Photo by Lital Netter-Sweet, Student.

Central America Semester

Spanish Language & Social Justice

A 3-Month Gap Year Program

Enroll
Duration
84 Days
Description

Build Spanish language fluency, examine models of political activism, and engage with diverse Mesoamerican communities and cultures. Upcoming semesters and COVID-19.

*College Credit Available

Spring Dates

Feb 7 - May 1, 2021


Spring Availability

open

Fall Dates

Sep 15 - Dec 6, 2020


Fall Availability

closed

Number of Participants

12


Suggested Ages

17-22

Spring Begins In

20 Weeks

Fall Begins In

7Days

Land Cost

$14,725


Estimated Flight Cost

$1,445

Todos Santos

San Juan La laguna

Ometepe

Esteli

Peñas Blancas

Rio Dulce

San Cristobal de las Casas

Program Overview

Central America: a narrow strip of mountains, jungles and fiery volcanoes unites North and South America and splits the world's largest oceans.


  • Deepen language skills through small group Spanish classes and by living with local families
  • Support social justice projects in Nicaragua, Guatemala and Southern Mexico
  • Experience the vibrant living traditions of the Mayan people in Guatemala and Chiapas
  • Hike to the top of ancient temples in the Caribbean rainforest as dawn breaks over the horizon.

For thousands of years Central America has been a focal point for flourishing human cultures, biodiversity, migration and trade. The modern day inhabitants of this isthmus are the descendents of Mayan and Aztec empires, in addition to descendents of the Spanish invaders of the 1500s and the African…

  • Deepen language skills through small group Spanish classes and by living with local families
  • Support social justice projects in Nicaragua, Guatemala and Southern Mexico
  • Experience the vibrant living traditions of the Mayan people in Guatemala and Chiapas
  • Hike to the top of ancient temples in the Caribbean rainforest as dawn breaks over the horizon.

For thousands of years Central America has been a focal point for flourishing human cultures, biodiversity, migration and trade. The modern day inhabitants of this isthmus are the descendents of Mayan and Aztec empires, in addition to descendents of the Spanish invaders of the 1500s and the African slaves brought with them. Over the course of centuries these diverse peoples and their cultures have interacted and mixed to shape the distinct and vibrant nations of modern day Central America.

Today the communities sharing in this unique heritage continue their legacy of adaptation, responding to rapid environmental and social challenges with innovative communal strategies. The Central America Semester takes a hands-in-the-dirt approach to interacting with indigenous culture and collective life in Guatemala and Nicaragua through extended rural home-stays, one-on-one language study, work on communal farms, and a participatory examination of land-use and grassroots activism. This program also takes a critical look at migration from Central America, examining the historical causes and contemporary cultural implications. 

We begin our program in Nicaragua, a country where grassroots activism and political action are an integral part of everyday life. In the face of political strife, devastating war, and rapid globalization, the communities we visit have joined together to come up with creative and revolutionary responses in the form of radical people’s movements, progressive organizations, and innovative appropriate technologies. While living in homes with local farmers and engaging with one-on-one Spanish instruction, students learn about the revolution, participate in local agricultural co-ops, partake in the annual coffee harvest, and are treated with the lively hospitality which is characteristic of this country. 

From Nicaragua we move to Guatemala, one of the most ecologically and culturally diverse countries in the hemisphere. The Western Highlands of Guatemala are home to large groups of Mayan peoples who retain their language, dress and traditions in the face of persistent external pressure. On Lake Atitlán in the Tzutujil Mayan town of Xe Kuku Abaj, modern day San Juan la Laguna, herbal healers, weavers, and community leaders will share their knowledge on a range of topics through Independent Study Projects. While in the highlands we also have the opportunity to visit ancient archeological sites and take part in Mayan ceremonial culture. 

Heading east into Guatemala’s tropics, we drop down into the Caribbean rainforest.  In the Rio Dulce river basin, we engage in learning service opportunities with our friends at Ak Tenamit, an organization that works in remote communities to promote education with an emphasis on female empowerment. We also visit Livingston and the Caribbean coast, spending time with the Afro-indigenous Garifuna population.  Conversations with local NGOs working in human rights, community health, and development help us gain an understanding of contemporary struggles for sustainable development and identity in Guatemalan society.

Finally, this program has the unique opportunity to dive further into modern indigenous reality with the option of traveling north from Guatemala to the Mexican state of Chiapas. This area is home to some of the most important ancient Mayan archeological sites as well as a section of the most well preserved rainforest in the region. Most notable for the Zapatista Rebellion of the mid 1990s, Chiapas is a diverse and historically significant region and the option to end the course there brings together all the historical, cultural and ecological threads which have been woven throughout the semester. 

Through a rugged and authentic exploration of some of the most remote regions of Central America, the “Spanish Language and Social Justice” semester seeks to unearth the complex web of issues facing communities working towards social and environmental  justice today. With Spanish lessons, rural home-stays on organic farms and learning service at the forefront, this semester program provides an experiential  and inspiring perspective on relationships with land and community against a rich tapestry of cultures and landscapes. 

