The semester is divided into three blocks which include a combination of lectures, group "analyses," fieldwork, and independent research. It is important to note that topics and field sites will vary in response to new study opportunities, environmental conditions, or other unforeseen circumstances.
Block I: STUDY IN SAN JOSE & THE CENTRAL VALLEY (4 weeks)
During the first four weeks of the course students live in San José with Costa Rican families. Students study Spanish for four hours daily and learn essential principles of tropical ecology, agroecology, development theory, Latin American political economy, and Costa Rican history (both social and natural). While living in San José, the country's principal population center, students are provided with the opportunity to conduct fieldwork on urban issues such as waste management, marketing structure, social services, and water quality. During this period we visit sites around the Central Valley-the primary location of the country's early agricultural development-to study such topics as coffee production, urban development, soil conservation, organic farming, and national park management.
Block II: FIELD WORK (5 weeks)
The second block of the course emphasizes fieldwork. Students carry out brief social and ecological research projects while living and traveling together primarily in rural communities. A short stop over in San José is included in this block to allow students to conduct research for their independent study projects, prepare written reports and lead group discussions.
During Block II, the Field Course visits 3 to 4 different areas within Costa Rica where they learn about a diversity of ecological zones and systems of regional development. Some of our Costa Rican destinations may include:
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.
We conclude Block II crossing the border into Nicaragua, where students are given the opportunity understand some of the different development problems and strategies in Nicaragua in contrast to those in Costa Rica. Activities include: a hike up Mombacho Volcano to look at shade grown coffee, its faunal diversity, and the private management of the volcano's cloud forest reserve; a visit to a women's organization working to provide reproductive, medical, social and economic services to Nicaraguan women; and a visit to a rural community to observe development strategies. Students conduct interviews with community members to help gain a historical perspective of the Contra war and the current economic and political condition in Nicaragua.
Block III: INDEPENDENT STUDY PROJECTS (5 weeks)
During the final portion of the course, students return to one of the previously visited Costa Rican field sites to conduct in-depth research on a topic of their choice. They independently develop research proposals, collect data, and analyze their results. Projects may only be conducted in Costa Rica, and 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.
Academic Credit and Grades
Recommended credit is fifteen semester credit hours assigned as follows: Spanish Grammar and Conversation (3 credits), Ecology of Managed and Natural Ecosystems (4 credits), Socio-economic Analysis of Costa Rican Economic Development (4 credits), Independent Research Project (4 credits). Consult your off-campus study office for your university's specific credit and grading policy for this program. Both the number and distribution of credits should be determined in advance. ICADS is affiliated with Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts. Credit transfers may be arranged wih Hampshire College, but must be made by ICADS. Hampshire charges a credit transfer fee of $200. Usually this credit transfer is not necessary as ICADS credits are widely accepted by many of the best colleges and universities in the U.S.
The course is multidisciplinary and thus open to all social and natural science majors. We bly recommend that students enter the course with at least two semesters of college Spanish.
Students should budget $400-$600 per month for local and weekend travel, lunches, visa-related fees, and other personal expenses.
Students will live with Costa Rican families while in San José and in rural communities while conducting their independent study projects. Family placements are supervised by an experienced ICADS housing coordinator who makes every effort to match the needs of each student with those of her/his host family. As an integral part of the program, the homestay experience facilitates language learning and greater integration into Costa Rican culture and society. While traveling during Block II, students and professors stay either with families or in small hotels, hostels and biological stations with dorm style housing. In Block III while conducting their independent study projects, students stay with host families in rural communities.
Students must budget for their own round-trip transportation to San José. ICADS will refer students to an affiliated travel agency that can assist them in making travel arrangements at the lowest possible cost.