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Engage in Global Health in Costa Rica: Studying abroad — a truly transformative and life-changing experience

Posted: Aug. 25, 2015

The 17 students from The University of Texas at Austin didn’t know what to expect once they arrived in San José, Costa Rica, for a course in global health. One thing they did know: for the next six weeks, the group of one kinesiology, one nutrition, one pre-med and 14 nursing students would be staying with Costa Rican families during the time they attended classes at the Instituto San Joaquin de Flores, visited hospitals, clinics, community agencies, and an indigenous people’s village, and learned about life in another culture.

Olivia Baker with host family’s niece and nephew

“Everyone was pretty nervous,” said Olivia Baker, at the time a rising sophomore in the UT Austin School of Nursing, as she described the day they met their host families in San Joaquin. “Our names were called out and our host moms stood to greet us. We then loaded our luggage into their cars and off we went. Staying with a host family was one of my favorite parts of the trip.”

That was the summer of 2014. Now the School of Nursing and faculty members Jane Champion, PhD, DNP, and Alexandra Garcia, PhD, RN, are preparing to take another group of students back to Costa Rica for a life-changing experience.

“Global Health and Spanish for Health Care Professionals in Costa Rica” will take place during the second summer session from July 7 to August 17, 2016. During that time, students will earn six credits for N309 Global Health (or N390D Public Health in a Global Context, if they have already taken N309 or equivalent) and N354 Spanish for Health Care Professionals (or SPN 319S).

“The program provides an immersion experience for students to explore socio-cultural issues, health care systems, health determinants and health outcomes in Costa Rica while practicing Spanish language skills,” Dr. Champion said. “It was designed for students from all disciplines who have an interest in global health and/or Central America.”

According to Dr. Champion, students will learn about the Costa Rican health care system in relation to the health indicators and health care systems of other Central American countries and the United States. Costa Ricans enjoy a longer life expectancy, similar to U.S. citizens. Despite its significantly lower per capita gross domestic product, Costa Rica provides its citizens with universal health care coverage, which is focused on providing primary care, and offers some of the highest quality health care in Central America.

It’s not all work and no play: students enjoying one of many excursions

In addition, students can expect to participate in excursions to unique health and community-based organizations, with further opportunities to enjoy Costa Rica’s natural beauty, hospitality and culture. They will live in homestays throughout the program, gaining first-hand knowledge of and experience with the Costa Rican people and culture.

“As an instructor, it was exciting to teach global health in a way that students were able to engage outside the classroom and see first-hand the issues that other cultures deal with,” Dr. Garcia said. “For instance, because Costa Rica has open gutters in the streets that overflow after a heavy rain, students got to talk about water and sanitation issues that could make a difference in the residents’ health.”

UT’s International Office makes study abroad possible for every Longhorn by offering financial aid, tailoring programs to fit every field of study and integrating the experience into graduation schedules. Applications are due Dec. 1.

To find out more, plan to attend the Study Abroad Fair on Wednesday, Sept. 9, in front of Gregory Gym. The School of Nursing will hold information sessions about “Global Health and Spanish for Health Care Professionals in Costa Rica” on Tuesday, Sept. 15 at 5 p.m. in room 4.180; Wednesday, Oct. 7 at 5 p.m. in CLA 1.106; and Monday, Nov. 9 at 12 noon in the School of Nursing, room 3.156.

For more information about the Engaging Global Health in Costa Rica study abroad program, please visit the UT Austin International Office’s Study Abroad: Engaging Global Health in Costa Rica page. Interested students can also contact Dr. Alexandra Garcia, Dr. Jane Champion, or email Christian Fredericks, study abroad program coordinator.

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