Amigos de las Americas - Costa Rica
93% Rating
(13 Reviews)

Amigos de las Americas - Costa Rica

In Perez Zeledón, Costa Rica, participants spend alternating weeks in national parks doing trail maintenance and construction projects, as well as leadership development activities alongside Costa Rican students. While not in the parks, participants live with host families in communities in the cloud forest. Participants also engage in three youth conferences held at national parks and a host community. AMIGOS started collaborating with Casa de la Juventud, a national youth center devoted to providing environmental education, in 2003.

Locations
North America » Costa Rica
Starting Price
$0.00
Currency
USD
Other Locations
Perez Zeledon

Questions & Answers

Program Reviews

  • Impact
    88%
  • Support
    95%
  • Fun
    82%
  • Value
    85%
  • Safety
    96%

Program Reviews (13)

Rosalinda
Female
20 years old
Phoenix, Arizona
Arizona State University

Vida!

10/10

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.

How can this program be improved?

I believe it could be improved by making it more affordable or including a lot more scholarships

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Debbie
Female
41 years old
San Francisco
University of California- Berkeley

The hardest but most important summer of my life

8/10

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.

How can this program be improved?

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
Female
42 years old
Tucson Arizona
Saint Olaf College

It's not perfect..

6/10

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.

How can this program be improved?

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
Female
24 years old
Cape Town, South Africa
Northeastern University

AMIGOS en Pérez Zeledón

9/10

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.

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Bella
Female
19 years old
Chicago, Illinois

Pura Vida - Costa Rica 2014

10/10

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.

How can this program be improved?

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.

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Nel
Female
19 years old
Bay Area, California

Real good people

10/10

If I could only say one thing about my experience I would say that I met more genuinely good people on this trip in six weeks than in the past five years of my life. Costa Ricans are kind, hospitable, and hard working. The AMIGOs staff was motivated, smart, and energetic. I had so much undeniable fun I will never forget. I love Costa Rica and AMIGOs has such a special place in my heart. I would be very happy to answer any specific questions anyone has about this program, and I'll be as candid as requested.

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Vanessa
Female
24 years old
Colorado College
Colorado College

creative collaboration and cross-cultural exchange - CASA de AMIGOS

10/10

I have had the fortunate opportunity to serve on the Amigos de las Americas (AMIGOS) staff team for the past two consecutive years. I can genuinely say that the AMIGOS program in Costa Rica is like no other AMIGOS program, or to my knowledge, any other international exchange program available in the region. AMIGOS volunteers split their time between host communities and three different national parks. In 2013 and 2014 we worked in Parque Nacional Volcan Tenorio, Parque Nacional Carara and Reserva Forestal Rio Macho. While in their host communities volunteers collaborate with the local youth groups to design, implement and evaluate a relatively small community based initiative project (CBIP). The CBIPs were incredibly diverse and tailored specifically to the needs of the community and the desires of the youth group. In 2013-2014 we saw projects ranging from recycling and children's rights initiatives to the construction of a school garden and the refurnishing of a salon communal. During the weeks in the national parks, or campamento weeks, the AMIGOS volunteers, alongside their local youth counterparts from their host communities, travel out to the three national parks. While in the national parks both the US American and the local Costa Rican volunteers work on various trail maintenance and restoration projects, participate in various youth leadership trainings and explore the natural beauty of the national parks.

As a staff member one of the most rewarding moments of the summer was seeing how much both my AMIGOS and Costa Rican volunteers grew during the weeks in the national parks. Though the volunteer work in the national parks was physically demanding, volunteers came together in a very unique way as many were gently encouraged to step outside their comfort zones. Volunteers bridged cultural, linguistic and geographic divides and formed beautiful cross-cultural friendships.

The AMIGOS program in Costa Rica works mano en mano, hand in hand, with the local partner agency Casa de la Juventud (CASA) to facilitate a transformative, empowering summer program for youth across the Americas.

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Hughes
Male
19 years old
Kansas City, Missouri

So...I went to Costa Rica...

9/10

The Costa Rica project taught me the meaning of culture and community. You can say whatever you like about voluntourism, assistance abroad, and high schoolers in general, but I assure you that Amigos is not your average volunteer program.

In my school, I see kids discussing past service trips, whether it to Guatamala, Tijuana, or wherever, and they all note the poverty, the food, and their contributions. However, with Amigos, I found myself noting the community in which I lived, the relationships which I built, and the cultural impact on my life.

