Intensive Spanish for Social Work Practice

Academica Centroamericana de Espanol, Grecia, Costa Rica

Costa Rica Program Dates: Jan 3 to Jan 17, 2015
Credits: 6 undergraduate or graduate credits in Social Work
Instructor: Roberta Hanus, Social Work Program

If interested in this program, please contact Dr. Susan Rose at 414-229-6301 or email sjrose@uwm.edu for more information. Spanish teachers at Grecia, Costa Rica

This course will immerse students in the Spanish language and Latin culture of Central America where we will study conversational Spanish and culturally competent practice, in order to effectively serve Latino clients in Wisconsin. Students may earn 6 hours of undergraduate or graduate credit in Social Work or Criminal Justice during three weeks of study and service-learning in a small, friendly, historical town, Grecia, Costa Rica.


In collaboration with an established Costa Rican Spanish language school, Academica Centroamericana de Espanol, this intensive language course accommodates each student’s current language skill level, ranging from Beginner through Advanced. Students will study with social work students and practitioners from across the US during the two-week course, “Spanish for Social Workers,” a course that was developed in consultation with the California chapter of the NatiWaterfall near Grecia, Costa Ricaonal Association of Social Workers (NASW). The course consists of two weeks of classroom study, lectures by social work scholars, and visits to nearby social service agencies, as well as exquisite nature preserves and ecological tourist sites. Our third week will consist of a Service-Learning experience with children and staff at a residential care facility for children aged 1-12. It will provide us time to use our new language skills while applying group work and assessment skills in the course of assisting the care staff in their completion of activities of daily living with some 60 children.


Costa Rica is hot and likely to be quite humid, which determines many of the local customs from the way homes and communities are laid-out to how people dress (modest, loose clothing). You will eat a lot of local shaved ice.
The Academica curriculum includes students living with “Tico” host families during our visit, and all host families live within walking distance of the school. (Consider the sustainability and economy of that for us as well as the Costarequenos!) Families provide each student: a private room for study and sleep, laundry service, breakfast and supper each day. Family-style meals include typical Tico food (heavy on rice and beans), allowing you opportunities to engage in conversation, ask questions, and clarify understanding, all in Spanish, since “your family” is unlikely to understand English. Typically about 30 social work students are housed throughout Grecia.
The school has a Computer Lab with six computers with Internet access, and there are several Internet cafes nearby. The school also sells international telephone cards ($10) with which you can call the US. The school has a public restaurant on the main floor (which we use for breaks), tiny classrooms on the second floor, and a lecture hall on the lower level.
For our third week UWM students will move to the Roblealto Children’s Home. On Saturday, June 6, ACCE will transport us into downtown San Jose (the capitol city), for free time to take in the National Museum and other landmarks (and hopefully a city tour). We will stay over at a hostel, and be transported on Sunday afternoon to Roblealto, located to the South of San Jose. There we will all sleep in a dormitory under somewhat rustic conditions; be prepared for minimal privacy, long days, and gorgeous surroundings.

Map of Costa Rica WHY COSTA RICA?

Located at the southernmost end of Central America, Costa Rica’ four million people are bordered by Nicaragua to the north, Panama to the south, and the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea to the west and east, respectively. The Academica Centroamericana de Espano (ACCE) is located in Grecia, a town of 15,000 founded in 1826, located an hour north of San Jose, the capitol. Nestled in lush mountains, Grecia is known for its coffee, bananas, beautiful Spanish colonial architecture, outdoor cafes, markets and museums. The school works with local host families to make your “Spanish immersion” experience fun.
Increasingly reliant on “eco-tourism, over 25 percent of Costa Rica is protected forest and reserve, habitat for a huge variety of exotic birds, animals, insects and plants; over 2000 orchids and other exotic plant species are found in the Monte Verde National Park alone. Costa Rica remains relatively affordable to Americans, and popular with social workers because of its progressive social policies. Historically, it was never really colonized, and it remains relatively egalitarian; although it has a 20 percent poverty rate, this “is quite good for Latin America.” It abandoned its military after World War II, pledging to provide universal health care and public education instead. Its President, Oscar Arias, received the Nobel Peace Prize in the 1980s. This is a country where Americans can learn a lot.


The Spanish classes are conducted in Spanish, and limited to two to four students at similar levels per teacher. Instruction takes place 5 days per week from 8 am to Noon. Spanish is spoken throughout the day during all planned activities. Three different workbooks, especially developed for this course, are provided. (Breaks are taken in mid-morning and mid-afternoon, with snacks, to keep us going.)
Lunch is on your own, and class resumes at 1:30. To complement our course, four lectures will address various current topics:

a) Costa Rica: An overview of the country and culture.
b) Latino and Norteamericano cultures: similarities and differences,
c) Social work in Costa Rica: Who does what, how, and where?
d) Increasing effectiveness with Latino clients.

