An absolutely PHENOMENAL program Past Review

By (Sociology., Oberlin College) - abroad from 01/21/2013 to 05/11/2013 with

CGEE: Social Change in Central America: Exploring Peace, Justice, and Community Engagement

What did you gain/learn from your experience abroad? Was it worthwhile?
This program is unbelievable. CGE has been doing this program for over 25 years, and the connections they've built are INSANE. Here is just a brief taste of the people we spoke to on the program: -Fernando Cardenal, the head of the most successful literacy campaign in world history (Nicaragua, 1980) -Rogelio, the only survivor of the Copapayo Viejo massacre in El Salvador -A sewing cooperative in Chontolá, Guatemala, made up of women whose husbands were murdered by the Guatemalan army -A transgender woman in Nicaragua who talked about the incredible machismo and transphobia in the country -A general in the Guatemalan army -A former guerillera (female guerilla fighter) in the Guatemalan civil war -A senator from El Salvador's Congress -A mind-blowing Guatemalan professor of philosophy and conflict resolution And if that's not enough, here are some of the things we did: -Volcano hiking -Horseback riding -Indigenous cooking -Natural hot springs -Sacred Mayan spaces -Coffee roasting -Tree jumping -Salsa lessons ...the list goes on. I cannot emphasize how incredible this program is. Please please please do it! "Worthwhile" doesn't even begin to cover it. If you're still reading this and have any questions, contact me at I'd love to reminisce about this program :)

Personal Information

How much international exposure did you have prior to this program? 0-2 weeks

Review Your Program

* Overall educational experience

Academic rigor, intensity, resources, etc.

I chose this program in part because the classes were in English. Given that there was no language barrier, the academic rigor was quite high. That said, the grading was very fair, and the focus was always on the experience rather than the academics. In that sense, the classes were perfect: they were very challenging and eye-opening, but I didn't have to worry about getting a good grade.

* Host Country Program Administration

On-site administration of your program

The program coordinators are phenomenal. They are extremely dedicated to their work, and really warm and compassionate. All of them have lived in their native countries and the United States for a long time, so they are very familiar with both regions.

* Housing:

How satisfied were you with your living arrangements?

The program included 6 homestays in total (4 short-term rural homestays and 2 longer urban homestays). We also stayed in guest houses, hotels, etc. The living arrangements were very comfortable.

* Food:

For the most part, the food was delicious and we were very well fed. In fact, one of the biggest challenges with food is that you're often served larger portions than you'd like, but it's polite to eat all of it. The stereotype that Central Americans eat only rice and beans is untrue. Even in the families with fewer financial resources, we were often served plantains, tortillas, cheese, meat, etc. If you have food concerns (gluten-free, etc.) don't worry about it. We had several students with SEVERE dietary restrictions, but our coordinators made sure that they were fed properly and fully (even in homestays).

* Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

This program is hard because you move around quite a bit, but the longer homestays (one in Quetzaltenango and one in Managua) give you the opportunity to really feel part of the culture. The trickiest part is El Salvador, since you're in a guest house for most of the time and it can feel pretty isolated from the real Salvadoran experience.

* Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

The program coordinators were very serious about our health. I'll be honest—if you go on this program, it's likely you'll experience things like traveler's diarrhea, parasites, etc. Do not let that deter you. As long as you bring proper medicine (I HIGHLY recommend Ciprofloxacin) you'll be fine. Parasites are common, but medicine can be found at any pharmacy for less than $10. Things like Pepto Bismal are more expensive, so be sure to bring them with you.

* Safety:

This program took EXTREMELY good care of us. In every country, we were given safety instructions and frequent safety reminders. In El Salvador, the most dangerous of the three countries (Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua), they drove us everywhere we needed to go. I rarely ever felt that I was in danger. However, you need to be smart when it comes to crime. A few students on our program had possessions stolen (including computers), so bring only what you absolutely need. There are computers available in all three countries, so you might consider bringing an iPhone or iPad instead if you can.

If you could do it all over again would you choose the same program? Yes


* Money: How easily were you able to live on a student's budget?

(1 = not very easy/$200+ on food & personal expenses/week, 2.5 = $100/week, 5 = very easily/minimal cost)

Central America is relatively inexpensive, depending on what you need. You won't need to buy much, since most is included in the program cost, but some things to consider are: Drinks/snacks at cafés (especially in Guatemala) Spring break (hostels, transportation, etc) Souvenirs You can usually find hostels for less than $15 a night, and they're pretty nice. Dorms are the cheapest—sometimes as little as $6 a night for a 6-person room.

Not including program expenses, about how much money did you spend on food and other expenses each week? $500 for the entire trip
Do you have any general money-saving tips for future study abroad participants? Even though it's cheap, it adds up very quickly. You'll spend most of your money during spring break, but you can be pretty economical (mine was less than $200 and that included taxis, food, housing, etc.) You may also end up spending a lot on souvenirs. Just watch your expenses! Also, check your bank balance frequently. There are fake ATM machines that steal your money as soon as you enter your PIN. Often your U.S. bank will cover the stolen money, but it's a little stressful when it happens.


* Did your program have a foreign language component? Yes
How much did the program encourage you to use the language?

0 = No encouragement, 5 = frequent encouragement to use the language

There were plenty of opportunities to use our Spanish—in homestays, at the language institute, and with speakers. Unfortunately when we were together (e.g., at guest houses) we ended up speaking only in English. This is not an immersion program—the focus is more on social justice than language-learning. That said, some students came into the program with almost no Spanish and were very competent by the end.

How would you rate your language skills at the beginning of the program? Intermediate
How would you rate your language skills at the end of the program? Advanced
What was the highest level language course you had completed prior to departure? Advanced Grammar and Composition (300-level)
How many hours per day did you use the language?
Do you have any tips/advice on the best ways to practice the language for future study abroad participants? There are a lot of speakers on this trip, and they are FASCINATING. Always try to ask a question of each speaker. For example, I often asked, "What would you like us to pass on to our friends and family when we return to the U.S.?" Also, talk to your homestay families, especially about what you're learning. All three countries experienced intense periods of civil war, and most families were personally involved. For example, my host mom in Nicaragua led a battalion than helped overthrow the Somoza dictatorship.

Other Program Information

* Where did you live?

Select all that apply

  • Dorm
  • Other
  • Host Family
  • Hotel
  • Hostel
* Who did you live with?

Select all that apply

  • Americans
  • Host Family
* Who did you take classes with?

Select all that apply

  • Americans
About how many local friends did you make that you will likely keep in touch with?

A Look Back

* What did you like most about the program?
  • Traveling through an entire region (over 15 towns and cities!)
  • Amazing speakers
  • Rural homestays
* What could be improved?
  • Encouraging us to speak Spanish even at the guest house
  • More nature excursions (rainforest, etc.)
* What do you know now that you wish you knew before going on this program? Be careful about electronics (especially computers), pack lighter than you think (and cooler than you think—it's HOT!), and make sure to bring a journal. You'll want to write down everything you can :) (Also, most people give up on blogs after the first few weeks, so you might as well just have a handwritten journal.) If you're still reading this and have any questions, contact me at I'd love to reminisce about this program :)

Reasons For Studying Abroad

To help future students find programs attended by like-minded individuals, please choose the profile that most closely represents you.
The Academic or Linguist
You went abroad with specific academic goals in mind; the program credentials and rigor of your coursework abroad were very important to you. You had a great time abroad, but never lost sight of your studies and (if applicable) were diligent with your foreign language study. Good for you!