Information for Parents

Welcome Message

Thank you for supporting your student in their quest for a field-based education in the tropics. The Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS), has over 60 years of guiding students on their journey of discovery, exploration, innovation as well as personal and professional growth. We found that it is imperative for students to take responsibility, and to be involved with the planning and preparation of their study abroad experience. We will provide them with the essential tools and hope they use them, and contact us if they have questions or concerns. Students who take an active and engaged role in all areas of the program will see greater learning and development, which leads to a better experience for everyone.

Family Support

In joining the OTS family, we recognize that well-supported students are often the most successful. They will count on you for assistance in planning, travel arrangements, finances, as well as health and safety. And we recognize that a well-prepared student in the field is one that has been actively involved in their preparation for the program.

One issue that is the cause of much angst is that for many students, this will be their first time traveling internationally by themselves. We want to make this process as smooth and worry-free as possible. In doing so, we provide information in the form of orientation packets, as well as live, online predeparture orientation meetings with local staff and faculty. It is important that students read the orientation packets thoroughly; they contain information on arrival, departure, logistics, health/safety, connectivity, packing lists, and other relevant information. Answers to many of your questions can be found in the orientation packets – each can be found on their respective program pages in Undergraduate Education.

Emergency Contact Information

All undergraduate students who attend OTS programs are legal adults. However, in certain circumstances, such as medical emergencies or critical issues in the field, OTS will make every effort to contact parents or guardians or place them in direct contact with their student. In the event of an emergency during normal business hours, please contact the OTS North American office at 919-684-5774. After hours, please call (919) 684-3226 for the emergency coordinator on call.

Health and Safety

OTS is deeply committed to student safety and well being, we do not expose students to unnecessary danger or risk. We monitor national and international events that might affect our students. Five decades of risk assessment, emergency response, and crisis resolution have enabled OTS to maximize student safety and security. All students participate in an on-site orientation program upon their arrival. For program specific information, please see the orientation packets found on the program pages.

Contact Information

If you have additional questions, please feel free to contact us at one of our three offices:

North American Office
Durham, NC US
+1 919-684-5774

Costa Rican Office
San Pedro, CR
+506 2524-0607

South African Office
Skukuza, RSA
+27 13-735-5854


FAQs for Parents

Can I visit during the program?

Visits from family and friends during OTS programs are not allowed. We recommend that families and friends schedule their visits either before or after the program. During the program, students have very little free time, and any visit by a friend or family member would only be a distraction to the student and the program. Semester programs do have a mid-term break, which can vary in length from 4-7 days. This is the only time during the program when a visit is allowed. However, please check with us to confirm the mid-term break before you make any travel arrangements.

Can students travel to other countries during the program?

We encourage students to travel before, after or during their mid-term break. Some programs have built-in international excursions, however international travel during the program is prohibited.

Can students receive mail or packages?

You can mail items to your student. However, we recommend that this be reserved for emergencies only. The mail systems are not as reliable, and it could take longer than expected, or not arrive at all. Some items like medications and phones will not make it through customs. If you must mail something, please contact the North American Office so we can discuss your best options.

Is the homestay family safe?

We do all we can to ensure each student is with a safe and caring family. Whether the student is there only a few days, or several weeks, the homestay is often the most rewarding and memorable experience of their time abroad. Many of the families we work with have been hosting OTS students for many years. Our families are screened, trained and selected to assure they meet our high standards. Each year the homestay families are evaluated through interviews and student reviews.

Do students live alone with the homestay family? Do they speak English?

In Costa Rica, there is one student for each family. Generally, the families do not speak English. The homestay is during the Spanish immersion portion of the program, and this is a great opportunity for students to practice their Spanish.

In South Africa, we generally assign 2-3 students together for each homestay in the village of HaMakuya. The homestay communities in South Africa are much smaller so students must share accommodations. The homestay families do not speak English. However a translator is assigned to each family. OTS will provide a brief Venda language introduction to students before their arrival.

Which vaccinations does my student need? Does my student need a visa? What should they pack?

Vaccination and packing information can be found in the program Orientation Packet students receive with their acceptance letter. It can also be found on each program page here. For the most up to date information for travelers, please see the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

All students will need a valid passport that expires no less than six months from the last day in country. Students traveling to Costa Rica do not need a visa if they are a citizen of a North American or European country. Other students will probably need a special visa to enter Costa Rica. For questions please contact the Enrollment Management team at undergraduate@tropicalstudies.org.

For students traveling to South Africa for a semester, you will need a Visitor’s Visa to enter the country. Once enrolled in the program, OTS will provide application instructions. Students must apply in person to your regional South African Consulate Office. For questions please contact the Enrollment Management team at undergraduate@tropicalstudies.org.

Will I always be able to reach my child?

OTS programs are field-based, and this requires students, faculty and staff to travel to remote locations, often with limited connectivity. Occasionally your student will not have access to the internet, phone or cell phone signal. We understand that in the digital age, the pressure of connecting with family and friends at home can distract from engaging locally with the cohort, staff, homestay family and larger community. We ask families to be conscientious about the frequency of communication and the expectations that you set for your student. Prior to the start of each program, OTS will host a predeparture orientation where a detailed schedule will be reviewed; please use this information to determine when your student will have limited connectivity.

Information Resources
Long-term stays at OTS Research Stations