Students immerse themselves in Latin American culture through AMIGOS


Photo courtesy of Brayan Angulo

AMIGOS volunteers hike near the Turriabla Volcano in Turrialba, Costa Rica.

Amigos de las Américas, often referred to as AMIGOS, is a nonprofit organization based in Houston, Texas, which sends teens and young adults for leadership and service opportunities abroad. AMIGOS has 25 chapters and offers summer and gap year programs in Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Panama. The high school summer programs last two to six weeks. Students participating in the programs immerse themselves in a new culture, improve their Spanish fluency, complete a service project, and go on educational excursions in the area. 

Participants of AMIGOS stay at a homestay, a local “host” family in the area that offers a place to stay. Homestays allow the students to get to know the members and culture of a community.

Archie Williams junior Sofia Moss traveled on a service trip to Costa Rica this past summer. 

“My friends went on the trip [the summer] before me and said it was an amazing experience and wanted to go back. It also sounded really cool to go to Costa Rica and live in a homestay,” Sofia said.

AMIGOS volunteers attend a tour of a cacao farm in Costa Rica. (Photo courtesy of Maude Smith-Montross)

Sofia found the application process uncomplicated. The minimal steps required give the program more accessibility.

“We just signed up…if they have a spot they will pretty much give it to you. I did a Zoom call [with AMIGOS] where they asked me some questions, and we spoke in Spanish a little bit for them to see what level [of fluency] I was on,” Sofia said.

The new experiences benefited Sofia by giving her Spanish-speaking experience and helping her discover other activities that engaged her in learning. 

“[During AMIGOS,] I learned a lot of Spanish. I also learned that I really enjoy experiences like this and being outdoors and doing hands-on volunteer activities,” Sofia said.

Junior Rowan Baechler went on the same service trip as Sofia. She thought it would be an educational and fun experience, especially with a friend by her side. 

“My specific trip was based on environmental conservation and learning Spanish, which is good. And it had a homestay, all that just sounded really interesting,” Rowan said.

Archie Williams Spanish teacher Manuel Castro shows support to AMIGOS by allowing members or graduates of the program to give presentations to his class. He spreads awareness about it to his students in hopes they will join the program. Castro’s wife attended AMIGOS, as well as one of his two daughters. His daughter went on to become a program director of AMIGOS in Paraguay.

A lively market hosted by CATIE, an AMIGOS partner organization. CATIE is an institute for agricultural development and biological conservation in Turrialba, Costa Rica. (Photo courtesy of Benjamin Crawford)

Castro finds AMIGOS to be a useful opportunity for students to make a positive difference in a community.

“These are programs according to [services] the community needs,” Castro said.

AMIGOS strives to offer assistance to Latin American communities by meeting with members of the communities about a year in advance to identify what they need. 

During AMIGOS, students complete multiple types of volunteer work for their host community. Rowan’s group helped build a roof, mowed lawns, planted trees, cleaned goat stables, and other similar tasks. 

“At night, we would walk for about two and a half hours on the beach. Basically, there are poachers who try to poach turtle eggs… And we’d be walking in a group, and that’s enough to just scare off poachers so they don’t steal the eggs,” Rowan said. “…After doing the night patrols, we were able to see a baby turtle hatch and then go into the water. It seemed a lot more real, like you could see the pollution on the beach, and then you pick it up, and you can help grow trees. They would tell you the direct benefits of everything you were doing.”