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SFS: Costa Rica: Atenas: Sustainable Development Studies
Atenas, Costa Rica (Education Abroad Programs Program)
Program Terms: Fall Semester,
Spring Semester
Homepage: Click to visit
Program Sponsor: The School for Field Studies (SFS) 
Dates / Deadlines:
Term Year App Deadline Decision Date Start Date End Date
Spring Semester 2019 01-NOV-2018
Rolling Admission TBA TBA
Fall Semester 2019 01-APR-2019 ** Rolling Admission TBA TBA

** Indicates rolling admission application process. Applicants will be immediately notified of acceptance into this program and be able to complete post-decision materials prior to the term's application deadline.

Indicates that deadline has passed
Fact Sheet:
Class Status:
2nd year, 3rd year, 4th year, Graduate student Minimum GPA Requirement: 2.8
Language Requirement:
Open to Non-UVa Students:
Housing: University dormitory Language Courses Offered: Yes
Language of Instruction: English, Spanish
Credit Type:
Transfer Credit
Program Type:
Field Study/ Experiential
Tuition Payments Made To:
Program Provider
Education Abroad Advisor:
Martha Sadler
Application Fee:
Study Abroad Administrative Fee:
Subject Area:
Anthropology, Biology, Economics, Environmental Sciences, Foreign Affairs, Geography, Geology, Latin American Studies
Program Description:




  • Terms: Fall, Spring
  • Credits: 18 semester-hour credits
  • Prerequisites: One semester of college-level ecology, biology, or environmental studies/science; 18 years of age
  • Application Deadline: Rolling admissions. Early applications encouraged
  • Financial Aid: All accepted students can apply for need-based scholarships, grants, and loans


Experience a semester of sustainability in Costa Rica, known worldwide for its innovative conservation and economic development strategies. This program examines the different models that Costa Rica uses to balance biodiversity conservation with socioeconomic benefits, especially in rural communities. Students examine the effects of globalization on development issues such as agriculture, urban sprawl, population growth, waste management, and water quality. Students visit cloud forests, dry forests, volcanoes, lowland rainforests, farms, and plantations as they explore environmental policies and sustainable solutions in the context of the environmental changes facing Costa Rica.


  • Climate change and tropical ecosystems
  • Land use practices congruent with conservation
  • Tourism sustainability
  • Sustainable agriculture and climate change mitigation
  • Carbon sequestration strategies
  • Socioeconomic  and environmental impacts of tourism
  • Environmental justice and environmental ethics


  • Expedition to Nicaragua to hike the volcanoes of Ometepe Island and examine tourism and development in a neighboring country
  • Visit to Monteverde Cloud Forest reserve to study hummingbird ecology and tour a shade-grown coffee farm
  • Overnight camping trip to the dry forest of Santa Rosa National Park
  • Assessment of park management strategies and tourism capacity in Carara National Park 


Through Directed Research (DR)—as opposed to basic, applied, or independent research—students conduct research on a specific topic that is part of the SFS Center’s long-term strategic research plan, which has been developed in partnership with local community stakeholders and clients.

The course, taught by resident SFS faculty, provides students with the opportunity to apply the scientific process in a mentored field research project that addresses a local environmental issue. Through the DR project, students contribute to a growing body of scientific research that informs local conservation and resource management decisions.




Our 25th Anniversary

The Center for Sustainable Development Studies is exploring means of promoting sustainable land use and effective land protection in response to pressure from population growth and a degraded natural resource base. With the results of this research (including our very own transitional organic farm), we will help to develop protocols and training for farmers to help them obtain organic certification, select and monitor indicators of biodiversity, as well as provide information about improving national park operations and relationships between parks and local people.

Our field station is developing a Memorandum of Understanding with the Ministry of Energy and Environment to expan our studies of the Central Volcanic Mountain Range and Conservation Area to address agency needs and priorites. Students will help develop methodologies and information that will help park administrators make better decisions on managing parks' natural resources and ensuring benefits for the people who live in nearby areas. SFS offers a 4 course -16 credit semester program each fall and semester and a 4 credit summer program twice each summer (see below).Community Interaction:

Our field station is a small farm on a hillside with spectacular views overlooking the Rio Grande River in the fertile Central Valley. The property includes a large house surrounded by small faculty cabins, an outdoor classroom, an organic garden, orchard, a patio and pool. Students live in a brand new dormitory (up to 4 to a room) with bathrooms. There is a classroom, small laboratory and a library/computer room. We look out over green hillsides dotted with farms growing coffee, mangoes, bananas and citrus. The field station is part of the small neighborhood of La Presa/Los Angeles. The friendly town of Atenas is a short walk from the field station while Costa Rica's tropical forests, beaches, mountains and volcanoes are within a day's travel.

