Costa Rica has it all: volcanoes, Caribbean and Pacific beaces, rainforests, rapids and a cultured capital city. Known for its environmental conservation and ecological awareness, Costa Rica has set aside 27% of its land for national parks and reserves. Costa Rica is a politically stable nation, with democratic institutions and no standing national army. All of these features make Costa Rica a worldwide eco-tourism center where nature lovers can appreciate its staggering beauty and unique wildlife.



Languages Spoken:

Spanish

Education System

HIGHER EDUCATION OVERVIEW 

The Costa Rican education system offers 12 years of pre-university preparation in primary and secondary school. Students enter university after passing an entrance exam, and they typically enroll directly into a specific carrera (field of study) to begin work on their Bachillerato (bachelor’s degree). Students generally cannot enter university as “undeclared” or “undecided.” Depending on the carrera, students may take from four to seven years to complete their undergraduate studies. Students can complete one more year of study and write a formal thesis to be awarded the Licenciatura. A Master’s degree program typically lasts two years.  

Costa Rica has five public universities located in the major cities and regional campuses throughout the country. With very few exceptions, state universities in Latin America, including Costa Rica, operate on the European, or Continental, system.   

 

STUDYING IN COSTA RICA 

Courses 

All students studying the same carrera are required to take certain classes each year within their department, following the plan of courses for their degree. As a result, students are grouped together in a cohort and see each other almost exclusively throughout the academic day. Some ISEP students have found that a good way to get to know local students is to take two or more classes within the same carrera and year (e.g. two second-year classes in the international relations degree). This is also recommended to avoid scheduling conflicts.  

In addition to the required courses for the carrera, students may also enroll in a limited number of optativas (elective courses) within their academic department, or courses in a variety of disciplines in estudios generales (general education courses). Local students typically only take estudios generales courses during their first year of study at university, and ISEP students are limited to one estudios generales course per semester.  

Because Costa Rican students enter university directly into a specific field of study and spend very little time taking general education or elective courses, ISEP students may find that third- and fourth-year courses in their carrera assume a good deal of background knowledge and may be more difficult than what they are used to at their home universities.  

Registration 

Official course registration will happen after arriving on site, with assistance from the host ISEP coordinator. ISEP students at Universidad de Costa Rica may register for any course provided there is space available and they have the appropriate pre-requisites. It is also important to note that all students at UCR, both Costa Ricans and ISEP students, are registered for courses in order of GPA ranking. ISEP students at EARTH University will register in the courses specific to their program. Students in the Integrated Study in Spanish program will register for all courses in one “option” or academic cohort.  

Course Load 

ISEP students at Universidad de Costa Rica will take 12-18 credits during the semester, or four to six courses. ISEP students at EARTH University will take the number of courses assigned to their “option.” Courses generally grant three or four credits, although some may only grant one or two credits, depending on the required work outside of class and how often the course meets.  

Study Habits and Learning Styles 

Class time is usually divided between lectures and activities that are more student-centered. Professors will expect students to take notes on lectures and complete any assigned reading or homework. Student participation and discussion is usually encouraged, and professors may spend a large portion of the class asking students questions about the reading material or lecture content. Regular attendance to classes is expected, and missing multiple classes without proper documentation may result in an automatic failing grade.  

The Costa Rican academic system places a large emphasis on group work over individual assignments. Students will write papers, complete exams and create presentations all in small groups. While Costa Rican students are generally friendly and welcoming, ISEP students should also make an effort to introduce themselves and get to know their classmates during the first few classes. This will make finding a group to complete assignments with much easier.  

Students may find that their professors and classmates seem more relaxed than they are used to at their home universities. Professors may arrive to class late or cancel class with little (or no) notice. Costa Rican students may also frequently arrive late to class. This is known as "la hora tica," or "Costa Rican time." However, as an ISEP student, it is important that you continue attending class and arriving as punctually as possible to make sure you are keeping up with the course.  

Costa Rican professors usually do not ask students to purchase multiple expensive textbooks, but rather they put together an antologia or compilation of photocopied readings for the course. Students can purchase an inexpensive copy of the antologia from a local photocopy shop that the professor has selected. In the first class, the professor will usually tell students which photocopy shop to visit to pick up the antologia for the course. If you have questions about where the photocopy shop is located, just ask a classmate. Sometimes, a group of classmates will visit the photocopy shop together after class to purchase the antologia.   

Exams and Grading System 

Typically, a student’s final grade is comprised of multiple assignments, including papers, presentations, quizzes, tests and other work. Professors may also give a mark for attendance or class participation. All courses have a final exam period, and professors may also choose to give a midterm exam. The final exam usually has a written component, but may also include a presentation or other group exercise.  

