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SFS Costa Rica - Sustainable Development Studies
Atenas, Costa Rica (Outgoing Program)
Program Terms:
Program Terms: Fall,
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This program is currently not accepting applications.
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Program Sponsor: Field Studies 
Courses Offered: Click here to view
Budget Sheets Fall,
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Language of Instruction: English
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Class Eligibility:
2-Sophomore, 3-Junior, 4-Senior (fall only)
Minimum GPA: 2.8
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Housing Options:
Maximum Credits Earned (per semester): 4.0 Academic Area of Study: Biology, Environmental Science, Environmental Studies, Interdisciplinary Studies, Latin American Studies, Spanish
Program Description:
Program Description:

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School for Field Studies - Costa Rica

Sustainable Development Studies

In cooperation with the School for Field Studies (SFS), Dickinson students may participate in semester programs in a variety of locations. SFS's Center for Sustainable Development Studies in Atenas, Costa Rica is exploring means of promoting sustainable land use and effective land protection in response to pressure from population growth and a degraded natural resource base. With the results of this research, SFS will help to develop protocols and training for farmers to help them obtain organic certification, select and monitor indicators of biodiversity, as well as provide information about improving national park operations and relationships between parks and local people.

For more information, please visit the SFS Costa Rica website.

Note: You must apply and be accepted through Dickinson before finishing and submitting a partner program application. Partner program providers make all final admissions decisions. 

Costa Rica

Costa Rica is currently undergoing a period of rapid economic and social change. As this resource-rich, wonderfully biodiverse country continues along a path of rapid development, it is increasingly influenced by global policy, such as the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) and foreign markets. Costa Rica's economy has shifted from one based chiefly on agriculture to one driven by ecotourism and technology exports. At the same time, rapid rural-to-urban conversion is straining natural resources in ecologically fragile areas.

The country is at a critical juncture as resource management decisions are being made in an effort to keep pace with competitive global markets. Our goal is to study different development and resource management models that protect the biodiversity of Costa Rica's ecosystems while promoting socioeconomic benefits for its people.


The School for Field Studies (SFS) Costa Rica: Sustainable Development Studies Semester program provides the opportunity for students to examine the effects of globalization on classic development issues such as agriculture, biodiversity protection, economic development, urban sprawl, population growth, waste management, and water resources.


This partner program requires students to have at a minimum:

  • One college-level ecology, biology, or environmental studies course
  • 2.8 cumulative GPA

All students must have a declared major at the time of application.

As a part of the review process students’ conduct records and account status are also reviewed. Students and their parents should note that the review process takes all elements of the student’s academic record into consideration and that even if a student has the required minimum GPA and language prerequisites, he or she may not be admitted.

Students who have questions about the review process or their particular candidacy for a program should come into the Center for Global Study and Engagement for advising.

Center staff will not discuss students’ applications with parents, friends or any other party without the student’s consent and presence in the conversation.

What is the focus of the SFS Costa Rica program?

Students will focus on evaluating the success of Costa Rica's world-renowned land and biodiversity management systems and developing alternative strategies for economic development and biodiversity conservation, such as land-use planning, organic agriculture, and conservation outside of protected areas.

What will the courses entail?

The program is a combination of coursework and field research. Classes include topics such as ecology, environmental economics, resource management, language, and culture. Students also participate in directed research using the field research skills they develop, develop management policies, conduct field research in a variety of locations, and analyze potential solutions for Costa Rica and the Central American region.

What courses are available?

Courses are pre-determined and include:

  • Economic & Ethical Issues and Sustainable Development
  • Tropical Ecology and Sustainable Development
  • Principles of Resource Management
  • Language, Culture, and Society of Costa Rica
  • Directed Research

Will the courses count towards my major?

The following courses have been approved in the past for credit towards BIO and ENVST. Note: Final approval for course equivalency is determined by the chair of the academic department in which you are seeking credit.


Abroad Course Title

Dickinson Course Equivalent

Tropical Ecology and Sustainable Development

BIOL 300-level elective

Principles of Resource Management

BIOL 300-level/ENVST elective

Economics and Ethical Issues and Sustainable Development

ENVST elective

Directed Research*

BIOL/ENVST research

*Note: Credit for Directed Research is dependent upon the topic. Consult your major adviser for final approval on the research topic and satisfying the major research requirement.

Generally speaking, courses must have an equivalent at Dickinson. Exceptions include classes that focus on the culture and/or history of the country in which the student is studying. Transfer credit will not be awarded for coursework that duplicates what a student has already completed at Dickinson.

Will they count in my GPA?

Yes, all courses taken with the SFS program count in the cumulative GPA.

What is the language of instruction?

