Costa Rica Study Abroad Country Profile

Costa Rica Overview

Costa Rica is a country unlike many others in Central and South America. Dubbed by some as "the Switzerland of the Americas", Costa Rica is both a politically peaceful and beautiful place, with an abundance of plant and animal life. Costa Rica is home to a friendly people with strong pride in their country. Literacy is high here, particularly for Latin America, and disparities between the rich and poor are relatively non-existent. As you might expect, given its lack of political upheaval, Costa Rica differs from many of its Latin American counterparts by having no real indigenous culture to speak of. Costa Rican culture does not have much bearing on the day-to-day lives of the country’s people as it does elsewhere in the region, but it is more than made up for with an abundance of natural resources and beauty.

Cultural Highlights

Costa Rica is in many ways very distinct from other countries in Latin America. Unlike other countries in Central and South America, Costa Rica has no true indigenous groups and no relics or ruins from past civilizations. In fact, there is really no singular, overwhelming cultural influence. Costa Rican culture is heavily influenced by Spanish culture, a result of settlement in the 16th century, but other areas are influenced by other groups, most notably the influence of black Jamaicans in Limon. Immigrants from around the world have shaped Costa Rica’s modern culture, and there is a high degree of ethnic diversity around the country.

Catholicism is recognized as the official religion of Costa Rica, though there is variation in both devotion to Catholicism and in other religions present. Events like Semana Santa, or the week of Easter, is celebrated here as it is in other Latin American countries, but religion is not a particularly dominant force. Costa Rica has much to offer in the way of visual and performing arts, and its cuisine is a lively yet traditional mixture of Spanish, American, Caribbean, and South American influences. Dishes based around rice and beans are prevalent, as are dishes containing plantains and coconuts. The sheer variety of tropical fruit here and ways to consume it will make your head spin.

Popular Fields of Study

Given its abundance of ecosystems and wide variety of plant and animal life, Costa Rica is an increasingly popular choice for students interested in biology, ecology, and the environment. Costa Rica has over twelve distinct climatic areas, from volcanoes to "cloud forests". Costa Rica study abroad courses and programs in the aforementioned subject areas range from sustainable development, to resource management and conservation, biodiversity, and tropical ecosystems. Also learn about waste management, water resources, and the influence of international policies like the Central American Fair Trade Agreement (CAFTA), as well as land use planning, organic farming, and economic development.

Why Study Abroad in Costa Rica?

Costa Rica has many unique advantages as a study abroad destination. Here are ten reasons why you should consider studying abroad in Costa Rica.

1. Learn Spanish

1. It goes without saying that being immersed in a Spanish-speaking culture is the best tool for learning the language, but Costa Rica’s people (or "ticos", as they refer to themselves) are especially friendly and more than happy to help you learn.

2. World-renowned Beaches

Whether you are on the Pacific side or the Caribbean side, you won’t be too far from a beach, and Costa Rica’s beaches are world-famous.

3. White-Water Rafting

Costa Rica is a great place to enjoy an abundance of outdoor activities. With more than 200 rivers traversing the country, Costa Rica boasts some of the best white water rafting in the world.

4. Biodiversity

With anywhere from 500,000 to 1,000,000 unique species in a variety of ecosystems, you will be sure to see a variety of wildlife. From sloths to more than 850 species of birds (comprising 10% of the global population!), Costa Rica is a hotspot for wildlife.

5. National Parks

Costa Rica has 25 national parks, and Costa Rica’s policies on environmental protection, sustainability, and ecotourism have made them a model for other countries.

6. Geographic Diversity

Though it boasts a spectacular variety of wildlife, Costa Rica’s ecosystems are equally as varied. From the lava flows of Arenal to the tropical rain forests, Costa Rica’s ecosystems provide a variety of backdrops for thought-provoking and unique educational opportunities.

7. San Jose

Though many of the course offerings in Costa Rica focus on nature and the environment, the capital of San Jose provides everything else that Costa Rica study abroad students might want, from museums and theaters to restaurants, dance clubs, and music venues.

8. Butterfly Farm & Insect Museum

Visit Latin America’s largest exporter of farm raised butterflies at the butterfly farm near Alajuela. Also visit the Jewels of the Rainforest exhibit, where you can see a variety of colorful and bizarre insects.

9. Outdoor Activities

While its rafting may be world-famous, Costa Rica is also an excellent location for hiking, SCUBA, wind surfing, kayaking (both freshwater and ocean), and more.

10. Monteverde Cloud Forest

A truly unique experience, this rare type of rain forest has 100% humidity and platforms hundreds of feet in the air, allowing for great views of the forest canopy.

Costa Rica Study Abroad Statistics

Argentina Country Ranking: 10

(based on total outbound U.S. students)
  • % of U.S. students: 2.4%
  • Total US Students 2005/06: 5,518
  • Total US Students 2006/07: 5,383
  • Yearly 2006/07 Trend: -2.4%
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