Adventure Semester 2018



 When: February 7 – May 15, 2018 (14 weeks)

Where: Guatemala & Colorado

Who: 11-14 participants

Ages: 13-16 (as of February 2018)

Program Leaders: Blake Boles, Dev Carey, Marian Pierce, and others TBA
Meet the leaders

How Much: $7,500 includes all lodging, meals, activities, and ground transportation.
Returning Unschool Adventures participants receive a 10% discount.
How can I fundraise for this program?

Arrival/Departure Location: Denver International Airport

Priority Application Date: April 1st, 2017

Application Status: Open!

Apply Now


The Adventure Semester is a 14-week program for young people ages 13-15 who are excited to get out of their comfort zones, live abroad, become more independent, and create unforgettable memories with a dynamic group of peers and adult mentors.

You’ll spend 6 weeks doing homestays and intensive Spanish language learning in Guatemala, 2 weeks traveling in Guatemala, and 6 weeks tackling real-world adventure challenges in western Colorado—all the time living, eating, and learning alongside a group of young people who are as passionate, motivated, and self-directed as you are.

Quetzaltenango, Guatemala: your home for 6 weeks

This is Unschool Adventures’ longest program and the first to combine international and domestic experiences. We’re partnering with Dev Carey’s High Desert Center Gap Year, whose 9 gap year students (ages 17-23) will be joining our program as mentors to the younger participants—meaning that Unschool Adventures participants will enjoy a 1:1 ratio of caring adult mentors (of a wide age range) to enrich and support their experiences.

Skills and experiences that you’ll gain as part of the Adventure Semester include:

  • Spanish language proficiency
  • Independent living and self-care
  • Cultural immersion in a vibrant developing country
  • Cooking nutritious meals for a group of 25
  • Partner dancing
  • Overnight backpacking
  • Living simply in an off-grid, nature-centered environment
  • Effective communication skills
  • Complex problem-solving in small teams
  • Speaking for an audience

The Adventure Semester is appropriate for young people who are already taking self-directed paths (e.g. current unschoolers and homeschoolers) and those just now starting their self-directed paths (e.g. just decided to leave school). If you’re a mature, self-sufficient, and challenge-hungry 13- to 16-year-old who’s ready to take a big leap in life—we want you to apply!

Please note: The priority application deadline for this program is April 1st, 2017. The previous Adventure Semester filled completely with those who applied before its priority deadline—so if you’re motivated to join this program, be sure to apply by April 1st!

Adventure Semester 2015 participants

Program Description

February 7th, 2018: Group Flight to Guatemala

Fly from your home airport to meet the group in Denver International Airport (possible alternative: Dallas Fort Worth). Fly together to Guatemala City and take a private charter bus to Lake Atitlán.

February 7-14: Orientation (Lake Atitlán, Guatemala)

Together we will spend a week at beautiful Lake Atitlán, getting to know each other and setting the stage for the weeks to come with cooking, hiking, group games, and a few mini-challenges. By the the time we board our charter bus to Quetzaltenango, you’ll feel connected to everyone else in the group. No Spanish language instruction during this period.

Lake Atitlán, Guatemala

February 14 – April 3: Homestays and Spanish (Quetzaltenango, Guatemala)

Arriving in Quetzaltenango (a.k.a. Xela), you’ll meet your Guatemalan host family and move in to your new home. Unschool Adventures participants will live with each other in groups of 2 or 3 per house, close to the Spanish school and trip leaders’ residences. (High Desert Center gap year participants will live in separate homestays.)

In the mornings you’ll walk to school with your housemates for 3 or 4 hours of Spanish instruction (either one-on-one or in very small groups): a mental workout that will level-up your language skills rapidamente. In the afternoons you’ll spend time with the trip leaders and gap year group, going on walks, hanging out in cafes, or joining a Spanish school-organized activity (like cooking lessons, salsa dance classes, or volunteering). At dinner time you’ll walk home with your housemates to eat a meal prepared by your family, who will only speak Spanish. Your evenings will be filled with long conversations, reading, reflecting, journaling, and writing postcards.

We’ll break up this time period with a one-week trip to somewhere else in Guatemala where you’ll have the chance to put your Spanish to use. It might be a service project, light outdoor adventure, or simply travel; we’ll make our decision based upon group interest and locally opportunities.

April 4: Return Flight to Colorado

After saying goodbye to your host family, we’ll take a charter bus back to Guatemala City, fly together to Denver International Airport, and take another charter bus to Paonia, Colorado: home of the High Desert Center.

April 4 – May 15: Adventure Challenges and Living Simply (Paonia, Colorado)

For six weeks in rural Western Colorado you’ll live in small cabins, eat and shower outdoors, gaze at nearby mountains, and learn to love composting toilets. Life at the High Desert Center will be simple, beautiful, and learning-packed. Four days a week you’ll tackle adventure challenges that will build your mind, body, creativity, and vulnerability (more details below).

