Universities and Foreign Students


Students from abroad are welcome at Costa Rica's many universities. There are four public universities and nine listings for private institutions. The largest school is the University of Costa Rica (ucr), with about 35,000 students, located in San Pedro, on San Jose's northeastern edge. Tuition for Tico students is about $70 a semester; foreign students are charged considerably more, with rates available on request. The other large school is Universidad Nacional. It has about 13,000 students and has several campuses scattered about the country, as does UCR

Most satellite campuses are rather basic, with instruction geared to Ticos who can't afford to take time off from work to study in the San Jose area.

Most classes are held in the evening and offer studies in computers or bookkeeping or preparatory classes for entering a full university setting. I doubt that many gringos could benefit from attending one of these schools.

Private universities offer programs ranging from MBAs to degrees in theology, tropical agriculture, and conservation. Most accept and welcome foreign students, charging tuition of about $100 per class and $5,600 for an MBA degree. (See the list of Costa Rica's public and private universities on page 22 1.)

Exchange Student Option If you're convinced that you'd like to relocate in Costa Rica but just aren't ready for it right now, an interesting idea is to send your offspring here for a school term as an exchange student or maybe just for a summer vacation class. This gives the youth a head start in learning the language as well as a great cultural experience. And, you will have an interpreter when you do decide to make the move. You can contact the lberoamerican Cultural Exchange Program and inquire about their various exchange-student programs in Costa Rica. The address is 13920 Ninety-third Avenue NE, Kirkland, WA 98034 phone (206) 821-1463, fax (206) 821- 1849.

Christen Kemp, a Spanish and International Business major at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, tells of her experience as an exchange student in a Costa Rican university where she studied Spanish under ISEP (International Student Exchange Program) for a year. The Universidad Nacional is one of few schools offering an optional fee-paid ISEP Spanish program outside the United States and is designed to provide study opportunities beyond those offered typically only through reciprocal exchange.

Christen says, "I studied at university's campus in Heredia and, though it's not the nicest school in Costa Rica, it was better than I had expected. Some foreign students who studied at other universities claim their schools are better. Apparently Universidad Nacional enrolls many Ticos who can't afford the tuition to attend the better schools. I spoke to one who told me the tuition for a Tico at the school was only about $30 a semester. (I can't help but wonder what happened to the thousands I paid.)

"Technology at this university is not up to U.S. standards. There are only a few computers in the library, and students line up to use them. I found it easier to go to one of the many Internet cafes around town. An hour's Internet connection costs only a dollar. And then there's McDonalds, where you can use the Internet if you buy a Value Meal.

"Registering for classes was quite confusing. They don't use a computer system, so you end up making several trips to classes and the registrar's office. Another big difference is that the teachers are on Tico time. In my first class the teacher was always about forty-five minutes late. The students told me that teachers can be up to an hour late and, unlike the United States, where a class meets for an hour three days a week, at this school a class was held once a week for three to four hours. It's hard to keep focused for that long, but the teachers were actually pretty good. I had an excellent Lit teacher from Chile. You do not buy books for your classes-instead your teacher places a packet of photocopies at a designated copy shop and you go there each week and make copies. They are really cheap, like five colones each.

"Living with a Tico host family is awesome. This was probably the best part of my education in Costa Rica. Being introduced to and actually accepted into a traditional family and being part of their religious holiday celebrations was an unexpected gift.

"There are many advertisements for families looking for students. The exchange program from University of Tennessee paid my family $300 a month. For this I received a nice room, three full meals a day, and all my clothes and linens washed and ironed (sheets, pajamas-everything was ironed!). The family had a maid from Nicaragua whom they paid $ 100 dollars a month to cook and clean five days a week."


Writen by John Howels

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