International Center for Development Studies (ICDS)


The International Center for Development Studies is located in San José, Costa Rica. ICDS has partnered up with Universidad Latina de Costa Rica (ULatina), Hospital Clínica Bíblica, and countless non-profit community work sites to offer experiential learning programs and study abroad programs. Our mission at ICDS is to empower global citizens through our unique study abroad programs, allowing them to grow and perfect their Spanish language skills while taking courses on cultural, environmental, and developmental issues in Central and Latin America.

Students stay with carefully selected host families as a guest in their homes to provide a true cultural immersion experience along with the added opportunity to further their Spanish language proficiency. Service-learning opportunities are also available in conjunction with ICDS' academic programs. Check out some of ICDS' amazing programs below to see which one is right for you!


200 m E cajero BCR Ulatina casa gris esquinera
San José, San Pedro
Costa Rica


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Yes, I recommend this program

I had the time of my life in Costa Rica and I wish everyone could have a study abroad experience like I did. The Spanish classes were one of the most helpful things about the program because I was able to learn and practice my regular Spanish, but it also challenged me with specific medical vocabulary and how to talk to patients. I definitely left Costa Rica a much better Spanish speaker than when I arrived. I liked the rotations and community service that we did. I appreciate it more now that I'm back in the United States and I'm working more in hospitals here. Learning about how different the health care system is there has definitely changed how I think about things in my current rotations. I travelled around Costa Rica with the program a couple weekends and with other students on our own trips other weekends. I loved the all the beaches on the Pacific Coast and Monteverde, but coming from a city, I appreciated being based more downtown for classes with more things to do and places to go. I didn't have any issues with safety like others, but I'm used to the city and more people around. I had great homestay parents too. I felt like part of the family throughout my whole stay. If there was ever anything I didn't know or needed help with, my homestay family or someone from ICDS was there to help.

What is your advice to future travelers on this program?
Bring lots of sunscreen and good walking shoes! San Jose was colder at night than I expected, but the sun in the middle of the day was intense.
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Yes, I recommend this program

My experience in Costa Rica through the ICDS program was a life-changing journey. The classes were useful and relatable, and the trips we took were breath-taking. I refined my Spanish and was encouraged to speak Spanish everywhere possible. The food was AMAZING, and everyone within the program and the country was talkative and friendly. Prior to the program, I was deciding whether I should have applied to Costa Rica or a Spain program, but I decided on Costa Rica because of my interest in underrepresentation in third-world countries, as well as the nature, and both of those interests were sufficed. I would recommend studying abroad to everyone interested in traveling, but I recommend the ICDS Costa Rica program to anyone interested in an immersive, picturesque experience.

What would you improve about this program?
I would ask about the safety of some neighborhoods. We were not properly informed about the safety of some areas.
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No, I don't recommend this program

To start off, I would recommend the program itself, but not this staff. The staff for the ICDS program were not very helpful and were abrasive or harsh with students at times. They are also highly unorganized. I am not the only one in my program (out of nineteen students) who has felt like this. After talking to many of my fellow students, a lot of us felt uncomfortable with the staff because they would be harsh or critical of questions we would ask them. The "counselor" would become heated at times which I find as unprofessional. The staff would be critical if a student makes ANY sort of mistake. We are human. We are prone to error. There was not one moment where I felt completely comfortable with the staff. When having trouble with my host family situation a few days after the program ended, the staff offered no help whatsoever and wanted to have "clean hands" away from the situation. This is very stressful for a student abroad since we are alone. The staff wants to maintain a good face but is deteriorating from the inside. Although the program itself was fun, you cannot depend on the ICDS staff. Please be wary.

