There are a multitude of places students can choose from when they study abroad. Central America continues to be a destination for many college-aged students due to its rich cultural traditions, biodiversity, and proximity to the US. At the Hurricane Island Outward Bound School (HIOBS), we offer several different semester expeditions that involve Central America. My personal favorite is our Florida to Central America Service Leadership Semester. If you’ve got a heart for service, this is your course.
This semester-length course begins in February 2014. Students begin with a sailing expedition in the Florida Keys where they begin to cultivate an ethos of service to their “ship-board” community. After receiving Wilderness Advanced First Aid (WAFA) and CPR certifications, students travel to the Caribbean coast of Panama where they embark on a kayak expedition, paddling through the remote indigenous villages and participating in small scale service projects. In the final phase of the course, students arrive in Guatemala for a 30-day service immersion project with our partner organization, Safe Passage, to help educate young people living in the impoverished areas around Guatemala City garbage dump.
So, why should a student choose to spend time in Guatemala over somewhere else in Central America? Here are a few reasons.
- Guatemala needs our help. Educational opportunities for all ages are limited. According to USAID, on average, kids go to school for only four years and just three out of ten children graduate from 6th grade. As a result, the number of illiterate adults in Guatemala is astounding.
- It is a common misconception that Guatemala is one of the most dangerous countries in Latin America. Reports show that common travel destinations Colombia, Brazil, Puerto Rico and Mexico have higher crime rates.
- Whether you are a Spanish expert or beginner, serving with Safe Passage is a great place to learn the language if interested.
The Florida to Central America Service Leadership Semester is unlike any other Outward Bound long-form course in its merging of adventure, wilderness medicine certifications, and international community service. For those reasons, if I had to do my college career over again, I’d ensure that this semester course was part of it. It is as life-changing for the student as it is for the individuals served in Guatemala.
Students need not be enrolled in college to attend a Hurricane Island Outward Bound School semester course. For those who want academic credit, Western Colorado State University offers up to 12 credit hours for this course that may be transferred into many universities across the country. Students may also use this course as a gap year program before college, as part of their college career, or as post-graduation before transitioning into the work world. Students need only be within the 18 to 30-year old age range and have a passion for adventure and service.
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