Through the adventure challenges and other scheduled group activities at the High Desert Center, you’ll practice skills that are applicable to the rest of life. You’ll cook nutritious meals for ~25 people as part of a small team (under the guidance of a staff member) in an outdoor kitchen. You’ll practice basic construction using natural building techniques, helping to expand the High Desert Center for future student groups. You’ll learn how to partner dance (blues style) and feel more confident in your body. And you’ll go on two short overnight backpacking trips in the nearby foothills and desert, immersing yourself in the wilderness of the southwest and becoming more comfortable in the outdoors.

On May 15th you’ll board a charter bus back to Denver International Airport (or get picked up by your parents) and fly home.

If you’re too old for this program, consider joining the High Desert Center Gap Year for 17- to 23-year-olds! You’ll participate in all Adventure Semester activities while also gaining leadership skills. Dev is taking applications immediately—apply now.

The High Desert Center in Paonia, Colorado

Meet the Directors

Blake Boles (founder of Unschool Adventures) and Dev Carey (founder of the High Desert Center) are directing the Adventure Semester alongside a small team of other staff and interns. Learn more about Blake and Dev at blakeboles.com and devcarey.com.

Blake and Dev will be hosting an online parent Q&A videochat for the Adventure Semester in early February. If you’re a parent who’d like to join this live Q&A session—or if you’d just like to send in a question—please write Blake directly (blake@unschooladventures.com). The information session will be posted on this webpage after it happens.

The Adventure Challenges

Our adventure challenges are designed to be tough, fun, diverse, and meaningful, with lessons that are transferable to all of life. Some will challenge your communication skills as you reach out to strangers and try on new roles. Others will build your entrepreneurial skills, ask you to craft letters of introduction to accomplished people, or publish a quality video online. Yet others will have you employ your Spanish or sneak unseen through the countryside.

Most adventures take only one day, while a few are 2- or 3-days long. Most will be done in groups of 3-5 participants; there will also be a few solo adventures.

Groups members will be constantly reshuffled, with the goal of having every participant work with every other participant at some point. As your abilities and comfort level increases, so will the scope and rigor of the adventures. Browse the 2015 Adventure Semester challenges to get a sense of what to expect. Some of the 2015 challenges will be repeated; many will be new.

If some of these adventures sound difficult, uncomfortable, or way outside your previous experience—that’s by design. Don’t worry: every adventure you undertake is supported by a staff member who will help you discover strategies for success, stay on track, communicate effectively with your group, and learn from both your failures and successes.

At the conclusion of an adventure, each group publishes a video summary of their adventure (posted publicly online—see these examples) and gives a short oral presentation to the entire group.

Watch the video below summarizing one week of the 2015 Adventure Semester to see some of the adventure challenges in action. (We unfortunately won’t have our same tech guru, Addison Pond, to create these wonderful highlight reels.)

Down Time

14 weeks is a long time! This program is a marathon, not a sprint, and we’ll take regular time off to keep our energy levels high. Participants take two full days off each week in both Guatemala and Colorado, with small chunks of down time interspersed through the week. (There may be optional activities offered on these days off, but you can always stay home and rest.) In Colorado, a third day each week is devoted to self-care with a communication workshop, field trip, or other activity.

What Inspired This Program?

The 2018 Adventure Semester was inspired by Eighth Grade Out!, an article written by Ken Danford, the co-founder of North Star in Massachusetts. Ken argues that middle school aged students can benefit greatly from taking a “gap year” (a term typically reserved for 18-year-olds)—and if they want to return to school, it’s easy to re-enter school at 9th grade. Ken encourages families to become legal homeschoolers during this time and to explore a wide variety of activities:

A year’s program might begin with some of the academic courses and local programs already structured for teen homeschoolers, including events such as literature groups, theater projects, and outdoor education. A full year’s routine might include a foreign language intensive, involvement with a local non-profit organization or museum, and other kinds of entrepreneurial work or family involvement. Imagine the possibilities in asking youth ages 12-14 what skills or knowledge they would most like to master and how they might want to pursue these interests.

Blake and Dev loved this approach and decided to combine it with the highly successful 2015 Adventure Semester model, offering a multifaceted “gap semester” type experience for 8th-grade-age (more or less) young people.

Ready to Apply?

Read the Frequently Asked Questions below and then click the apply button. You’re on your way!

Apply Now

Your view for 6 weeks (Paonia, Colorado)

Frequently Asked Questions

What's included, and what are the extra costs?
The Adventure Semester program fee includes all lodging, group activities, three meals a day, and laundry. The fee does not cover the international roundtrip flight (estimated @ $1000) from Denver to Guatemala or your travel to/from Denver from your home. We recommend that each participant brings $200-$400 for snacks and discretionary spending money throughout the 14 weeks.
What will the lodging and food be like?

