Directors

The onsite directors will be your program leader and are there to lead and guide you during your study abroad experience. Our programs also have assistant directors that help manage the programs, especially during the excursions and cultural activities. Onsite directors are usually host-country nationals with cross-cultural experience. All of our directors have experience working with groups and have international experience (travel and work) and many have studied abroad themselves as students.

Janiva Cifuentes-Hiss

Resident Director

A believer in the life-changing potential of travel, Janiva Cifuentes-Hiss fulfills her personal purpose by leading transformational journeys throughout the planet. Over the past decade, Janiva has led study abroad, gap year, and volunteer programs in Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Panamá, Guatemala, Honduras, Ecuador, Perú, Argentina, India, Kenya, Tanzania, and Spain. Her adventures have taken her to learn wilderness skills in the Amazon, practice yoga on the banks of the Ganges, vision quest in Patagonia, safari in East Africa, scuba dive off of the Bay Islands, and trek to the Mayan pyramids of Tikal and learn about the Inca civilization at Machu Picchu. She has led service learning programs focusing on sea turtle conservation, environmental education, and organic farming throughout Costa Rica. Born and raised in Olympia, Washington, Janiva´s passion for travel began at an early age when she visited her extended family in Colombia. In high school, she traveled to Japan with her host sister and Japanese teacher. Janiva studied abroad for a semester at the University of Salamanca in Spain where she delved into Latin American Literature, Religion and History. While abroad she backpacked in France, Italy, and Portugal. After graduating from Pomona College with a BA in Latin American Studies, she moved to Costa Rica and completed a one-year internship in Sustainable Development, assisting with research in tropical ecology, natural resource management, and economics. Janiva is an international speaker and workshop facilitator who has presented at Envision Festival, Millersville University Conference for Global Well-Being and Social Change, United Nations University for Peace, Latina Youth Leadership Conference, National Student Conference on the Mixed Race Experience, and Shanti Festival. A freelance writer, her work has been published in Biobalance Magazine, The Tico Times, The Encyclopedia Latina, GoAbroad, Landings Magazine and Exploring Costa Rica Travel Guide. She also served as video editor with Super Natural Adventures, a children's wildlife series in Costa Rica. Janiva enjoys sharing her passion for nature, meditation, yoga, permaculture (a design philosophy for ecological living), and social justice with her students. She is First Aid and CPR certified and has worked as Costa Rica Resident Director since 2007.

Janiva Cifuentes-Hiss Resident Director

Leydi Hernandez

Laura "Leydi" Hernández was born and raised in Heredia, Costa Rica where our program is based. Since she was a child her interest in nature was evident. In 2006 she started her studies in Tourism with a focus on Group Management. This is a profession that has allowed her to combine her passions of teaching, enjoying nature, culture, and learning foreign languages. After graduating from Alajuela’s Community College, and getting her certification from the Costa Rican Tourism Board as a bilingual tour guide, Laura began her career in Tourism working at INBioparque, where she managed groups of local and foreign students. She had the opportunity to interact with tourists from all over the world and guided groups of professionals in botanic, entomology, education, bioprospecting, sustainable tourism, politics, and health. Laura was also a tutor for summer workshops for children and teenagers. After her positive experience with INBioparque Laura continued working for different travel agencies as a freelance tour guide. She was able to gain more experience in the profession and had the chance to travel to amazing places all over Costa Rica. In 2009, Laura was hired to work for Travel Excellence Tour Operators (TETO) as their Coordinator of Sustainability Programs. In this position she developed tasks such as the implementation of a recycling program, planning and execution of communal activities and design trainings for local tour guides amongst other functions. Working as part of a team Laura took part in the ISO 9001 implementation and certification process with TETO. They obtained the highest level in the Certification for Sustainable Tourism Award and recently undertook the process to obtain the Carbon Neutral Certification. In 2012, Laura completed a second degree in Sustainable Tourism Management at Estate Distance University and currently studies Portuguese and Italian (she loves languages!). During her free time, Laura enjoys being surrounded by nature above all else. She also loves visiting small Costa Rican towns, going to concerts, and reading a good book.

