Located in the heart of Central America lies the most Americanized Spanish speaking city of San José, Costa Rica. Studying abroad in San José is the perfect option for those who are beginner Spanish speakers; although Spanish is the native tongue, the majority of Costa Ricans (aka Ticos) in San José understand English and tend to be patient with new learners. This city is full of historical architecture, open green areas, performance theaters, various museums, hip restaurants, and is the central hub for all transportation to the more rural parts of the country, making it any even better location for curious study abroad students.
Studying Abroad in San Jose
The typical academic calendar is relatively comparable to that used in the United States. A variety of the universities within Costa Rica adhere to the general terms that run from September to December and then January to April. Summer term programs are often available throughout the break of the regular semester terms, which typically entail three month-long study abroad programs in San José for international students.
Costa Rica as a whole has the highest literacy rates and best educational levels in all of Central America, and most of these are comparable to the higher education institutions in the United States too. These rates are especially true for San José, which is home to variety of public and private universities. The most commonly chosen for international students are Universidad de Costa Rica (UCR), Universidad Latina, and Universidad Veritas.
If you are interested in taking courses in English while studying abroad in San Jose, you will be able to find courses in a variety of subjects, such as arts and humanities, communications, politics, international development, business, and the most popular, environmental science. Geographically, Costa Rica connects North and South America; therefore, it contains the entire biodiversity of both continents. Along with the extreme biodiversity, the country itself is practically an entire tropical rainforest making it a tourists' playground and environmental researchers' dream. With easy access to both the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean, one popular course offered to students is marine biology.
Students who study abroad in San José may also take courses in Spanish - either at the beginner, intermediate, or an advanced level. Those who are at an advanced level of Spanish typically can choose to take courses with other international students, with Costa Ricans, or a combination of both. The most popular Spanish-taught courses offered to international students studying in San José are advanced level literature and linguistic courses.
Life in San Jose
As the nation’s largest city, San José attracts thousands of people daily, from natives working in the city center, tourists passing through, and the many students attending the various universities. It is no surprise that the city attracts a large number of people; the city itself is very green, artistic, and is home to a great deal of historical architecture, namely the theaters and museums. A few must-visit sites that are full of traditional and modern Costa Rican culture are: Museo Nacional de Costa Rica, Museo de los Ninos, Teatro Nacional de Costa Rica, Parque Morazan, Plaza de la Cultura, and the one-stop-shop for all souvenirs, Mercado Nacional de Artesanías.
Public transportation exists throughout the city, mainly in the form of buses and taxis. One key point for foreigners to remember about taking taxis is to take those that have a yellow triangle on the door. Taxis without a yellow triangle are unofficial taxis and the drivers will ridiculously overcharge you, regardless of how much you try arguing with them.
Despite its problems and being one of the youngest capital cities, San José remains one of the safest cities in all of Latin America. In fact, the country of Costa Rica is known as the most peaceful country in the world and is becoming a popular travel destination.
Accommodation & Visas
The most popular type of housing for international students who study abroad in San José is homestays, which are generally within a 20 minute walk from the students' university. Typically, host families consist of either a married couple with young children, an elderly couple whose children have all left the house, or a single older women. Prior to studying in San José, as part of your program application, you will fill out an information form and answer questions related to your preferences for housing. The purpose of this form and its questions are to help place you with potential roommates and/or a homestay family. Homestays often include two meals a day, breakfast and dinner. Don’t be surprised if either or both meals contain the national dish, gallo pinto (rice and beans), as the main entree or side dish.
Students from the United States can enter the country and study abroad in San José as tourists, they will receive a tourist visa stamp at immigration upon arrival which is valid for up to 90 days. Students studying abroad in Costa Rica for an entire semester (or longer) will be required to leave the country within the first 90 days in order to re-enter the country under a new tourist visa valid for the remainder of the time. Typically, study abroad programs in Costa Rica will include a mid-semester international trip, to either Nicaragua or Panama, in order to assist students with obtaining a new tourist visa stamp.
Benefits & Challenges
- The Language. Costa Rica is a perfect place for beginner-level Spanish speakers to come and improve their Spanish. Costa Rican’s generally do not roll their "r’s" which tends to make learning and understanding the language easier.
- The Weather. Costa Rica has two seasons: a dry season and a wet season. Both seasons are unpredictable; however, when it rains during the wet season it tends to pour, so be sure to either bring or buy an umbrella and be prepared to make it a part of your everyday carry.
- The Pura Vida Lifestyle. Pura Vida, literally translated as “pure life,” is the national phrase of Costa Rica. This phrase permeates the everyday mindset that life is wonderful and should be enjoyed every minute (synonym: "Hakuna Matata").