Mona Sangesland is now an active flutist and teaching artist in the Boston region. She is currently finishing her Master of Music degree at the New England Conservatory. This summer she participated in the Music Volunteering in Costa Rica program. “If you’ve…
Discover the power of the arts to change lives by volunteering with young people in Costa Rica’s capital, San Jose. We work with music schools, dance studios, arts centers, orphanages, day care centers, public schools, after school programs, and more. We also collaborate with government-sponsored arts education organizations where a variety of instruments and studio spaces are available. Volunteer placement requires at least ten hours a week for a minimum of one week.
You will take Spanish classes at a highly respected language school where you will be invited to join free salsa dance classes every day, and Costa Rican cooking classes every week. Our high school Program Director – Lisa Pinheiro – acts as added support throughout your program, leading special activities for high schoolers twice a week and ensuring you have a fun and safe experience during your time in Costa Rica.
“My time in Costa Rica was fantastic. My host family was absolutely incredible, and the in-country, and out-of-country, staff was supportive and helpful. The whole experience was a perfect fit, and I couldn’t have asked for anything better!”
Performing Arts Points of Interest
Teatro Eugene O'Neill
The Teatro Eugene O’Neill is a product of the Costa Rican Cultural Center of North America whose mission is to increase opportunities for Costa Ricans to learn English. The theatre offers a diverse spread of performing arts performances and events including the Promising Artists of the 21st Century event.
The Little Theatre Group
The Little Theatre Group is the longest running, English-speaking amateur theatre group in Central and South America. They frequently perform at the Teatro Laurence Olivier or are requested for private dinner theatre performances. The group uses their headquarters in Escazu for small performances, play readings, movie nights, workshops, and open mic events.
If you’re looking for local music in a more relaxed atmosphere, El Sótano is a jazz and blues club known for its intimate venue. Other jazz clubs in San José include Jazz Café and its sister location, Jazz Café Escazú. These jazz clubs are part of a local cultural activist project called “Amon Solar” which aims to cultivate creative expressions through music, dance, graphic design, theatre, and much more.
Mirador Ram Luna
Many restaurants have dance and musical performances most nights of the week in San José. Your first stop should be the restaurant Mirador Ram Luna where you can experience traditional Costa Rican dishes while overlooking the city. Some performances even include an interactive masquerade with the performers!
Step Up Dance Studio
The dance style the cumbia which originated in Colombia is popular in Costa Rica now with a special twist. San José has many dance studios including Step Up Dance Studio in the Guayabos neighborhood of San José.
El Cuartel de la Boca del Monte
El Cuartel de la Boca del Monte is a venue in the Barrio La California frequented by local bands. The place is packed with university students on Friday and Monday nights while bands play calypso, salsa, reggae, and rock music.
National Theatre of Costa Rica
The National Theatre of Costa Rica, or El Teatro Nacional, is located in the heart of San José and houses plays, music, and dance performances year-round. The National Theatre opened in October of 1897 and is a historical site for the country of Costa Rica. National and international artists alike perform at the theatre throughout the year. MimoNólogo, a pantomime influenced performance, won the National Prize of Culture of Best Performance of the year in 2015. Evening and afternoon, or “mediodía,” performances are available.
National Theatre of Costa Rica
The National Theatre of Costa Rica, or El Teatro Nacional, is located in the heart of San José and houses plays, music, and dance performances year-round. The National Theatre opened in October of 1897 and is a historical site for the country of Costa Rica. National and international artists alike perform at the theatre throughout the year. The National Symphony Orchestra performs annually as well as local artists. Evening and afternoon, or “mediodía,” performances are available.
National Theatre of Costa Rica
The National Theatre of Costa Rica, or El Teatro Nacional, is located in the heart of San José and houses plays, music, and dance performances year-round. The National Theatre opened in October of 1897 and is a historical site for the country of Costa Rica. National and international artists alike perform at the theatre year-round. Performances include works of Shakespeare to Chilean playwrights. Evening and afternoon, or “mediodía,” performances are available.
