Costa Rica

Program Overview

The Novogratz Bridge Year Program in Costa Rica introduces participants to critical issues related to climate change and environmental conservation local to Costa Rica. Students are asked to consider local relationships with the environment, how local organizations are tackling climate change and environmental conservation, and what role they, as young people and global citizens, can play in addressing these concerns. Costa Rica has many opportunities for hands-on learning about the environment, sustainability, social justice, and community development. 

Participants live with host families in the semi-rural region of Pérez Zeledón, as they immerse themselves in Costa Rican culture, develop proficiency in the Spanish language, and support on-going community projects. 

In Costa Rica, Princeton partners with Amigos de las Américas. For more than 58 years, AMIGOS has offered transformative cultural immersion experiences to young people across the Americas that foster leadership and a lifelong commitment to the principles of ethical and effective community engagement.

Program Details

Program itineraries are subject to change based on conditions that impact local travel logistics, public health, and participant safety.

Arrival and Orientation

Upon arrival in Costa Rica, participants travel to Pérez Zeledón and settle into an eco-lodge near the town of San Isidro. The orientation site is nestled in rolling hills with lush, tropical plants and beautiful panoramic views. During orientation, participants have an opportunity to get to know each other, while diving into the history and culture of Costa Rica, learning regional Spanish vocabulary, researching local community concerns, and preparing for their community placements. All participants complete first aid training with the local Red Cross and learn about health and safety while abroad. There are also opportunities to explore the area near the eco-lodge through hikes with local guides and learn about the flora and fauna of the region. On the last day of orientation, students organize a welcome party for homestay families and local community organizations, before departing the eco-lodge and entering their homestays. 

Homestay

Participants live with families in Pérez Zeledón outside the capital city of San Isidro. The homestay provides an opportunity to build deep relationships, practice Spanish skills, and integrate more fully into the local community.

Participants can expect modest accommodations with access to public transportation to travel to their community placements. The majority of meals are prepared and eaten with the homestay family.

AMIGOS selects homestay families that are curious about other cultures and excited to share their lives with a young person from another country. The homestays incorporate participants as another member of their family. As such, participants can expect to help around the house, spend informal time with their family, and take part in family activities and traditions. Participants live with the same family for the duration of the program, allowing participants and families to build lifelong connections.

Language Instruction

Participants begin intensive Spanish language classes, immediately following on-site orientation. For the first 4 weeks, participants receive 20 hours of language training each week. Language classes are taught locally with other Bridge Year participants, in small groups based on language level, and focus on conversational fluency, as well as proficiency in reading and writing.  Beyond the first four weeks, students receive up to two hours a week of private tutoring based on individual needs and interests.  

Placements with Community Organizations

Participants spend approximately 30 hours each week collaborating with a local community organization. Prior to placement, participants complete a questionnaire to share their interests and skills, which are then matched with the needs of partner organizations. At each organization, a staff member serves as a mentor, orienting the participant to their assignments and providing support throughout their experience.

Below are examples of community partner organizations in which students might be placed:

  • Fundación para el Desarrollo del Centro Biológico las Quebradas (FUDEBIOL) is a biological research center dedicated to the preservation and conservation of Costa Rica’s diverse flora and fauna. At this site, students support ongoing environmental conservation projects through tending gardens, maintaining trails, and supporting social media efforts. 
  • Asociación de Mujeres Activas del Corredor Biológico Alexander Skutch (AMACOBAS) is a local women’s cooperative dedicated to rural community tourism, natural resource management, and local conservation education. At this site, students work with the cooperative on building their online and social media presence, organizing and planning events with local communities, and supporting environmental and conservation initiatives.

Collaborative Community Project

Each student carries out a project in partnership with their community placement. Through this project, students are asked to build upon local resources and assets to address community needs, goals, and priorities. Students work collaboratively with colleagues at their community placement to create a project that benefits the organization’s work within the local community. AMIGOS staff guide students in the development, implementation, and evaluation of the project.

