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Global Engagement Studies Institute (GESI) in Costa Rica

San Jose, Costa Rica

San Jose, Costa Rica

Program sponsor: Northwestern

GESI 2019 Costa Rica students
Town square in San Jose with Costa Rica flag
Town square in San Jose with Costa Rica flag

The Global Engagement Studies Institute (GESI) is a study abroad program that provides undergraduates with the knowledge, tools, and experiences to confront shared global challenges. Through service-learning in Bolivia, Costa Rica, Ghana, Guatemala, Uganda, or Vietnam, teams of students join the efforts of local organizations to advance community-driven change.


While Costa Rica is unique in its non-violent history, there is still much work to be done around environmental conservation and human rights. Students will work through the Institute for Central American Development Studies (ICADS), a center for study, research, and analysis of Central American social and environmental issues. The ICADS approach to development is focused on education of the region combined with hands on experience. Within the historical political, and cultural context of the region, students will do internships in Costa Rican organizations working towards social justice issues or sustainability.


Before starting internships, students will arrive and train at the ICADS office in San Jose. It’s a large and modern city that is easily accessible to the rest of the country through buses. After the initial training and Spanish classes, students might work in a different province in Costa Rica, within five hours of San Jose. The excursions in Costa Rica focus largely on nature and wildlife conservation.

Community experience

Costa Ricans, affectionately referred to (by themselves and other countries) as “Ticos,” have a reputation for being extremely patient and conflict adverse. Ticos are often proud of their peace-loving country, and take pride in Costa Rica as a popular ecotourism destination. Of the ICADS host families, many of them have been hosting students for several years. Families will provide two daily meals, often accompanied with locally produced coffee, bananas, plantains, and tortillas. ICADS places a huge emphasis on Spanish learning, and provides intensive classes for students. Restricted use of wifi is also to be expected, as ICADS encourages students to be as immersed and present as possible throughout their work and home experience.

Begin Application Process


SESP 395-SA: Special Topics

This course helps GESI students strengthen local community development efforts by identifying and harnessing existing community assets. The practical lessons in this course include asset mapping and identifying processes that improve intra- and inter-team communication and relationships.

The objectives of this course are (1) to prepare students to successfully execute community engagement work with host organizations or local host communities, (2) to provide structure for their work in-country (3) to teach students how to reflect collaboratively and meaningfully on their learning experiences when they return. Through this method of preparation, implementation, and evaluation, students become more competent collaborative change-agents in their communities and institutions.

INTL ST 393-SA: Development in the Global Context

This course combines intensive classroom and structured experiential learning to analyze community-based international development. Students examine fundamental debates over the nature and goals of international development, alternative approaches to development work, the common assumptions employed in development work, the effects of power in development work, and the theory and practice of community-based development. In addition, students will be introduced to the political, social, economic, cultural and geographic characteristics of each host country that are most relevant for development.

During fieldwork, students apply these principles to design and implement a small-scale community development project with peers and community partners. Through a series of written assignments, students use their time in the field to conduct interviews and additional research to analyze core questions and controversies within international development. Students reconvene at Northwestern to examine individual experiences and research in the field, as well as compare experiences with GESI peers who worked in other countries and different development sectors. Students draw lessons from these comparisons and articulate their own arguments about international development work.

Program Requirements


Open to Northwestern and non-Northwestern students from all majors meeting Northwestern's minimum application requirements.


1 year or the equivalent of college-level Spanish.


  1. Apply for permission to study abroad
    All students are required to apply for permission to study abroad. Learn more about the process, deadlines, and access the application on the apply to study abroad page.
  2. Interview with GESI. In advance of the interview, all applicants must have already either attended an in-person GESI info session OR watched the recorded info session.

Program Contacts

Estimated Credit

2 Northwestern units per semester. Visit Registration & Credit to learn more about credit types and requirements, registration, and other considerations.


While in-country, students stay with carefully vetted local community homestay families. Amenities at homestays vary by country and household; however, all families are expected to provide a bed, safe drinking water and food, and generally sanitary living conditions for students. Electricity and running water may not be available at all sites. When possible, each GESI student will be placed in his or her own individual homestay unless a student indicates a special reason for wishing to be placed with another student or unless circumstances at the site do not enable students to be placed individually.

Host Institution

The Institute for Central American Development Studies (ICADS) is a center for study, research, and analysis of Central American social and environmental issues, including economic development, politics, environmental studies, sustainable development, public health, women’s issues, education, human rights, and conservation. Each of the organization's where GESI students will work address one or more of the following development areas:

  • Indigenous rights
  • Agricultural production
  • Youth and education
  • Environmental sustainability
  • Advocacy

Program Cost

Summer program costs vary, but summer study abroad tends to be much less expensive overall than a regular quarter at Northwestern. Review the comparison.

Summer 2020: $10,828

  • Tuition: $7,437
  • Room and board: $1,835
  • GeoBlue: $100

Total Program Fee: $9,372

  • International airfare: $800

Total Billed by Northwestern: $10,172

  • Additional meals: $150
  • Local transportation: $50
  • Visa: $0*
  • Vaccinations and medications: $256
  • Personal expenses: $200

Total: $656

*Students are responsible for obtaining their own visas and cost depends on nationality. Prices are subject to change. Students who need to apply for a passport should budget an additional $135.

Financial Aid & Scholarships

  • Students applying to this program are eligible to apply for GESI scholarships and are also encouraged to apply for other funding opportunities.
  • Northwestern students receiving financial aid during the academic year may be eligible to apply for summer aid for this program. Visit the summer aid & scholarships page for additional information.

Program Financial Details

This section outlines some of the billing and financial arrangements for Northwestern Global Engagement Studies Institute (GESI) programs, and is intended as a guide to help you navigate the financial aspects of your study abroad process. You should always refer to your program materials for the most current information and instructions.

Program Confirmation

Once you are approved to attend a GESI program, you will need to complete a Program Confirmation form to confirm your participation. Northwestern students attending GESI programs are not required to pay a confirmation deposit, but will be charged a cancellation fee for withdrawing from the program after confirming.

Northwestern Invoice

Your Northwestern invoice will be issued through CAESAR on the regular quarterly schedule, and will include your GESI program fee (tuition, room/board, insurance), as well as your program airfare.

If you receive GESI scholarships, financial aid, and/or loans, these funds will apply directly to your NU account.

Withdrawal & Refund Policies

If you withdraw or are dismissed from a GESI program after submitting your program confirmation form, you are subject to the withdrawal & refund policies for Northwestern programs.

Program Website