PAA Home Base
PAA’s headquarters in San Jose are at the Costa Rican Language Academy, an internationally-acclaimed language school. Our friendly staff will welcome you to the center on your first day, and the academy has a cafe that serves a delicious lunch every day, as well as a dance studio where you can participate in free daily Latin dance classes, a kitchen with weekly Costa Rican cooking classes, a beautiful courtyard for relaxing and studying your Spanish, and secure luggage storage. As a bonus, there is always plenty of free (delicious) coffee and fresh juice available!
About the Location
Immerse yourself in the diverse culture of one of Central America’s most interesting and thrilling destinations. Music and dance are an integral part of everyday life with calypso and reggae, a maypole dance called the cuadrille, and an annual music festival. Costa Rica’s arts scene infuses every aspect of the country, such as the influence of Afro-Caribbean rhythms to pre-Columbian dances to traditionally Spanish music. Theater, opera, ballet, and classical music are flourishing in the cultural center of San José, home to the National Theater, National Dance Workshop, and National Symphony Orchestra. The folk dance Punto Guanacaste is the official national dance of Costa Rica and uses heel-and-toe stomping to tell the story of enchanted lovers. Guanacaste dances are based on the Spanish paseo, with maidens wearing dazzlingly bright skirts circled by men in white suits and cowboy hats. Outside of the realm of performing arts, this breathtaking destination leaves no shortage of activities to satisfy your appetite for delicious food, thrilling adventure, or unique activities. Cloud forests, beaches, and rainforests are just hours away in one of the most biologically diverse countries in the world.
Take your understanding of Costa Rican culture and the Spanish language to the next level by living with a host family during your volunteer project. You will stay in a middle class home located in lovely neighborhoods throughout the city with your own private room, unless you travel with a friend who is also under 18 and want to share a room. We work with dozens of families in San Jose, all of whom are carefully vetted based on interviews, background checks, family income level, safety of the area where they live, and previous experience hosting international visitors. Most of our homestay families have been hosting students and volunteers for more than ten years, and many have teenagers around your age who will be eager to make friends! In addition to building relationships with your family, you will receive breakfast and dinner daily, and laundry service once per week while living in your home stay. Many volunteers create lasting relationships with their homestay families, and stay in touch long after the program ends.
Most homestays have multiple volunteers staying with them at a time. You and your parents will fill out a registration form upon acceptance where you can indicate all housing preferences. All high school volunteers are ages 15-17. In the fall and spring, PAA usually has 5-10 volunteers onsite at one time who join with a few dozen volunteers and Spanish language students at our partner language school. The summer brings over a dozen PAA interns joining over a hundred other volunteers.
A Day in the Life
The Participant Experience
The moment you step off the plane, the “pura vida” lifestyle of Costa Rica will wash over you. The pace of life will immediately slow down, and worrying about the little things will cease. You will find more time to forge meaningful relationships with the people you meet, and will place more importance on the communal nature of meals. Our onsite staff will be there to greet you at the airport and help you adjust to this way of life that is often quite different for those of us accustomed to a constant hustle bustle. You may come to Costa Rica hoping to change the lives of those you encounter, but you will quickly find that it is you who are changing, and we hope you will use that transformation to improve your own community when you return home.
Regarding your volunteer work, most of our placements fall into two categories: teaching in a school or arts organization focused on music, dance or theatre, or bringing the performing arts into an environment that wouldn’t normally have it like an orphanage or after school program. Examples include:
- Teaching as a guest artist in the public school system where the arts have been cut from the curriculum in some areas. Performing Arts Abroad believes that arts education is essential to childhood development, and you will be joining others who share our mission.
- Volunteering for a government-sponsored network of music schools that teach children of all ages and have several orchestras, choirs, and other musical groups. Past volunteers have taught private lessons, as well as small group instruction on many topics. We have also collaborated with the National Music Institute and Youth Symphonic Orchestra of San Jose.
- Teaching at an arts therapy program through a development project in the slums on the outskirts of San Jose. Children in these areas do not have access to musical instruments or dance / theatre education, and this organization is working hard to change this. You will join other volunteers in giving these young people confidence in themselves through the arts, a first step in empowering them to rise out of the conditions of poverty they have known their whole lives.
