My SPI Story: A Summer in Monteverde, Costa Rica

This summer, I participated in SPI’s Summer 1 program in Monteverde, Costa Rica. This is a two week-long language immersion and service trip. My friend and I went together, but I met so many new friends that I still keep in touch with today that going alone would have been no problem. My two weeks summed up in one sentence would be: The best two weeks of my life spent creating new friendships and experiencing new things, while giving back to the community through service, during a summer that I wouldn’t want to spend any other way.

Saying goodbye to all my friends and the town that I grew to love was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I can wholeheartedly say that this experience has opened my eyes and given me a new perspective, as well as a better understanding of the language and culture of Costa Rica — along with the world.



The picture above is of Neha and me before we boarded the plane to Dallas, Texas, where we met some of the people we would spend the next two weeks with.



This is a group picture of half of the group on our bus ride to our first day in Monteverde.


This is when we first met our Mama Tica! Part of the immersion was having a homestay and speaking with the homestay family. We ate most of our meals with our homestay family and I still keep in touch with my Mama Tica.



Before our academic classes, we learned how to make a Spanish tortilla and somewhat mastered the art of tortilla crafting.



This day we went on a Trapiche tour of the sugar cane and cocoa farm. Here is a picture of my friend, Kayli, and me eating some of the fresh and delicious sugar cane. We got to eat chocolate and sugar cane — what is better than that?


After a day of class at CPI (Centro Panamericano de Idiomas) we decided to have a photo-op in front of the beautiful view outside.



On our second volunteer day at Finca Life Monteverde, we planted trees to help the environment and learned about the importance of trees and nature.



We went on the Canopy tour this day, which means we got to go zip-lining. I had been zip-lining before, but it was nothing like this experience. Here we got to zip line through the cloud forest. It was a one-of-a-kind experience!



On Saturday, we went to Isla Tortuga for the day and took a boat ride to and from the beach. The boat ride was amazing because of the entertainer who got us all to dance.


On the beach we went banana boating and paddle boarding.



After our guided hike of the Santa Elena Reserve was rained out, (yes, the rain forest tour was rained out) we had a free afternoon. Many people went to the butterfly sanctuary, but some of us decided to explore Santa Elena. We ended up at a coffee shop where the rest of the group met us after their butterfly tour.



We had a free morning and we had breakfast at the coffee shop where our Mama Tica works. It was an amazing breakfast! After that, we returned to classes.

DAY 10


On our third day at Finca Life Monteverde, they organized a competition for us that involved things we had learned at the farm.

It was Riley’s 16th birthday, so after volunteering and classes we planned a surprise dinner for her. Here we are “worshipping” her!


We surprised Riley at dinner when we all jumped out yelling, “SORPRESA”!

DAY 11


In the morning, we went horseback riding and saw beautiful views of Monteverde.



At the end of classes, we took a Latin dance class where we learned to dance the salsa and merengue.

DAY 12


It was our last day at Finca Life Monteverde, and in this picture we showed how sad we were to leave. We planted trees for the last time and then met by the Guava tree to talk about the importance of our experience and of nature.

DAY 13


Before classes, our supervisors planned a scavenger hunt for us. We were to find things around Santa Elena or to talk/ask in Spanish about certain things with the locals. Our group came in 3rd and even though we didn’t win, everyone got a prize.


That prize was seeing a sloth, which we had been wanting to see the whole trip.

DAY 14


It was our last full day in Costa Rica. Our last group activity was the Hanging Bridges tour. You can see in the picture that our group was making use of the large leaves in the rainforest. We were able to see numerous animals including monkeys, hummingbirds and coatimundis.

We had a free afternoon, but because it was our last day some of us met up at the coffee shop and went to a concert after dinner to make the most of our time together.

DAY 15


This was the hardest and saddest day of all. We had to say goodbye and go our separate ways. We spent the bus ride singing songs, but all of us were hoping that the bus ride to the airport would last forever just so we wouldn’t have to leave. This was our last picture as a group.


About the Author: Katherine Peterson participated on SPI’s Costa Rica program in summer 2015.

A Life-changing Experience!

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Request Your Catalog Today.

Fill out the form below and we will send you a catalog and get in touch. Please note all fields are required.

A Life-changing Experience!

Get ready to experience and SPI Abroad program yourself. Learn more about our programs or request more information today.

Request Your Catalog Today.

Fill out the form below and we will send you a catalog and get in touch. Please note all fields are required.

On-Site Supervision Team Abroad

We hire bilingual high school teachers, university professors, and caring local staff who, as a team, serve as international “moms and dads” throughout the program. Directors actively participate in all aspects of the immersion experience: helping with housing adjustments, checking in on classes, and making sure students are taking advantage of the wonderful excursion and activity opportunities. All SPI staff go through extensive reference checks.

Training & Experience

Directors are selected based on their experience working with teenagers in an international setting, their ability to communicate fluently in the language of study, and their academic & professional background. All on-site staff go through an intensive training process.

