Spring Semester in Monteverde, Costa Rica

-Globalization, Development, and Environment

Explore the complex dynamics of change in tropical Costa Rica

Experience the power of place-based learning and independent research informed by the needs of the community. This interdisciplinary program is offered each spring by Mount Holyoke and Goucher Colleges at the Monteverde Institute (MVI). Established in 1986 as a nonprofit educational association by Monteverde residents, the MVI blends international study and applied research with community development assistance to Monteverde area communities.

Jeanie Murphy, Associate Professor of Latin American literature at Goucher College, will serve as Faculty Director of the Program in Spring 2015 and 2016. Prof. Murphy will oversee the academic program for the semester, and she will join students for the beginning and end of the program. During the remainder of the semester, she will be based at Goucher College in Maryland, and she will communicate regularly with students and program faculty via e-mail and Skype. Prof. Murphy previously served as full-time resident director of the program, and she knows the program, the faculty and staff at the Monteverde Institute, and the local community very well.

Monteverde and the Monteverde Institute
Academic Program
Admission and Financial Aid

Monteverde and the Monteverde Institute

Nestled in the Tilaran mountain range of Costa Rica, the Monteverde region is located approximately 80km northwest of San José, Costa Rica’s capital. It is home to dairy farmers and coffee producers, including the agricultural cooperative Finca La Bella (“the beautiful farm”). Monteverde’s beauty and exceptional biodiversity make it a destination for both ecotourists and research biologists.

The MVI occupies 32 acres in the center of Monteverde. It is bordered by the renowned Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, which offers some of the most biodiverse ecosystems in the world and numerous hiking trails for research and recreation. MVI facilities include classrooms, wet and dry laboratories, studio spaces, a research library, and a high-speed, wireless computing network.

"My semester in Monteverde changed my life and I'll never forget it or any of the people I shared it with.  The professors and program coordinators at the Institute were incredibly experienced and inspiring, and quickly became close friends.  I'd recommend this program for anyone who values community, loves hands-on learning, and cares about the world we live in."

--Isobel Arthen '14, Environmental studies and Spanish major, Spring 2012

Academic Program

The semester long interdisciplinary program is open to all majors. It offers students a wealth of opportunities to analyze the challenges of globalization and to search for solutions within the specific context of Costa Rica and of Monteverde. How has Costa Rica’s development path been shaped by both global and national forces, and how have these, in turn, affected the development of Monteverde and its unique cloud forest environment? What does “sustainability” mean in light of rapidly growing ecotourism and disappearing species? With an emphasis on place-based learning, the program examines not only the theoretical underpinnings of development and sustainability, but also how these theories play out with real people, organizations, and localities.

During the first week of the program, students travel throughout Costa Rica to get an overview of the country’s historic, geographic, political, and economic contexts. Sites may include the capital city of San José, the tropical rain forests of central Costa Rica, and the Arenal volcano region or Limon province. In each location students meet with representatives from institutions and groups working on issues relevant to topics covered in the program, including the Arias Foundation, the National Museum, the Costa Rican Tourism Institute, biological stations, banana and pineapple plantations, and women’s organizations. Midway through the semester, students travel to Nicaragua, spending several days in the colonial city of Granada, to observe and learn from the particular experience of Nicaragua. Students have the option of remaining on their own in Nicaragua during the semester break.

Classes throughout the semester include overnight field trips, site visits, and guest lectures by local grassroots activists as well as world-renowned scientists. Students conduct their own independent research, in the social or natural sciences, and may also have the opportunity to volunteer with a local organization. Site visits and trips may include a women’s cooperative, a defunct goldmine converted to a hot springs resort, a hike and overnight stay in a remote field station, an afternoon with a farmer’s cooperative, or a day trip to the provincial capital of Puntarenas.

Students study the coffee production process at an organic coffee farm.


Students will enroll in four 4-credit courses, including three core courses plus applied research in tropical ecology or the social sciences. Courses are conducted in English, except for Spanish Language and Culture. Students must have completed at least one semester of Spanish before joining the program. As part of one of more of their courses, students complete an independent research project, the topic for which is selected from a range of issues and concerns identified by the community residents. At the conclusion of the semester, program participants meet with community residents to present and discuss their research findings.