On four afternoons there are choices of cultural and recreational activities (Salsa dancing, cooking, and optional sight seeing, river rafting, zipline tours, etc.) The gorgeous La Paz waterfall area recently experienced a deadly 6.2 earthquake, so we are likely to skip the volcanoes. The weekend of May 30-31 offers some optional excursions, national parks and beaches, at an extra cost of $25-$200.

Church in GreciaOn two afternoons, field trips to two different social service agencies will allow us to engage informally with clients and practitioners, and observe some program activities. Sites visited may include: child welfare, residential care, domestic violence shelters, schools (K through higher education), addictions treatment, commodities distribution, and international relief organizations. Current social problems you may hear about: poverty, drug trafficking, illegal immigration (especially from Nicaragua), sex trafficking, growing international food shortages, the global debt crisis, sustainable environments, and the impacts of increasing “eco-tourism” and globalization on “tico” culture.

Evenings are free for study, socializing and “hanging out” in the Central Plaza (where most young couples meet). Grecia has a thriving local central mercado, various restaurants, bars and coffee houses.


Four orientation and planning sessions will be held prior to our departure, in March and April.

Two evening sessions will be held in March with students to share reading assignments
on social problems, and the structure of government, social benefits and services in Costa Rica, and to read and share a variety of ideas about the service work we might perform at Roblealto.

At two evening session in early May we will select among a variety of identified Child Assessment instruments, typical assessment criteria, and one-on-one therapeutic work with children. We will also plan the group activities we will organize for the children at Roblealto, devise a plan to obtain needed supplies (art supplies, Spanish children’s books, etc.)

  1. Attend all Language class sessions, and participate in all conferences, site visits, and group activities at Roblealto, unless you are very ill. Dr. Keigher will monitor attendance, which is a key indicator of your efforts to really develop your understanding and skills. Bring one notebook for taking notes in Espanol; in one part of it, begin making lists of new words or phrases (and their meanings) as you discover them. Use this notebook throughout all your classes.
  2. Write Daily in Your Cultural Awareness Journal. In addition to our daily Spanish instruction sessions, lessons, conversation and homework, students will keep a second, small notebook throughout the day for jotting down things you see and hear that are new to you. Make notes or reminders to yourself throughout the day, tape in items that you pick up, brochures, business cards, receipts, addresses, etc. --Anything that will help you remember details of your experience here.

    Each evening set aside 15-30 minutes to gather these observations and record your reflections on what you have seen, experienced, or felt that you found really interesting, new, intimidating, or delightful. Whatever! You may also observe events, people, or situations that may disturb or concern you, or that are simply surprising. This journal of creative writing (at least 1 page per day) will be useful later, for tracing how your impressions deepen as more encounters become familiar. This journal will greatly help you complete assignment #3 after returning home.
  3. Complete an Individual Assessment of One Child in care, who you will get to know throughout our week at Roblealto. We will use our pre-departure sessions to prepare for this, reviewing and selecting from among culturally appropriate assessment criteria, considering what is useful in a large residential setting. We will structure time throughout that week at Roblealto to facilitate one-on-one experiences between you and your special child, and other opportunities for observing him/her while interacting with other groups of people. Keeping detailed process notes on these interactions will be very helpful. Your final assessment will be a summative narrative of the child’s behavioral patterns, citing specific observed details.
  4. Upon returning home, Complete a Reflections Paper about your experiences. Using your journal, class notes and other mementos, discuss the impacts of your Costa Rican experience on you, by addressing: a) your cultural “ah ha!” moments, the expected and unexpected things that impressed you greatly in Grecia, things you learned about language, communication, and/or larger developments in the news, about Latin America, and b) your greatest personal impressions regarding our work together and with the staff at Roblealto. Consider the structures that regulate life here (that complicate having foreigners visit), what you learned of the backgrounds of, and about, the children, and the staff, the contribution of religious beliefs and practices to daily life, or on a more macro level, similarities and differences between social work practice, foster care, severe poverty and family in Costa Rica and the US.

A complete syllabus will be available before departure.


Estimated Cost: TBD
• Program fees are based on a realistic estimate of participants which may change based on the final number of participants.
• Cost includes support for a UWM faculty member, academic costs, in-country transportation, accommodation, most meals, and health insurance.
• Cost does not include personal spending money, international airfare, some meals, visa, optional excursions, books and supplies, or trip/travel insurance.
• Fee differentials apply for non-WI residents.

Download an application.

View Center for International Education Information on this program.

If you are interested in participating in our Summer Intensive Spanish course, please attend one of several informational meetings that will be held during the first two weeks of spring semester. If interested in the program, but unable to attend these, please contact Dr. Susan Rose at 414-229-6301 or sjrose@uwm.edu for more information.