Classes are taught in English; however, students will take a 2-credit Spanish Language and Culture course.

What language skills do I need?

There is no language prerequisite for this program.  You will have the opportunity to study Spanish and regional culture in the classroom, as well as gain invaluable practical experience through the study of survey and interview techniques; however, the primary focus of the program is field study and research, not intensive linguistic work.

What are some sample research topics?

Past research topics include:

  • Management practices of Carara National Park
  • Evaluation of the socioeconomic benefits of Costa Rica's national parks for neighboring communities
  • Impact of road traffic noises on the avifauna of national parks
  • Evaluation of ecosystem services, such as biodiversity conservation and carbon sequestration, in agroforestry systems

Costa Rica
What kinds of excursions are available?

A wide variety of excursions, camping trips, and research expeditions supplement your classwork. Visits to cloud forests, dry forests, volcanoes, lowland rainforests, and plantations in Costa Rica offer opportunities to examine management schemes, identify the benefits of protected areas, and determine which systems offer the best option for economic development, the maintenance of cultural norms, and the preservation of biodiversity.

What expenses are covered during excursions?

Students’ lodging costs will be covered during overnight excursions.  Also, any meals that would not be otherwise covered by a standard meal stipend for all students on the program will be covered.  Group transportation to and from the excursion site, as well as group travel for all group activities will be covered.  Students will not be reimbursed for snacks, personal travel and personal activities during an academic excursion.

When will I find out where and when we’re travelling?

Specific dates for longer excursions will be announced at the beginning of the semester.  Local site visits in and around the SFS site will be organized and announced during the semester.

Can a friend or family member who is not on the program also travel with us?

No, unfortunately, for logistical and academic reasons non program participants are not able to join the program for excursions.

Are excursions optional?

Not necessarily.  These excursions are linked to your academic program and, in some cases, content delivered through the excursion will be relevant to a student’s studies and assessment.  All students should plan to participate in all excursions.  If a student misses an excursion or a planned departure for a trip, these arrangements and costs will not be made up for the student.  It is each student’s responsibility to be where they need to be in order to participate fully in each academic excursion.

What other community engagement activities are available?

  • Conversations and collaborators with local residents, small business owners, and farmers to better understand their perspectives and needs to provide the framework for SFS research plans
  • Monitoring and maintaining trail infrastructure at the Municipal Forest integrating local schools and conservation organizations
  • U.S. culture and English taught in the elementary school
  • Environmental education at the Municipal Forest
  • Recycling projects
  • Soccer games, community festivals, and short homestays

When is orientation?

In addition to the mandatory pre-departure orientation on campus, there will be an orientation upon arrival to the center in Costa Rica. Town tours, bonding activities, and introduction to the various center resources will all take place within the first two days.

What are the program dates?

Students on this program will be provided with a date on which they must arrive in Costa Rica. You must communicate your arrival plans with the SFS on-site Student Affairs Manager as well as the CGSE. To notify the CGSE, you should enter the flight information in your online program application. Official dates for the program can be found here.

Is there a group flight?

Students will receive flight information from SFS. Students are responsible for booking their own travel to/from Costa Rica. Students should not purchase their flights until instructed to do so by SFS. We encourage students to carefully review the change fees and cancellation policies before booking a flight.
The CGSE does not endorse any particular travel agent or booking website but does provide additional guidance about booking flights on the CGSE website.

What if my family wants to visit me?

The School for Field Studies programs generally holds fairly packed schedules. There is a little time in the middle of the semester when you are required to leave Costa Rica for a temporary break. This mid-semester break is a good time for families to visit. Otherwise, you should not plan any visits from family or friends as you simply will not have the time. Dates for the mid-semester break are determined after arrival to the program.

When will I have time to travel?

The only time you have available to travel is during the mandatory mid-semester break.

Can I arrive early or stay after the program ends?

Yes, but you should plan other housing arrangements as the center is closed prior to student arrival and directly after departure at the end of the semester.

How much does the program cost?

Students pay Dickinson comprehensive fees to attend this program. The cost includes all tuition, room, board, local travel, and emergency health insurance. Airfare and visas are not included in this cost.

What is included in the program fee?

The fee covers tuition and fees, room and board, scheduled academic excursions and park entrance fees, field equipment and supplies, emergency medical insurance, and pre-departure and on-site orientation.

Are additional scholarships available?

As a Partner Program, students may use their Dickinson financial aid to cover the Dickinson comprehensive fees to attend this program. Additional scholarships and aid are available from SFS and students are encouraged to apply.

How much extra money do I need to bring?

This depends on you. There will not be much time for travel and meals are provided so most students find anywhere between $500 - $1000 is sufficient. See budget sheet.

