Offering a variety of study abroad programs in Costa Rica and Nicaragua, ranging from semester-long, month-long, and summer programs, ICADS has over 30 years of experience providing quality, hands-on immersion programs to connect students with Central Americans. We focus on economic development, politics, environmental studies, sustainable development, public health, women’s issues, education, human rights, and conservation. Earn academic credit while exploring this unique cultural context and perspectives.



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Yes, I recommend this program


ICADS was an incredible experience. I got to travel and see more of Costa Rica and its people than I could have with any other program. Their dedication to hands-on learning is evident and David, Gabo and Kat are some really incredible people! There was very little time for self-care such as alone time, exercise and diet but it was all worth it for everything that we were able to be a part of. This experience changed me completely. Thanks so much!!

What would you improve about this program?
We really just needed some more time to ourselves to care for our bodies/minds and to experience some of CR on our own.
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Yes, I recommend this program

Margaret Reynolds

I very much enjoyed my time during ICADS this spring. I learned about the topics I had been wanting to, gaining a general understanding of the ecology, economy, history, culture, and politics of the area. I felt that there was a lot of work at times, however I did want to learn all that I learned and I am glad that the courses were so comprehensive. They gave me a better understanding of the United States and the importance of the decisions being made in Washington for the country and the world. At the very least I can say this helped with debates with conservative relatives, but I also recognize that some of my actions actually did change as a result of learned impacts and that my life direction could have been altered significantly based on what I came to understand. The day trips we took were a huge part of that. I loved visiting the farms and the businesses, conducting interviews in San Jose.... Also nearly all of the guest speakers were very useful and engaging. I never felt that I could miss a class or not take notes because I wanted to know everything that was being discussed. ICADS has a great selection of material.
My biggest issue when I was abroad was that I felt a bit lonely at times because I wasn't given as much of an opportunity to connect with the people or the place that I was in as I would have liked. The internship was very valuable for me. I loved being away and not with others that are my age or from the US. This seems a bit counter-intuitive considering what I just said, but I valued being on my own and making connections with the people that I worked with or the people in town. That is where a majority of my personal development came from. I learned the most from the friendships that I was able to make in the initial time when I had not looked at the rule manual in a while and forgot some regulations (curfew). These friendships I continue to learn from, as I am still talking via Skype or Facebook to the people I spent my time with.
That paragraph sounds like a complaint but to be clear I absolutely loved my experience here. I got to do so much with my internship- I got to help directly with the workshops that the group conducted to change the oppressive/ violent culture towards women and to give them a more powerful voice, I had a say in designing them and was trained like the facilitators on the issues at hand, I made national news three times for being at different feminist events (playing the drums and singing in one, which I NEVER do but was fun), and I was able to attend many similar (non televised) events that helped with my understanding of the situation in the region and of my place in the world. I was also trusted with the task of teaching an English class informally, which I did not expect and which ended up being great for comprehension of both Spanish and English and for experience designing lesson plans or homework to get points across. I was also given the opportunity to paint (a hobby of mine) and to conduct my own research. Honestly, my internship was fantastic and unlike anything any of my peers on other study abroad trips could have experienced. I am so very glad that I chose ICADS and that I landed in the program that I did. I would highly recommend the program to anyone interested.

What would you improve about this program?
see above, less work more freedom
part I cut out:
I didn't love the curfew I had in Nicaragua just because it limited my ability to do this (part on forming connections with people). I was a bit uncomfortable having to tell adult friends that I had to be in the house by a certain hour when we were out at dinner or at someone’s house; they would cut their plans short or plan their trips around places I would be able to go to and still be home in time. I felt that if the family would be awake and I had a safe way to get home it should be acceptable to return later, or that if the family was not going to be awake and I had a definite place to stay for the night that I should be able to do so. I understand the reason for this curfew and for these rules, as it could be dangerous for us or for the program if anything were to happen outside of our plans; for this I felt bad about my indignance. However, I must say that this lack of freedom obstructed my efforts to form the connections that help with whatever disconnect I was feeling from myself and my situation.
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Yes, I recommend this program

