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

  • Connector.


    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.

  • Connector.


    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.

  • Connector.


    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.


Although both semester programs are run at the same time and participate together in the five week “Block 1,” these two programs are separate and distinct. In the Field Program, students and faculty travel and work together for four weeks after Block I. During the last four weeks of the program students live and work independently. When not on the road or living together in field stations, the students live in individual home-stays.

In the Social Justice and Development Internship Program, after the first five weeks, each student engages in a separate and independent eight-week internship in Nicaragua or Costa Rica. In all countries, students live with local home-stay families.
In both programs, intensive Spanish training is part of the curriculum and the use of the language is constantly emphasized.

Spanish students are able to do volunteer work in the metropolitan area provided that they have sufficient Spanish upon arrival and that they are planning on participating for a minimum of one month. Students who choose this option are unable to attend the scheduled activities on the days when they work, but they will surely find the experience just as rewarding! Students who do not choose this option will have the opportunity to do one group community service activity per week (regardless of their Spanish level) as a part of the normal schedule of activities.
Most students simply register online, then send in their deposit. Once we receive your registration form and deposit, we will send you a receipt and a preparation guide booklet. Once these are sent, your enrollment is confirmed. At that point, it is essential that you send us your flight information so that we can arrange for someone to pick you up at the airport!
Two weeks before your arrival, we will have completed all of the homestay placements pending receipt of the deposit and family preferences. If we have your e-mail address, we will send you a letter with the information. If you do not have e-mail, please feel free to call us and we will be more than happy to tell you about your future Costa Rican family.
For the Spanish Language Intensives, credits must be arranged and should be pre-approved by your home university. Credits cannot be transferred through Hampshire College, as with the semester-long programs. For both the Semester Internship and the Field Program credits can be arranged, if necessary, by ICADS with Hampshire College for a credit transfer fee of $300. We recommend that you consult your registrar’s office before participating in the program to determine if it is necessary to receive credits from Hampshire. Many schools accept ICADS credits directly. We are more than happy to send you all course information if your university requests it, as well as a list of schools that directly accepts ICADS credits.
The main staple in Costa Rica is rice and beans. If you are vegetarian, it is usually pretty easy to eat here. Most of our families are also accustomed to cooking vegetarian food. If you have any other special needs, please let us know. ICADS has over 65 homestay families, thus finding a family compatible with any student’s needs is not difficult. Our homestay coordinator is a US educated psychologist who makes magical placements and handles any problems along the way!
Yes, we require a minimum of two weeks and have no maximum. In other words, students may choose the number of weeks they would like to stay, including leaving mid-month. However, we prefer that students start at the beginning of the program which is the first Monday of each month. This is because we have several Orientation activities and Spanish level placement assessments that first week in which our students need to participate.
Many travelers assume they will be covered for illnesses and injuries while abroad. The truth is your domestic coverage may not travel with you. Emergency medical evacuation, repatriation and 24 hour emergency assistance services are typically not part of a domestic insurance policy. While we are all hopeful the unexpected will not happen to you, we want you to be fully protected from the unexpected.
Emergency Medical Evacuation, Repatriation and 24 hour Emergency Assistance Services (for help with medical and legal issues via a collect call from anywhere) are highly recommended for all ICADS participants. The average cost for air evacuation runs around $8,000 (and in some situations can run up as high as $50,000). It will be your responsibility to pay for it on the spot, unless you can show proof of insurance or flash your platinum Visa. So, we recommend that you have either this type of insurance, the money on hand or the Visa.

In addition to emergency medical evacuation, repatriation and 24 hour emergency assistance services coverage, we also recommend you consider supplemental medical insurance to “supplement” your domestic medical insurance. High quality “comprehensive” travel insurance protection is available for reasonable rates from a number of companies. If you have travel insurance while studying at ICADS, please make sure to provide ICADS with a copy of your policy as well as the collect call phone number for your 24 hour international emergency assistance provider. Check with your insurance provider to find out what options they offer.

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.
Kat holds an M.Ed., concentration in International Teaching, from Framingham State University, and is currently finishing a Master’s in Rural Development from FLACSO, the Latin American Social Science Faculty. Her thesis investigates peasant farmer perspectives on globalized agriculture. She received a dual B.A. in Spanish and International Service from Valparaiso University. She has traveled throughout Central and South America, and before coming to ICADS worked with Latin American immigrants in the United States and Nicaraguan immigrants in Costa Rica for 7 years, as well as with numerous organizations that focus on international education for US citizens, both in the United States and in Costa Rica.
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.
Roxana is from Costa Rica. She has a Licenciatura in Business Administration and a Master’s degree in Teaching Spanish as a Second Language from the University of Costa Rica. She has been a Spanish teacher since 2004. After 14 years of working in the National Bank of Costa Rica, she decided to resign and volunteer, so she traveled to England to work with homeless people and adolescents from countries like Nepal, India, Zambia, and others, who are in the UK temporarily to finish high school. After returning to Costa Rica, she worked with an international volunteer organization before joining ICADS. Roxana enjoys teaching Spanish and accompanying students in the different activities that make up ICADS programs.
Maria Emilia (Machi) Chaves holds a B.S. in Psychology from Bowling Green State University, and a Licenciatura from the University of Costa Rica. Machi feels privileged to live in Costa Rica, a bird-lover’s paradise, as she tries to observe and read all she can about birds. Machi has worked at ICADS for many years and continues to enjoy opening the eyes of our students in order to achieve a better world. The opportunity to offer work to the ICADS host families is another important contribution that Machi makes toward a better world.
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.
  • 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.

ICADS has also welcomed students from the following universities. Click your school’s logo to go to contact your study abroad office and find out how you can join us.

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