Discover the stunning natural wonders, friendly people, and rich cultures of Latin America while studying Spanish and participating in meaningful community service projects. Learn about indigenous cultures and engage with locals through service projects and homestays in three different regions: Central America, the Andes, and the Caribbean. Whether you’re a first time Spanish language learner or nearly fluent, practicing Spanish in places with varying accents and dialects will give your skills a major boost.
This gap semester charts a course through the contrasting landscapes and cultures of Costa Rica, Peru, the Dominican Republic, and Cuba. Each country offers a unique experience and opportunities to practice Spanish. Plan a multi-day, student-led expedition in Peru, work with environmental projects, and learn a few salsa dancing steps.
|September 12th, 2018||December 1st, 2018||Available|
Experience the stunning beaches, vibrant jungles, and pristine rivers of Costa Rica, Rustic Pathways’ most popular destination country. Costa Rica is consistently listed among the happiest countries in the world because it has invested heavily in protecting its natural resources and its citizens’ quality of life.“Pura vida” is the unofficial national slogan and multifunctional greeting. Soon, you’ll find it rolling off your tongue as easily as if you were a Tico. Spend time honing your Spanish skills, during morning classes and by interacting with the locals during an extended homestay with a family in Turrialba. During the afternoons, participate in service projects and activities including top-notch surfing, whitewater rafting, biking, rappelling, and ziplining.
From the Amazon rainforest and dry desert coast to the peaks of the Andes, Peru’s complex national identity blends indigenous roots with colonial influences. After arriving in Lima, your first destination is Ollantaytambo and nearby Machu Picchu, where ancient stone ruins dominate the landscape. Work on service projects alongside descendants of the Incan empire and bolster your Spanish skills by living with a homestay family in the Sacred Valley. Spend a day exploring historic Cusco, then descend 10,000 feet to explore the ecological diversity of the Amazon basin.
The Caribbean portion of your journey will begin in the Dominican Republic’s Cordillera Central. Continue with Spanish classes, hike to a waterfall, live with a homestay family, and enjoy Jarabacoa’s fresh mountain air. Spend afternoons working with local children on activities that will supplement their learning and help improve your Spanish skills. Next, work on service projects in bateyes, communities where Haitian-Dominicans survive by cutting sugar cane for low wages. Spend your last days on the coast enjoying the beach town of Bayahibe, where you can snorkel, swim, and enjoy the coastal scenery.
Your first week in Cuba will include a Spanish language course at the University of Habana and one-week with a homestay family sharing meals and lively conversation. Throughout the week, get a taste of Cuban culture with visits to Santa Maria del Mar Beach, a tour of Old Havana and its castle, museums, and modern art galleries. Outside of the capital city explore Trinidad, a 500-year-old Colonial city, and one of Cuba’s artistic jewels. Your semester will conclude in style, as you head back to Havana, cruise the waterfront in one of Cuba’s famous classic cars and attend an Industriales baseball game at the Estadio Latinoamericano.
The Spanish Immersion semester features homestay experiences for approximately a week in each of the countries the group visits. Though the students stay with another student of the same gender during the homestay weeks and spend time with the group for activities during the day, staying with a local host family requires a slightly higher level of independence and responsibility. Spanish Immersion students enjoy interactive morning immersion courses and split the rest of their time with community service and adventure activities.
The most valuable lesson that I learned on my gap year is to trust myself and do the things that make me happy. I think I spent too much time during high school trying to do what I thought others wanted that I forgot what I wanted. My gap semester changed who I am and who I want to be in the future. If I could give any advice to a student thinking about a gap year, it would be to do it. Don’t worry about the “traditional path” because there is no such thing—there is only the right path for you.Kelsey Smith, Middlebury, Vermont