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An HSU Program - Costa Rica Primate Field Program
San Jose, Costa Rica (Outgoing Program)
Program Terms: Summer
This program is currently not accepting applications.
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There are currently no active application cycles for this program.
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Program Type:
Faculty led
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Open to non-HSU students: Yes Credit type: Resident Credit
Tuition payment made to: Extended Education
Program Description:

An HSU Program - Costa Rica Primate Field Program

Learn about New World primate behavior, ecology and conservation, primatology field techniques, Costa Rican culture, current issues affecting Costa Ricans and their flora and fauna, and cultural sensitivity, among many other things.

Dates for 2015: May 26th  - June 15th

Program Overview



The field of anthropology is a core scientific discipline in the study and understanding of human evolution and diversity. A central concept used by anthropologists attempting to study the world around them with an unbiased viewpoint is the ability to conduct field research while maintaining "cultural relativity." Immersion in another culture is one of the most effective ways to internalize this difficult concept.

The Costa Rica Primate Field Program provides an opportunity for students to
Humboldt Now article: "The Jungle as the Classroom."
“We had incredible sightings, studying [primate] locations in the canopy, their behavior and vocalizations, their group composition and diet,” reports student Rani Ram. Read the Humboldt Now article about student Rani Ram's experience.

"Studying in Costa Rica was by far one of the most influential events of my time at Humboldt State University. Not only was the journey wonderfully challenging and educational, but it was also incredibly fun! The friends I have made and the adventures we had will be warm thoughts that I’ll have for the rest of my life. I learned so much on this program and I am sincerely thankful that I was able to have this experience!" says student Reid Jackson.
study in a unique region of the world and to practice anthropological concepts and techniques. The program will take place both on the HSU campus and at the La Selva Biological Station in Costa Rica. This intensive course will be offered to all qualified Humboldt State University students, as well as to qualifying students from other institutions.

This program will be rigorous, both physically and academically. Students will be required to learn as much as they can about New World primate behavior, ecology and conservation, primatology field techniques, Costa Rican culture, current issues affecting Costa Ricans and their flora and fauna, and cultural sensitivity, among other things.

Students will be required to attend all lectures, to spend many hours in the rainforest looking for primates, and to conduct their own primate behavioral observation research projects at the La Selva Biological Station in Costa Rica.

Students will assimilate what they are experiencing through observation, data collection and analysis, writing, reflection and discussion.

This program has two major interrelated themes. The first theme will be an examination of Costa Rican cultures via an anthropological viewpoint. Cultural anthropology is one of the four main areas of study within the discipline of anthropology. Students on this program will study modern Costa Rican life ways, the sociocultural history of the country, verbal traditions, music, and art, and the impact of tourism and development, among other things. On this program, students will also become well-versed in cultural sensitivity and intercultural communication.

The second theme -- primatology -- includes practical training in primate field research techniques and classes relating to primate and rainforest conservation. Primatology -- the examination of ape, monkey and prosimian behavior, ecology and evolution -- is a major sub-field of biological anthropology (the study of human biology and evolution). The three primate species and intact primary lowland rainforest at La Selva provide an excellent opportunity for hands-on learning for the students. Students will make observations of wild monkeys, a tropical rainforest, and learn associated field techniques.

When students finish this program, they should be able to:
  •  understand and reflect upon many cultural practices and the history of the people of this central American nation
  •  conduct basic tropical rainforest primatology field work and understand which techniques work best for different environmental conditions
  •  reflect upon the pros and cons of sustainable development in light of ecotourism and rainforests
  •  appreciate the difficulties and joys of living and working in “foreign” cultures and the wisdom such experiences can produce.

Courses offered

The program offers two classes totalling 6 units: Instructors and staff

Gillian Moritz (Director) is a lecturer in the Department of Biological Sciences at Humboldt State University. Gillian studied Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Dartmouth College and has extensive experience in tropical field ecology and primate behavioral ecology in Central and South America and Southeast Asia. She has participated in several field courses across sites in Costa Rica including La Selva as both a student and instructor. For the 2015 program, she will lead all aspects of this course including lectures, field exercises, travel logistics to and from Costa Rica and supervision of students while in Costa Rica.

Marissa Ramsier is a lecturer in the Department of Anthropology at Humboldt State University and is the Director of the Center for Evolutionary Anthropology. She holds an PhD in Anthropology from the University of California, Santa Cruz. Dr. Ramsier has extensive experience in the course topics and in primate fieldwork, in Central and South America and Africa. She co-directed the first two HSU Costa Rica Primate Field Programs at La Selva. For the 2015 program, she will serve mostly an administrative role in program development and logistics.