My Favorite Form of Study

The ICADS field camp program was definitely my favorite time period spent studying in my life. It combined my passion for adventure and individual exploration with practical skills and education that one might achieve in a traditional educational setting. During the first month of study we spent a good amount of time in classrooms receiving lectures and engaging in discussion about the history of Costa Rica to give context to the new world we were living in. These along with the Spanish classes were much appreciated as they were applicable in my life outside of school and it a mostly if not completely relevant to my experience in San Jose and throughout Costa Rica. You will take a few field trips with class to demonstrate specific examples of your learning and it is fun to take some weekend excursions with your classmates to experience more of Costa Rica. I found the work load to be less than that which I usually have at my university. During the second portion of the course your class gets a bit smaller but you embark on longer field trips to study different parts of Costa Rica and their development as well as environmental regulations. You get many opportunities to do outdoor environmental activities for class and outside of class as well as bond with your field program classmates. Finally the last portion of the class is great for personal growth. As you embark on an individual journey to live with a host family in a much more rural area and work on your individual project. This tests your self-reliance, communication skills, and patience to achieve your project goals. It also allows you to organize your life how you want in order to finish your project and do more learning and adventuring just for fun. I loved this program and it was definitely the highlight of my college career.

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Yes, I recommend this program

Becoming a more independent and passionate person in the world's most beautiful country

My three month experience in Costa Rica with the Field Program of ICADS was the most adventurous, challenging, and thought-provoking period of my life thus far. And I humbly thank the motivating and supportive professors and staff at ICADs for giving me such a diverse and authentic experience through their teaching and their ability to step back and let the experience of Costa Rican living teach us on its own. The three weeks I spent independently following my passion for research as part of the final segment of ICADS' programming took me completely out of my comfort zone, but with the tailored guidance and preparation provided by ICADS, the experience was able to be extremely eye-opening and empowering while also being safe and effective in its goals of making us better researchers. I would absolutely recommend ICADS' field program or intern program (since I studied with many intern students as well) to anybody who loves learning and living unconventionally while gaining critical skills in the interdisciplinary fields of sustainable development and social justice. Most of all, I look to ICADS as the place where i became a true global citizen, and I believe any and all can benefit from such an experience.

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Yes, I recommend this program

An Amazing and Valuable Experience

ICADS is a wonderful program that takes learning outside of the classroom. The program is divided into 3 major blocks. The first block is month long classes where you study Spanish in the morning in small classes based on your skill level. (I was in a class of 2.) In the afternoon there is a more structured class on sustainable development and social justice. During this period we went on many field trips and a study tour to Nicaragua. It was during this tour that I fell in love with Nicaragua and decided to do my study tour there instead of in Costa Rica (where the classes were held).

Once I decided to do my internship in Nicaragua, the program coordinators worked with me to find an internship that would fit what I was looking for in a program. I was interested in a public health setting although there were options for many other fields such as nursing, homeopathic medicine, teaching, environmental studies, etc. If they didn't already have an established relationship with an organization that interested you, the program coordinators worked hard to find you a new placement.

In Nicaragua, all the intern in my cohort lived in Matagalpa, this darling little town/city in NW Nicaragua. I lived in a modern house with modern conveniences. My host mom was a wonderful cook (too wonderful! I gained 5lbs!) and I was never hungry. I would spend time watching telenovelas with my family, or playing cards with my host siblings.

My internship was with the Nicaraguan Communal Movement (Movimiento Comunal Nicaraguese) (MCN). I worked with a wonderfully patient supervisor on a program that brought basic nutrition information to surrounding communities. I made different visual props and prepared a "charla" or mini, informal speech that I gave in tandem with my supervisor. It was really rewarding work.

In my time at MCN I also supported local protests against public transportation fare increases, domestic violence, and an international minery. I also made murals for a vaccination campaign that would be hung in local clinics around the area. I was really integrated into the organization even though my time there was short.

In the afternoons I went to a dance studio to work out. They had a very reasonable priced Zumba-styled class where I met both locals and foreigners like myself. The studio staff were friendly and I got a good workout.

I felt very safe in Nicaragua and had no trouble walking around by myself, although I didn't quite feel comfortable running there. On the weekends, my cohort would go dancing at Artesanos, a local bar.

I love Matagalpa and can't wait to go back. My internship helped prepare me for my public health career and was a key component to getting two jobs back in the states. I think that my time in Nicaragua was invaluable as it really shaped who I am as a professional and a person.

What would you improve about this program?
I wish there had been more planned events to get us involved in the community. On the weekends the city was basically asleep. I didn't have much to do on the weekends. In Nicaragua, people relax and visit with family on the weekend. Being an American from the NE I had a hard time relaxing and as a foreigner I didn't have any family to visit.
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Alumni Interviews

These are in-depth Q&A sessions with verified alumni.

Give us a little intro!

Hey everyone! I am an adventurous young adult with a passion for the Latino culture. I love speaking Spanish and am still working on those Salsa steps. I have worked with the Hispanic population both at home and abroad. Culturally competent health care is one of the driving goals of my career.

Why did you pick this program?

