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Costa Rica: Community Engagement in Public Health, Education, & the Environment

San José, Costa Rica

Message from ACM Costa Rica Spanish Language Coordinator Mario Morera

Costa Rica projects an image of tropical beauty—wide sandy beaches, lush vegetation carpeting remote mountainous regions, a wide diversity of exotic bird life, and a population known for its hospitality to strangers.  The companion image of this beauty reflects the country’s commitment to its natural environment through policies of sustainable development and the protection of its land and marine ecosystems and to its people through its longstanding democratic processes, inclusive social programs in public health and education, and assistance to indigenous people in preserving their culture and way of life.  These distinctions mark it as a unique place to examine the interaction of humans with the land and through the social contract, study the challenges represented by global pressures on a small economy, and compare Costa Rica with its neighbors in Central America, including Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua.  These countries share a colonial heritage and cultural similarities; once governed by Spain as a single unit, they followed different paths toward the current agenda of building justice and prosperity in the context of globalization.  Over the years, Costa Rica has always stood somewhat apart from the historical dramas of Central America, making it a fascinating case and a safe observatory on developments in nation-building and sustainable development in this region so closely tied, both politically and economically, to the United States. 

The fall ACM Costa Rica program prepares students to explore their host country in the context of Central America through an intensive Spanish language program, coursework, and field experiences that further develop language skills.  A highlight of the program is a month-long community practicum, when students undertake a project of academic or personal interest with a local organization, either in San José or in a rural area.  Field trips in Costa Rica and to neighboring Nicaragua give students an appreciation for the country’s astounding biodiversity, and for the cultural and historical elements that contribute to the nation’s distinct path within Central America.  Students improve their Spanish language through intensive instruction in small, customized classes.  The program has operated since 1974, when it was established as a language-intensive program separate from the ACM Costa Rica spring program, which focuses on field research. 

The ACM Costa Rica program was featured on a local TV show, Materia Gris, broadcast in San José.

Throughout the program, students live with host families in San José near the Universidad de Costa Rica and the ACM center in the San Pedro neighborhood; students who opt to conduct their community practicum with an organization in a rural area live with a second host family during the month-long project. Site visits in and near San José are part of every course, and students are encouraged to become involved in activities to become more actively engaged in the local community.  The program schedule allows for independent travel to Costa Rica’s beautiful beaches, mountains, and forests.  While all ACM courses are offered in the ACM program center, an agreement with the nearby Universidad de Costa Rica gives students access to cultural and sports facilities and student clubs and teams, and provides a wealth of opportunities for interaction with local students and a taste of local university life.

Special notes:

Students with advanced levels of Spanish language proficiency have the opportunity to enroll in classes at the Universidad de Costa Rica (UCR).  Students will take one class  at the ACM center, along with two to three courses at UCR.  To learn more, visit the dual enrollment option page.

There is also a fall semester 12-credit option available to students from trimester/quarter schools, pending home campus approval.  Please contact ACM for more information. 

Students speaking about their ACM Costa Rica experience in Fall 2013.

Video by Zach Steedman, Colorado College.

For more detailed information, please use the links located on the left-hand side of this page.


Information about the Zika virus

The ACM is closely monitoring updates about the Zika virus. For the latest information, please visit the Centers for Disease Control website.


Quick Facts

  • Term: Fall semester
  • Language prerequisite: Spanish
  • Language of instruction: Spanish
  • Living arrangements: Host family
  • Who can apply? Students from any college or university

Application deadlines

Fall 2017

Final deadline: March 15, 2017

Fall 2018

Final deadline: March 15, 2018

If the deadline has passed and you are interested in applying, contact the ACM Office immediately. Late applications may be accepted on a space-available basis.

Program contacts

Marlee Stein
Off-Campus Study Program Coordinator

11 E. Adams Street, Suite 800
Chicago, IL 60603
Phone: 312.561.5933

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Publications & Resources

ACM Costa Rica Programs brochure

Costa Rica student handbook - Fall 2015

Profiles - ACM Costa Rica program alumni

Costa Rica: Community Engagement in Public Health, Education, & the Environment

Follow us online

Carlina Arango Allowing myself to study abroad for a semester in Costa Rica through ACM has been one of the most rewarding experiences in my life thus far. I was able to create life-long friendships with my host family and fellow peers along with exploring and getting to know Costa Rica's great natural beauty and rich history. I came out of the program knowing all of the great benefits and wonders you can gain from immersing yourself into a different culture for just a few months. I definitely plan to go back and visit!"

—Carlina Arango, Costa Rica, Fall 2014

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Who we are

The Associated Colleges of the Midwest (ACM) is a consortium of independent, liberal arts colleges in Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Colorado.