Costa Rica: Sustainable Agriculture and Conservation in the Tropics

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Come experience the breath-taking natural beauty and rich cultural history of Costa Rica while exploring the connection between sustainable agriculture and conservation. You will spend a month living and working on La Iguana Chocolate farm assisting the Salazar family in crafting their hand-made chocolates. This is a true tree-to-truffle experience, and you will participate in each step of the process: including harvesting the cacao pods, the fermenting, drying, and roasting of the cacao beans, and the making and packaging of their chocolates.

La Iguana Chocolate is located in Mastatal (population approximately 150), a rural farming community nestled into the foothills above Costa Rica's central Pacific coast, and bordering the majestic La Cangreja National Park. One of only a handful of chocolate farms in Costa Rica, La Iguana Chocolate is dedicated to organic chocolate production in a sustainable manner that benefits the family and their community, while conserving their natural resources and protecting the incredible biodiversity in the area.

During your program you will, through hands-on experience, gain a deeper understanding of the general principles and practices of sustainable agriculture in the tropics, and gain specific knowledge on the small-scale production of organic chocolate from cacao. Through working at La Iguana Chocolate, and interacting with Salazar family and the community of Mastatal, you will broaden your awareness of the traditions and heritage of the Costa Rican culture. You will examine the connection between land-use and conservation through assigned readings, two on-site lectures led by the course instructor, Robert Tournay, and guided hikes in the rain forest of La Cangreja National Park. Upon your return you will conclude the course through participation in group discussions, and the completion of a reflection paper.

Program notes:

  • This is a working farm, and students will be required to work 5-6 hours per day, Monday through Friday. Afternoons and weekends are free time, with the exception of the two required lectures and guided hikes.
  • Costa Rica is a tropical country, which means the weather is hot and humid, and at times the work will be outdoors, be physically demanding, and/or require walking between the farm and cacao plantation (2 kilometers).
  • Lodging in dorm-style housing and three meals per day will be included in the program fee. Public transportation between Mastatal and the airport (arrival and departure) is also included and participants will be escorted by a program representative. International flights and meals in transit are not included.
  • This is an independent study course, and except for a few days of orientation at the beginning of the program, the instructor will not be present in Costa Rica. Besides the family at La Iguana Chocolate, an independent local contact will be available to assist with any issues or concerns.
  • Spanish language is not required for this program. For those interested, optional Spanish language lessons are available in Mastatal for a small fee
  • All participants are required to attend one pre-trip meeting at the UW Tacoma campus. This mandatory meeting will be held during A-term (time/location TBD) to discuss travel logistics, packing lists, health and safety.

Academic content

Participants will receive the following course credits:

  • TEST 495: Environmental Research Experiences (3 credits)
  • TESC 498: Directed Readings (2 credits)

Please note while these credits will be awarded in the Autumn 2016 academic quarter, students will be in Costa Rica prior to the start of Autumn classes, from August 21st through September 18th. In other words, the travel dates do not conflict with the autumn course schedule.

While the bulk of the course work will occur before the start of autumn classes, students will be required participate in regular group discussions about the directed readings during the Autumn quarter. Group discussions will be hosted on Canvas, and will not require in person attendance.

Assessment will be based on:

  • Participation in work assignments at La Iguana Chocolate
  • Daily journal documenting all activities, and reflections, undertaken while at La Iguana Chocolate.
  • Completion of directed readings (short book and 6-8 journal articles) and accompanying question sets
  • Active participation in Canvas hosted discussion groups.
  • Completion of a paper reflecting (5 pages, with peer-reviewed journal citations) on your experience and with a focus on the core topic of sustainable agriculture and conservation in the tropics. This paper is due at the end of Autumn quarter.

Program schedule

The program will run from August 21 - September 18, 2016. Class will meet several times during the Autumn quarter. Meetings will be held on Canvas and remote attendance is possible.


Robert Tournay, Part-Time Lecturer at UW Tacoma, will be supervising the program and course work. Robert has worked with student programs from several universities in Mastatal and other areas of Costa Rica since 2011. Questions regarding the program can be directed to him at

Health Requirements

No immunizations are required for Costa Rica. However, it is advisable that you are up-to-date on your regular immunization schedule. Please consult your personal physician or local health board.

Student eligibility

Undergraduate students from any UW campus may apply. A maximum of ten students will be selected to participate on the program. Participants are selected on the basis of academic merit, preparation, interest, motivation, emotional maturity, and financial responsibility. No previous international/language experience is required.


Applications are due by 5 pm on May 21, 2016. Applicants will be notified of acceptance decisions by May 28, 2016. Once accepted to the program, applicants will need to confirm their participation in the program by June 3, 2016. Click the "Apply Now" button below to begin.