How will I access my money while in Costa Rica?

Given that students do not need a large quantity of money, you should plan to bring funds with you.

Will I receive a stipend?

No, students on this program do not receive a stipend.

How do I access health care in Costa Rica?

The field station has a Student Affairs Manager whose job it is to oversee safety on site. They run the on-site orientation and help students acclimate to their new environment. They educate the students on local hazards, present the rules, and manage compliance. Each SAM is required to hold certification as a Wilderness First Responder (WFR), a 72-hour first aid training course. They assist students when they become ill or injured and are there if students just need someone to talk to. They communicate regularly with the Safety Department at SFS headquarters. In the event that you require medical attention, a staff member will accompany you to a medical facility.

How will I access medical care while in country?

In the event that you require medical attention during a program, a staff member will accompany you on the visit(s)to a medical facility. Public or private hospitals and clinics will not accept U.S. insurance for payment. In most cases, you will need to pay cash for medical expenses and then request reimbursement from your primary health insurance provider when you return home. Check your U.S. policy to determine if you have coverage while you are abroad and how to submit claims. Emergency medical and repatriation insurance is provided and included in the program fee. Please refer to the Field Guide provided by SFS for more information. Note: It is very difficult to see a specialist, so please take care of any pre-existing conditions prior to arrival.

Dickinson also provides students with medical and travel security assistance through International SOS. See health and insurance abroad.

Where will I live?

Students who study at The SFS Center for Sustainable Development Studies' field station in Atenas will live on a hillside with spectacular views overlooking the Rio Grande River in the fertile Central Valley. The field station includes a large house, an outdoor classroom, a moderately sized organic garden, a patio and pool, as well as banana, mango, and orange groves, a chicken coop, and untouched forest areas with trails.

Students live in a dormitory (up to four to a room) with bathrooms. There is a classroom, small laboratory, and a computer room with internet access. The field station is part of the small neighborhood of La Presa/Los Angeles. The friendly town of Atenas is a short walk from the field station, while Costa Rica's tropical forests, beaches, mountains, and volcanoes are within a day's travel.

Will I have access to laundry facilities?

You should prepare to live with very minimal resources. The only available laundry is the ocean and freshwater showers are only allowed for each person once a week. However, salt water showers are sufficient and available for use at any time. You spend most of your time in the ocean so you will find this is a suitable substitute for the lifestyle you will adopt on the island.

Are internships available?

No. Given the busy schedule and the lack of opportunities, students will focus on classes and fieldwork rather than an internship.

Can I conduct research while abroad?

Students may be able to conduct research abroad under the guidance of a Dickinson advisor. The Student International Research Fund (SIRF) was established to help students with extra travel costs associated with independent research projects.  Students are encouraged to present their research at the International Research Symposium when they return to campus. 

Please see the “available research topics” heading under Academics for more information on sample research projects conducted by SFS Costa Rica students.

What is a visa?

A visa is a document, normally affixed within your passport, which allows you to enter the country and stay for the duration of your program.  The requirements for the visa and visa process are controlled by the government of the country you are entering, are non-negotiable, and can change regularly.  If you arrive without the proper visa, you will be sent home by immigration officers at your own expense.

Do I need a visa?

Yes, you will need to obtain a student visa after entering Costa Rica. Individuals planning to study in Costa Rica can only apply for a student visa from Costa Rican Immigration after arriving in the country. The SFS staff will assist you with this process. 

How do I get a visa?

You will need a valid US passport and proof of a plan to travel on to another country (i.e. round-trip ticket back to the US) to enter the country as a tourist. Once in country, SFS will help you in applying for a student visa to last the program duration.

Do I have to go to the consulate/embassy?

No, you will apply for a student visa once you are in Costa Rica.

How much does a visa cost?

Visa fees are estimated at around $160. Keep in mind that you may be expected to pay a departure tax of $29 when leaving the country. Note: these amounts are subject to change.

If I’m not a U.S. passport holder, are there any additional requirements?

Yes, you will need to do your own research on visa requirements for citizens of your home country to study in the UK. The CGSE may be able to help you with the required documents. Also, you will need to inform International Student Services that you will be studying outside of the United States and discuss how you will remain in valid F-1 status during your studies abroad.

Global Ambassadors

Global Ambassadors are returning study abroad students who serve as peer advisors for their program. Please feel free to contact them for a global student perspective.

For more information, contact:

Advisors (Please call for an appointment):

Center for Global Study and Engagement
Dickinson College

Professor Carol Loeffler
On-Campus Coordinator
P.O. Box 1773
Carlisle, PA 17013-2896
Phone: (717) 245-1360

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This program is currently not accepting applications.