Kate Werling (Teaching/Field Assistant) is a graduate student in Anthropology at the Ohio State University, where she is studying primatology. She completed her BA in Anthropology at HSU, during which time she also attended the Costa Rica Primate Field Program. For the 2015 program, she will assist will all aspects of the field program, including supervising students in the field and leading field exercises.

Field Conditions


At the beginning and end of the field portion of the program, students will spend the night at the Hotel Cacts in San Jose, Costa Rica. The hotel has all standard amenities and may be viewed at its website.

While at the La Selva Biological Station, students will stay in dormitory style field cabins, with two to four students per cabin. Each cabin has two to three bunk beds, a work desk, and lockable storage cabinets.

Every two cabins share a restroom facility, which consists of a toilet, two sinks, a shower with hot and cold water, and soap and paper towel dispensers. Males and females have separate cabins and restrooms.

While at Tortuguero, students will stay at the Mawamba Lodge.


Program costs paid by students cover the cost of breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Meals are served at pre-set times in the morning, afternoon, and evening in a cafeteria-style setting. Meals generally include meat, rice and beans, and various side dishes (including fruit and/or vegetables). Vegetarian options are available for all meals. Additional snack items are available at the gift shop.

At La Selva, water is drinkable from the tap and is available at the cafeteria at all times. Ice is also available. During meals at La Selva, fresh juice is available.


Students with disabilities should consult the Student Disability Resource Center (SDRC) in House 71, 826-4678, and read about the specific housing and field conditions at the La Selva Biological Station before applying.

Students are encouraged to meet with faculty to discuss any accommodations needed for the program.

Reasonable accommodations may be available for students who have a documented disability. All accommodations must be approved through the Student Disability Resource Center.


Travel & Preparation


United States citizens are required to obtain passports for entry into Costa Rica.

Students are to obtain passports independently and to provide the course instructors will photocopies of their passports.

Students who are not U.S. citizens are responsible to obtain all necessary documents and permission to allow them to participate in the Costa Rica portion of the course.

The following information was obtained from the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs website:
“For entry into Costa Rica, U.S. citizens must present valid passports that will not expire for at least thirty days after arrival, and a roundtrip/outbound ticket. Some U.S. airlines may not permit passengers to board flights to Costa Rica without such a ticket. Passports should be in good condition; Costa Rican immigration will deny entry if the passport is damaged in any way. Costa Rican authorities generally permit U.S. citizens to stay up to ninety days; to stay beyond the period granted, travelers must submit an application for an extension to the Office of Temporary Permits in the Costa Rican Department of Immigration.  Tourist visas are usually not extended except under special circumstances, and extension requests are evaluated on a case-by-case basis.  There is a departure tax for short-term visitors.  Tourists who stay over ninety days may experience a delay at the airport when departing. Persons who overstayed previously may be denied entry to Costa Rica. Persons traveling to Costa Rica from some countries in South America and Sub-Saharan Africa must provide evidence of a valid yellow fever vaccination prior to entry.  The South American countries include Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela.

The most authoritative and up-to-date information on Costa Rican entry and exit requirements, including visa information, may be obtained from the Consular Section of the Embassy of Costa Rica at 2114 “S” Street, NW, Washington, DC 20008, telephone (202) 234-2945/46 , fax (202) 265-4795 , e-mail, web site, or from the Costa Rican consulates in Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York, San Juan (Puerto Rico), San Francisco, and Tampa. The Costa Rican immigration agency maintains a web site. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Costa Rica in Washington or one of Costa Rica's consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements before shipping any items.”


Students are responsible for obtaining all immunizations required by the U.S. Public Health Service for Costa Rica as well as the student's medical condition and history. 

All students will be required to have international medical, accident, and evacuation insurance and must sign the HSU Insurance Agreement and Release prior to leaving for Costa Rica.

Emergency contact information must be provided to instructors no later than one month prior to the start date of the program.

Health & Safety

Central to any study abroad program is immersion in a new culture and surroundings, which can be difficult at times. Cultural sensitivity and cultural transition discussions will occur during orientation sessions and will be a dominant theme throughout the program.Students are expected to act in a mature and responsible manner. The program staff may send home any individual whose conduct, in the opinion of the program staff, is detrimental to the program or to the other students. This includes uncooperative or disruptive behavior, alcohol abuse, illegal drug use, and failure to perform satisfactory academic work. Fees will not be refunded if a student is asked to leave the program early.

The avoidance of any illegal drug use, drug purchase, or drug sales cannot be stressed enough. Costa Rican officials inflict severe penalties on foreigners breaking domestic laws, especially illegal drug use. Students are cautioned that a foreign passport and ignorance of local laws will not protect them nor is it likely that anyone from the program or the U.S. Embassy/U.S. Government (or other embassies) be able to provide assistance if they are arrested or convicted for drug use or other crimes.

