What happens in case of an emergency?
Our trip leaders will seek the attention of a health care worker and make decisions along with parent/guardians/emergency contacts back in the US. We will be in touch with parent/guardians/emergency contacts as soon as possible. We will also help the participant initiate the process for claims on the travel/medical insurance policy that was purchased.
What if I have a food allergy or dietary restriction?
Usually this is not an issue. We have several host families that can accommodate food allergies and dietary restrictions. Please let your trip coordinator know ahead of time so we can prepare for this accommodation.
What if my host family does not work out and I need to switch?
If there is an issue with your host family, trip leaders will be very involved and be able to make a quick switch to find a family that is a better match for you.
Will I have access to the internet?
Yes, while most families do NOT have Wi-Fi in their homes, you will be able to connect to Wi-Fi at the language school. There are also 2 Internet cafes in the center of town that you can use for a minimal price.
What type of preparation should I expect to do before going on this trip?
You will take an online pre-departure course that covers all the logistics, expectations and important details for traveling. And we will usually have 1 or 2 video meetings online so that you can meet the other participants, learn specific trip details and itineraries, start working in groups on your volunteer projects, and a number of other things.
What is the weather like in Nicaragua and Costa Rica during our summer?
From about May/June through October/November it is rainy season. The sun may shine in the morning (and it will be humid), but it will certainly rain in the afternoon (but it’s usually not a cold rain). December through April is dry season. It will be sunny, humid, and may rain here and there.
What time zone is Nicaragua and Costa Rica in?
October – March Central America is on Central Time. April – September Central America is on Mountain Time.
How safe are Nicaragua and Costa Rica?
This is actually the #1 reason we chose to have our Spanish Immersion Programs based in these two countries. While Costa Rica has a long history of peacefulness and political stability, Nicaragua has been exceeding the international community’s expectations for friendliness and safety. Tourism is a very large portion of both countries’ economies, which means that in general tourists are treated very well.
Where do we stay?
The bulk of the time you spend in Nicaragua will be in the Granada area. This city is a bustling colonial jewel on the shores of Lake Nicaragua. Our language school is right off the central plaza. In Costa Rica we are in a town called Santo Domingo de Heredia. This town is about 20 minutes N of the capital city San Jose. The language school where you will walk to every morning is about 600m S of the downtown area on the main road.
What are the host family homes like?
You will be staying in a middle-class home setting. You can expect the home and your bedroom to be small. Your bed probably won’t be as comfortable as your bed is here in the US. Most homes have tile floors, no carpet. Most families do not have dish washers nor clothes driers. You may be given a couple different keys for the home: one for the exterior gate off the street, and another for the actual doors to the house.
Will my host family speak English?
Your host families may speak a little English, particularly if they have school aged children. However, we encourage them to not speak English with you. The best way for you to continue learning Spanish is to have to use it!
Will I have another student from the trip in the same family with me?
In Nicaragua, probably. In Costa Rica, no – that’s not likely. We specifically limit the number of students in the host family. This increases your opportunities to speak Spanish. If you’re traveling with your spouse for some or all of the time, we will place you in the same family.
How are host families chosen?
Having a student is a significant boost to our host families’ incomes. Because there are more families requesting students in the town than we have need for, we are selective in who we employ to host you. The host families that our students stay with are screened for various things:
- Criminal and/or questionable social activity
- Suitability of the living quarters that you will occupy
- General “likeability” and friendliness
- Availability of a family member at the home during the hours you are scheduled to be there
- Proximity to the language school
Will I be able to go to church?
Certainly, there aren’t a ton of different faith options in town, but you can always find a nice Catholic church in the middle of town with several service times throughout the week, an evangelical church close to the town center center and several other faith worship options in nearby towns.
Will I be able to shower every day?
Yes, you will be able to shower every day. There is no guarantee that your shower will have warm water, but you’ll certainly have access to a shower.
Is the water safe to drink?
In Costa Rica, yes. You can drink water from the tap almost anywhere in Costa Rica. In Nicaragua, no. You’ll want to drink filtered or bottled water everywhere in Nicaragua.