Students who complete the full program successfully, with grades of C- or better, will receive 16 credits toward their Mount Holyoke degree.  Some courses have been approved by Mount Holyoke faculty for credit toward certain majors and minors, as noted in the course descriptions below.  Students should always confirm approvals in advance with the appropriate department.  Students seeking credit toward other majors and minors should also consult in advance with the appropriate department at Mount Holyoke.

  • Development and Social Change in Costa Rica
    This course examines the particular development path and processes of social change in Costa Rica with an emphasis on the post-World War II paradigm that gave rise to the social-democratic structure of Costa Rican society. Drawing on the body of literature from Latin American theorists, students explore notions of exceptionalism, myth making and myth breaking, conservation and the “Green Republic,” and the rise of ecotourism in Costa Rica.  (This course will count toward a major or minor in Latin American Studies.)
  • Environmental Sustainability
    Students examine and analyze concepts of sustainability and their global and local interpretations and meanings as framed by global-local issues: climate change, ecotourism and economic development, environmentalism, human health, conservation and biodiversity. Emphasis is placed on contextualized examples of environmental, economic, social, political, and cultural tensions related to sustainability, and will include field visits, exercises, and guest lectures by local scientists and activists.  (This course will fulfill the sustainable development requirement for the environmental studies major, and may also be used toward a minor in environmental studies.)
  • Spanish Language and Culture
    This course emphasizes language acquisition through conversation, grammar, and contextualized vocabulary acquisition with an emphasis on Costa Rican and Latin American culture. Students will be assessed and placed according to their level; advanced placement emphasizes Latin American literature, translation, and writing. Additionally, students will receive assistance in developing research tools in Spanish and in translating their own writings.
  • Topics in the Social Sciences: Human Health and Development in the Tropics (Spring 2015; topic may change from year to year)
    This course focuses on the complex relationship between human health and development in the tropics.  Using case studies and a variety of guiding frameworks (biocultural, human rights, and public health), the course will explore ways that humans interact with the tropical environment in the context of development and globalization, and how these interactions influence human health.  Students will learn about specific health topics within a local context through a team research project.   
  • Field Methods in Tropical Ecology
    Targeting natural/biological science majors, this course explores topics of tropical ecology (biodiversity, cloud forest ecosystems and others) in greater depth, with emphasis placed on learning research methodologies that can be used in field-based or laboratory research. This course has a prerequisite of one course in biology or ecology with a lab or field studies component. (This course will fulfill a distribution requirement, with lab, in Group II.)

"Learning at the Monteverde Institute with such incredible students and professors was inspiring. Living with my host family truly felt like home. The program helped me redefine my priorities in life and shaped my goals for the future."

--Mitali Shah '11, Spanish and IR major, Spring 2010


The program fee for Spring 2015 is $16,750, covering tuition, room and board, program travel, and field trips. The fee for Spring 2016 will be announced in fall 2015. Students will also be responsible for the cost of airfare, books, and personal expenses.


While in Monteverde, students stay with host families. All meals are provided by the host family unless other arrangements are made. During field trips students stay in triple or quadruple occupancy lodging, with meals included.

Admission and Financial Aid

Students must meet Mount Holyoke’s general requirements for academic leave of absence, including a minimum cumulative grade point average of 2.7, good academic standing, and approval of their major department. At least one semester of Spanish is required. Mount Holyoke and Goucher College students will receive priority in admission to the program, but Five College students and others are welcome to apply. Laurel Fellowships are guaranteed to Mount Holyoke students who are eligible for need-based financial aid. The early application deadline for Spring 2016 is March 31, 2015; we will consider applications for that semester (including Laurel) until September 30, 2015, if space is available,but we strongly encourage all students to apply by the March deadline. Students from other colleges should contact the McCulloch Center to request an application.

Mount Holyoke faculty and staff at a program development meeting at the MVI

For More Information

If you’d like to speak with someone about the Globalization, Development, and Environment program, please contact:

Joanne M. Picard
Dean of International Studies