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

  • Attend lectures and site visits to social service agencies to learn more about social services in Costa Rica
  • Travel to significant cultural and historical sites around San Jose
  • No language experience required
  • Earn 3 hours of academic credit

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 program provides students a general perspective on social services and broader social problems through a combination of lectures and site visits to social service agencies. These institutions focus on the institutional as well as individual aspects of social problems through individual troubles. In addition to daily seminars and site visits, students will have the opportunity to travel to significant cultural and historical sites in and around San José.  

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 social justice inform social work practice with diverse clients in different national contexts?

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 560, SW 855, or SW 955, dependent upon academic level.

One formal class session will take place in Lawrence prior to departure (location and format TBA). During that time, students will develop questions in their area of interest which they will answer during the course of the program. There will be one class session after the program to reflect on the experience, as well as some assignments that support students' integration of the study abroad experience into their professional development.

While in Costa Rica, the group will touch base with faculty from the UCR School of Social Welfare, attend lectures about the current state of affairs in Costa Rica, immigration, the environment, and other areas of interest. Planned site visits include the UCR School of Social Welfare satellite campus outside of San Jose, taking a tour of a local waterfall given by indigenous women, and the Interamerican Court of International Rights.

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 tour 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. The group will travel to La Fortuna where students will 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. Additionally, a hanging bridges tour, visit with the a local indigenous Maleku group, and planting a tree is planned. 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. In the area there are more than 330 species of birds as well as 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.

Open to undergraduate and graduate students in the School of Social Welfare as well as junior and senior Sociology and Psychology majors. Minimum 2.5 GPA required. 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. Her years of work with Latinx immigrant communities in the U.S. make her particularly excited about the opportunity to reexperience Costa Rica through this course with KU students.