- Bringing the arts into a non arts-focused placement such as an orphanage, after school program, or day care center. We have many placements like this throughout San Jose.
- Joining a dance studio as an assistant teacher. We have connections with several dance studios throughout San Jose. These placements have limited availability, and may require an audition to gauge your level before acceptance.
You will book a flight to arrive in San Jose’s Juan Santamaria International Airport (SJO) on a Sunday and be greeted at the airport by a driver who will be holding a sign with your name and the PAA logo on it. The driver will take you to your homestay, where you will spend the remainder of the day unpacking, settling in, meeting your homestay family, and exploring the neighborhood you will call home.
On Monday, a member of your homestay family will take you to our headquarters at a renowned language school where you will take a quick initial oral Spanish placement exam to determine your level. You will then have your first Spanish class with a small group of others at your level. After your class, you will eat lunch, then attend an orientation about San Jose, health and safety, Costa Rica cultural norms and customs, and basic instructions like where to find the nearest ATM and coffee shop. You will also meet our Program Director for high schoolers, Lisa Pinheiro, who will lead a special orientation about being on our program as an unaccompanied minor.
Following your orientation, you will have the option to begin your volunteer project right away, or wait until your second week of the program (you will indicate this preference on an enrollment form once you have been accepted). One of our volunteer coordinators will accompany you on your first day to introduce you to your supervisor and make sure you know how to travel between your homestay, our headquarters at the language school, and your placement. You will make a plan for your volunteer hours, and discuss the nature of your volunteering and specific needs of the placement.
A Typical Day
After your first few days, the typical day will include: waking up and having breakfast with your host family, going to the language school for Spanish classes (first week only unless you choose to continue for an extra $175 per week), volunteering at your placement, and enjoying free Latin dance and Costa Rican cooking classes at our headquarters. In the evenings, you will join Lisa for special cultural activities on some days. This may include a performance at the National Theatre, going out for dinner and a movie, bowling, visiting local markets, and more. On the other days of the week you are free to do what you please: see the sights, bond with your host family, hang out with other volunteers, explore San Jose, etc.
To better support our underage participants, we enforce a curfew of 9:00 p.m. on evenings without scheduled activities for being back at the homestay to hang out with your family. Requests for an extension of this curfew will be considered by Lisa on a case-by-case basis with at least 24 hours notice.
This is a customized volunteer abroad opportunity in the performing arts. We work with many arts organizations in and around San Jose, and you will be placed based on your interests and background. When you apply, we will conduct a Skype interview with you in which you will describe what you are willing and NOT willing to do during your volunteer project. We will then use that information to make our acceptance decision and place you with the organization that best fits your goals and interests.
Founder and Executive Director
Reynolds graduated summa cum laude from Washington University in St. Louis in 2008 with a degree in Theater and African and African American Studies. For an honors thesis Reynolds filmed, edited, and produced a full-length documentary in Kenya with Haba na Haba, a group using performance for education and social change in the slums of Nairobi. This project earned him the Forum on Education Abroad Undergraduate Research Award. A year later, Reynolds organized a trip to bring Haba na Haba to the United States for a tour of St. Louis and Washington University. Immediately after graduation, Reynolds worked in Rwanda as a filmmaker for Millennium Congregations, an interfaith organization connecting communities of faith in the United States with development projects in Rwanda’s Bugesera District. Reynolds then served two years with Teach for America, teaching in the South Bronx and receiving a Masters Degree in Education from Hunter College. He completed a second graduate degree in African Studies from Indiana University in Bloomington, and his Masters thesis focused on the impact of donors on the creative process of Theatre for Development (TfD) groups in Kenya.
Reynolds has traveled extensively in Africa, spending time in Ghana, Sudan, South Sudan, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He also studied acting, voice, and movement at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London. Reynolds is a two-time Rhodes Scholarship finalist, the inaugural recipient of the Dred and Harriet Scott Award for the Advancement of Human Rights, and the winner of two research fellowships. He was also a Dialogue Fellow for the Xenia Institute, has twice served as the co-director for the Roosevelt Institution’s International Diplomacy Center (Washington University branch), and was president of the Graduate Students of African Studies (GSAS) at Indiana University.