This program had a relationship with my college in Maryland. I wanted to go somewhere they spoke Spanish, was safe, and I would be in a home stay. My school offered two of these programs. One in Argentina, and one in Costa Rica. The deciding factor for me was that the Argentina program was classroom based and the Costa Rica program* was internship based. I wanted to get involved in the community, get some career experience, and make a difference.

If anyone is confused at this point, the ICADS program is based in Costa Rica, but has the opportunity to intern in Nicaragua. I had never planned to go to Nicaragua (it was ""dangerous"" and ""scary""), but after our study tour there, I fell in love with Nicaragua and decided that that was where I wanted to be (BEST DECISION EVER!).

What do you wish someone had told you before you went abroad?

The bathroom situation gets weird. I think anytime you go to a developing country the bathrooms are very different than in America; it's just kinda part of the adventure. I also wish I had been told to travel internally more. I purposefully chose to stay at home with my host family on weekends so I would be more like part of the family. However, I missed out on the opportunity to see more of the country I fell in love with.

What is the most important thing you learned abroad?

Honestly, I think the most important things I learned were about myself. Living on your own in an unfamiliar places challenges you. Between fending for myself and meeting people who were different from me, I grew a lot as a person. You become very introspective when you have trouble expressing yourself in a foreign language.

Outside of personal reflection, I learned a lot about privilege. I was in a unique position where I was the minority for one (I'm as white as they come), but I was treated specially for it. I didn't face the discrimination that other minorities face. It was an asset, not a detriment. This was the first time I began to understand white privilege.

The other privilege I experienced was male privilege. I come from a family that is traditional in its composition, but not in its gender roles. I have never felt the sting of discrimination or a lack of opportunities from being a woman. However, in Nicaragua, there is still an active fight for gender equality.

Women are killed by their domestic partners frequently, and the system lets them get away with it. I was treated differently as a women in Nicaragua than in the United States. I really gained an understanding of why the need for gender equality is so great. (**Let me just say that although I was given cat calls and was treated differently, I never particularly felt unsafe.

I think Nicaragua is one of the safest countries in Central America right now). It wasn't all bad though. When people face hard conditions, they come together. I felt a sense of community with the women around me. They would talk about 'solidaridad' (solidarity) all the time. This was a concept I had never experienced in America with its inherent value of individualism. I thought solidaridad was really powerful and a new way of looking at the world. It is a concept I still think about even 2 years after my trip.

What do you tell your friends who are thinking about going abroad?

GO! I don't think it really matters where you are thinking about going. I think that everyone should go abroad if they have the chance. It is a life changing experience. The other thing I tell my friends is when they are choosing a location they should challenge themselves. Go somewhere a little different. This is your chance, don't play it safe. Challenge yourself!

What was the hardest part about going abroad?

For me, the hardest part was leaving my family and boyfriend behind. I am a family girl through and through and I wanted to share my experiences with them! However, it was really important for me to go alone and establish myself as my own independent person. The other hardest part was not having a hot shower for 2 months. I didn't know that hot showers were so important to me. Now I know!

What's your favorite story to tell about your time abroad?

There are so many stories to tell it is hard to just pick one:

  • the time a pigeon landed on my head in San Jose.
  • the time a Nica said he had feelings for me (beware the gringeros!).
  • the time I saw not one but 2 guardabarrancos (national bird of Nicaragua).
  • the time I became a regular at the movie store (Bonus: got free movies!).
  • the time we visited a 13 year old with twin boys (heart breaking :/ ).
  • the time I went to my families farm for some holy week relaxation.
  • the times I went dancing! (all the time!) Salsa, merengue, and bachata!

You too will have a million stories to tell. The one I will elaborate on here is the time they played a movie on the bus. We were on a charter bus from San Jose to Nicaragua with lots of other natives to the area. I don't know who picked the movie for the bus, but I think they should be fired from being movie picker.

They chose to play My Sister's Keeper, which I had never seen before. For those of you who are not familiar with this movie, it is quite moving, and I am prone to crying at movies. Anyway, so there I am on a bus full of people, where I already stand out as a blond haired, blue eyed gringa, and I am just bawling at the end of this movie.

What made this experience unique and special?

The program coordinators in Costa Rica and Nicaragua take really good care of you! I needed to see a doctor in Nicaragua and they organized everything for me and attended the appointment with me. I never had to worry because I knew they were there for us.

What made this trip meaningful to you, or how did this trip change your perceptions, future path?