Daily Supervision

Students are expected to be respectful of their directors’ guidelines and abide by the SPI standards of conduct at all times. SPI directors and program staff are available 24 hours a day. Directors check in with students on a daily basis in the mornings, afternoons, and evenings; they also frequently monitor all aspects of each student’s progress. Homestays and residence directors are contacted to learn how students are adjusting, and to handle any concerns. Daily curfews are enforced.

Student Behavior Expectations

Since 1996, we have proudly attracted an academically-minded student body focused on improving their language skills and growing from cultural experiences. At SPI, we take our role as teachers seriously — we recognize that we are responsible for guiding students through one of their most life-changing experiences. We expect students not only to abide by our standards of conduct at all times, but also to serve as ambassadors of their local communities, schools, and cities.

No Alcohol Policy

SPI maintains a strict policy against the use of alcohol. Directors check in with students in the evenings; however, parents are expected to review our standards of conduct with their children and set clear family expectations prior to the start of the program with regards to their behavior abroad.

Afternoon Elective Activities

Our meaningful afternoon elective activities make local culture, art, architecture, museums, sports, and attractions come to life! Each program offers a variety of engaging activities designed to combine serious fun with truly inspiring “once in a lifetime” experiences. Electives are not included in the program price, and we suggest students budget $100 per week for participation in these incredible learning experiences.

Common Afternoon Electives

CULTURAL: Cooking, Dance, Art & Architecture, Museum & Theater Visits, Local Sporting & Cultural Events

SPORTS: Surfing, Volleyball, Soccer, Kayaking, Snorkeling, Hikes & Walks

ENRICHMENT: Photography, College Prep (Essay Writing, Admissions Prep), Photography, Guest Speakers

Sample Travel Excursions

SPAIN: Bilbao, Pamplona, Santander, San Sebastian, Guernika, Biarritz (France), Comillas, Picos de Europa

FRANCE: Bordeaux, Bayonne, Anglet, San Sebastian (Spain), St. Jean de Luz, Pyrenees Mountains

COSTA RICA: Liberia, Cloud Forest, Puntarenas, Rincon de la Vieja, Tamarindo Beach

ITALY: Florence, Orvieto, San Gimignano, San Vincezo, Castiglione della Pescaia

Our Screening & Selection Process

Students live with roommates in a local homestay or student residence that is experienced in hosting foreign students. SPI has worked with most participating homestays and student residences for a number of years, and they understand students are there to learn the language and experience the culture. SPI diligently screens each homestay and student residence facility with the following in mind: safety, location, cleanliness, and previous experience hosting students.


Most homestays have hosted students for many years and take their jobs and duties as cultural ambassadors very seriously. Our foreign schools also work with each family on a year-round basis to ensure a positive experience is had by each student. It is critical to understand that most homestays come from humble means and different dynamics.

Location of Housing

All housing options are located within a 10-30 minute commute from the school. Students will walk or take the local bus, which is a safe and normal way for students their age to get around in our host cities. The majority of our housing options are located in the same areas where students will be close to each other.

Evening Curfews

Student curfews are set based on what a culturally appropriate weekday and weekend curfew would be for teenagers in the country of study. This is normally between 10 PM – 11 PM on weekdays and a little later on the weekends depending on location and group dynamic. As an important safety measure, program staff diligently monitor student curfews. Specific curfews are listed on each program page for your reference. 

Typical Housing Dynamics

Students are well supported in all housing options and are provided with: meals, a living and study space, laundry service or facilities, linens and towels. It is fundamental that students have an open mind to trying new foods and living in an environment different than “home” to benefit from this transformative experience!

Although SPI homestays come in all shapes and sizes, the majority are older couples or single/widowed women in their 50s – 60s who have extra room in their home and are eager to host students. We have found this dynamic provides the best support, the most interaction, and the most culturally rich experience. Some homestays do have children, but students should keep in mind that homestays with children are busier and often offer less interaction — much like a busy American family.

Language Course Overview

The language courses focus on developing communication skills by simulating real-life situations through interactive class activities that include writing, oral expression, film, music, food, and literature.

> 2 Hours – Grammatical Concepts

> 1-2 Hours – Conversation, Culture, Literature, Film, etc.

> Small class sizes with levels 1 through AP/IB

College Credit Opportunity

SPI uses foreign universities and accredited language institutes for coursework abroad. These institutions provide high school students, upon successful completion of their courses, with an official transcript that they may use to petition college credit from their future university or college. Official transcripts are first sent to SPI in September, and then we will mail an official copy of the transcript in a sealed envelope to each participant. You will mail the official transcript packet directly to your U.S. university once you are enrolled.

Credit Hours vs. Credit Granted

Most SPI language immersion programs give 30-80 contact hours, or classroom hours, enabling for a potential of up to 1-6 semester college credit hours by your university. Contact hours are treated differently at every school. Some schools will grant specific class credit for the hours (e.g., Spanish), although most give a general foreign language or elective credit. Normally, 15 Contact/Class Hours = 1 College Credit Hour.

IMPORTANT:  Due to the nature of college credit granting by each individual U.S. university, it is impossible for SPI to guarantee credit for any student.