Anyone can go to a foreign country, dig their feet in the ground, and say "Wow, to think people live without warm water." Through Amigos de las Americas, I learned to embrace the conditions, not gawk at them from a city on a hill. I developed an appreciation for these people's ways of life and learned to work within the community to inspire youth leadership and sustainability, leaving the "poor" people rich with experiences and laughter.

How can this program be improved?

Lengthen it up to 8 weeks. However, I am aware that this has already been done.

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CS
Female
24 years old
North Carolina
University of North Carolina- Wilmington

Vivir conmigo?

9/10

Going into this past summer, I thought I had traveling/living/working in Latin America kind of figured out; I had studied abroad, gone on a mission trip, and been a tourist in three different countries. I found an add for AMIGOS on Facebook and talked to a woman from the International Office and was immediately hooked. The only trip that was open that worked for my availability, was the high school trip in Costa Rica; I was about to be a senior in college. I did not know a soul going, I didn't know anything about the history of the organization, nor did I know any veteran AMIGOS volunteers. But, the feeling in my gut just said I should take a chance, and spend the summer making an impact in a new place while practicing the language I love.

I was an international volunteer, so I had to attend training in Miami a few days before actually traveling to Costa Rica for the in-country training. After about a week of training, it was time to go to our different communities. By that point I had already made life-long friends, been nervous, heard someone from the State Department speak, laughed, danced, been humbled, and been excited. It is funny to remember how naive I was when I signed up; the summer was definitely going to be a unique adventure.

The Costa Rica project is unique in the sense of traditional AMGIOS projects, and every summer a volunteer has with this outstanding organization is unique because of the unexpected. No matter how much training you have, no matter what people tell you, you have to experience the beautiful sights, meaningful interactions with people, and long fulfilling days working on the trails for yourself to understand. I was one of two college students with over 40 other high school aged students on the journey, which showed me the power of youth leadership and inclusion. People come from all over the US and Latin America with different backgrounds, but yet join together with the same mission. Host communities are so welcoming, especially the children, and the park guides you work with teach everyone so much. Seeing your physical work and conversations make impacts is worth every second of your time away from the United States because cultural exchange is a mutual process; you pour into people and people pour into you.

Just to name a few perks: unique experiences for resumes, applications and interviews, a huge AMIGOS network, the Spanish language, and being a part of something bigger than your hometown.

Go.

How can this program be improved?

I would change the length of time in community to be longer. The project this year reflects that, instead of 6 weeks, the Costa Rica project will be 8 weeks.

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Jorge
Male
24 years old
Boston
Tufts University

Amazing cross-cultural youth leadership and environmental experience

10/10

The AMIGOS program was a great opportunity to make friends with and learn from people from a completely different culture. I loved learning about myself as well, and the campamentos -- time in national parks -- were a great way to make friends with Costan Rican youth while learning about the environment and experiencing the country's natural beauty. Definitely recommend!

How can this program be improved?

Some of the changing between national parks and time in community seemed rushed, and I wished volunteers had more time to get to know their communities.

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Carolyn
Female
19 years old
Redwood City, California

Incredibly Worthwhile

10/10

This past summer, I found myself in the midst of the Perez Zeledon region of Costa Rica, where I ended up living in a small, rural village. Not only was that gorgeous little village my home, but I was also given the opportunity to travel to Carara, Tenorio, and Rio Macho, 3 national parks and reserves in Costa Rica.
Beginning on the first day, I felt as though our work was extremely gratifying, not only for us volunteers, but also for those whom the projects we accomplished affected. I became incredibly close with so many Ticos (the local youth), as well as the other volunteers.
Although some days were harder than others, I never had a single bad day throughout the entirety of the trip, and that was thanks to all of the staff and the Costa Rican people who always kept my partner and I company. They are the most generous, open people that I have ever met. Even people that you have never met before will willingly open their door and invite you inside, serving you the most wonderfully rich food and telling you stories about all aspects of their life, simply because you ask.
I worked with my partner on painting the community church, as well as the classic AMIGOS day camps with kids. Not only were these rewarding in that I was able to see changes in the physical church structure and also that I saw the opening up of the kids to my partner and I, but they were incredibly humbling, as I realized how little I truly knew about their culture and way of life, and how much they were able and willing to teach me.
In the parks, we were able to work side-by-side with other volunteers and Costa Ricans from different villages, which allowed for new friendships and stories to be made. Not only was I able to see and experience the daily life of a completely new culture to me, but I was integrated into a community that embraced all that I am and all that I will be. I will be forever grateful to the program and all of the people that supported it and my personal experience.

How can this program be improved?

