A Gap Year in Costa Rica – Sea Turtle Conservation, Scuba Diving, Spanish and more ..

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Emilia Pantigoso was a participant on Outward Bound Costa Rica’s Residential Gap Semester program in fall 2021. After the course she remained in Costa Rica, taking Spanish classes in San José and later participated in an engineering internship at the National University of Technology (TEC) in Cartago. She began studying biomedical engineering at Brown University in Rhode Island this fall.

Everybody should have a gap experience. I’m grateful mine was the Residential Gap Semester program at Outward Bound Costa Rica. The program taught me so much, ranging from STEAM and nature to culture, communication, responsibility, and much more. Ultimately, I came out of OBCR’s Residential Program with an incredible experience I could never have had anywhere else.

I always knew I wanted to take a gap year. After twelve years of schooling, the last couple of which were especially intensive, I knew I needed a break … but a productive break. Gap programs allow students to discover themselves, helping them realize what they love and are passionate about. In this way, gap experiences can serve as guides to students to show them what path they may want to pursue in the future. This is incredibly useful because a common concern for university-bound students is deciding what they are going to study. Gap programs can not only help answer that question, but they can also help prepare students for their next four years of study. Increased confidence, independence and organizational skills are all incredibly useful traits gap experiences can offer students. Additionally, statistics have shown that gap year/semester students outperform in college, which is another positive outcome of taking a break between high school and university. For these reasons and many more, more students should consider taking a gap year/semester.

After being allowed a deferral from my university, I identified my objectives, chose my desired destination and began researching programs. After spending a lot of time reviewing the Gap Year Association page and other university-recommended gap year programs, I coordinated a number of informational calls with highly recommended programs in Costa Rica – one of them being OBCR.

A Gap Year in Costa Rica

There was not a day during the Outward Bound Costa Rica’s Residential Program that I didn’t receive a hands-on learning experience. Examples included researching sea turtle nesting and witnessing an in-person Arribada, learning about indigenous communities and living with the Boruca tribe, studying marine biology and seeing bioluminescence during a night dive, and much more. In addition to the exciting, packed full curriculum the program offered, students also learned about responsibility and communication through group protocols.

For me, the most impactful aspect of the program was being able to meet the people of Costa Rica. “Pura vida” truly came through each person we met. From learning about indigenous injustice from an impressive social justice professor, cooking patacones alongside a kind couple from Asoprola, making tapas of sugar cane with the family of a local sugar cane plantation in Buenos Aires, painting a cultural staple design of Costa Rica from an experienced artist in Sarchí, and so much more. Each person we met had their own generational knowledge, unique traditions and beautiful cultural practices. And, always “con mucho gusto,” they were willing to share it all.

During my 65 days in Costa Rica, I learned so much more than what’s included in the (amazing) curriculum. And, I still wear my residential group’s necklace – proudly wearing a memento of my life-changing gap semester experience wherever I go.

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