Have you ever wanted to live on a sustainable tropical farm, walk among the waterfalls and wildlife of Monteverde’s cloud forests, wake to the sound of tropical birds, or taste Costa Rican coffee straight from a local agroforestry coffee plantation?
Whether you’re an experienced traveler or looking for your first trip to another country, studying abroad is an important component of your college career. Living abroad gives you the opportunity to explore new places and learn about different cultures, gaining important global perspectives, discovering new things about yourself, and building lifelong friendships.
Our programs in Costa Rica take place across the country’s diverse patchwork of rugged rainforests, cloud forests, sandy beaches, and integrated agricultural landscapes. Courses and fieldwork focus on key environmental issues faced here such as climate change, biodiversity conservation, tourism impacts, and pollution and waste management. Efforts to preserve the wild beauty of Costa Rica are recognized worldwide, but climate change and increased urban development bring new and unforeseen challenges impacting biodiversity and food security. Conservation leaders, farmers, land managers, and policymakers must work together using regenerative strategies to build ecological resilience and minimize climate change impacts. Our research in Costa Rica contributes vital data to innovative efforts that balance conservation and development.
The dense rainforests and mountainous landscapes of Costa Rica are brimming with life – from sloths and frogs to brightly colored toucans and hummingbirds. Costa Rica hosts an astounding 5 percent of Earth’s species despite covering only 0.03 percent of its area. Shaded coffee farms integrated into tropical forests constitute just one example of the sustainable conservation strategies for which the country is known.
“SFS offers students some really unique opportunities. Much of the semester was devoted to experiential learning. This meant hiking through the cloud forest and observing first-hand the ecological processes we had learned about in lecture. This meant conducting wildlife research on camping trips. This meant conducting our own research under the guidance of passionate and knowledgeable faculty advisors. I left SFS with a new depth and breadth of knowledge, as well as tangible projects and skills to show for it.”
– Georgie, George Washington University
“On a personal level, I learned how to be independent and succeed in a new setting. Aside from learning a lot in my classes, I also learned (from living at the center) about sustainable living and efforts we can make to truly make a difference.”
– Laura, Brandeis University
“Not only is this program run by very intelligent and personable faculty and staff, but also the students that participate in this program are one of a kind. This program attracts individuals who are concerned about the environment and desire to make a positive difference in the world, but more importantly who realize that the best change can only occur collaboratively. As a result, this program fosters an academic work and living environment like no other.”
– Seamus, Bucknell University
Where You'll Be Living
The Center overlooks the vibrant Central Valley, where green is the predominant color as far as the eye can see. As part of an active sustainable farm, dorms and classrooms are nestled among orchards and gardens, while Center dog Hera keeps watch over it all. The friendly town of Atenas is a 10-minute cab ride away, offering restaurants, shops, parks, and cultural events.
Dorm living with four-person bunkrooms
Classroom, library, computer lab, and laundry room
Open-air porch with hammocks and chairs
Dining hall with scenic valley views, and on-site cooking staff
Swimming pool, soccer field, basketball court, and pizza oven
Study abroad is an investment in yourself – you’ll return home with new experiences, skills, knowledge, and friendships that will stay with you for the rest of your life. SFS program costs cover a variety of expenses, including:
We know cost can be one of the biggest barriers to studying abroad. At SFS, we’re committed to making our programs accessible to students which is why we award more than $650,000 in need-based financial aid each year. Our Admissions Team has worked with thousands of students and are here to answer your questions about the SFS aid process, aid available through your home school, and funding from external sources.
SFS Financial Aid: Need-based aid packages typically consist of a combination of scholarships, grants, and zero- and low-interest loans. SFS matches Federal Pell Grant funding for students applying to an SFS semester program.
Home School Aid: Be sure to ask your home school study abroad office or financial aid office what financial aid resources might be available to support your study abroad experience.
External Funding Opportunities: Organizations such as the Fund for Education Abroad or the Gilman International Scholarship Program award scholarships to students going abroad. These can be a great opportunity to reduce the cost of your program even more.
Research at the Center for Sustainable Development Studies focuses on the connections between conservation and development. Costa Rica’s lush ecosystems, conservation areas and national parks, communities, and farms provide a varied landscape for research on the impacts of climate change, globalization, tourism, and land use change. Our research provides valuable data for community members, NGOs, and government officials as they seek to further the sustainable development goals of Costa Rica.
Our research focuses primarily on the following themes:
Climate change in tropical ecosystems
Agroforestry, permaculture, and conservation
Impacts of human development on bird communication
Urban ecology and water management
Our Centers are strategically located in regions facing critical environmental issues. Students and faculty study these issues and collect data to help facilitate sustainable responses. In Costa Rica, we’re currently investigating the following issues:
Academic programming in Costa Rica concentrates on the impacts of climate change across the socioeconomic and environmental axes of sustainable development. Climate change is challenging the sustainable development goals of the country and threatening the biodiversity that has attracted millions of tourists. Students assess public perception of the problems and solutions associated with climate-related environmental impacts.
A leader in biodiversity conservation, Costa Rica supports more than five percent of the world’s species, over 10,000 different plant species, and boasts 143 protected areas – about 26 percent of the land area of the country. Students examine biodiversity conservation strategies at field sites such as cloud forests, dry forests, volcanoes, lowland rainforests, farms, and plantations.
Land-use change is impacting the ecological and socioeconomic landscape of Costa Rica, particularly around our host community, Atenas. As coffee farms compete with gated communities owned by wealthy locals or expats, the negative consequences are reflected in the exclusion of the local people. Real estate prices are going up, excluding local Costa Ricans, which has resulted in the loss of cultural heritage, changes in forest and agricultural cover, and more pressure on water resources and utilities. Students conduct literature reviews and visit different farms and field sites to hear firsthand accounts of the impacts of these changes.
Costa Rica’s remarkable biodiversity provides a rich platform for nature-based tourism, which is one of the country’s primary economic drivers, generating 60% of the GDP. But such tourism runs the risk of over-exploiting the very natural beauty that draws tourists to Costa Rica in the first place. It can also create an economy that is overly dependent on tourism. Students consider the effects of tourism on local communities and the local culture, and the potential of regenerative tourism.
The Costa Rican ‘paradise’ is increasingly threatened by population growth, urban development, and inappropriate waste disposal and inadequate waste management. The result is that solid waste ends up in rivers and in the ocean. Students assess public perception and the environmental impacts of poor waste management, while also implementing sound waste management practices at our Center and our mango and orange farm.
Though Costa Rica has a strong history of conservation and legal protection of natural resources, people’s health and livelihoods are being adversely affected by chronic mismanagement of resources, waste, and water. Finding long-term solutions in sustainable practices is imperative for Costa Rica’s future. Students study the process of rapid conversion of rural agricultural landscapes into urban areas, the consequent loss and fragmentation of forests, and the increasing demand for water.
SFS is an active part of the Atenas community, where we have been based since the early 90s.
We have built long-term, collaborative relationships in the communities around the Center, and developed our research plans based on the environmental issues they and the surrounding ecosystems face. Throughout the program, students help maintain a local recycling program, teach environmental education to local students, and participate in waterways management projects. They get to know local families and host them for community dinners, attend festivals and cultural performances, and join soccer matches.
At the end of each semester program, we host a Community Research Night where select students will present their research findings to the community. SFS research data is shared with the community, local NGOs, and the Costa Rican government.