Founded 30 years ago, the Institute for Central American Development Studies (ICADS) is a center for study, research, and analysis of Central American social and environmental issues. We focus on economic development, politics, environmental studies, sustainable development, public health, women’s issues, education, human rights, and conservation.

We offer four categories of programs: three distinct Study Abroad programs through which students can earn academic credit toward their university degree; a Summer Internship program; intensive Spanish language courses designed to immerse students in the Costa Rican context; and we also work with universities to create customized short-term programs. Students learn through readings, lectures, and interaction with local people in both Costa Rica and Nicaragua via internships and voluntary service.


Mission and Values

  • Educate

    We seek to educate participants about Central America by teaching Spanish and by offering academic programs that utilize a theoretically critical perspective as well as hands-on experience to help students deepen insights into current social, political and economic realities and their effects on the environment and society, especially the poor and marginalized.

  • Support

    We aim to provide support to organizations and communities throughout the countries where we work; especially to groups that have demonstrated a commitment to learning and/or are dedicated to social justice work in areas such as education, healthcare, human rights, anti-hunger issues, and environmental issues. We do this through regular donations and utilization of services.

  • Understand

    To increase understanding of the region within a historical perspective; to develop a theoretical framework for the analysis of root causes, forms and dimensions of underdevelopment and injustice; to stimulate critical evaluation of current development strategies, analyzing their effects on women, children, the poor, and the environment; and to search for alternative methods, policies, and strategies.

Our History

The Institute for Central American Development Studies (ICADS) was created in 1986 to fill the information gap in foreign policy between United States citizens and their government. In conversation with scholars actively engaged in research in Central America, it was concluded that the best way to go about gaining a deeper understanding is through both rigorous academic study and social engagement with real Central American communities that are working to solve some of the most challenging problems of the day.


Spanish classes are held in ICADS’ beautiful garden.


Students trying tropical fruits during the “Fiesta de Frutas.”

In today’s increasingly connected and globalized world, we at ICADS believe that it is now more important than ever to understand the complex issues impacting the peoples of both the global North and South. Thirty years after the founding of ICADS, we remain committed to providing opportunities for language and cultural immersion through classes and community work, lectures and contact with “regular” Central Americans, who are the real experts when it comes to Central American life.

Student Testimonials

  • Melissa Michalek - ICADS student
  • I would recommend ICADS to other students because the different programs help to understand different cultures of Central American countries. Also, it was nice to work in small groups. It made me feel more comfortable. The staff was very supportive in giving us everything we needed. They were like a second family when we were away from our home.Melissa Michalek, Saint Mary’s College

Faculty and Staff


Our team is made up of experts committed to your academic success, health, and safety. Many of us have spent decades working with US students in Central America, and in topics related to our academic work. Many of us, both North and Central Americans, are bilingual, and we all love working cross culturally with students like you in our tropical context.

Don Antonio (as he is known in Costa Rica) holds a Ph.D. in Political Economy and Third World Development from the University of Maryland, College Park, and an M.A. in International Relations from the same university. His B.A. is from Messiah College/Temple University. Prior to his work in Central America, Dr. Chamberlain was a Graduate Fellow/Instructor at the University of Maryland, a Foreign Expert at Beijing University, P.R. China and worked in both Venezuela and Colombia, South America.

Matt is from Rochester, NY and first came to Costa Rica 2010 as an undergraduate student at Roberts Wesleyan College.  After studying Spanish at ICADS he returned to New York and completed his degree in Spanish.  Since then he has been back and forth between Costa Rica and New York, and completed his MA in Latin American Literature at the University at Buffalo in 2015.  He worked for a year as Communications Coordinator and returned to ICADS in 2017 as the Assistant Director.  He enjoys reading, traveling, cooking, and spending time with his two cats.

David received his M.A. from the Latin American Studies department at Tulane University. He is a resident of Costa Rica and has been working in Latin America for over 26 years. He did his thesis research on the effects of hunting on Paraguayan reptiles and in the late 1980’s came to Costa Rica to help set up the region’s first wildlife management master’s program.
Gabriel has a Bachelor’s degree in English as Second Language and a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology from the University of Costa Rica. He also completed a Licenciatura in Sociology (a two-year program after a Bachelor’s Degree, with a research project for graduation) at the University of Costa Rica, doing field research and writing his thesis on the social representations about work and career perspectives of the Costa Rican labor force inserted into the prevalent industry of call centers. He likes to encourage students to think critically and to challenge their own assumptions about cultures and world issues.
Gaby studied Latin American Literature at the University of Costa Rica where she also received a Master’s in Spanish as a Second Language. She has been coordinating the ICADS Spanish department since 2007. Gaby is a trained ACTFL OPI interviewer and has been a professor of Spanish since 1997 and has directed Spanish programs in Costa Rica as well as Panama. One of the things that most motivates her about her work is the possibility of her students improving their Spanish so that they can build bridges between countries and open opportunities for greater intercultural understanding.
Carolina studied Spanish Philiology with an emphasis in Linguistics, as well as Collective Communication Sciences with an emphasis in Journalism at the University of Costa Rica. After receiving a scholarship from the Chinese government in 2008, she lived in Nanjing and Shanghai for almost 5 years, where she obtained a Masters of Journalism at the University of Fudan. Carolina has been a Spanish teacher for almost 20 years, as well as a journalist and a radio producer. From her work and other experiences, she loves the possibility of learning about different cultures, learning languages, and creating new projects that bring diverse peoples together.

Rosa has a degree in Psychology. She has been a Spanish teacher at ICADS for 12 years. Now, she feels privileged to be able to find a home for each student and that students and Costa Rican families get to know each other, and see the world from a different perspective. These experiences will contribute to a better understanding of others, and to the construction of a better world. Serving others is one of Rosas’s main life goals and she has done it through different organizations. She also enjoys being with her family.

  • Keith Poe, MPS, MBA, Internship Faculty in Nicaragua. Keith was born to US parents living abroad and has lived in Nicaragua for many years. He holds and MBA from the Central American University in Managua, Nicaragua, and a Master’s in Rural Development from Cornell University. Keith has worked in Haiti, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Nicaragua in agricultural and development projects, and works with ICADS interns in Nicaragua as course faculty. He has been with ICADS in the capacity of internship faculty since January of 2015, and as a lecturer to ICADS study tours to Nicaragua since 2010.
  • Karla Sosa, Internship Coordinator in Nicaragua. Karla is Nicaraguan and has been working with ICADS for over 10 years, first as a host family for students living in Nicaragua, and now for the past 10 years as internship coordinator. Karla assists in placing students in internships, and carries out visits, logistical support, as well as coordination of ICADS study tours in Nicaragua during the semester program.

University Affiliates

ICADS has formal agreements with the schools below, meaning transferring credits is a breeze. Click on your school below to find out more about your opportunities with ICADS.

Don’t see your school? Not to worry! We’ll work with you and your university to make your semester at ICADS a reality. Contact us to find out more.

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