Reynolds lives in Northampton, MA with his wife Julia who is a professional costume designer and his daughter Lily who is a cute baby. In his free time Reynolds likes to play his guitar, go hiking, act in local productions, hit the karaoke bars, sing with his dog Captain (the best doggy singer in the universe), and play various yard games such as KanJam, cornhole, “cups”, and Kubb.
Costa Rica Site Director
Cristina supports all participants on all of our Costa Rica programs. She oversees a team that coordinates airport pickup, arranges housing by vetting homestay families and building relationships, leads cultural excursions, delivers top-notch Spanish-language instruction, and manages the 24-hour onsite emergency phone.
Cristina Soto, director of CRLA, (Costa Rican Language Academy) co-founded this language school, which combines Spanish instruction with Latin Dance classes and other cultural activities in order to provide students with a complete cultural immersion.
Since 1986 she has been fulfilling her passion by working with more than 25,000 students from all over the world. She has also worked for many years as a volunteer in homes for abandoned children and other social projects. This work touched her own life when she adopted two children from a local home.
Cristina believes in the importance of volunteering, not only as a way to improve the lives of others who are less fortunate, but as a valuable and rewarding experience for the volunteer. During the past 15 years CRLA has also incorporated a volunteering program to provide support to more than 40 social and ecological projects throughout Costa Rica.
While studying Social Sciences in the University of Costa Rica Cristina received training in classical ballet and modern dance. Although her career is now focused on education and volunteer programs, she is still passionate about the arts and sponsors various artists in dance, music and plastic arts.
Costa Rica Program Director, High School Programs
Lisa supports our high school-aged participants in Costa Rica. She conducts a special orientation geared toward unaccompanied minors, provides a local cell phone and checks in daily with text messages, leads two special activities each week for all high schoolers on-site, manages a 24-hour onsite emergency phone specifically for minors, and provides additional support services as needed.
Lisa Pinheiro is originally from Costa Rica, but has lived in the U.S.A. on several occasions. She studied photography and has been working in the field of tourism and study abroad for 17 years. She owns a tourism company and has worked as onsite director for PAA for 3 years. She’s a huge art, music and movie fan.
Costa Rica Program Director, San Jose
Lorenzo is in charge of all volunteers in San Jose, and acts as their day-to-day main point of contact. He matches volunteers with placements, accompanies volunteers on their first day of work, leads an orientation to the program and city, and is always available to address any issues that arise.
Hello! My name is Lorenzo Abarca, and I am currently working as the CRLA Directors’ Assistant and Program Director for PAA programs in San Jose. For many years I have been involved with international exchange organizations in different aspects but mostly in the field of volunteering. My experience has given me the possibility to learn about different cultures and people from a variety of countries, and to support projects in need. I am looking forward to meeting you soon. Best regards to you all.
“The in-country staff were incredibly friendly and helpful and supportive. Just great!”
“Performing Arts Abroad (PAA) is a wonderful organization that allows you to gain valuable work experience, contribute to a new community, develop lasting relationships, travel and (in my case) learn a new language. PAA creates a comfortable experience abroad with their assistance and support.”
“It was amazing to meet people from all around the world that share with me passions and dreams. This goes over any cultural difference. The city was great and the classes very interesting and useful, I hope to have the chance to do another program like this again!”
From the blog
Diana McLaughlin just finished her sophomore year as a Music Education and Spanish double major at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She is in Costa Rica as a music volunteer from May until July 2016. I arrived in San José,…
What are the long-term takeaways from a PAA program? How long after you get back do you head right back out again? These are the things you’re dying to know! Never fear. We’ve started asking for updates and well, let’s just…
How it Works
The information on this page provides details for a sample group program. Note that every group is different, and we will work with you to cater the experience to your group. To connect with us and begin organizing a program for your group, please follow the “Get Started’ button below and submit an initial questionnaire. We will then contact you to set up a discovery call where we can go into more detail about your group’s needs and what we can offer.