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Global Engagement Studies Institute in Costa Rica

Global Engagement Studies Institute in Costa Rica website  (map)

Sponsor: Northwestern University’s Buffett Institute for Global Studies and the Institute for Central American Development Studies

Location: San Jose, Costa Rica


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.

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.

Program Type: Northwestern-Sponsored


  • Summer

Languages: Spanish, English

Language Requirements: 

1 year or the equivalent of college-level Spanish.


Home stays

Program Costs: 

The cost of the program is equivalent to tuition for two credits.  In summer 2018 this is $8707. 

Although equal to the cost of tuition, this program fee includes much more, such as room and board while abroad, GeoBlue health insurance coverage, and more.

Visit the GESI website for more cost information details, including our breakdown of additional expenses for use in planning.

GESI Scholarships: 

GESI scholarships exist so that qualified Northwestern undergraduate students have the opportunity to gain international and community development experience, regardless of financial constraints. Learn more about the two types of scholarships that are available to qualified Northwestern students for GESI Costa Rica:

  • Bonnie and Mike Daniels Scholars: Up to 15 scholarships that cover full tuition and other costs, and are based on financial need, community engagement, and interview/application quality.
  • Buffett Institute GESI Scholarships: Award amounts vary and are based on financial need, community engagement, and interview/application quality.

Visit the GESI website for more information about GESI scholarships and financial aid.

GESI Appointment

Contact Returnees

Financial FAQ