If I had to change one thing, it would be that I wish that we were able to hold a community meeting instead of having all projects decided for us when we got there. Granted, the project is shorter in community, but it would be nice to have for maybe a short second project, as it helps hand down responsibility to volunteers and lets them integrate themselves so much more into the community.

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H10
Female
19 years old
San Rafael, California
Other

Once an Amigo, Always an Amigo

10/10

Over the summer, I was a volunteer in Costa Rica with the organization Amigos de las Americas. After the seven week project, I have learned so much about the world, a different culture, and myself. Being immersed in a unique culture enabled me to meet the most inspiring people, relish in delicious cuisines, develop a more understanding perspective, be more appreciative and grateful for everything I have, and live my life to the absolute fullest.

My Amigos volunteer experience in Costa Rica was amazing. Amigos provided unsurpassable training in health, safety, and cultural sensitivity preceding the in-country project. I felt prepared and inspired to promote change and support community development. The training meetings and retreats were fun and informative because previous volunteers were incorporated into the training staff; their knowledge, trustworthy advice, and unending support eased the sometimes overwhelming tasks of packing and mentally preparing for this life-changing journey.

Volunteers have in-country briefing for a few days, before they are partnered and assigned a community. Volunteers live with a host-family in primarily underdeveloped regions. Project Supervisors are assigned partnerships, and these multiple partnerships form a route. Project supervisors are always extremely friendly, supportive, and caring. They spend one night a week in each of their communities. During this period, they do an evaluation with members of the partnership, where they assess the health, safety, and goals of the individual. The ambitious project staff are always willing to meet the needs of the volunteer and the community; they are approachable for advice, questions, and discussions. They are experts at inspiring youth leadership, while providing a foundation for safety and security.

The CALM Plan (Contact, Assist, Lift, Medical) and twenty-four hour on-call hotline ensure the safety and well being of every volunteer. Additionally, the project staff is willing to address specific needs, such as altering living arrangements or a meal plan. Local clinics, transportation, and contact information are provided prior to arrival in community.

My host community was extremely welcoming of my partners and me. They happily provided hospitality and always went above and beyond to make us feel comfortable in the foreign environment. By the end of the project, we felt entirely immersed in a new culture; Costa Rica had become our home away from home.

The members of our community were enthusiastic and willing to partake in a community based initiative project (CBI). Upon arriving in community, we organized a meeting and got input on what they desired. They chose to paint a mural that would unite the community and beautify the school. In addition, we planted over 150 trees, constructed a cement path, started a youth group, and finished painting the school. In addition to working with children for at least two hours a day, five days a week, we implemented these projects. The projects were great ways to get community members engaged and feel empowered as leaders. Amigos emphasizes the vitality of supporting, rather than helping the community. It is their project, not ours, and it is crucial that they have ownership over the sustainable result.

Average days consisted of waking up, eating breakfast, going to the local school to lead a two hour 'campamento' (youth camp) pertaining to the theme of environmentalism, eating lunch, going home to dance, listen to music, cook, play cards, make bracelets, or do art, eating dinner, planning the next day of 'campamentos,' organizing the youth group fundraiser, playing soccer, working on the community based initiative project, spending time with my host family, and learning about the culture. Typical food included beans, rice, tortillas, bananas, plantains, avocados, and pineapple.

I will never be able to express my gratitude toward the truly amazing people I had the privilege of meeting and befriending over the summer. From the adorable children to the playful teenagers to the wise adults and elders, I have never met more pure and appreciative beings. They have the ability to live so simply, but possess a sense of happiness that is so real, and so inspiring; nothing is more moving than their genuine smiles and effortless giggles. I will never forget the community members saying that my partners and I will always be in their hearts, and I will probably never cry as hard as I did upon leaving.

I would definitely recommend Amigos to a friend because it was truly a life-changing experience that broadened my perspective and grounded me as an individual. The cultural immersion process, as well as the relationships established through Amigos are priceless.

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Amigos2010
Female
19 years old
Seattle, WA
Other

The best program for teens and college kids

10/10

No other program gives you the same amount of freedom and responsibility as Amigos and Costa Rica is full of warm, friendly and welcoming people, all excited to share their culture. Costa Rica is an extremely diverse country and their clear Spanish makes it one of the best places to improve on your speaking skills. One of the best summers I've ever had.

About The Provider

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Established in 1965, AMIGOS is an industry leader providing international leadership experiences for youth. We provide high school and college-age volunteers with the opportunity to immerse themselves in the language and daily lives of a host community, bringing that community together to to determine, plan,

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