Every year, thousands of American college students make their way down to Central America to study abroad in the beautiful country of Costa Rica. After my own great experience, I’ve listed my top reasons to study abroad in Costa Rica.
While there are many options as to where to base yourself, I was specifically living and studying in Heredia. There are a HUGE variety of University programs in this city and in San Jose, click here to see a few!
#1: An Affordable Study Abroad Experience
Compared to other study abroad programs (especially in Europe), programs in Costa Rica are surprisingly affordable. Housing, meals at your home-stay, tuition, textbooks, weekend excursions and weekly cultural and social events are typically included in the overall price. Also, flights from the US to Costa Rica are reasonable, and once you are in Heredia the day-to-day cost of living is great!
#2: The Staff
Costa Rica is amazing, so it’s not surprising that study abroad staffers are typically very passionate about their programs. The onsite directors are there to help you 24-7, always just a phone call away, and can help with anything from “hey I’m running late”, to “AHH I’m lost downtown!” Often, classes will be given at the Universidad Latina de Costa Rica, and several programs have onsite staffers there each day.
#3: “Mama Ticas” & Homestays
For a true immersion experience, living with a host family is a must! The families that work with study abroad programs are heavily screened and are top notch. Having a local Costa Rican as your house mom (fondly known as your mama tica) is a fabulous experience. I chatted with my “mom” every day, sometimes for hours, and she invited me along to many family events. Some students who stay for longer time periods will attend weekend vacations or even go to a cousin’s quinceañera, it all just depends.
Everyone I spoke with, myself included, had incredibly welcoming, kind, and fun host families. It is THE best way to practice your Spanish, and if you are open to it your family can introduce you to locals so you can make new tico friends around your own age too. If that isn’t enough, they do your laundry for you and always cook you big, delicious meals! Just another reason to study abroad in Costa Rica!
#4: Centralized Location
Heredia is a suburb of the capital city of San Jose. If you look at a map of Costa Rica, San Jose is basically smack dab in the middle. While you are not directly by a beach during the school week, fear not- there is plenty to do! You can take a local bus to the big city and be there in about 45 minutes. You can also walk the streets of Heredia during the day and explore the “real” Costa Rica, in a less touristy area of the country.
From this central city, you can head south and be at a beach in about 2 hours. Alternatively, you can go west for 3 hours and see a volcano or go zip lining in a cloud forest. All public buses offer round-trip options from San Jose, and several local airlines too. While the city itself may not be the most picturesque, it still has a lot to offer.
Downtown San Jose
#5:The Weekend Trips
I stayed for 6 weeks during my particular program, and the first 3 we had included excursions (this is the case with almost all Heredia based programs). These were such a blast, and we went to some truly phenomenal locations! The last 3 weeks were “free time”, so I planned trips with my friends from the program, and those trips were just as fantastic. In addition to earning 6 Spanish language credit hours, I was able to go to the following locations:
La Fortuna – Arenal Volcano, La Fortuna Waterfall, Zip-Lining and Baldi Hot Springs
From the first day of most programs, the staff will fill you in on the history, modern society, and traditional culture of Costa Rica. You get a great feel for the area you live in, as well as the surrounding cities. You learn everything from tico slang, to where to find the best churros. Once you are introduced to the nearby attractions, many companies offer activities during the week-days after classes (all optional).
We were able to visit an animal rescue center, try exotic fruits, learn how to salsa dance, cook local dishes at a nearby farm, volunteer at schools or animal shelters, and dance the night away at a Discoteca! They also organized group outings to downtown San Jose and the local market in Heredia, all of which helped us feel comfortable in our new city.
#7: Pura Vida
Pura vida means “The pure life”. The relaxed lifestyle of Costa Rica and its inhabitants is so refreshing. Rated as one of the happiest countries in the world by the world happiness index, it’s easy to look around and feel the love. The pura vida lifestyle is just an overall feeling, a great atmosphere, and an intangible element that makes visitors fall in love with this beautiful nation. My experience studying abroad made me understand what the “pura vida” is all about! After my program ended, I have since returned twice and I know I’ll go back again!
#8: The Fruit and Local Markets
Ask anyone who has visited Costa Rica, and they will rave about how fresh and flavorful the fruits are. I can’t say exactly why, but eating a pineapple in Costa Rica is about one hundred times better than eating one in the US. Everything is fresh, local, and in abundance. Street markets are everywhere, and the popular dish gallo pinto isn’t too bad either!
Okay, so maybe I’m the only one who thinks sloth deserve their own number in this list- but sloths are SO CUTE! I had always wanted to see one, and by living in Costa Rica I had the chance to see more than I could count! In many of the national parks, you are basically guaranteed several wild sloth sightings (I mean, they aren’t going anywhere fast), and visiting the Toucan Rescue Ranch allowed me to see them up close and personal (they even let me take a photo with one!) If you love sloths, you will without doubt love it here! What better reason to study abroad in Costa Rica?
#10:Your Fellow Students
Again, it might just be me, but it seems like everyone who studies abroad in Costa Rica is just an awesome person. I came into the program as a Masters student, so I was about 7 years older than the majority of the participants, and that worried me a little. In hindsight, I have no idea why I was ever concerned!
I’m going to make a grand assumption here and just say that everyone who comes to Costa Rica to study is fun, happy, upbeat, and adventurous! Most students genuinely love and want to learn the Spanish language too, and it’s great to be with like-minded people. It is easy to make friends when you go through such memorable experiences together, and I know that I found many lifelong friends from my time in Heredia. This alone is a great reason to study abroad in Costa Rica!