Global Health in an Interconnected World (Costa Rica)

When:Spring & Fall Semesters
Where:Costa Rica
Duration:15 Weeks
Credits:4 Courses, 16 Credit Hours
Apply:Application Deadline: April 1, 2019
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Course Overview

Global health as a field of study has emerged as a priority for the social and biological sciences. Global health highlights the international dimension of current health issues, emphasizing a holistic understanding of each socio-cultural and environmental context. In addition, global health captures the need to work in collaboration, emphasizing a multisectoral and transdisciplinary approach to manage the transcultural and sometimes trans-bordering dimensions of worldwide health inequities.

For a period of 15 weeks, you will be immersed in Costa Rica, a country world-renowned for its progressive health policies based on equity and solidarity. Also, its natural and multicultural wealth are hard to find in other parts of the world, making it an ideal place to understand health from a social justice perspective.

This unique program expands on the informative, formative and transformative learning approaches by immersing participants in community and rural scenarios. This provides a multi-layered and comprehensive understanding of global health and related theoretical concepts. You will study and participate with Central American leaders in global health, ethnobiology and social justice, while living at OTS’ three world-class research stations, Las Cruces, La Selva, and Palo Verde. Additionally, you will be able to explore Costa Rican culture and Spanish language by spending three weeks living with a Costa Rican host family while taking a Spanish language course.

The Global Health in an Interconnected World program presents a unique opportunity to challenge yourself to understand the complexity of development from a global perspective and view health as a fundamental component of human experience.


The Global Health in an Interconnected World program is comprised of four core courses. Each course is worth 4 credit hours and is offered through Auburn University at Montgomery. To fully engage with global health, a firsthand, interactive, immersive and enriching academic experience is required through the obtainment of theoretical knowledge, practical experiences and skill acquisition exercises. This process of conceptual integration is mediated through problem-based learning, critical discussion exercises and a variable set of community interactions. The knowledge, skills, and values obtained from this program contribute to the participants’ professional development and can be extrapolated to future work in global health or related areas.

Designed by our interdisciplinary team, the Global Health in an Interconnected World program will be embedded in some of the pressing grand challenges in the field of global health: achieving universal health care, reemerging infectious diseases, environmental degradation, migrations and the demographic, nutritional, and epidemiological transition. Participants will be able to experience the multiple components that determine health, expanding their competencies within an ethically responsible and participatory approach.

In this program, this will be realized through specific teaching and learning strategies. For example:

  • Field visits and key stakeholder interviews to observe and document key elements of global health.
  • In-class discussion of readings, and workshops to stimulate alternative ideas, and approaches.
  • Case study analysis and presentation on critical issues on global health to exemplify global health in context.

Students will be evaluated on the basis of their participation, collaboration and contribution to cohort learning. Immersive and experiential learning requires active participation from the student in the course. Attendance is obligatory throughout the program. In addition to attendance, students are expected to actively engage throughout the course and complete the required readings ahead of the corresponding unit. Students are responsible for compiling and presenting evidence of their participation and collaboration as a requirement for successful completion of this course.

Medical/clinical Spanish will be a focal point during this program to enhance the participant’s abilities to communicate while improving their cultural competencies.


BIOL 4283, Introduction to Field Ethnobiology (4 credits)

The field of ethnobiology integrates the scientific study of subsistence, medicinal, ceremonial, and esthetic use of plants and animals by human societies. A special emphasis will be placed on the interaction of the field of Ethnobiology and the health realm. The prior involves considering the biological, cultural and social diversity of human beings and their influence on the process of health/disease. The course will also analyze the definition of culture/multiculturalism, identify intercultural health needs, and will work on the understandings of the limitations and opportunities of global intercultural health.  A key focus in the program will be the role of indigenous groups in the contemporary context.

BIOL 4383, Field Research Methods in Tropical Diseases (4 credits)

Communicable diseases are a significant cause of suffering in the world. However, they disproportionately affect the people living within the tropics and the global south. Furthermore, in these regions, infectious diseases significantly impact social and economic development. Effectively addressing infectious diseases requires a broad multidisciplinary approach and a deep understanding of the social determinants of health to tackle the complexity of causes and conditions that foster infectious diseases.

 This course starts with a review of the current global burden of infectious disease emphasizing regions most harshly affected. It further addresses knowledge gaps that the traditional health sector has failed to confront by using theories from the social sciences on matters concerning the pathogenesis of infectious diseases. Social, economic, cultural, political and other circumstances that influence the transmission of infectious diseases will be explored in depth, emphasizing the contributions of the global health sector towards the understanding of infectious diseases. Finally, the strategies that are effectively reducing the impact of major infections will be examined.

