SPI’s 2015 La Esperanza Scholarship Winner

Every year, SPI Study Abroad awards one outstanding student with the La Esperanza Scholarship, a full scholarship to participate in SPI’s Costa Rica program. This year’s winner was Lulu Atik, an exemplary student and leader from Decatur High School in Decatur, Georgia. Don’t miss the following interview with Lulu, in which she discusses her favorite parts of the program and how her life was impacted by her study abroad experience!

1) What did it mean to you to be the recipient of SPI’s La Esperanza scholarship?

Receiving the SPI scholarship made my dream of perfecting my language skills financially possible. Many students cannot afford to travel, so I was lucky to be a recipient of this scholarship. Going abroad and immersing myself with the Spanish people and culture has always been a dream of mine. Immersion is the best way to learn a language, not by taking notes in class and never being able to use it in real life conversations. I have always wanted to be able to hold a conversation fluently, and this trip gave me the opportunity to do just that. During my trip, I always thought about Mrs. Diane’s experience abroad and how I was able to step into her shoes and experience the same excitement and anticipation she did while being abroad and learning a new language. This scholarship gave me an experience of a lifetime and motivated me to keep learning Spanish. It made me keep doing everything I can in order to improve my Spanish. In addition, it motivated me to search for more programs for future travels. I will always remember this trip and the people that I met, all thanks to the SPI scholarship. This scholarship was my first step into the Latin American world, and after this trip, definitely not my last.

2) How has this experience impacted you?

I have always wanted to learn Spanish. I have taken Spanish for five years and I still was not on the level I was happy with. I had so many butterflies in my stomach because I was super excited. Practicing my Spanish in a Spanish-speaking country 24/7 pushed me to my highest potential even though it was exciting and nerve-racking. Being in a country I have never been before, with strangers whose primary language was not English, pushed me to try my hardest and speak all the Spanish that I knew, regardless of the mistakes that I made. I wasn’t scared because this was my only chance to apply all  my Spanish skills I learned all those years in class. I took advantage of all the numerous opportunities, such as: speaking with mama tica, with teachers, and at the stores where I had to use the language (even if it was difficult to get my point across). Through this experience I became independent and did not rely on a dictionary or teacher to explain things to me. I have seen a lot of growth in my Spanish after coming home from the trip. I have also seen that an increase in knowledge also increases your confidence, because you won’t be scared to speak due to the exposure and experience you have had with the language.

The gorgeous natural beauty of Monteverde, Costa Rica.
A typical (read: delicious) Costa Rican meal!

3) What made your SPI experience unique or special? 

Meeting all the people in Costa Rica is what made this trip unique. I was able to form strong bonds with almost 25 strangers that I had never met before. Those relationships ranged from students, teachers, to even our driver, Don Alex. Upon arriving to Liberia, we were so shy. However, after playing a couple of games and a few ice breakers we ended up opening up to each other and becoming good friends. By the end of this trip, we became inseparable. I enjoyed all the time spent with them. I loved the fact that although we were given free mornings to do whatever we wanted to do individually, we always ended up coming together and making plans to hang out even though it was our own roaming time. We would go to restaurants some nights and bond with one another. We would also all walk together to shops, bakery, and get ice cream after school. I also loved volunteering with them at the garden. We were able to have so much fun together, while planting trees and learning about saving the environment. They were so amazing and kind to me and I will never forget them. All of the students were close with their teachers and SPI workers. We all loved our SPI group leaders, Camila and Christina, or, as we liked to call them, Ayer y Mañana. They were amazing and so cool. We were able to think of them as one of us and would make jokes and laugh about the funniest things. They made the trip so much more fun, interesting, and memorable. Being able to stay in a homestay made this trip special too because I was able to meet an incredible Costa Rican family and really get to know them well. They were like a second family and I am thankful to have been able to spend my time with them. We often went to one another’s tica family, so that really stretched my social relationship with other tica families. I feel that by meeting all these people and sharing a special relationship with them made this trip the best trip I have ever been on.

The 2015 SPI Monteverde group: una famila for life!



4) What was your favorite part of the program?

I can honestly say that everything in this program was perfect. I cannot chose only one aspect that was my favorite. Each part of the program was like a nice layer on a cake. The icing on the cake for me was probably being able to go to La Isla Tortuga. I enjoyed that this program incorporated other activities (like the cooking classes and dancing classes) that really exposed us to the Latin American culture and Costa Rican cuisine. I really like the trips that we had to the coffee factories because it gave us a lot of history of coffee in Costa Rica.

My favorite memory of this trip was the boat ride. I enjoyed the ride there with all the music, dancing and entertainment that we had. Our entertainer knew how to keep us on our feet and the island was so beautiful that I felt like it wasn’t even real. The view was beautiful and the water was breathtaking. I enjoyed the view and the nice breeze. We participated in various activities planned on the island, and it was an amazing way to spend time with my new friends. They say a picture speaks a thousand words because the picture I took on this trip will leave you speechless. I felt like I was in paradise. I literally sang to every song that was played because I felt like I was listening to my playlist on my phone. We were all having so much fun jamming to the music from all around the world from every era and language. Upon arriving to the island we had activities ranging from jet skiing, surfing ,motor boating etc. The food that was served on the island was so amazing and so delicious. I enjoyed every minute spent on that island.

Paddle-boarding fun at Isla Tortuga.

5) Do you think it’s important for students your age to study abroad?

It’s important for kids my age to study abroad because it opens many new opportunities and creates an experience that they will never forget. To be able to learn a language, one must be surrounded by the people who speak the language. If anyone is passionate about a language, they should push themselves to study abroad so that they can actually learn the language and the rich culture and history that comes with it. Going abroad motivates one to push themselves out of their comfort zone. To study abroad is an experience of a lifetime and I feel that everyone should be able to do it. You end up meeting new people, trying new things, and learning new things. It’s important for kids my age to be open-minded and try to go abroad, because it’s a decision you will never regret and it will change your life. You will leave having learnt so much, and will always remember your experience and memories there.

Soaking up Costa Rican culture at a local cafe!

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.

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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.