What would you improve about this program?
The professional aspect of the staff. There was nothing professional about them when problems arose.
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Yes, I recommend this program

I studied abroad through ICDS for 3 months in Costa Rica and it was one, if not, the best experience abroad I have had. The people and vibes are always very laid back and supportive. I got to experience first-hand how Costa Ricans employ solidarity in their country which was eye-opening especially for someone who lives in the US. The land is amazing and very attractive and easily accessible! The staff and admin from ICDS were very resourceful in helping us prepare and schedule traveling, as well as, getting accustomed to the culture. Additionally, ICDS worked hard to help us explore different locations such as Nicaragua!! I also got to make new friends and connections because of the many diverse students that ICDS recruits. Being in Costa Rica reminded me that, after school, there is a whole world waiting for me to explore it. I definitely plan on going back to Costa

What would you improve about this program?
Allow participants to have more class interactions with Costa Ricans.
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Yes, I recommend this program

Prior to this program, I had traveled extensively, however, it was always with family. This was the first time I traveled alone for a large portion of time. I noticed that going abroad on my own allowed me to personally grow. When I returned home, I became so much more independent, responsible, RELAXED (which is a huge success given how stressed I was before), and appreciative of everything, especially family and friends.
Just that experience of personal development made the trip worth it for me. However, the sights I saw, adventures I experienced, and the information I learned about Costa Rica made it that much more incredible. I mean, come on, I saw sloths, ziplined across a huge cloud reserve, and Gallo pinto everyday (some people get tired of rice and beans but not me!). And the homestay was another way to fully integrate into the culture and get to know some nice locals.
I have to be honest, I was itching to get as the time to finish got closer. But it was an absolute wonderful experience, and I recommend that everyone study abroad somewhere at least once!
Thanks ICDS for the great experience!

What would you improve about this program?
A bit more organization on the part of the stuff.


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Alumni Interviews

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

Katy Vieira

Katy is an undergraduate student at Drexel University in Pennsylvania studying for a career in physical therapy. She loves to travel and dreams of going all around the world.

Why did you choose this program?

My initial idea was actually to study abroad in Japan. However, this program in Costa Rica was one of few programs available specifically for my major. So I thought again about my destination and decided that since this program was related to my major and my dream was, and is, to travel the world but had not yet visited Central America, I thought, "Why not?"

What did your program provider (or university) assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

My university just provided mine with basic information about studying abroad. The coordinating program, ICDS, did more by sending me forms in order to choose my host family, determine a possible placement in clinical rotations based on Spanish proficiency, and then organize the events during the program.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

Be prepared to engage with people, especially in an entirely different language. This means you have to be patient and persistent. I consider my Spanish to be quite good yet still struggled at times communicating with my host family. That is not to say you should be afraid, just be prepared to work harder than you did in your high school language class!

Also, you are diving into another culture. Be open-minded and willing to learn! I would ask my host family as many questions about their culture and was glad I did.

This can be an incredible experience, but you have to work for it and be willing to be determined in making it a great experience!

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

For me, a typical week consisted of 4 days of classes and two days of hospital clinical rotations (though other students had a community service position instead). Three day weekends allowed us to explore the country and go out with friends or on our own. Occasionally, a program-organized event was held on the weekend (like a trip to Nicaragua!).

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

I have to confess, I am a home body who has never been away from home/family for more than two weeks. A program in another country, even continent, for three months was a pretty scary notion.

I simply made myself open to accept help from others. If I had questions or concerns, my host family, program coordinators, even professors were willing to help. Then, I always kept in touch with family at least once a week, though usually more.

However, I made sure to give myself chances to develop my independence and not rely on others for every little thing. By the end of the program, I felt like a totally different person.

While being on our own can seem scary, we sometimes need some time on our own to find ourselves and develop confidence in ourselves. But I also learned to appreciate loved ones around me.

It's all about balance.

What should you do when you travel?

I have traveled extensively and think I would like to give some fundamental tips!

1. Don't you dare depend on westernized chains when you travel. Why would you want to visit McDonald's for breakfast when you have diners serving delicious Gallo pinto for 5 bucks? (Try it, it's so good!).

2. Money. It doesn't hurt to research methods of payment accepted in your country. Something else that helps is applying for a travel credit card without foreign transaction fees. My friends were getting money from ATMs with fees, but I was using my credit card for free wherever I went (except for bus fare).

3. Learn the language and make an effort to communicate with people. People are much more receptive to you and willing to help when they see you trying to engage with the culture!

4. Get ready to spend money on gifts for others and yourself. I literally stacked up on chocolates and coffee! (Please do try Costa Rican chocolate and coffee!)

5. Just enjoy yourself. Destress. Try new things and foods.

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