The most common question I get from students and parents prior to departure is “what will my day to day actually look like on program?” Even before coming on the program myself, I knew that this question was hard to answer since a student’s day depends on their school schedule in the United States. The High School Away program was designed to allow students in the U.S. the chance to be full time students in a safe and fun environment, so classes take up a lot of our students’ time. However, outside of classes, CIEE offers students the chance to explore the Global Institute and neighboring areas safely once everyone tests negative for Covid-19. Here is what a typical day looks like on High School Away:
- Morning Temperature check: everyone starts the day by taking their temperature and reporting it on the group WhatsApp.
- Breakfast is served in the dining hall from 7:30 – 8:30 am. A typical breakfast in Costa Rica consists of eggs, tortilla, and gallo pinto, which is rice and beans. Some mornings, a side of fried cheese, or empanadas are offered, along with an assortment of fruit. Students can also have a cold breakfast of cereal, bagels, or oatmeal.
- Morning Activity: 9 am nature hike. For students who are available, one of the Resident Assistants on call takes students along the trails and helps them spot birds and the ever-elusive monkeys.
- Lunch is served from 12 – 1 pm in the dining hall. Lunch consists of a salad and a hot option, which can vary depending on the day. Options have included pasta (with a vegetarian and vegan option), chicken and rice, or tacos. For students who can’t make lunch, there’s always the option to have lunch saved and they can just heat it up later in the dining hall.
- Afternoon Activity: 4 pm volleyball game
- Dinner from 6-7 pm. Dinner consists of Costa Rican staples, like a casado with meat, rice, and beans, or chalupas, empanadas, or American favorites like hamburgers or hotdogs. There is always a desert, which can be as authentic as thin fried dough drizzled in honey, or strawberry ice cream and cheesecake. On special nights there is hot chocolate. All students stay until 6:30 pm for desert time announcements, where Pablo, the Academic Director, gives updates and reminders for the following day.
- Evening activity: 7 pm board games in the rec room.
- Curfew is at 10 pm, with some students choosing to spend time after dinner in each other’s rooms or in the library, where they can complete homework or study.
Additional activities throughout the week can included:
Morning Activities: visiting the tree nursery, coffee picking, putting up hummingbird feeders, feeding the pigs, composting
Afternoon Activities: hiking to El Nino to watch the sunset, nature walk, soccer game, sing along
Evening Activities: Movie night, dance class, karaoke, night hike
Obviously, students can’t always participate in the morning, afternoon, or evening activity, so they get rotated throughout the program to allow a chance for everyone to do everything if their schedule permits it. The weekends are also a chance for students to have more down time and catch up on homework or do an activity that they missed during the week. On Saturdays, students are treated to an excursion. This past weekend, students got to visit the famous Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, where they hiked and got to see the continental divide, hanging bridges and a waterfall. They ended the day feeding the hummingbirds and seeing an injured coatimundi hiding in the bushes. On the way home, everyone was treated to ice cream before heading back to campus. On Sunday, the RAs led a hike to the San Luis river, which is a mile and half from campus. Students hiked down a wide trail that allowed views of the mountains and valley below, and even the Pacific Ocean when the sky was clear. Once at the river, students were able to get in the freezing water and explore the different pools of shallow water before hiking back to campus. Sunday afternoons are left open for students to get some rest or catch up on schoolwork, but many students chose to organize sports in the afternoon while others napped after a long hike.
It’s worth noting that the High School Away program helps to highlight the vast differences in remote learning taking place across the country. Some students have all asynchronous classes and spend the day completing assignments on their own. Others have classes that start at 8 pm due to the time difference in the United States. Some have intense clubs that require them to use the spare classrooms to play instruments or rehearse for plays. But it’s important to note that all students manage to balance their individual schedules with their desire to participate in activities with their peers. As a fulltime employee of CIEE, I have to balance my work and my desire to take advantage of this time in Costa Rica. This program forces students to manage their time and make hard choices about prioritizing what needs to be done with what they want to enjoy, which is a helpful lesson for college, when so much of how they choose to spend their time is up to them. Based on what I’ve witnessed so far, this group will excel as they’ve been able to take advantage of all the campus has to offer while maintaining their rigorous class schedule.