Grades are given on a 10-point scale. The minimum passing mark is usually a 6.0.   

Transcripts 

At the end of the semester, students usually must visit each of their professors to confirm their final grades and have them sign a university form. It is important that ISEP students follow any instructions given by their host ISEP coordinators to ensure their grades are correctly recorded.  

Visa and Residency

VISA INFORMATION

All students going to Costa Rica:

  1. Purchase a round trip plane ticket
    If you do not have proof of a return ticket from Costa Rica, your airline may not let you board your departing flight or they might force you to purchase a return ticket prior to boarding.
  2. Ensure your passport is valid for six months beyond the length of your stay

Students Staying Less Than 90 Days: 

Students coming to study Costa Rica for less than 90 days (generally summer students) do not have to apply for a visa prior to departure. At the airport, a Costa Rican Immigration Officer will stamp a tourist visa on the passport. The tourist visas are usually valid for 45 or 90 days. If you receive a tourist visa for anything less than the full length of your ISEP program you will need to speak with your host ISEP Coordinator immediately.

Students Staying More Than 90 Days:

Students do not have to apply for a visa prior to departure. You will recieve additional visa infomation specific to your host university and particular ISEP program prior to the start of the semester. 

Culture

CULTURAL ADJUSTMENT

The Family

In Costa Rica, there are households of single, nuclear families and households of extended families. Regardless of the type of household, people have close relationships with their grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins, even second and third cousins. In general, children grow up experiencing a broad network of family members. High value is placed on kinship, and a special relationship and even responsibility is expected among extended family members.

Social Customs

Affection is displayed openly, and there is much less physical distance between people when they meet and talk. Touching is common. When entering a group, greet everyone in the room by shaking hands or kissing on the cheek. Be sure to say goodbye to each person when leaving.

Food

To generalize a Costa Rican meal, one would certainly have to talk about black beans and rice (gallo pinto). This simple, standard dish, often referred to as comida tipica, is the backbone of Costa Rican cuisine. A typical meal is the casado, the name referring to the eternal "marriage" of its components. Consisting of rice and beans, meat or fish, fried plantains, and a carrot, tomato, and cabbage salad, this basic and well-rounded meal strikes a good nutritional balance. Cheese and other dairy products are rarely utilized. Often served with a good portion of fruits or vegetables or both, the meals are very well rounded.

For breakfast, it is common to be served a hearty dish of black beans and rice (gallo pinto) seasoned with onions and peppers, accompanied by fried eggs, sour cream and corn tortillas. Ticos make lunch the main meal of the day. In fact, many employers will give an additional hour off for a post-lunch casado. The plantain, or plántano, is probably the quintessential Tico snack. It has the appearance of a large banana, but cannot be eaten raw. It is sweet and delicious when fried or baked, and will often accompany most meals. When sliced thinly and deep fried, the plantain becomes a crunchy snack like the potato chip.

Tico Time

Punctuality can sometimes be an issue for Americans living Costa Rica, although this difference in the idea of time should not be interpreted a rude or lazy. Americans may be accustomed to rigid schedules and appointments. In Costa Rica, however, there is a very different approach to the concept of time. Costa Ricans tend to see time as a sequence of events (as opposed to hours and minutes). For example, if they are late because a previous engagement took longer than expected, they will view the delay with your meeting as a natural consequence. Overall, the pace of life is far slower in Costa Rica than in the United States. Remember that you are a guest in a country whose citizens are easily offended by direct criticism. You can accomplish a lot by being polite.

Religion

About 75 percent of the 4.5 million residents of Costa Rica are Roman Catholic, and most catholic holy days are treated as holidays. Most businesses and government institutions throughout the country shut down between Holy Thursday and Easter Monday. Most buses do not run on Good Friday. Holy Week is a period of vacation in most public institutions, including state universities; therefore, those students that come to study during the spring semester at UNA will have this vacation period as well.

Daily Life

CULTURAL ADJUSTMENT

The Family

In Costa Rica, there are households of single, nuclear families and households of extended families. Regardless of the type of household, people have close relationships with their grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins, even second and third cousins. In general, children grow up experiencing a broad network of family members. High value is placed on kinship, and a special relationship and even responsibility is expected among extended family members.

Social Customs

Affection is displayed openly, and there is much less physical distance between people when they meet and talk. Touching is common. When entering a group, greet everyone in the room by shaking hands or kissing on the cheek. Be sure to say goodbye to each person when leaving.

