International Social Services: A Costa Rican Perspective


Image of Costa Rica
Students will gain a perspective on social services and broader social problems in Costa Rica.
Location: San Jose, Costa Rica
Language of Instruction: English
Term: Summer
Program Type: Faculty-led
Open to non-KU Students: No
Fulfills KU Core 4.2: No
Fulfills KU Core 5: No

  • Attend lectures and site visits to social service agencies to learn more about social services in Costa Rica
  • Exchange perspectives on practice with Costa Rican social work students and faculty
  • Travel to significant cultural and historical sites around San Jose
  • No language experience required
  • Earn 3 hours of academic credit

By introducing key issues and dynamics in social services in another country the program equips students' competency for intercultural and critical social work practice. Students learn about Costa Rica's responses to social problems and glean insight from practitioner and community experiences in the Costa Rican context. In visits to social service agencies and other key institutions, lectures from Costa Rican faculty and community leaders, and exposure to Costa Rican natural, social, and historical resources, students increase their readiness for practice that celebrates diversity, advances human rights, and elevates social, economic, and environmental justice.

The following questions shape the context for these experiences:

  • How do cultural, economic, and political differences shape social construction of and response to social problems, including through influencing service delivery?
  • What influences do global economies and politics have on social work practice at multiple levels and across different client systems?
  • How can a grounding in human rights and justice inform social work practice with diverse clients in different national contexts?
  • How can social workers use self-reflection and critical thinking to evaluate their own intercultural practice, as part of lifelong learning?

Costa Rica

Costa Rica is known for its natural beauty, extraordinary diversity of flora and fauna, social and political stability, high educational levels, and efficient infrastructure and services. The capital of San José is a vibrant and cosmopolitan city. It lies in the Central Valley on a plain surrounded by large forested mountain ranges, some of which include active volcanoes, green savannahs, and working coffee plantations.

Universidad de Costa Rica

The Universidad de Costa Rica is the oldest and largest university in Costa Rica, with a population of 35,000 students.

The University of Kansas-Universidad de Costa Rica exchange program, initiated in 1958, is the oldest inter-university exchange of its kind in the Western Hemisphere. Initiatives such as the collaborative short-term study abroad programs designed by the KU School of Social Welfare and UCR strengthen the bond between the two universities.

The Social Work faculty have expertise in health, domestic violence, poverty, and immigration, with research and practice emphases in both policy reform and advanced micro practice.

Three hours of academic credit are granted by the University of Kansas upon successful completion of the program. Students will enroll in 3 credit hours of SW 555, SW 855, or SW 955, dependent upon academic level.

While KUSSW students in the macro specialization do not have elective slots, macro students can replace SW 846 with study abroad, including this program.

Undergraduate students in the KU Honors Program who enroll in SW 855 will have the course count as an Honors course.

Further, students from outside the School of Social Welfare are sincerely invited to join in the Costa Rica program. Interdisciplinary practice is a key part of social work and learning alongside students from other campus units can deepen the study abroad experience for all. Students with questions about how to fit study abroad into their degree plans are encouraged to contact the faculty director for assistance.

One formal in-person class session will take place prior to departure (location and format TBA). During that time, students will begin to develop questions they hope to explore during their time in Costa Rica. Considering potential connections between your area of study and/or social work practice, what do you want to be your focus of inquiry in Costa Rica? How do you anticipate using your study abroad learning in your future?

While in Costa Rica, the group will talk with faculty from the UCR School of Social Work, attend lectures about current economic and political issues in Costa Rica, and speak with practitioners about their work on global concerns such as immigration and the environment. Planned site visits include the UCR School of Social Work satellite campus outside of San Jose, and the Interamerican Court of International Rights, as well as a tour of a local waterfall and a meeting with a group led by indigenous women.

After returning from Costa Rica, there will be one class session to reflect on the experience and some assignments that support students' integration of the study abroad experience into their professional development.

Students are housed in double or triple occupancy rooms with breakfast included. Several group lunches and dinners are also provided.

While in San José, the group will have guided tours of the city to see some of the main attractions, including the National Museum and National Theater and attend a cultural night to watch traditional dancing. To give students opportunities to experience Costa Rica beyond the capital, the group will travel to La Fortuna and hike to the Arenal waterfall. Students can also choose to walk the rainforest trails and enjoy the hot springs or a mud bath at the hotel. Then the group will travel to the Pacific Coast. There, students can go to the beach, visit the butterfly garden, or go on nature walks during the day or at night to view the local flora and fauna including more than 330 species of birds and several species of monkeys!

SAGE is dedicated to creating international engagement opportunities that meet the needs of all our students and providing resources to support you through the process of studying abroad. Study abroad is achievable for students of all identities including our BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ students, students with disabilities, and students with religious/non-religious viewpoints. Before selecting a program, consider how your identities may impact your experience abroad in unique ways and talk with your Program Coordinator about any program-specific concerns. Students with documented disabilities should discuss any accommodation needs with their Program Coordinator early in the planning process.

Additional Resources

Check our Identity Abroad page and resources listed below for information specific to you and other students who may be on your program.

The program is open to undergraduate and graduate students of all majors, especially those in the School of Social Welfare and juniors and seniors in related university departments, including Sociology, Psychology, and Women/Gender Studies. Minimum 2.5 GPA required with exceptions considered after submission of a petition.

Community professionals may also take this course as part of the School’s Professional Community Education Program.

Melinda Lewis, Associate Professor of Practice in the School of Social Welfare, will lead the program. Professor Lewis’ social work career has focused on macro strategies for policy and social change, including advocacy and community organizing, and she has taught undergraduate and graduate classes in the School over the past two decades. Her years of work with Latinx immigrant communities in the U.S. make her particularly excited about the opportunity to re-experience Costa Rica through this course with KU students.