In the Guatemala homestay, you'll have your own bed in a double- or triple-occupancy room. There won't be heating but you won't need it, and extra blankets will always be available. You'll eat meals prepared by your host family, which typically include a lot of corn tortillas, beans, eggs, vegetables, and meats. It may be challenging to be a strict vegetarian and impossible to be a strict vegan. Being gluten-free is easier, but not celiac. When you eat out, here's an idea of the type of prepared food available.

In Paonia you'll sleep in a bunk bed in a small cabin with multi-person occupancy. There won't be heating, but the weather is typically nice that time of year and you'll have a sleeping bag and extra blankets if needed. We'll cook our own meals that will accommodate gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan, and meat-loving participants. We unfortunately cannot accommodate more complex diets or those that require a special kitchen (e.g. celiac).

In both locations, you'll have limited space for your clothes and other personal belongings; get excited for the challenge of living out of your backpack!

We heavily involve our participants in the preparation, serving, and clean-up of meals.

What physical fitness level is required?
Both backpacking trips and some of the challenges will ask participants to walk long distances over up-and-down terrain. You should be able to easily walk 6 miles in 2 hours and have a commitment to daily physical activity.
How firm are the age restrictions?
We we will consider younger applicants if they display exceptional maturity and preparation for this program. We're unlikely to consider older applicants, but you can always try to convince us! :)
When is the money due?
After interviewing for the program and receiving an offer of enrollment, we will ask for a $2000 nonrefundable deposit due immediately to hold your spot. The remainder of the balance will be due 4 months before the program starts (early October).
What special gear do I need?

You'll need a backpack (appropriate for wilderness backpacking) and a sleeping bag (rated to 30 degrees or lower) for sleeping in Paonia and the backpacking trips. You should be able to pack all of your gear for the program into your backpack and one additional daypack or purse!

An unlocked smartphone is required for staying in touch with trip leaders while in Guatemala (basic ones available online for ~$50, or purchase upon arrival in Guatemala); each participant will have their own cell phone number. Laptops are optional.

Beyond those special items, you'll need basic outdoor clothing that keeps you warm and dry, plus a pair of broken-in walking shoes. A full packing list will be provided upon enrollment.

How can I stay in touch with family?

In Guatemala there will be wi-fi for email and Skyping. Some homestay families may have it, others may not; your Spanish school and local cafes will definitely have it.

In Paonia there will be wi-fi and cell phone service (though Verizon is weak there).

How can I afford this program?
While the trip does indeed cost a lot of money, Unschool Adventures programs are very competitively priced. Check out our fundraising page for ideas and inspiration! We do not offer scholarships or special discounts, sorry.
Do I need to speak Spanish before joining?
No—you may begin from any ability level. That being said, any Spanish practice (whether formal or informal) that you do before the trip will only enrich your experience.
I'm in school — can I join the Adventure Semester?
Yes! You essentially need to declare yourself to be a homeschooler for the semester. Write U.A. director Blake Boles (blake@unschooladventures.com) for more advice.
Are our destinations in Guatemala safe for 13- to 15-year-olds?

Quetzaltenango and Lake Atitlan are popular tourist destinations that have been personally vetted by Blake, Dev, and our ground contacts there. Quetzaltenango has a reputation as a destination for North American student groups.

Think of these places as you might San Francisco or New York: many parts are fantastic, some parts are sketchy, and with basic alertness and preparation there are no oversized risks. Some female participants will get cat called; some drunk locals will walk up to our group members and ask for money; in an unlucky moment, someone might get their iPhone robbed at gunpoint. These are the basic risks of living in an urban area, and participants on this program should be ready for them.

In our orientation we'll lay out some basic safety protocols: don't walk alone at night, avoid specific neighborhoods, and always carry your Guatemalan cell phone and Unschool Adventures safety card (with address, leader phone numbers, etc).

Email Blake with any questions or concerns.

How are the Guatemalan host families chosen?
Host families are vetted and chosen by our Spanish school. Blake and Dev will be available to handle any issues that come up regarding homestays and will not hesitate to switch participants into new homes if their current situation is not working.
What will the weather be like?

In Guatemala, we'll enjoy weather with lows in the 40's, highs in the 70's, and minimal chance of rain. (See the average forecast.)

In Paonia, we'll enjoy similar weather conditions, with many sunny Colorado days and the small chance of a cold snap. (See the average forecast).

How will I stay healthy in Guatemala?
With basic precautions, you will have little problem staying healthy in Guatemala. Read this Lonely Planet summary for an overview of what to expect regarding drinking water, medical facilities, vaccinations, and more.
Apply Now

Apply before April 1st for your best chance of joining.

Apply Now
Have a Question?

Please write director Blake Boles with any questions specific to the 2018 Adventure Semester: blake@unschooladventures.com.

Write our digital office manager, Blueberry, with any general enrollment questions: office@unschooladventures.com.