WONDERFUL!!! An insider's look at Costa Rica! Past Review

By (University of Maryland - Baltimore County) - abroad from 02/09/2014 to 05/18/2014 with

CIEE: Monteverde - Sustainability + The Environment

What did you gain/learn from your experience abroad? Was it worthwhile?
Looking back, I cannot believe what I did and how much I learned during my study abroad program! We got to travel around Costa Rica for 4 out of 14 weeks, I had a 4 week sustainability internship, I lived with a host family, I took 5 classes, and I had so much fun with the staff and other students. We studied a variety of issues specific to Costa Rica such as tropical conservation, tourism, and agriculture. We visited energy plants, local farms, national parks, and an indigenous village; interviewed fishermen, farmers, conservationists, and victims of environmental injustice; and had a blast at beaches, hiking, and cooking Costa Rican food. If you are interested in the intersection between environmental issues and how they affect society and the economy, this is the program for you!

Personal Information

How much international exposure did you have prior to this program? 0-2 weeks

Review Your Program

* Overall educational experience

Academic rigor, intensity, resources, etc.

Absolutely amazing! The profs had high expectations and the academics were challenging, but the courses were highly integrated and hands-on. For example, we would have a lecture about hydro electricity, visit a hydroelectric plant, and discuss the environmental and social impacts of the plant. I feel that I now have an in-depth understanding of Costa Rica and the sustainability challenges it faces.

* Host Country Program Administration

On-site administration of your program

The administrators were very organized and friendly; they really helped everything run smoothly.

* Housing:

How satisfied were you with your living arrangements?

Students each had a homestay in Monteverde. We were all in the same neighborhood, which was about a 30-45 minute walk to where we had classes everyday. We each had our own room in our homestay, and we got 3 meals/day as part of our homestay. During the field trips, we stayed in simple hotels or field stations.

* Food:

Usually good. We almost always had local Costa Rican cuisine which consists of lots of rice and beans! Despite the rice and beans with every meal, I was surprised at the variety of food I got. The program provided fresh fruit and veggies for students at the Study Center and fed us incredibly well during the field trips!

* Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

Good - this is mainly achieved through the homestays. Some students had more active host families than others, so the homestay definitely influenced your cultural integration. The academics really helped us see how locals live and the issues they face. We interviewed (as a group, with a prof translating) many local residents as part of our classes. However, the rigorous academics did mean that I spent a lot of time studying rather than participating in cultural activities. Also, Monteverde is a huge tourist destination, so there are not a ton of cultural activities to do in Monteverde (but there are lots of tourist attractions).

* Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

There's a clinic in Monteverde, and a staff member went with sick students to the clinic if needed to help with Spanish translations. The profs were flexible with assignment deadlines if a student was really sick and needed time to just focus on getting better.

* Safety:

Monteverde seemed very safe, although it was better to walk in groups at night.

If you could do it all over again would you choose the same program? Yes


* Money: How easily were you able to live on a student's budget?

(1 = not very easy/$200+ on food & personal expenses/week, 2.5 = $100/week, 5 = very easily/minimal cost)

I followed the program's suggested amount of spending money and did fine. Since group travel, housing, and meals are covered in the cost of the program, you are only spending money on fun extras (for most of us this was souvenirs & comfort food!).

Not including program expenses, about how much money did you spend on food and other expenses each week? $45
Do you have any general money-saving tips for future study abroad participants? Write down what you purchase so you can see where your money is going


* Did your program have a foreign language component? Yes
How much did the program encourage you to use the language?

0 = No encouragement, 5 = frequent encouragement to use the language

We did not have to speak Spanish except in Spanish class and in our homestays. It was up to us for how much Spanish we wanted to speak.

How would you rate your language skills at the beginning of the program? Beginner
How would you rate your language skills at the end of the program? Beginner
What was the highest level language course you had completed prior to departure? SPAN 201
How many hours per day did you use the language?
Do you have any tips/advice on the best ways to practice the language for future study abroad participants? Be brave & just go for it! [The Spanish classes are conversational Spanish classes which are really different than the Spanish classes I had taken in the US. My conversational Spanish definitely improved.]

Other Program Information

* Where did you live?

Select all that apply

  • Host Family
* Who did you live with?

Select all that apply

  • Host Family
* Who did you take classes with?

Select all that apply

  • Americans
About how many local friends did you make that you will likely keep in touch with? 0

A Look Back

* What did you like most about the program?
  • The two 2-week field trips!
  • How the classes were integrated with each other and how relevant the topics were to Costa Rica
  • The balance between working and playing hard
* What could be improved?
  • More cultural integration
  • A little more time off to explore Monteverde
* What do you know now that you wish you knew before going on this program? I had heard this was an academically rigorous program beforehand but wasn't sure what that meant because I was used to heavy course loads at my home university. What made this program different for me was that there was less freedom to budget your time to complete assignments, mainly because there is no internet access during the field trips (don't get me wrong, the field trips are amazing!). We would sometimes be assigned something and only have a few days to do it. Lots of hard work - but totally worth it!