Read More Read Less Sample Itinerary

For-Credit Course Option

In order to deepen your experience abroad, you may elect to enroll in a college-level language course while participating on the Guatemala Gap semester program. Those who enroll in an optional course will be invoiced additional fees on top of the land cost, as noted below. 

For-Credit Course Fees (1 course)                        Type
$800 Transcript Fee 
$400 For-Credit Academic Fee
$1,200 TOTAL COST 

 

Students who take a course for-credit will receive a transcript from Dragons School of Record after successful completion of the program. To read more about the for-credit courses visit our FAQ Page.

Academics

The optional for-credit language course is worth 4 semester credits and is offered at a variety of levels. Included below are course descriptions for the language courses available:

Spanish Language Study Level I, II & III Language Study (SPAN 150/250/350; 4 credits) 

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  • SPAN 150: Spanish I
    (Spanish Language 150; 4 credits) This course introduces students to the Spanish language and is designed for students with no or minimal previous background in spoken or written Spanish. Students in this course focus on learning essential vocabulary, practicing pronunciation, and understanding simple grammatical structures. This knowledge prepares students to effectively communicate in Spanish on a limited range of topics related to everyday situations. Students practice listening and speaking in real-life situations and examine how culture and language interact. In-class activities and course assignments aim to assist students as they develop the oral proficiency and confidence necessary to initiate simple conversations. Out-of-classroom experiences such a field trips and guided interactions with native speakers supplement formal classroom instruction and provide ample opportunities for practical engagement. In addition, language skills gained in this course support students to deepen participation in other program and academic activities such as homestays and the Independent Study Project.
  • SPAN 250: Spanish II
    (Spanish Language 250; 4 credits) This course introduces students to more challenging linguistic Spanish language material in order to establish a solid foundation for the use of the language. Students in this course focus on building on past language exposure to improve speaking, listening, reading, and writing skills. Students expand their oral expression abilities by increasing vocabulary, improving understanding of grammar concepts, strengthening pronunciation abilities, and focusing on listening comprehension. This course introduces new language concepts to allow students to speak about topics pertaining to their daily lives and also focuses on deepening knowledge of culture and customs. By the end of the semester, students are expected to be able to engage in basic daily conversations, read simple texts, and write for daily needs. In-class activities and course assignments aim to assist students as they develop the ability to appropriately use language and improve proficiency. Out-of-classroom experiences such a field trips and guided interactions with native speakers supplement formal classroom instruction and provide ample opportunities for practical engagement. In addition, language skills gained in this course support students to deepen participation in other program and academic activities such as homestays and the Independent Study Project.
  • SPAN 350: Spanish III
    (Spanish Language 350; 4 credits) This course is designed to develop advanced skills in the Spanish language and is intended for students with extensive prior exposure to the language. This course focuses on consolidating linguistic knowledge and development of speaking, listening, reading, and writing skills. Students in this course will develop advanced comprehension of and competence in using spoken Spanish in a wide-variety of experiences. Grammatical functions will be reviewed and incorporated as they relate to particular communication needs. A mix of communicative and interactive methods are used to develop advanced proficiency and materials are drawn from a variety of media sources and texts. In addition, students develop their understanding of the relationship between the Spanish language and culture. By the end of the semester, students are expected to be able to express sophisticated and nuanced ideas both orally and in writing. Out-of-classroom experiences such a field trips and guided interactions with native speakers supplement formal classroom instruction and provide ample opportunities for practical engagement. In addition, language skills gained in this course support students to deepen participation in other program and academic activities such as homestays and the Independent Study Project.

In addition, you may petition to take an additional for-credit course in order to earn a total of 8 semester credits. Other for-credit courses which may be available upon petition, include Independent Study Project (ISP): Methods and Application or Intercultural Development and Global Citizenship. Contact us with questions about for-credit course options, to learn about registration deadlines, or for copies of sample syllabi.

 

Program Components

3/5
Comparative Religion

The syncretism of Catholicism and Maya spirituality, Maya cosmovision, cycles of time, Latin American Protestantism, community based movements.

5/5
Development Studies

Modernization and globalization, impact of education and tourism on indigenous culture, exploration of minority empowerment issues, sustainable agriculture, social justice issues.

5/5
Focus Of Inquiry

Land use, migration, grassroots organizing, sustainable agriculture, globalization, indigenous rights, social justice movements.

5/5
Homestay

Home-stays in several communities in Guatemala, Nicaragua and Southern Mexico ranging from 1-3 weeks in length.

3/5
Independent Study Project (ISP)

ISPs facilitated primarily in San Juan la Laguna. Multiple opportunities for study with local organizations and mentors. Options include traditional weaving and textiles, Maya spirituality, medicinal plants, sustainable agriculture, painting and the arts, and exploration of socio-political issues.

5/5
Language Study

4-6 weeks of one-on-one or small group interactive instruction, four to five hours a day, language immersion in homestays.

4/5
Learning Service

Volunteering at the Chico Mendes reforestation project, work with sustainable agriculture, collaboration with local NGOs and community based projects.

3/5
Rugged Travel

"Chicken bus," truck, and boat travel. Hikes to remote villages.

2/5
Trekking

Two multi-day treks with remote community stays in Guatemala and Nicaragua.