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  • Locations: Managua, Nicaragua; San Jose, Costa Rica
  • Program Terms: Fall, Spring
  • Homepage: Click to visit
Fact Sheet:
Fact Sheet:
Housing Options: Homestay GPA requirement: None Specified
Language of Instruction: English, Spanish Academic Program Components: Fieldwork, Internship, Research, Study Abroad
Areas of Study: Ecology, Environmental Studies, Latin American Studies, Natural Resource Management, Sociology, Spanish Scholarship Opportunities From Program: Yes
Program Type: Other Study Abroad Programs
Program Description:

ICADS - The Institute for Central American Development Studies - Field Program:  Environment and Sustainable Development

icads 30 year

Note: This program does not fulfill the study abroad requirement for the Spanish major or minor
Founded 30 years ago, the Institute for Central American Development Studies (ICADS) is a center for study, research, and analysis of Central American social and environmental issues. We focus on economic development, politics, environmental studies, sustainable development, public health, women’s issues, education, human rights, and conservation.
At ICADS we think of learning as a change in behavior. Our programs give you the chance to interact with people and places that do things differently, and that have ideas, both new and old, about justice and sustainability, that will challenge you to reevaluate. How will this experience change you?


Costa Rica and Nicaragua

Daily classes take place at ICADS’ headquarters, located in Curridabat, a neighborhood on the edge of the capital, San Jose, and near the university area of San Pedro. There are a variety of shops, restaurants and services nearby.

San Jose itself is only a 10-minute bus ride away, and is a bustling cosmopolitan city filled with cultural events, an exciting nightlife, and plenty of historical landmarks and museums to explore.

Costa Rica is a beautiful country blessed with countless natural wonders, a tropical array of flora and fauna, and gracious and warm people to meet along the way. Any location in Costa Rica is easily accessible by bus from San Jose, and many students choose to explore what the country has to offer during their free weekends.

Nicaragua, the land of lakes and volcanoes, offers students the opportunity to experience another vibrant Central American culture.

Shaped by a history much different from Costa Rica’s, Nicaragua offers students a unique perspective on the Central American reality and the problems facing the region.

All students in our semester programs spend one week in Nicaragua, comparing and contrasting their experiences in Costa Rica and hearing different Latin American perspectives on justice and sustainable development. Internship students also have the possibility to do their internship in the picturesque Nicaraguan city of Matagalpa, located in the northern coffee growing region.


Study in San Jose and the Central Valley. Students live in San Jose with Costa Rican families, and study Spanish for four hours daily. In afternoon sessions, students learn about different topics in social and natural sciences through related readings, guest speakers, and field trips, as well as fieldwork on urban issues. One week in Block I is spent in Nicaragua where students are able to see first hand the current economic and political conditions in Nicaragua, and are challenged to compare and contrast its reality with neighboring Costa Rica.

Block II: FIELD WORK (4 weeks) 
Students carry out brief social and ecological research projects while living and traveling together primarily in rural communities. A short stop over in San Jose is included to allow students to conduct research for their independent study projects, prepare written reports, and lead group discussions. In Block II, students visit 3 to 4 different areas within Costa Rica where they learn about a diversity of ecological zones and systems of regional development. Some of these destinations may include the wet tropics in the Atlantic Lowlands, the Cloud Forest in the Talamanca mountain ranges, the tropical dry region in the Guanacaste province, and the Northern zone. Topics and field sites vary from semester to semester in response to new study opportunities and environmental conditions. Topics studied in the Field Program include, but are not limited to, the following:

• The roots of underdevelopment, particularly Costa Rica’s dependency on transnational companies and First World governments
• Natural and managed ecosystem dynamics, with emphasis on the origin and maintenance of biodiversit
• The tools for measuring health of ecosystems via floral and faunal indicator species
• The environmental and economic implications of plantation agriculture, small-scale farming, ecotourism, bioprospecting, and national park management
• The impact of export-oriented development on family structure, class hierarchy, and racial divisions
• Strategies for conserving natural resources (e.g. organic agriculture, agro-forestry and sustainable extraction of timber and other products from forests), facilitating community organization (e.g. women’s groups, farmers’ cooperatives) and promoting local control over systems of production (e.g. home gardens, marketing cooperatives)

The Atlantic Lowlands - The Wet Tropics 
Modern settlement of this area dates back to the late 1800s and the introduction of Costa Rica 's foremost export crop: bananas. In the 1970s, Atlantic Lowland forests were cleared for extensive cattle production and small-scale agriculture. In recent years major transnational companies have expanded operations in the region, transforming pasture and remaining forestlands into agroindustrial banana plantations. The Field Course explores the socio-economic and environmental repercussions of this expansion, a process accompanied by the massive influx of workers from throughout Costa Rica and neighboring countries.Development alternatives including ecotourism and organic agriculture are also explored.

Talamanca Mountain Range - The Cloud Forest 
Cloud forest ecosystems are particularly fragile and play an important role in the storage and delivery of potable water to down-slope urban areas. During the semester, the Field Course students examine forest ecology and production systems of the cloud forest. In the Talamanca Range, they study traditional cultivation of wild blackberries and production constraints that promote the clearing of large areas of land.

Guanacaste Province - The Tropical Dry Region 
Since the 1950s, the Tempisque River basin has been dramatically transformed by the expansion of sugar cane and rice plantations. As large agribusinesses have gained control over land and water resources, the area's fragile wetlands have deteriorated and small-scale producers are finding it increasingly difficult to compete in the global economic market. In Guanacaste, the Field Course examines tropical dry forest ecosystems, preservation of wetland habitats, and issues of food security.

The Northern Zone 
As one of Costa Rica's major agrarian frontiers just 20 years ago, this recently deforested area has been targeted for the production of non-traditional export crops including cut flowers and pineapple. Additionally, no other region of the country has seen a greater proliferation of tree plantations. Field Course students analyze the effects of traditional logging and sustainability within this context.

Osa Peninsula - The Lowland Tropical Rainforest 
The Osa Peninsula encompasses the largest and most diverse tract of lowland tropical rainforest on the Pacific Coast of Central America. Although some eighty percent of the Osa is legally protected, its forests are being cleared at a faster rate than found anywhere else in Costa Rica. A complex web of historical, political, and economic factors leave small-scale farmers with little choice but to cut their trees. The Field Course works with local organizations to identify and implement sustainable alternatives to lumber extraction.

Students return to one of the previously visited field sites to conduct in-depth research on a topic of their choice. They independently develop research proposals, collect data, and analyze their results. Topics may emphasize either the social or natural sciences. Students are encouraged to develop projects that have practical value for their host communities or organizations. During the course’s final week, students prepare written reports and give oral presentations of their research findings.