Food

To generalize a Costa Rican meal, one would certainly have to talk about black beans and rice (gallo pinto). This simple, standard dish, often referred to as comida tipica, is the backbone of Costa Rican cuisine. A typical meal is the casado, the name referring to the eternal "marriage" of its components. Consisting of rice and beans, meat or fish, fried plantains, and a carrot, tomato, and cabbage salad, this basic and well-rounded meal strikes a good nutritional balance. Cheese and other dairy products are rarely utilized. Often served with a good portion of fruits or vegetables or both, the meals are very well rounded.

For breakfast, it is common to be served a hearty dish of black beans and rice (gallo pinto) seasoned with onions and peppers, accompanied by fried eggs, sour cream and corn tortillas. Ticos make lunch the main meal of the day. In fact, many employers will give an additional hour off for a post-lunch casado. The plantain, or plántano, is probably the quintessential Tico snack. It has the appearance of a large banana, but cannot be eaten raw. It is sweet and delicious when fried or baked, and will often accompany most meals. When sliced thinly and deep fried, the plantain becomes a crunchy snack like the potato chip.

Tico Time

Punctuality can sometimes be an issue for Americans living Costa Rica, although this difference in the idea of time should not be interpreted a rude or lazy. Americans may be accustomed to rigid schedules and appointments. In Costa Rica, however, there is a very different approach to the concept of time. Costa Ricans tend to see time as a sequence of events (as opposed to hours and minutes). For example, if they are late because a previous engagement took longer than expected, they will view the delay with your meeting as a natural consequence. Overall, the pace of life is far slower in Costa Rica than in the United States. Remember that you are a guest in a country whose citizens are easily offended by direct criticism. You can accomplish a lot by being polite.

Religion

About 75 percent of the 4.5 million residents of Costa Rica are Roman Catholic, and most catholic holy days are treated as holidays. Most businesses and government institutions throughout the country shut down between Holy Thursday and Easter Monday. Most buses do not run on Good Friday. Holy Week is a period of vacation in most public institutions, including state universities; therefore, those students that come to study during the spring semester at UNA will have this vacation period as well.

Health and Safety

Your health and safety is our number one priority. Please read and reference the Health and Safety section of the ISEP website for general information regarding health and safety abroad. 

Detailed information about Costa Rica can be found here. Please pay special attention to the Safety and Security, Local Laws and Special Circumstances and Health sections. 

Note: Information sourced on this page is provided by the U.S. Department of State. Non-U.S nationals should disregard the Embassies and Consulates and Entry, Exit and Visa Requirements sections. 

Currency

MONEY MATTERS

We suggest that you rely upon a combination of credit cards and cash. You will receive additional advice on money management during the orientation; in the meantime, here are a few guidelines on credit cards and banking. The best way to save money while studying abroad is to live the way Costa Rican students do.

Exchange Rates

The currency in Costa Rica is the colón (¢). Bills come in denominations of ¢1000, ¢2000, ¢5000 and ¢10.000 and coins are available from ¢5 to ¢500. Colones are often referred to colloquially as pesos.

Compare your currency to the Costa Rican colón

Generally speaking, we do not recommend that you open a bank account while in Costa Rica. If you wish to open a bank account once you arrive, note that checking accounts are nearly impossible to open unless you are a resident.

ATM Cards

The transfer method of U.S. dollars to colones is nearly instantaneous and relatively easy, provided that you find a machine that will accept your ATM card from home. However, not all cards are accepted by the ATM machines. The Visa/Plus network and the MasterCard/Cirrus network provide global access to your home account through an ATM.

We do not recommend using this method as your only money source, since if your card is lost or stolen, you do not have access to emergency funds. The magnetic strips may become ruined or the card lost. Be sure to take your bank's phone number in case you need to report a lost or stolen card.

Credit Cards

Do your own investigation into the advantages and disadvantages of various credit card companies. You might want to look for the ability to draw cash advances through overseas banks and the fees for international transactions. 

Students report that Visa, MasterCard and to a lesser extent, American Express, are accepted at some businesses in Costa Rica. However, many budget stores and hotels do not take credit cards, so they are of limited use on a daily basis. That means if you have to use a credit card, you are likely to find yourself shopping and eating at high-end establishments. Some businesses levy a 7% surcharge for credit card transactions.

Despite these drawbacks, a credit card can be very useful in an emergency, so we recommend you take one with you.

Regardless of which card you select, the card you use must have your name on it as given on your passport. That is obviously not a problem if you have your own credit card. If you plan to use a parent's credit card, however, you should request an extra card in your name.

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