From the clear turquoise seas on either coast to the rolling inland coffee farms, Costa Rica is an attractive destination for high school students in search of both chilling and thrilling experiences. Students can exchange their high school classrooms for a learning experience that comes complete with a passport, awesome photos (selfies with sea turtles!), diverse new friends, and improved Spanish skills. Students who attend high school programs in Costa Rica will go home with a number of Spanish credits under their belt and a tan that’ll make everyone jealous.
The “Rich Coast” is likewise rich in options for high school programs abroad. Whether you choose to adopt the slightly more busy city life or a laid back beachside lifestyle, one truth remains: with the right amount of dedication to speaking Spanish and openness to new experiences, your high school program in Costa Rica will be exciting and productive. The most popular destinations for high school programs in Costa Rica include:
San José. The capital and largest city, known locally as Chepe, is a bit of a concrete eyesore. Even so, students who take the time to get to know the city through a high school program will be treated to a playground of historic neighborhoods and colorful street art. During high school programs in San José students will be able to witness firsthand the interweavings of the Tico’s indigenous heritage and colonial past.
Heredia. This university town is small and easily managed by first time visitors to Costa Rica. Its adorable town square will keep you busy after class, and its accessibility to nearby mountain towns and villages means opportunities for adventure (the culturally immersive type!) are abundant. Don’t forget to take a dip in the nearby waterfalls or swimming holes!
Other student-friendly highland cities include San Joaquín de Flores and Monteverde, and for those that want to study on the coast, Samara, Manuel Antonio, and Playa Flamingo (Yes, FLAMINGO!) all host high school program opportunities.
Keep in mind that participating in high school programs in Costa Rica operating outside of the capital means you will be less likely to have tourists and expats around, which may increase your need to utilize your Spanish language skills to get by. This should look less as an opportunity for defeat and more as an opportunity to rise above the challenge though!
Students should generally expect to have easy communication with family and friends back home regardless of where their high school program in Costa Rica is based. Costa Rica has a largely developed infrastructure in terms of internet and phone communications, that almost all students will be able to enjoy, especially when missing the comforts of home.
High School Programs in Costa Rica
Most high school study programs in Costa Rica run during a regular summer break. This is awesome, as you will thus be able to continue kicking butt in your fall and spring semesters, playing on your sports teams, and keeping up your club commitments. You won’t have to miss any dances either (insert groan from the men, glee from the ladies)!
The majority of high school programs in Costa Rica run for two weeks to eight weeks. When it comes to high school study abroad programs, classes are typically completed and finished in the morning hours, leaving the afternoons and evenings open for other (slightly more obvious) fun. During all high school programs in Costa Rica, you can expect your days to balance a combination of adventure, volunteering or service projects, general time to just “be,” and of course, time to finish your homework!
Some high school programs in Costa Rica will require students to have previous Spanish language classes, so be sure to check in with your desired program provider to see if your qualifications surpass their minimum requirements to participate. If all else fails, you can always choose a language immersion program!
Almost all high school programs in Costa Rica will provide housing, 24/7 support, and cultural excursions for participants. Although, nearly any program is designed to optimize interactions with the locals, giving you ample opportunity to better understand the Tico culture from their perspective; there are even programs specifically focused on cultural exploration.
In the end, choose a program with excursions and activities that most excite and challenge you. Have a fear of depth? Now’s a great time to push yourself to complete a SCUBA course (or try your luck at snorkeling). Are you afraid of using your Spanish? Consider doing a homestay, where you will have time to practice in a loving environment.
Accommodation & Visas
Many high school programs in Costa Rica organize homestays for students. An increased level of security, in addition to increased opportunities to better comprehend the local culture, are cornerstones of homestay accommodations. Thanks to the help of your new set of parents and your adorable hermano y hermana, you will be speaking fluent Spanish in no time. Many returnee students identify the relationships with their homestay families as the most positive takeaway from their high school program in Costa Rica!
Students will not likely need a visa to participate in high school programs in Costa Rica, especially if their program is less than 90 days in length. However, students should apply for a tourist visa upon arrival in Costa Rica. Even though you will not need to apply for a visa beforehand, you must have a current valid passport and a return ticket to exit Costa Rica upon arrival.
Acquiring your visa will be number one on your to do list after your plane lands. You will “follow the herd” as arrivals shuffle toward immigration lines. Keep a pen handy on the plane so you can fill out your paperwork in advance, then get ready to smile for the camera and answer a few basic questions from the security officer (before you’re rewarded with a beautiful stamp!).
Benefits & Challenges
Choose your own adventure! The only major challenge that will face high school students in Costa RIca is the inevitable day when it is time to go home and they won’t want to! Costa Rica is magical: all trails lead to waterfalls, to jungles, to beaches, and to a better sense of self.
Adopt the pure life (pura vida) as you get to know this country and the locals (self-dubbed Ticos).