Do you have payment plans?
Absolutely. Most of the time the program cost is spread out over 3 payments. If you need other specific arrangements, we can probably be flexible with you. If you’d like to make just one payment, that’s fine too. Acceptable forms of payment are Visa, Master, Discover, Check and Cash.
Will I receive a packing list for my Immersion Program?
Yes. Shortly after your register, you will receive access to an in-depth pre-departure preparation course. In this course you’ll find all you need to know about clothes, personal items, donations, and other miscellaneous items to pack.
How long does it take for a passport?
Typically 60 – 90 days. If you have any questions about how to get a passport, you can find information online at http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/passports.html.
Do cell phones work in Central America?
In general, yes. This depends on your service provider and your specific phone, so check with your service provider first. If your specific phone isn’t capable, most service providers have world phone rental options. You can purchase calling cards when you arrive to Costa Rica. We also recommend Skype, What’sApp, and Facetime for staying in touch back home.
Will we have the opportunity to exchange money?
Absolutely. Of course it’s always a good idea to have a little local cash on you (Colones for Costa Rican or Córdobas for Nicaragua), but honestly you don’t need much right away when traveling with a Common Ground group. After you get settled into your host family, we’ll make sure you have the opportunity to exchange $US right away. We do not recommend exchanging you money at the airport as they generally have unfavorable exchange rates. Credit & Debit cards are accepted throughout both countries, and ATM machines are more and more common every year. The ATM is convenient, and usually provides a good exchange rate. It is important to notify your bank that you will be traveling abroad, and you’ll probably want to inquire about any foreign transaction and/or currency fees.
Who are Common Ground’s guides and drivers?
Unless we’re doing something especially touristy, Common Ground staff will be your “guide” during the bulk of your adult Spanish immersion program. We contract with a few different local transportation companies to get our group around to different sites, so we don’t always have the same driver, but they always know the roads well, take safety seriously, and will greet you with a smile.
What is the proposed tip amount for guide and driver?
A good rule of thumb is $2-$3/day that our driver is shuttling you around, and $3-$5/day that a guide is leading you. They work very hard for you, and we take great pleasure in thanking them generously at the end of our programs.
What if my family, spouse or partner wants to join me for part of the Spanish immersion for adults program?
Many spouses, fiancées, friends and other family members join our groups for a portion of the program. We’re happy to arrange this for you with both your host family, and any private hotel accommodations that you require while on vacation portions of the program. If this is something you’re considering, we just ask that you let us know early on so that we can make appropriate arrangements for you. This is not a last minute decision that you can make, it does require special arrangements, so we ask that you notify us at the time you submit your application.
How much extra spending money should I plan on bringing?
One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to not budget enough money for additional expenses. The challenge is that this is a question that depends heavily on your tastes and the specifics of the program you’re applying for. To give you an idea of the typical expenses you may be responsible for: a normal lunch will usually run $5.00-$7.00; dinner runs $7.00 – $15.00. Optional excursions are something you should also plan for, but each program is very different. These excursions really add some amazing experiences to your Spanish Immersion Program. Tips excluded (see tips FAQ question), if you were to not include any additional excursions, and live as frugally as possible for the time you’re there, you should plan on $150 for a 2 week program and $300 for the 4 week program. The best approach however, is to take a look at the specific itinerary for your program that highlights the expenses you’re responsible for, and begin planning your additional expenses accordingly.
Do I need any special immunizations or take any other preventative measures?
Of course you need to be current on your standard immunizations. Additionally, when traveling anywhere in Central America there is also a risk of Zika, Typhoid, Yellow Fever, and Hepatitis A and B. We suggest you consult both the CDC website and your primary care physician to prepare for your Spanish Immersion Program.
By the way, whether you select our programs or not, if you’re going to go on a Spanish immersion program, you’ll want to make sure you have a copy of the High School Spanish App – it’s the best tool for studying Spanish out there & it doesn’t require an internet connection!