SFS Costa Rica: Sustainable Development Studies

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Experience a semester of sustainability in Costa Rica, home to rainforests, volcanoes, rushing waterfalls, and a laid-back culture that reflects the national motto: “Pura Vida.” Immerse yourself in the country’s many national parks, farms, and tropical ecosystems full of incredible biodiversity. Design and conduct a rigorous field research project and learn how Costa Ricans are creatively addressing conservation and development issues.

SFS students live and study at the Center for Sustainable Development Studies. The Center is an active organic farm overlooking the vibrant Central Valley, where green is the predominant color as far as the eye can see. Dorms and classrooms intermingle with 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.

  • Explore the cloud forests of Monteverde, home to 2.5 percent of the world’s biodiversity, to study tropical ecology and sustainable land management.
  • Take a weeklong expedition to Panama’s Chiriquí Highlands, a lush, forested region of volcanic peaks, coffee farms, rich Ngäbe-Buglé culture, and perpetual spring-like weather.
  • Go behind the scenes at a local coffee farm and sustainable permaculture homestead to learn how Costa Ricans have successfully combined agriculture and conservation.
  • Build core skills including: GIS, biodiversity assessment, songbird mist-netting, forest soundscape survey, basic Spanish language, research design and implementation, data collection and analysis, research presentation
  • Conduct research in some of the following areas: Climate change and tropical ecosystems, agroforestry and conservation, permaculture, avian behavior, urban ecology, sustainable ecotourism, carbon sequestration

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Questions & Answers


9.67 Rating
based on 6 reviews
  • 9-10 rating 100%
  • 7-8 rating 0%
  • 5-6 rating 0%
  • 3-4 rating 0%
  • 1-2 rating 0%
  • Academics 8.2
  • Support 9
  • Fun 8.5
  • Housing 7.8
  • Safety 9.3
Showing 1 - 6 of 6
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Yes, I recommend this program

Best semester I have ever had

I have wanted to go to Central America for a long time, so I jumped on this opportunity to go and learn about the leader of environmentalism. It was everything I wanted and more. I got there and spent three months in on a gorgeous campus learning hands-on about ecology and environmentalism. All the professors know about what they are talking about and are incredibly passionate about it. Every field trip they took us only much added in the learning as I was able to see what they were talking about instead of looking at pictures. We get free time to explore on our own and see places the program was not able to take us to. Loved getting to see many different parts of Costa Rica and get to know the people that live here. I can not imagine a better semester abroad for me.

What is your advice to future travelers on this program?
I would say be willing to do everything and go out of your comfort zone. Leave campus to explore whenever you can. There are so many places to check out that they are entirely worth it, and many are not expensive. Do not be scared to explore by yourself as sometimes you have the most fun that way.
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Yes, I recommend this program

Amazing, unique experience!

After participating in this program, I can say that 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 days before. This meant conducting wildlife research on camping trips during the program’s initial weeks. This meant conducting our own research under the guidance of passionate and knowledgeable faculty advisors. Students leave SFS with a new depth and breadth of knowledge, as well as tangible projects and skills to show for it.

Beyond academics, the Center for Sustainable Development Studies is an incredible community. The staff genuinely care about the students' experience and played a big part in making the semester so amazing. I would caution that the program is not for everyone in that there are a strict set of rules (curfew, substances, company at the Center, etc.) and students should go in with that understanding. But the experience is in every way worth it.

What would you improve about this program?
The courses were interesting, but I didn't gain as strong of an understanding of actual paths to development as I would have liked. The professors are very knowledgeable, but often times information was not drawn together to teach actual solutions/paths of action.

The program also could've benefited from more activities to foster cultural understanding, as well as coexistence among students living in such close quarters.
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Yes, I recommend this program

Amazing Experience

This was a eye-opening experience. It made me realize that every and all cations that we take has an impact one somebody else in the world. I learned that sustainability comes with many trade-offs but benefit the environment and humans in the long run. You are able to coexist in a tight knit community that enjoys being with one another and enjoy a life full of simplicity. The hikes, views, waterfalls and sunsets will always be in the back of your mind and in your dreams.

What would you improve about this program?
By providing more sensitivity training to the staff and sessions for the students
Default avatar
Yes, I recommend this program

Top-notch program...I highly recommend it

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. Although the academic schedule can be rigorous at times, the expansive field lectures and field research keep you on your toes so that you remain energized and enthusiastic throughout the day. Practicing sustainability is as much a part of this program as studying it is. At the beginning of each semester the program participants create and sign a sustainability contract dictating how they will best attempt to live their daily lives while in this program, in order to live as sustainably as possible. The resulting simpler lifestyle coupled with the tight-knit community of peers and faculty creates an enlightening experience that SFS alumni will keep with them for a lifetime.

If you want to experience what living sustainably is like and explore a beautiful country, with amazing faculty and peers, then this is the program for you.

What would you improve about this program?
Sometime classes 6 days a week can become very tiring. A lengthening of the program to create more full-length weekends might really make the program that much more enjoyable and also keep students being 100% productive through the end. Otherwise I wouldn't change anything else, except you should campaign to get more male participants. My program was 23 girls and 6 guys. A more equally balanced community would be more fun and more constructive on both sides.
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Yes, I recommend this program

Amazing experience!

While I was in Costa Rica I lived with 34 other students, 3 of which shared a room with me. It got to be a lot being around people all the time, however, I made some of my best life long friends during this journey. SFS provided such an enlightening experience that I never could have created traveling on my own. We went on excursions every weekend and sometimes during the week too. I saw so much of Costa Rica while I was there & can't wait to go back!

Default avatar
Yes, I recommend this program

Why some ratings got 7's

The living situation is not like you're living at a 5 star hotel, but there is a pool surrounded by palm trees that if you go to early enough, you can see monkeys at in the morning. The actual house that we lived in was basically all concrete but it awesome because everyone became a family so quickly and we basically were our own social scene. The early curfew doesn't exactly allow you to develop routine of going out and exploring at night, but we definitely made due. I'd recommend this program to anyone, even if they were not interested in sustainability.