigos culture".. if you don't think your host family (and everything else about your summer) was "absolutely perfect" it's your own fault; you weren't being culturally sensitive. Not every person who I actually encountered while doing Amigos bought into that--my route leader in Paraguay definitely did not-- but that is what most volunteers who post reviews seem to believe.

I also dislike the fact that Amigos denies another reality: poverty is awful! Amigos volunteers often gush about how amazing their summer was because "the culture is so different". That is fine up to a point, but just because the families we live with eat food we don't eat and do things in ways we have never seen-- my family hooked up a TV battery to a TV and watched TV by candlelight!-- doesn't mean their lives are amazing. They are in awful situations. I found it very hard to see extreme poverty--among people I grew to care for-- and I couldn't just "make it all positive"..nor would I want to. Amigos doesn't encourage--and in fact discourages-- volunteers from experiencing negative feelings about poverty. Of course we are there to help and we do--and that's good-- but the Amigos philosophy actively denies that poverty is really a problem. Finding your experience to be upsetting only means you "need to push yourself to your limits"..and (reviews claim) everyone does that and learns "to be a leader" and that "I can do anything I want to".

I didn't experience that. I came home very grateful for what I have, but also overwhelmed at the realization that my Paraguayan family will likely never be able to get out of poverty-- and my Costa Rican family won't ever be too well off, either. I have always felt like most volunteers fail to accept my feelings about my Amigos summers as valid. Amigos claims that they greatly respect every volunteer's deeply personal experience, but people who aren't relentlessly positive are snubbed. Amigos would also deny that (globally) most people born poor will stay poor. Of course we do Amigos to try to do our part to reverse that trend, but we are led to believe "anything is possible" at the expense of actually seeing reality.

-- Program Cost --

When I went in 1992 and 1995 eight weeks cost about 3000 and we had the option to fund raise. Of course prices go up in twenty plus years and yes the gap year program is nine months versus two. But paying 24900 plus (I assume since visas weren't mentioned) at least 300 for visa fees..and then having no stipend at all of 9 months? You shouldn't have to be rich to volunteer! Gap year volunteers are already giving a chance to work or go to school for a year..and living in communities without basics we take for granted. Amigos could do a great deal to lower the costs. Kill all touristy stuff.. Maybe just have one weekend where volunteers could all meet up but stay in hostels. They could only charge us the costs of families taking care of us and our project supplies..we don't need to agree to give amigos seed money to go. It sounds like gap year but volunteers are on the move..so ask communities to feed and house the volunteer that comes at their expense. They could even get corporate donors to give Amigos funding to fund projects or give us supplies for free so we can pay less. Another issue is the visa. Amigos needs to at least mention who pays! Getting visas is a huge pain; not even mentioning them in the information is a red flag that Amigos isn't really supporting a volunteers as well as they say they are.

I recommend Amigos!! I really do :). It is a very eye opening experience and it's the best way to learn Spanish. I am just tired of the endless mantra that it's perfect and that only whiners disagree with that.

What would you improve about this program?
Since I covered that above, I am going to be backwards and write some positive things here :).

Living in a community makes volunteering much more meaningful!

You pay a fee and then you get fed and housed; it's very easy and a great option for teenagers.

You get to see, do and experience things that you can't see, do and experience by just taking a tour.

It will motivate you to think globally and try to leave the world better than when you found it.

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Daniella
9/10
Yes, I recommend this program

AMIGOS en Pérez Zeledón

My AMIGOS project staff experience in Costa Rica was one of the most life changing, touching adventures of my life. The uniqueness of this project had me nervous at first- yet it was what made the summer so special for both the volunteers and staff.
AMIGOS has an amazing relationship our partner agency in Costa Rica, Casa de la Juventud. In fact, project staff lives on their grounds in Pérez making the relationship that much stronger. Youth from both Casa and AMIGOS work hand in hand throughout the summer, making this project extremely sustainable after the volunteers leave the country.

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

Pura Vida - Costa Rica 2014

Spend a week in your rural community (with 1 or 2 partners from the U.S., live with a host family, work on a project that the locals have chosen before you arrive, and run activities for the local kids) and then spend a week working in national parks (projects that are already chosen and most likely are to make improvements to the park). Improve your conversational Spanish immensely and make incredible connections with other volunteers from the United States, Ticos (Costa Ricans), and your Tico host family. No summer could compare to the one you could have with Amigos in Costa Rica.

What would you improve about this program?
Out of all of the Amigos programs, Costa Rica has never had to send a volunteer home because a violation of the Standards of Conduct. Because of this reputation that the Costa Rican program holds, they are lenient when it comes to a violation and less likely to send a volunteer home.