Duke University Organization for Tropical Studies
Get out into the field and gain first-hand experience studying Tropical Biology or Global Health in Costa Rica
Immerse yourself in Costa Rica's stunning diversity of ecosystems, including mangrove swamps, rain forests, and cloud forests
Study, research, and live at one of the Organization for Tropical Studies three research stations in Costa Rica's national parks and private reserves
The Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS) is a consortium of over 60 universities and research institutions from seven countries on four continents. OTS is a non-profit institution based at Duke University and operates three private research stations in several of Costa Rica's national parks and forest reserves. Students get to live, research, and study on-site surrounded by Costa Rica's rich biodiversity and contrasting ecosystems. Founded in 1963, OTS provides hands-on field-based training for students interested in gaining professional training in tropical studies, public health, and resource conservation. Locations visited on this program include the field stations of La Selva, Las Cruces, and Palo Verde, as well as a homestay opportunity in the university town of San Pedro or the capital city of San Jose.
Course of Study
Duke University's Organization for Tropical Studies in Costa Rica offers students the option of participating in one of two 16 credit hour semester programs: Tropical Biology on a Changing Planet or Global Health.
Tropical Biology track core semester courses include:
BIOLOGY 134 - Fundamentals of Tropical Biology (UNL equivalent: BIOS 3XX, 4 credits) This course provides an introduction to the major topics in tropical biology and the principal concepts of current tropical research. Based in the field, students will live surrounded by diverse ecosystems. Faculty will lead walks, workshops, and give lectures to provide students with a better understanding of the processes and interactions that shape ecology of the different sites. The fundamentals of bird, mammal, plant and insect taxonomy will be thoroughly studied.
BIOLOGY 135L - Research Methods in Tropical Biology (UNL equivalent: BIOS 3XXL, 4 credits) This course offers students experiential opportunities to learn through doing. Faculty and other professors help students design, implement, interpret, and present two independent research projects. Students will learn how to conduct field research, analyze their findings, and write scientific research papers.
ENVIRON 129 - Environmental Science and Policy of the Tropics (UNL Equivalent: NRES 492, 3 credits; NRES 1XX, 1 credit) Environmental issues and conservation strategies will be discussed in this course. Students will learn about the social, political, economic and ecological aspects of how human societies interact with tropical ecosystems. Topics include ecotourism, global warming, and sustainable farming.
SPANISH 62 - Culture and Language in Costa Rica (UNL equivalent depends on language level) Students will 60 hours of Spanish language instruction with field trips and a homestay. Students will live with a host family in San Pedro for several weeks to gain full immersion in the Spanish language and "Tico" culture.
Global Health track core semester courses include:
GLHLTH 171 - Tropical Medicine and Public Health in Costa Rica (UNL equivalent, BIOS 3XX, 4 credits) Students will learn about the principles of tropical medicine and public health. Topics of study include infectious diseases, epidemiology, virology and zoonosis, environmental health, and traditional and alternative medicine. Students will perform laboratory research, analyze quarantine programs, and conduct field research.
GLHLTH 172 - Research Practicum in Tropical Medicine and Public Health in Costa Rica (UNL equivalent, BIOS 3XX, 4 credits) Students will conduct independent and group research projects in topics related to tropical medicine, public health policy, ethnobiology, or ethnopharmacology.
BIOLOGY 136L - Introduction to Field Ethnobiology (UNL equivalent, ANTH 416, 3 credits; ANTH 4XX, 1 credit) Students will study the relationship between people and their natural environment with particular focus on the indigenous groups of Costa Rica as well as medical uses of plants and animals and their various roles in different cultures. Students will gain a better understanding of the role of culture in global health and the ethical issues involved in working with indigenous populations.
SPANISH 62 - Culture and Language in Costa Rica (UNL equivalent depends on the language level) Students with an intermediate level of Spanish will receive instruction in the context of technical and colloquial medical themes, as well as exposure to Spanish used in various cultural institutions and Costa Rican daily life. The course includes a homestay with a family in San Jose.
Credits earned through Duke University's OTS program are transferable to UNL by departmental validation. Please see the "earning credit" page on UNL Education Abroad site for more information.
This program is open to all undergraduate students in good academic standing who have completed at least two semesters of college-level biology. It is recommended that students also possess a basic understanding of the Spanish language.
Accommodations and Other Arrangements
Students live on-site at OTS's biological field stations. Students on the Global Health program will live at the Las Cruces and La Selva stations, while students on the Tropical Biology program will also stay at the Palo Verde station. Each of the stations includes housing and dining facilities, a library, a herbarium, a laboratory, and classrooms. For part of their program, students will participate in homestays with Costa Rican families in either San Pedro (Tropical Studies) or San Jose (Global Health).
Additionally, students on the Global Health program will participate in a five-day field trip to Nicaragua and Panama to compare the health systems and culture of neighboring countries. Students on the Tropical Studies program will also participate in field trips to coffee, banana, and sugar cane plantations, as well as a visit to Cabo Blanco National Park where they will learn about marine ecosystems.
See the Organization for Tropical Studies' website and the Financial page on the Education Abroad website.
Explanation of Costs
Please see the program website for an explanation of program costs, withdrawal policies, and the payment process.
In addition to program costs, UNL students will pay a $150 Study Abroad Fee through MyRed.
Financial Aid & Scholarships
Please see the Education Abroad website for detailed information about financial aid and scholarships.
Below you will find links to resources for travel, health, and safety:
Organization for Tropical Studies
Costa Rica Embassy
Center for Disease Control
US Department of State
*UNL Education Abroad does not officially endorse, administer, or monitor the content of these links.
IMPORTANT: The deadline listed below is the UNL Education Abroad application deadline. Please see the Duke University Organization for Tropical Studies website for their program deadline. Remember to apply through MyWorld and directly to this program by the respective deadlines.