ENSC 4233, Tropical Disease, Environmental Change, and Human Health in Costa Rica (4 credits)

This interdisciplinary course will be an exploration of the various ways that the natural, built, and social environments coalesce to impact health outcomes at local, regional, and global levels, with special emphasis on case studies from Costa Rica, but with global relevance. Broad environmental scenarios and challenges such as atmospheric pollution, water sanitation and hygiene, climate change, agro-industrial development, biodiversity loss and their connection to health and wellbeing will be explored through a combination of lectures, readings, group discussions, personal reflections, group work, and field site visits. Course participants will be immersed in activities that facilitate the internalization of concepts such as environmental health, global health and sustainable development, surrounded by the complexity of correlations between each other

SPAN 2000, Student Abroad Spanish (4 credits)


OTS semester programs are open to all undergraduate students in good standing with their home institution who are at least 18 years of age and have a minimum 2.7 GPA. Students applying to the Global Health in an Interconnected World program must have completed the equivalent of one semester of college-level biology (or related coursework), along with one semester of college level Spanish. If you are unsure if you meet these requirements, please email us at

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All around amazing experience where I met some pretty incredible people!

Sites Visited

La Selva Biological Station

Located in the Caribbean lowlands, La Selva is OTS’ largest field station and is one of the best-known tropical research sites in the world. The station protects approximately 1,600 hectares of primary and secondary tropical rain forest. It averages 4,000 millimeters (over 13 feet) of rainfall a year. This lush environment facilitates the existence of thousands of species of plants and animals, making La Selva a great place to see all kinds of wildlife, including toucans, monkeys, ocelots, agoutis, peccaries, and the endangered green macaw. Two major rivers, the Sarapiquí and the Puerto Viejo, border la Selva. These rivers form part of the San Juan River Basin. La Selva is connected via a biological corridor with Braulio Carrillo National Park, which contains 46,000 hectares of forest and ascends almost 3,000 meters in elevation to Volcán Barva, which overlooks the town of Heredia in the Central Valley. La Selva has an extensive trail system, lots of lab space, and is, in general, a pretty busy place. (The station can sleep over 100 people.) Important crops grown in the area surrounding La Selva include banana and heart of palm. Services available at La Selva include phone, fax, and e-mail. Showers may or may not have hot water, and students have access to laundry machines. Housing consists of small dorm rooms with up to six students each.

Las Cruces Biological Station

Las Cruces Biological Station is located on the south Pacific slope of Costa Rica near San Vito, only a few kilometers from the Panamanian border. At 1,100 meters, Las Cruces is the site of the world famous Wilson Botanical Garden, which houses 10 hectares of native and imported tropical plants, including bromeliads, palms, heliconias, and orchids. The site also protects 256 hectares of forest, with a rich diversity of plants, mammals, birds, and other important groups. Near the station is a collection of forest patches that have been an important site for research on the biological dynamics of fragments. This is a very important site for research in restoration ecology. Las Cruces has been formally incorporated into the international Amistad Biosphere Reserve. San Vito was founded in the 1950s by Italian immigrants. The primary economic activity of the region is coffee cultivation. Las Cruces is one of our most comfortable field sites. Available services include phone, fax, e-mail, laundry, and hot water.

Palo Verde Biological Station

Through an agreement with the Costa Rica National Park Service, OTS maintains this field station within the Palo Verde National Park. This reserve, located in the northwestern region of the country, lies on the boundary between an extensive marsh and seasonally dry forest underlain with limestone. It protects part of the lower Tempisque River Basin, the largest river drainage of the historic province of Guanacaste. Palo Verde is recognized internationally as one of the most important wetland habitats for nesting waterfowl. It is also a great place to see monkeys, deer, lizards, and crocodiles. Several trails lead to lookout points with incredible scenic vistas, favorite spots for watching the sunset. The park is currently impacted by rice and sugar cane cultivation in surrounding wetlands. It is also unique among Costa Rican parks in that domestic animals (namely, cattle) have been incorporated into its management program; a somewhat controversial decision that we will have a closer look at when we are there. The field station is rustic. Services available at Palo Verde include phone, fax, e-mail, and laundry. Palo Verde is the buggiest of our sites, particularly in the wet season, so be prepared for lots of mosquitoes while we are there!

