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International Social Services: A Costa Rican Perspective

International Social Services: A Costa Rican Perspective
Students will gain a perspective on social services and broader social problems in Costa Rica.
San Jose, Costa Rica
Language of Instruction: 
Academic Disciplines: 
Social Work
Graduate Courses
Program Type: 
  • 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
Program Summary: 

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: What are the differences in service delivery across cultures? How does culture influence the definitions and responses to social problems and answers? What influence does global economics have on community practice, child welfare, mental health, and schools?


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.

Academic Information: 

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.

One formal class session will take place in Lawrence prior to departure. During that time, students will develop a series of 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.


Students are housed in double or triple occupancy rooms at a hotel near UCR.

Life Abroad: 

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. Planned excursions in the area include a visit to Poas Volcano National Park, which has one of the largest craters in the world, and La Paz Waterfalls.

There will also be a visit to the UCR School of Social Welfare, lectures about the state of affairs in Costa Rica, the health system, women’s issues, immigration, and other areas of concern. Planned site visits include a local health center, a community project that promotes social inclusion through music, a technical/secondary school for adolescent boys, and a women’s correctional facility.

The group will travel to the Pacific Coast to a beach-side hotel. There, students can go to the beach, visit the butterfly garden, or go on a nature walk 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. 

In La Fortuna, students will visit the Arenal waterfall and nearby Maleku indigenous community to eat a traditional lunch and learn about medicinal plants. Students can also choose to walk the rainforest trails and enjoy the hot springs or a mud bath. 


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.

Further Reading: 

Social Welfare Study Abroad Scholarships

The Dean of the School of Social Welfare may have scholarships available for students admitted into the KU School of Social Welfare. If funding is available, all students who submit a complete Study Abroad program application by the deadline will be considered for the scholarships. Scholarships will be awarded on the basis of academic merit and financial need.


Program Faculty: 

Rick Spano, Associate Professor in the School of Social Welfare will once again lead the program. 

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Undergraduate students only.
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MSW Students only.
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Graduate students only.
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Study Abroad Information Center
To learn more about your study abroad options, we encourage you to visit the Study Abroad Info Center (105 Lippincott Hall). The Study Abroad Info Center offers walk-in advising for current and prospective students. Drop by to learn more about program options, make an appointment with a study abroad program coordinator, get information on scholarships and financial aid, and talk to returned study abroad students. We also encourage you to explore the resources available on our website to learn more about the application process, KU Core Approved programs, and the cost of study abroad. 

Study Abroad Information Center
Lippincott Hall, Room 105
1410 Jayhawk Boulevard
Hours: Monday - Friday. 9AM - 5 PM
Contact: studyabroad@ku.edu

Study Abroad Financial Advising
KU Study Abroad has weekly 'You Can Afford to Study Abroad' Financial Aid and Scholarship Info Sessions/Open Meetings on Wednesday afternoons at 4:00 pm and Thursday afternoons at 2:00 pm in the Info Center (105 Lippincott Hall) while classes are in session. The financial advisor will be happy to take any questions and can offer individual advising at the end of sessions for specific concerns. For those that cannot attend the weekly Info Sessions due to scheduling conflicts, we also offer appointments for financial planning as well as financial aid and scholarship advising for students. Please visit 108 Lippincott Hall or call 785-864-3742 to set up an appointment.


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9th among public universities in the country for high quality, low cost study abroad programs — U.S. News & World Report
Longest-running exchange program in Western Hemisphere (begun in 1958) between KU and University of Costa Rica
18th in the nation among public universities for undergraduate participation in study abroad — Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange
28.1% of KU undergraduate students study abroad prior to graduation.
KU students who study abroad graduate in four years at twice the rate of students who do not study abroad
More than 160 study abroad programs in 75 countries, with instruction in all disciplines and 20+ languages
Students can study abroad for an academic year, semester, summer, spring break, or winter break
Programs include international study, internships, service, and research opportunities
Students participating in semester, academic year, and select summer programs fulfill Goal 4.2 of the KU Core curriculum
Students can fulfill major, minor, certificate, elective, and KU Core curriculum requirements abroad
Programs are available for students in every major at KU
Financial aid is applicable to study abroad programs, and most KU scholarships and grants can be applied to study abroad
The Office of Study Abroad and many academic departments offer scholarships to qualified KU students
By studying abroad, students gain a global perspective on the world and strengthen their career opportunities
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44 nationally ranked graduate programs.
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5th nationwide for service to veterans —"Best for Vets: Colleges," Military Times