Leydi Hernandez

Angélica Pérez

Angélica (Angie) is a native josefina (someone born in San José, Costa Rica). She graduated as a tour guide from UNACE University in 2004. Since then she has worked with non-profit foundations and travel companies sharing her knowledge of Costa Rica’s biodiversity and natural history with visitors from around the world. Angélica has worked with INBioparque, a national conservation foundation and wildlife park in Heredia, for many years. She also leads tours for Costa Rican school children with Sura, an environmental education company, and works with Poas International Corporation, a local company specializing in tourism for Costa Rican senior citizens. In 2010, Angélica led workshops for at-risk youth on topics including environmental conservation, farming techniques, and recycling in their schools and communities with the Randy Explorer Foundation, a program sponsored by the government of Andorra. She is First Aid and CPR certified and is trained in leading groups of people with disabilities. She worked as a program director for 7 years at Sol Education Abroad guiding students in learning about Costa Rica’s unique biodiversity and culture as well as improving their Spanish and participating in volunteer programs.

Angélica Pérez

Jacqueline Portilla

Jacqueline, or Jackie as everyone calls her, is from Cartago, Costa Rica. For her university years she studied Tourism at the Hispanoamericana University in Heredia, Costa Rica. She has worked in logistics with a tour transportation company and with an environmental consulting and education organization. Jackie has also taught tourism to high school students. She has also served as a guide at the Fundecor, the Foundation for Development of the Central Volcanic Mountain Range, as well as with the Rio Loro Municipal Environmental Park. She is First Aid and CPR certified. Jackie has worked as a study abroad program director since 2015.

Jacqueline Portilla

Catalina Ovares

Catalina (Cata) is a native from Costa Rica. She actually grew up in the Atenas area and attended high school there. She lives in a small rural community right outside of Atenas called Rio Grande. Cata has always had an intense love of nature which led her to study Tourism and graduate as a Naturalist Guide. For about 5 years she worked as a Naturalist Guide for a tourism company. She specialized in Costa Rican flora, fauna, and history. As a guide for this company she met and led tourists from around the world. Afterwards, she worked for 6 years as a sales executive in a travel agency. She worked with both groups and individuals. Her position consisted of providing quotes, making reservations and generally taking care of her clients while they were in Costa Rica. Cata is CPR and First Aid certified. She also has a bilingual tour guide license through the Costa Rican Tourism Board. Cata is an extremely friendly person and loves to help others. Besides her professional interests, Cata also enjoys soccer (she has taken university coursework to be a coach), horseback riding, extreme activities (zip lining and bungee jumping!) and, of course, spending time with her sweet son Franco.

Catalina Ovares

Orlando Murillo

Orlando Murillo Castro was born in Costa Rica’s capital of San José, but was raised in the picturesque town of Atenas. For as long as he can remember Orlando has been in direct contact with study abroad students because his family has been housing students in their beautiful home for many years. This exposed him to different cultures from a young age and allowed him to learn English from very early on. He is currently finishing a Law degree at the Universidad Latina de Costa Rica. Orlando knows exactly what you will be going through living in a new country. He participated in a study abroad program to the US where he lived with an American host family in Tallahassee, FL and attended Florida State University for a semester. He definitely understands everything involved in the study abroad experience! Orlando’s hobbies include everything related to nature; from hiking to the top of Costa Rica’s tallest mountain, Chirripó, to guiding students through Costa Rica’s famous rainforests. Orlando is also very passionate about art. Both Orlando’s father and brother are medical doctors and his sister is a nutritionist. He feels very lucky to have grown up in such a healthy environment! Orlando loves being active and enjoys soccer, volleyball and swimming.  

Orlando Murillo