San Pedro, San José

San Pedro is located next to San José, the capital city of Costa Rica. San Pedro is a densely populated, urban center. It is also the location of the University of Costa Rica, where OTS’ Costa Rican offices are located. As a university town, San Pedro provides many resources for undergraduate students, including Internet cafés, restaurants, libraries, and bookstores. San Pedro will be your home during three weeks of Spanish at the Costa Rican Language Academy (CRLA). CRLA houses students with Costa Ricans (one student per family). In many cases, students quickly become part of the warm and vibrant social life that characterizes the Costa Rican family. During the week, while classes are in session, student activities revolve around San Pedro. On weekends, however, students are free to travel and may take advantage of hiking and camping opportunities in the surrounding hills or may venture further from the Central Valley to enjoy the nearby beaches of Jaco and Manuel Antonio. Services available in San Pedro include telephone, fax, laundry, and hot water. E-mail is most readily accessible at the language institute, at the OTS offices, or at Internet cafés.

Masaya, Nicaragua

Shortly after midterm break, we will take a trip to Nicaragua where we will have the opportunity to witness the rich culture of this neighboring Central American country. During our visit, we will participate in a community outreach project. And, our experience will be enriched with cultural activities in Masaya.

*Sites are subject to change


OTS’ programs differ from your home campus experience in many ways, so be prepared to step out of your comfort zone and have an incredible learning journey. OTS’ programs are labor intensive: you will be immersed in group discussions, field visits, workshops or receiving brief lectures during most of the day throughout the length of the course.

Activities start early in the morning (around 7:30 am) and finish near 6:00 or 7:00 pm. You will be traveling to field sites several times a week. Travel time can take from 20 minutes to up to 7 hours (only in transfer days), depending on the places you are visiting. Each visit is designed to provide you with new professional and personal experiences where you will be encouraged to broaden your cultural consciousness by interacting fist-hand with the communities. Every week is different but here is a general idea of how a day could be:

6:30am, Breakfast: Rice and beans are a staple diet for Costa Ricans, and this is true even at breakfast. Most mornings will begin with gallo pinto, or rice and beans cooked together with onions, garlic, and other spices. This will often be accompanied by eggs, toast, fruit and coffee, juice or tea.

7:30am, Field activity: Most field activities take all morning, or in some cases will go into the afternoon. If we plan to be out in the field until, for instance, 2pm or 3pm, we will pack a box lunch (usually a sandwich of your choice, fruit, cookies, and juice; and yes—bean sandwiches are an option). For field activities, you will often need to wear rubber boots, and always take water and your field notebook with you. This is the best part of the day—be prepared to get wet and muddy!!

12:00pm, Lunch back at the station: Whatever we have for lunch, it will almost certainly be accompanied by rice and beans.

1:00pm, Rest/shower time

2:00pm, Lectures and/or discussion sections

5:00pm, Free time: Most students use this space to go running, play soccer, rest, etc.

6:00pm, Dinner: (You guessed it, among other offerings, rice and beans!)

7:00pm: Some days, we will have Spanish activities or evening lectures. Otherwise this time can be used for study time or relaxing.


Non-resident of Alabama

Total: $24,900

Resident of Alabama

Total: $18,628

Tuition and fees cover:

  • Room and board at hotels, homestays, and research stations
  • Local travel to program sites
  • Participation of many local and international tropical scientists, and other experts
  • Laundry costs

Tuition and fees do not cover:

  • International travel
  • Independent travel
  • Incidentals
  • Personal spending

Tuition & Fees 2018-19



OTS Scholarships

OTS is committed to providing opportunities to all eligible students interested in participating in our programs.  We make every effort possible to ensure that financial obstacles are not the primary reason a qualified student cannot participate in one of our programs. We make scholarship applications available to students upon acceptance into an OTS program. We have a limited amount of scholarship funds available so, the earlier you apply, the better your chances of receiving an award. If you have questions, please contact the Enrollment Management team at

External Scholarships and Opportunities

The Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program

The U.S. Department of State’s Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship is a grant program that enables students of limited financial means to study or intern abroad, thereby gaining skills critical to our national security and economic competitiveness. The Gilman Scholarship is open to U.S. citizens and undergraduate students, who are receiving Federal Pell Grant funding at a two-year or four-year college or university, in order to participate in study and intern abroad programs worldwide. They award grants of up to $5,000 for traditionally underrepresented students in education abroad as well as students in the sciences, and nontraditional study abroad locations.

Fund for Education Abroad

The Fund for Education Abroad (FEA) invests in promising students with financial need who wish to study abroad. Scholarships range from $1,250 – $10,000. The student must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, be currently enrolled as an undergraduate at a college or university in the United States, the study abroad program must be eligible for credit at the student’s home institution, and the program must be at least 4 weeks in country. FEA encourages first generation, minority, and community college students to apply.