The field activities take place in a tropical forest environment with poisonous/venomous insects, spiders, snakes, and other animals. The field site also has wild felids. Students undergo training prior to and during field excursions on avoiding potential dangers. In addition to being vigilant and avoiding contact with potentially dangerous animals, students are not to walk off trail without supervision and without wearing appropriate clothing (such as high-ankle boots). No student is to walk trails alone or walk trails in groups without first informing and obtaining permission from the course instructors.

Participating students should be in good health, and should have a medical examination prior to departure to Costa Rica. Students are responsible for obtaining all immunizations required by the US Public Health Service for Costa Rica as well as the student's medical condition and history. Students can find information on vaccinations and health precautions at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website and the World Health Organization’s (WHO) web site.

Students are required to register with the State Department prior to leaving for Costa Rica.

Program participants should purchase all prescription medicines needed prior to leaving for Costa Rica, and should bring spare pairs of glasses and/or contact lenses if they wear them.

Students must provide a copy of their passport and emergency contact information to instructors (deadline March 1, 2014).

Resources Provided by the Program to Support the Health of Students

La Selva Biological Station has snake bite and first aid kits that may be used for participants on the program. The biological station also has telephones and radios to contact local medical personnel, a local clinic, and a regional hospital, if needed.

In-Country Medical Facilities
The following information was obtained from the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs on Nov 7, 2007.
“First aid and snake bite kits are available at the La Selva Biological Station. Major medical care is available in San Jose, approximately two hours from La Selva. Medical care in San Jose is adequate, but is limited in areas outside of San Jose. Most prescription and over-the-counter medications are available throughout Costa Rica. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services, and U.S. medical insurance is not always valid outside the United States. A list of local doctors and medical facilities can be found at the website of the U.S. Embassy in San Jose. An ambulance may be summoned by calling 911. The best-equipped ambulances are called unidad avanzada. Ambulance service in Costa Rica does not meet US standards, and response time is unreliable.”

Evacuation Procedures for Specific Location (Medical and Other)
There are vehicles at La Selva at all times for use in medical or other evacuations, and the instructors will have a four-wheel-drive rental vehicle available at all times for emergency purposes. In the case that a major evacuation of the field station is necessary, all personnel with follow protocols set by the Field Station Directors (on site). Large and small-scale evacuation via air travel is possible through the San Jose National Airport and students are required to hold international travel insurance while on the program in Costa Rica.

The Political Climate of the Country/Location
Costa Rica has no army and as such is relatively safe in terms of world politics and potential terrorism. The following information was obtained from the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs.
"There have been no recent acts of terrorism in Costa Rica. Visitors to Costa Rica may experience the effects of civil disturbances such as work stoppages and strikes. Although infrequent, these acts can create inconveniences for visitors.”

Environmental and Natural Disaster Risks
Costa Rica is potentially subject to earthquakes, volcanic activity, and flooding.
La Selva is a tropical wet forest with a lot of rain, high humidity and temperatures that may rapidly fluctuate between very hot and chilly. Students are cautioned to be prepared for hiking and other outdoor activities in inclement weather (rains), heat and humidity.


Security Issues at the Program Site(s)

Airport/San Jose/Hotel Cacts:
Costa Rica is a popular tourist destination and thus visitors are a potential target for petty theft and pick pocketing. While in the city (San Jose), students are cautioned to keep their belongings in sight and avoid ‘advertising’ that they are carrying items of value. The following information was obtained from the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs:
“Travelers should ignore any verbal harassment, and avoid carrying passports, large amounts of cash, jewelry or expensive photographic equipment. Tourists are encouraged to carry photocopies of the passport data page and Costa Rican entry stamp on their persons, and leave the original passport in a hotel safe or other secure place.”

As students are to provide their own transportation to and from the airport and the Hotel Cacts, they are cautioned to use only official taxis. The following information was obtained from the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs:
“Travelers should use licensed taxis, which are red with medallions (yellow triangles containing numbers) painted on the side. Licensed taxis at the airport are painted orange. All licensed taxis should have working door handles, locks, seatbelts and meters (called "marias"); passengers are required to use seatbelts. When traveling by bus, avoid putting bags or other personal belongings in the storage bins.”

La Selva Biological Station
As La Selva is a biological research station away from the city, it is fairly safe and devoid of crime. However, common sense should be used at all times, especially at night. Students may visit the restaurant at the periphery of the La Selva field station, but no student should travel away from the field site alone. Identification should be carried at all times. When not on their person, students should leave valuable items in the lockable storage cabinets in their cabins.

This program is currently not accepting applications.