Pitzer in Costa Rica

Study Abroad - Pitzer in Costa Rica

Pitzer in Costa Rica Semester Program

The Pitzer in Costa Rica Semester Program is a great option for students who want to develop their Spanish language abilities and have an interest in ecology, environmental studies, chemistry, biology, ecotourism, sociology, cultural studies, and anthropology. The program is open to Pitzer College students and non-Pitzer undergraduate students. This program provides students with the opportunity to develop their Spanish, explore a variety of critical ecosystems, and do a deep dive into Costa Rican culture and history. The program is affiliated with the Institute for Central American Development Studies (ICADS).


  • Program Overview
    Photo of people standing in front of the theatre
    National Theatre in San Jose, Costa Rica

    On the Pitzer in Costa Rica Semester program students can explore both the urban and rural areas of Costa Rica. Students begin the semester in the capital, San José. In the capital students take courses through the Institute for Central American Development Studies (ICADS). While at ICADS students take intermediate or advanced Spanish and participate in the first portion of their core class.

    Students then transition to Pitzer College’s 150-acre rainforest reserve, the Firestone Center for Restoration Ecology (FCRE). The FCRE is a 150- acre reserve in the tropical forest and an ecology center with a laboratory, and classroom facilities. It is also home to pre-Columbian petroglyphs, a harvestable bamboo forest, a riparian zone with waterfalls and streams, replanted hardwood forest, and original rainforest. The FCRE property is within UNESCO’s Savegre Biosphere Reserve, which has a very rich biodiversity and is home to 20% of the country’s total flora, 54% of its mammals, and 59% of its birds. FCRE is adjacent to Hacienda Barú, a wildlife refuge of 800 acres to the west; the ecologically significant Osa Peninsula to the south; and Manuel Antonio National Park to the north. The various locations (urban and rural) along with the study trips to neighboring Central American countries provide a breadth of experiences. The semester ends with students completing their independent research projects.

    Eligibility and Prerequisites

    Students must be in good academic standing and have a 2.0 or higher GPA on a 4.0 scale. Prior Spanish language study and/or coursework is strongly recommended.

    Program Dates

    Fall: Early September to mid-December

    Spring: Late January to late May


    View from the Firestone Center for Restoration Ecology pavilion


  • Academics
    Outdoor Classroom


    Courses Claremont Credits Semester Credits
    Intensive Spanish 1.0 4
    *Core Course 1.0 4
    Tropical Restoration Ecology 1.0 4
    Environment, People, and Restoration 1.0 4
    Independent Study Project 1.0 4
    TOTALS 5.0 20

    Core Course

    ICADS Program House

    During the first five weeks of the program, students will participate in the first half of the Pitzer Core Course: a seminar offered through ICADS entitled Latin American Perspectives on Justice and Sustainable Development. The course includes lectures, study trips in and around San José, discussion sessions, a variety of oral, interactive and written assignments, and a longer study trip. Students typically have class every day during their time in San Jose.

    The second half of the course focuses on developing oral proficiency in Spanish while deepening students’ understanding of Costa Rican culture through interviews, ethnographic work with local host families, and community organizations. Click here to view a sample syllabus for the class. For *Pitzer students, the core course will satisfy Pitzer’s Social Responsibility Praxis (SRX) requirement.

    Intensive Spanish Language Class

    This 80-hour Spanish language course is taught in San José at the Institute for Central American Development Studies (ICADS), where students will stay for the first month of the program. As part of an integrated approach to the teaching of language and culture, students receive lectures on Costa Rican culture and take study trips in San José. Spanish classes will continue when students transfer to the Firestone Center for Restoration Ecology (FCRE).

    Tropical Restoration and Ecology

    Student observing leafcutter ants
    Student observation of leafcutter ants

    Using the Firestone Center as a biological field station, the course provides a field-intensive exploration of the terrestrial and marine ecology of the neotropical region, with an emphasis on tropical restoration ecology. The course covers physical geography, biodiversity theory, and practical methods of data collection and analysis. Field and laboratory work focuses on the terrestrial, estuarine and marine ecosystems of southwestern Costa Rica and Panama. Special emphasis is given to the theory of restoration and its practice on the property of the Firestone Center. This course satisfies the natural science graduation requirement at Pitzer College. For students who have completed an introductory biology sequence, the course can be counted as an upper division Keck Biology and EA-Science elective by arrangement with the instructor. Click here to view a sample syllabus for the class.

