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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 Jose 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, with its focus on field research. 

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 note: 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.

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.

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 semester 2015

Final deadline: March 15, 2015

Fall semester 2016

Final deadline: March 15, 2016

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

Lindsey Wolf
Program Associate

11 E. Adams Street, Suite 800
Chicago, IL 60603
Phone: 312.561.5908
lwolf@acm.edu

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Publications & Resources

Costa Rica programs brochure

Costa Rica student handbook - Fall 2014

Profiles - ACM Costa Rica program alumni

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

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Karen Skadow After my study abroad experience, Costa Rica is no longer a small foreign country on the world map. Instead it is a place that I experienced firsthand. I had the privilege of being a part of Costa Rican culture and society and learned from it every step of the way. Every day I learned new words through experiences (as opposed to vocabulary lists), observed natural and cultural beauty, and had a chance to apply what I was learning in Spanish class through natural conversations with native speakers. Studying abroad for me was more than just traveling or living in a foreign country. It was a highly valuable learning experience acquired from day-by-day adventures of experiencing Costa Rica, that encouraged me to test my limits and connect to the world that surrounds me.

—Karen Skadow, Costa Rica, Fall 2007

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