Independent Enrichment Project

Participants are encouraged to identify an independent enrichment topic to explore during their time in Costa Rica.  As part of their enrichment project, students are asked to venture out and talk to people, visit local community organizations, and complete online research. Through their project, students might, for example, learn about Costa Rican cuisine or explore traditional forms of music and dance.

Program Sponsored Activities

Students participate in a variety of program-sponsored activities that aim to foster a greater understanding of local culture and society and promote further reflection on the ways in which active, informed, and constructive participation in community life can help to advance community well-being. These activities include guest speakers, day trips, weekend excursions, and activities with local youth. 

Potential program-sponsored excursions include:

  • Biolley.  Biolley is a district of the Buenos Aires canton, in the Puntarenas province of Costa Rica.  Here, students would visit the site of a women-run coffee cooperative on the edge of the La Amistad National Park, near the border with Panama. This excursion provides opportunities to learn about women-led entrepreneurial efforts to bring sustainable and environmentally-friendly coffee cultivation practices to the area, as well as go on hikes within the national park.   
  • Turrialba.  Turrialba is a district of the Turrialba canton, in the Cartago province of Costa Rica. Here, students would visit the Centro Agronómico Tropical de Investigación y Enseñanza (CATIE), to learn about the impact of farming and climate change on local agriculture and communities. The excursion also provides opportunities to attend workshops, go on hikes in the area, and meet local university students.
  • Los Santos.  Los Santos is a mountainous region in the San José Province of Costa Rica, in the center-south of the country. Here, students might spend the weekend with one of AMIGOS' partner agencies, Bean Voyage, a feminist non-profit social enterprise on a mission to eradicate the gender gap in farming communities. The excursion provides opportunities to learn about gender in coffee farming and issues facing immigrant farm workers.

Workshops

Workshops during the program provide opportunities to explore various aspects of community and international development, as well as program themes of climate change and environmental conservation.  These workshops might include:

  • National Park Campamento.  In this workshop, students would have an opportunity to participate in a weeklong campamento in a Costa Rican national park. During the campamento participants would work on a project alongside local Costa Rican students, in addition to engaging in a leadership training and cultural activities. 
  • Cacao Farm Workshop. In this workshop, students would learn about the impact of climate change on local crop production and the local farming community. 
  • Renewable Energy Workshop.  This workshop, held in conjunction with a local university, would allow students to learn about renewable energy and how community-driven development and foreign investment have helped bring sustainable technologies to rural communities. 

Despedida and Debriefing

At the conclusion of the Bridge Year experience, students participate in a despedida hosted by AMIGOS for students, representatives from community partner organizations, homestay family members, and other community members who support the program. It is an important celebration of the work that has been done collectively and the relationships that have been built. 

After the despedida, students say goodbye to their homestay families and spend 5-7 days engaged in an end-of-stay debrief.  The debrief aims to provide a space for students to reflect on the lessons learned from their experience, the return home, goals for the future, and the ways in which they can best integrate their time in Costa Rica into their daily life at Princeton. 

Fast Facts

  • Program Location: San Isidro de El General, in the canton of Pérez Zeledón 
  • Population: 48,243 (San Isidro); 5,206,655 (Costa Rica)
  • National Symbol: Guanacaste Tree; Yigüirro (national bird); the white-tailed deer
  • Languages: Spanish has been the official language of Costa Rica since colonization by the Spanish in the 16th century.  There are also several indigenous languages spoken in Costa Rica today including Cabecar, Bribri, Maleku, Guaymi, Buglere. and Guna. Mekatelyu (an English-based creole language) is spoken by some Afro-Costa Ricans.
  • Religions: Roman Catholic 48%, 27% non-religious, 19% Evangelical Christian, 1% Protestant
  • Currency: Costa Rican Colón
  • Fast Fact: There are over 500,000 species of wildlife in Costa Rica and nearly 25% of the country is protected as national parks and wildlife reserves. Even though Costa Rica accounts for only 0.03% of the earth’s surface, it contains 6% of the world’s biodiversity.