    Environment, People, and Restoration

    This course is designed to explore special topics in relation to the rich cultural and ecological resources available at the Firestone Center, its neighboring communities, and local protected areas. Topics change from year to year but may include conservation policy and governance, agroecology, and protected areas. Each course segment is taught as an intensive seminar that combines theoretical considerations, case studies, methodologies, and fieldwork. Click here to view a sample syllabus.

    Student Emily Schultz with Red-eyed tree frog

    Independent Study Project

    Students may focus on one aspect of human or tropical restoration ecology to study in greater depth through an independent research project or internship. Students may also participate in one of the longitudinal research projects set up by scholars from the U.S. and Costa Rica that contribute to the biological baseline assessment for the property. Some topics may have prerequisites. All projects require a final written report with a significant analytical component as well as other appropriate documentation of learning. Click here to learn more about research opportunities.

  • Student Experience

    Study Trips

    Students snorkeling in the ocean
    Students snorkeling in Cano Island, Panama

    A wide range of study trips are planned to enhance the curriculum. Study trips are an important part of the educational program. Trips vary slightly each semester, in previous semesters study trips have included:

    A trip to the archipelago of Bocas del Toro in Panamá, a collection of 12 islands, where tropical rainforests meet the sea. Students observe the gradient of ecosystems, beginning with the input of biological productivity from the forests into island mangrove systems. The trip has a significant field work component including daily snorkeling trips, kayaking, and hiking, along with class discussions. Learn more through this short video by Noland Lassiter, Pitzer ’15.

    A trip to the Sierpe River, one of Costa Rica’s most important river systems and a mecca for biodiversity. Students study the ecology of mangroves and have the opportunity to observe great numbers of plants and animals. The trip takes the class from an upstream freshwater system, through mangrove lagoons, to the river mouth, where fresh and saltwater meet.

    Trips to the National Parks of Costa Rica. The national parks and reserves in Costa Rica harbor an estimated 75 percent of all Costa Rica’s species of flora and fauna, including species that have all but disappeared in neighboring countries. Students may visit Caño Island in Corcovado and Marina Ballena National Parks as part of their coursework.


    Costa Rican family stays provide a window into the culture as the families include students in their daily lives. Often relationships developed with host family members turn into friendships that last long past the end of the program. Program alum Nick Popkey ’16 shared his host family experience through a short documentary, click here to learn about his experience.

    Students will have two family stays. The first will take place in San José while students study Spanish intensively and take their core class through ICADS. The San José families typically live within thirty minutes walking distance of ICADS. Two students are generally assigned to homes close together so they have someone to walk with to class every day and can share taxi rides home at night.

    The students’ second family stay will be with a rural family near the Firestone Center. Homes are usually small with simple amenities and less chance for privacy. Students are encouraged to see their host families as co-educators on the program along with staff and faculty and take advantage of the opportunity host families provide to deepen culture and language learning as well as explore important topics and issues covered in the course.

  • Next Steps

    Next Steps

    Cerro de la Muerte, Costa Rica
    Cerro de la Muerte, Costa Rica

    Interested in the Pitzer in Costa Rica semester program? Great! Learn more by attending an information session, scheduling a meeting with a study abroad adviser, and connecting with program alum.

    How to Apply

    Application Steps and Deadlines for Pitzer College Students

    Application for Non-Pitzer Students

    Before You Go

    After students apply and are accepted into the program, they will participate in a program orientation before leaving for Costa Rica. Orientations are required and designed to ensure students get the most out of the study abroad experience. They provide cultural context, health and safety information, and academic guidelines. At orientation, students will receive details specific to the program including program dates, flight arrangements, immunization documents, safety guidelines, and the handbook.

    Typically, students can receive their visa when arriving in Costa Rica. However, the visa process can change. Students are responsible for researching country specific information and the visa process. Everyone on the program needs a passport. Check the expiration date. If you do not have a passport valid for six months after your planned return from study abroad, then you will need to renew your passport.