SFS offers a 5 course -18 credit semester program each fall and semester and a 4 credit summer program twice each summer (see below).

Community Interaction:

Students volunteer at a local orphanage garden.Students truly value the numerous opportunities to integrate into the local community and community land-use choices are among our chief concerns. Therefore, we spend significant time with local residents, farmers and agricultural cooperative members to better understand their perspectives and needs?this is key to our mission. In this area, our academic focus and community connection allows students to become involved in local social activities such as:

  • Spanish lessons throughout the program to help sharpen conversational skills.
  • Soccer games, community festivals, tutoring in schools, volunteering in orphanages, establishing recycling efforts.
  • Costa Rican holiday celebrations; hosting local residents at our field station events.
  • A short homestay to expand students' connections to the community.

Semester Program:

Semester students are registered in four academic courses accredited through Boston University:
EE(NS) 377 Tropical Ecology & Sustainable Development (4 credits)
EE(SS) 303 Economic & Ethical Issues in Sustainable Development (4 credits)
EE(NS) 374 Principles of Resource Management (4 credits)
EE 491 or 492 Directed Research (4 credits)
LS 205E Language, Culture & Society of Costa Rica (2 credits) 

Semester Program Applicants must be at least 18 years of age, in good academic standing and have completed at least one college-level ecology or biology course, and at least one semester of college prior to the start of the program

Research interests ( student directed research projects):

Barriers to certification as organic coffee farms  in Costa Rica.

Use of organic versus chemical inputs in agriculture.

Assessing the services of national parks in Costa Rica from the perspective of people who live in areas around the park (Volcan Poas National Park).

Monitoring bird diversity in Braulio Carrillo National Park.

Developing biophysical indicators of ecosystem health using aquatic invertebrates.

Comparing ecosystem health in organic versus conventional farms and in disturbed versus undisturbed forested areas.

Field Trips, Excursions and Lectures:

Volcan PoasSanta Rosa National Park: camping trip to explore a tropical dry forest ecosystem that is rarer and more threatened than better-publicized rainforests; site of one of the biggest forest restoration projects in Latin America.

Volcan Poas National Park: Investigate parks and people relations and park facility and visitor information needs.

Braulio Carrillo: national park encompassing a wide range of altitudes, ecosystems and a huge variety of plant and animal life.

Carara National Park: Pacific coastal rainforests offer additional lessons in biodiversity; home to monkeys, sloths, scarlet macaws and crocodiles.

Rincon de La Vieja National Park: camping trip to the cloud forest and mud piles from volcanoes.

Eternal Children's Rain Forest Private Reserve and Volcan Arenal National Park in addition to agricultural land surrounding the park.

Local coffee plantations, farms, preserves, forests and the communities of Atenas.

Summer Program:

Summer students are registered in a 4 credit  course accredited through Boston University:

EE (NS) 352 Alternative Strategies for Sustaining Tropical Ecosystems 

Summer Program Applicants must be at least 16 years of age, in good academic standing and have completed at least the junior year of high school prior to the start of the program.

Research interests:

In our search for viable management strategies, we will examine issues of applied tropical ecology, ecotourism and protected area management. We will work very closely with members of the local community, hearing from experts on federal protection schemes and the operation of privately owned reserves and local communities surrounding protected areas. Using data collected during field work, students will examine the challenges and opportunities for maximizing effectiveness in protecting natural resources and conserving biodiversity in Costa Rica.

Field Trips, Excursions and Lectures

  • Studying the incredible tropical ecology and assessing ecotourism efforts of several national parks, including expeditions to Braulio Carillo, the most extensive rainforest national park in the country.
  • Evaluating and comparing the efforts of private reserves like the Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve and the Eternal Children Rainforest, home to jaguars, ocelots and quetzals.
  • Visits to Volcan Poas, the second largest volcano crater in the world to study parks and people relations and develop environmental education programs.
  • Monitoring biodiversity in forested versus non-forested areas.