This trip was so much more than study abroad for me. It was the catalyst to my public health career. My internship teaching nutrition with the Movimiento Comunal Nicaraguense helped my get an internship teaching workplace health and safety to Hispanic day laborers in Colorado. Funnily, my boss there had been a program coordinator at ICADS when I was in elementary school. You never know where you will find ICADS alumni, but rest assured they are doing big things.

Anyway, working with the hispanic speaking population in Colorado helped me get my current job as a bilingual analyst and coordinator for a website that offers information about federally supported HIV/AIDS treatment and research. I help disseminate information and answer questions from the public in English and in Spanish. I truly believe I would not be here if it weren't for my internship with the Movimiento Comunal Nicaraguense during my time at ICADS.

Staff Interviews

These are in-depth Q&A sessions with program leaders.

María Emilia Chaves-Rees

Job Title
Host Family Coordinator
Having studied English in bilingual schools in Costa Rica, she obtained a BS from Bowling Green State University in Ohio and a graduate college degree in Psychology from Universidad de Costa Rica. She worked as a Psychologist with children and teenagers, both in her private practice as well as in public and private institutions. She has traveled extensively and has worked at ICADS for over 18 years now.

What is your favorite travel memory?

Traveling is one of my favorite things in life. I’ve learned a lot through traveling. Each traveling experience is different as different are all the places you visit and the people you meet. It’s a difficult exercise to name only one favorite traveling experience…

I can classify my traveling experiences into several categories - within Costa Rica and abroad - in terms of food, music, art, culture, personal gratification, birds, and landscapes, to name just a few…

There are some traveling experiences that certainly fall into several of these categories. I must also consider that even if large visited cities - such as Paris, Mexico City, Buenos Aires, Vienna, Osaka, Rome – offer SO many wonders, I love small cities. They’re so much more personal and relaxed. In general terms, I must say that, with a few exceptions, my most favorite traveling experiences probably happened in small cities.

Bruges in Belgium, Salzburg in Austria, Florence in Italy and La Coruña in Spain are definitively my most favorite small cities’ traveling experiences abroad. Bruges is a small fairy tale-like beautiful town where I ate the most delicious steamed mussels, in the best of companies.

Salzburg is probably my favorite musical city experience; Florence is art at its greatest, and La Coruña offers great food and is home to one of my dearest friends. I must confess though I am biased towards Spain. It’s my most favorite country of all, especially because of the food!!!

I have had many great traveling experiences in Costa Rica. Naming one is also very difficult. Probably the greatest birding experience was Cocos Island, followed by many outings to watch the awesome feat of millions of migratory hawks passing through our country. My most challenging traveling experience has definitively been climbing Chirripó; the landscape at Costa Rica’s highest peak is absolutely out of this world!

Did you study abroad?

Despite being their only girl, my parents always supported my inclination towards studying abroad. Following a college career while learning another language or improving my English language skills had always seemed very attractive to me. The time was the early 70s.

Costa Ricans who traveled to study abroad where mostly boys who had finished school and were pursuing graduate degrees not offered at the few public colleges in the country (private college education was inexistent at the time).

Studying abroad was definitively not normal in those days and definitively very expensive. Most students who studied abroad got scholarships and only a few who came from wealthy families were able to pay for their education abroad.

I knew the Ministry of Foreign Affairs offered scholarships to several European countries. I had thought about studying in Germany but after analyzing the paper work, the process seemed complex. The Costa Rica-US Cultural Center announced several scholarships to universities in the US and I decided to apply.

I approved the English proficiency test and the screening interviews also went well. Sooner than I thought I was offered the chance to study in BGSU in Ohio. At that time, I didn’t even know where Ohio was in the map!

I was a second year Psychology student at the time. I finished the first semester of school at the Universidad de Costa Rica and off I went to Ohio to start school in September 1971. I graduated in December 1973 and decided to come back to Costa Rica to do graduate school here.

What unique qualities does your company possess?

Probably ICADS shares some unique qualities with a few other companies where collaborators work happily and clients satisfactorily receive the services offered. I think the uniqueness has to do with what I’d summarize as a great working environment.

As partially mentioned above, a healthy working environment has to do with adequate physical facilities and resources, flexible, responsible, open-minded, respectful, honest and resourceful personnel, and a clear company goals guided by ongoing betterment and excellence in all services provided.

What do you believe to be the biggest factor in being a successful company?

I think company success is the result of the combination of several key factors. However, if I have to choose the biggest factor I’d have to say it has to do with how individuals feel working in the company: the human factor! Companies that promote healthy and respectful working conditions will most probably have happy thus productive collaborators.

Focused, responsible, honest, resourceful, well-informed and open-minded employees are key to a successful operation, regardless of the industry – so much easier to generate in a good working environment.

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