Additional Funding Sources

The Vira I. Heinz (VIH) Program for Women in Global Leadership

Corinne Jeannine Schillings Foundation Scholarship to Study Abroad

Boren Awards for International Study

Garden Club of America (GCA)

Phi Kappa Phi Study Abroad Grant

Fund My Travel

Carlos Alberto Faerron Guzmán, M.D., M.Sc.
M.Sc., International Health and Development, Queen Mary University and Vrije Universiteit
M.D., University of Costa Rica

Dr. Faerron is the Academic Director for OTS. He began his career as a primary care doctor in a rural area of Costa Rica where he worked closely with migrant and indigenous populations. After obtaining his graduate degree, he returned to the same community and co-founded the InterAmerican Center for Global Health (CISG). The center is the first global health hub in Central America and seeks to redefine the meaning of leadership and global health through innovative educational approaches.

Dr. Faerron’s work follows a health equity and human rights framework as a guiding principle and firmly believes in progress in health through community empowerment, research and education. Dr. Faerron has successfully placed Costa Rica on the map as a new location for global health education and research. Through his work the center became well connected in all areas within the Costa Rican nonprofit, for-profit, and government systems related to health and human rights.

Dr. Faerron’s areas of research include adolescent pregnancy, gender, intercultural approaches to care, and migration and health. He also has developed and taught courses in the fields of Planetary Health, Global Health, Tropical Diseases, Interculturality, Human Rights, Oral Health, Primary Care, Health Systems among others, for CISG, for the Organization for Tropical Studies and for Harvard University, NYU, University of Southern California and EARTH University. He obtained his medical degree at the University of Costa Rica, and his MSc. in International Health at Queen Mary University in Edinburgh and Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam. Additional studies include Social Justice at the International Institute for Health and Development in Scotland, and Social Innovation for Health from INCAE Business School. Dr. Faerron is a Fellow of the Central American Healthcare Initiative and adjunct faculty at the Department of Oral Health Policy and Epidemiology at Harvard University.

Housing & Meals

The OTS program differs socially and culturally from your typical on-campus life in several interesting and important ways. First and foremost, of course, you will be living in a small Latin American country. In general, Costa Ricans (“Ticos” and “Ticas”) are warm, friendly, and welcoming. You can expect to develop good friendships and not only learn about Costa Ricans but also reflect more on your own culture by comparison. Since you are a guest in Costa Rica, you need to be sensitive to and respectful of Costa Rican customs, but learning how those customs differ from your own is an exciting part of the study abroad experience.

Although you may have one or two roommates at your home campus, in Costa Rica you will be living closely with 12-25 other students and two to five professors or field assistants. This means communication and respect will be crucial. Everyone needs to be as open, honest, and cooperative as possible. There also needs to be sincere respect for one another, regardless of different opinions and lifestyles. This includes respect for privacy, respect for rules and regulations, and even respect for the fact that unpredictability is an inherent feature of field-based programs such as this one. Indeed, next to communication and cooperation, flexibility and a good sense of humor are the most important characteristics of a successful student in the program. By living and working with the same people for 15 weeks, you will undoubtedly develop a number of very close friendships. The combination of uncomfortable (being wet, muddy, and tired) and wonderful (watching iguanas sunning on the bridge at La Selva) situations creates great images and memories.

Passport & Visa Information

You must have a valid Passport to travel to Costa Rica. It is important that the passport does not expire within 6 months of entering Costa Rica. If you are NOT a citizen of a North American or European country, you will probably need a special visa to get into Costa Rica. We recommend that you contact your respective consulate or embassy services to determine if you need a visa to travel to Costa Rica. It is important to take into account the requirements to get a visa approved before you apply for one of our courses. If you are accepted into one of our courses we will provide any information necessary (within reason) to help with the visa application.

Please keep in mind that visa application processes can take several months depending on the country of issue. For more information on this topic please visit U.S. citizens entering Costa Rica are automatically granted a 90-day tourist Visa. Students will receive a second 90-day tourist visa when the course enters Costa Rica again following a visit to Nicaragua, and that second visa will last until the end of the program. Remember that according to current immigration laws in Costa Rica, you MUST leave the country for at least 72 hours when your visa expires. Students planning to stay in Costa Rica after the program end date need to take this into account. Please contact the Enrollment Management team at if you have any questions.

Health & Safety

OTS is deeply committed to student safety and well-being, we do not expose students to unnecessary danger or risk. We monitor national and international events that might affect our students. Five decades of risk assessment, emergency response, and crisis resolution have enabled OTS to maximize student safety and security. All students participate in an on-site orientation program upon arrival. For our most current safety information, contact the OTS Enrollment Management staff at