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.

Monteverde and the Monteverde Institute
Academic Program
Fees 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.

"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 program 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 also have opportunities to volunteer with local organizations. Site visits 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.


The program is open to students in all majors.  Students enroll in three core courses, plus an elective in tropical ecology or the social sciences, for a total of 16 credits.  Courses are conducted in English, except for Spanish Language and Culture.  In their elective course, students complete an independent research project, the topic for which is selected from a range of issues and concerns identified by the community. At the conclusion of the semester, students present their research findings in a symposium with local residents. 

Some courses have been pre-approved by Mount Holyoke faculty for credit toward certain majors and minors.  Students should always confirm approvals in advance with the appropriate department.  Students seeking credit toward other majors and minors should 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. 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 counts 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 fulfills 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, offered at multiple levels, emphasizes language acquisition through conversation, grammar, and contextualized vocabulary acquisition with an emphasis on Costa Rican and Latin American culture.
  • Topics in the Social Sciences: Human Health and Development in the Tropics (Spring 2016; topic may change from year to year)
    Using case studies and a variety of guiding frameworks (biocultural, human rights, and public health), this course explores 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

Fees and Financial Aid

The program fee for Spring 2016 is $16,920, covering tuition, room and board, program travel, and field trips. Not included in the program fee are airfare, books, personal and miscellaneous expenses, additional travel, etc. 

Eligible Mount Holyoke students accepted to the program are guaranteed Laurel Fellowships (need-based financial aid).  For students who are approved for Laurel Fellowships, the financial aid package will take into account the program fee and allowances toward 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.


Students must meet Mount Holyoke’s general requirements for academic leave of absence, including a minimum grade point average of 2.7, good academic standing, and approval of their major department. The program expects students to participate in research and community interactions that will require the use of Spanish language.  In addition, students will live with a Spanish-speaking family for the duration of the program.  Thus we strongly recommend that students have one semester of Spanish prior to their arrival.

Five College students and others are welcome to apply (contact the McCulloch Center to request an application) and should consult with their home campus study abroad advisor about financial aid and credit transfer.

Mount Holyoke students apply for admission to the program and for Laurel Fellowships by submitting the Request to Study Abroad in ISIS.  Spaces (and Laurel Fellowships) remain available for Spring 2016; apply by September 30.  The early application deadline for Spring 2017 is March 31, 2016; we will consider applications for that semester (including Laurel) until September 30, 2016, if space is available, but we strongly encourage all students to apply by the March deadline to secure a place.

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