From language school to climbing volcanoes to cultural exchange: this is going to deepen how you see the world.



The goal is to immerse ourselves in new experiences and new cultures.  Guatemala is not like Europe or Costa Rica. Most people who live there are indigenous. Poverty is huge. When you travel on a chicken bus you’re expected to share your seat, if you’re lucky enough to get one,  with at least three or four other people. Yes, we’ll go to touristy areas and boat across gorgeous lakes nestled between volcanos while eating fresh mangos.  We’ll also try and connect with local lives and real places where the lifestyle and world view will be so different from yours that it’s hard to even understand. We will spend time during the fall talking about what kind of experience participants want and the skills they’re wanting to develop. Staff will be on hand to offer support and meaningful engagement throughout the ten weeks abroad.

During our travels you will be able to see firsthand important issues playing out like deforestation, poverty, women’s rights, and immigration issues.  You’ll cross borders and see less lucky potential immigrants waiting to do the same. You’ll stand among 30 chicken buses and try to find the one going to where you want to go.  You’ll meet people who grow their living on an acre of steep rocky hillside and others who support their family selling tacos.  You’ll collect stories of their lives and yours and share them over an avocado picked straight off the tree.

Itinerary Overview

We will drive south together from Paonia to the border.  Next, we’ll divide into smaller groups (each with staff) and make our way south to and then through Mexico.  It will mean over 1,000 miles of staring out the window at different lives and worlds, stopping now and then to get out, explore, and sample the local food.  We’ll cross the border into Guatemala, get on a chicken bus, and head to Lake Atitlan where we will spend a week together getting oriented to Guatemala and make plans for independent and smaller group activities and travels.

Then you go off and adventure.  Staff will be available for anyone who encounters any issues.

Now and then we’ll come all together to share stories, create new options and groups, exchange back massages and horchata, and get ready to do it all again.

Finally, we’ll celebrate our semester and travels and part ways. People will have the option to fly home or continue their adventures in Latin America.



We will pay for your overland transport to Guatemala.  We will also pay for some room and board expenses for the time that the whole group is together in Guatemala.

For the most part, however, you will be in charge of your own budget.  Our plan is to only collect from you part of the total gap year tuition.  The remaining we will ask you to have available, partly in cash and partly on a debit card, to cover your individual food and travel expenses.   You’re in charge of the budget.   Those of you who are thrifty during travel time and who take advantage of cheap options during independent travel will save money.  Others who buy lots of drinks and snack or who pursue more expensive options for independent travel times should account for additional money beyond the tuition costs as you budget.


Oscar Wolfenstein


Portland, OR

At the High Desert Center, I felt for the first time in my life that I had a place and a purpose entirely to myself. The environment provides hands-on education in sustainable living and community building, and the staff engages each participant earnestly, asking participants to discover what we truly care about and to explore the numerous options presented by our ambitions. Each day feels like an experience and adventure to itself, and also preparation for the great adventure of life.

Male staff member


Belfast, ME

Let me tell you about the mountains that we wake up to every morning, surrounded by sun-kissed peaks that offered weeks of back country exploration. Let me tell you about the delicious smell of bacon calling me from my bed just before the breakfast bell rings, bacon from a small organic farm down the road where we visited and worked with our hands in the dirt. This gap year changed my life. If it calls to you, I encourage you to take the leap.


Today! We are currently accepting applications.