Apply Now

Travel documents and insurance

A U.S. passport valid 6 months beyond your anticipated date of return to the U.S. is required. No visa or other paperwork is required for U.S. citizens. International students (non-US citizens) may have additional requirements are advised to consult with their embassy prior to applying.

Study abroad insurance coverage is required. We recommend students take advantage of the UW Study Abroad Insurance, as an easy and affordable option. Students with personal insurance may petition for a UW Study Abroad Insurance waiver. If the petition is granted, the student will be exempt from the requirement to purchase the UW Study Abroad Insurance Plan. For details, please contact the UWT International Programs office.

Program cost

The total cost of the program is $2,250 (includes $250 administrative fee).

Included in the cost of the program:

  • Academic course fee in lieu of tuition (5 credits)
  • Hotel/lodge accommodations while in Costa Rica
  • Meals while in Costa Rica
  • Ground transportation in Costa Rica
  • Transfers, service charges and taxes (excluding airport departure taxes)

Not Included in program fees:

  • Round-trip airfare from Seattle, Washington, to San Jose, Costa Rica (SJO) - budget approximately $750 - $900 for flights
  • Airport departure taxes (approx. $29)
  • Meals while in transit to and from the US and between sites in Costa Rica
  • Study Abroad Insurance
  • Items of personal nature such as phone calls, souvenirs, and laundry service

Payment schedule

ADMINISTRATIVE FEE $250 Upon acceptance to program
PROGRAM FEE $2,000 June 15, 2016
TOTAL $2,250  

Method of payment: Payments made in person or by mail will need to be paid by personal check, cashier's check, or money order made payable to University of Washington Tacoma (UWT). Please write "Costa Rica Sust-Agr summer 2016" in the memo line of the check. Submit the check in person to the Cashier's Office by visiting the Carlton building on the fourth floor (CAR 400) or mail it to the following address:

University of Washington Tacoma
1900 Commerce Street
Tacoma, WA 98402

To make this payment online, click this button to proceed. Please not Visa or Mastercard only.

Pay Administrative Fee

For questions about the payment schedule or the methods of payment available, please contact Julia Smith, Interim Administrator, by email at

The program fee will be charged automatically to your UWT student account upon registration and can be paid online through your MyUW account. Please note: students do not register themselves for this program. The Office of International Programs will register the student once the Administrative Fee and all appropriate program documents have been received.

Financial aid

Students receiving financial aid which they intend to apply toward the program cost should consult with a financial aid adviser before applying to the program. Some sources of funding, i.e. the GI Bill®, may not cover the cost of study abroad programs. Check with a financial aid advisor to understand how your funds apply toward study abroad. Students may be asked to provide a student financial aid budget form to the Financial Aid office for your study abroad program. Please email the Office of International Programs to request the student financial aid budget at

Be aware that you may not receive financial aid in time to cover initial program costs. You should be prepared to pay your expenses out of pocket until your financial aid is dispersed. The deadline for program payment cannot be waived or postponed.

Refund conditions for fees

If you are *not* accepted to the program, the first payment of $250 will be returned to you.

  1. If you withdraw prior to June 3, 2016, all payments, less the $250 Administrative Fee, will be refunded to you.
  2. If you withdraw on or after June 3, but prior to June 17, 2016, you are obligated to pay 50% of the total cost of the program.
  3. If you withdraw on or after June 17, 2016, you are obligated to pay the full cost of the program. No refunds will be given for unused accommodations, meals or other fees and services.

Notice of Withdrawal from the program MUST be made in writing and submitted to our office in GWP 102 or by mail to:

International Programs
University of Washington Tacoma
1900 Commerce Street
Tacoma, WA 98402

Changes in costs or scope of the program

In the event of significant devaluations of the dollar, some adjustments to program activities may be necessary. If there are any political events that might compromise the safety of the participants, a rescheduling or cancellation of the program may be necessary. If such changes occur, students will be notified of the changes and options will be presented.

Program cancellation

If viable enrollment is not reached by June 3, 2016 the program will be cancelled. Participants will be notified and the Administrative Fee will be refunded.

Equal opportunity and disability accommodations

The University of Washington reaffirms its policy of equal opportunity regardless of race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, age, marital status, disability, or status as a disabled veteran or Vietnam era veteran in accordance with University policy and applicable federal and state statutes and regulations. The University of Washington is committed to providing access and reasonable accommodation in its services, programs, activities, education and employment for individuals with disabilities. To request disability accommodation in the application process contact the Disability Support Services Office at least ten days in advance.

GI Bill® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). More information about education benefits offered by VA is available at the official U.S. government website at