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Praxis is an educational institution which seeks to build transformational partnerships between communities 
in Central America and North America for relationships of trust and mutual sharing of gifts.

How we work?

Universities and individuals partner with us to provide service-learning experiences which are characterized by an emphasis on cultural understanding, consciousness-raising and mutuality. Communities in Central America partner with us in order to share their stories, their knowledge and their dreams, as they identify areas where volunteers can be of service -- areas such as healthcare, education, appropriate technology, business, engineering and infrastructure construction and maintenance.

What does PRAXIS CENTER do?

The Praxis Center coordinates thoughtful and ethical academic and service learning programs in Central America, in partnership with communities.
We are also the Costa Rica Study Center for Valparaiso University (Valparaiso, IN).

What does PRAXIS CENTER mean?

The word praxis is defined by the great Brazilian educator Paolo Freire as “reflection and action upon the world in order to transform it.” It involves the marriage of theory and practice, in a constant dialog which is always reflecting critically on experience, reading the signs of the times and making adjustments to work towards the goals of greater well-being, peace, justice and mutual liberation.


Heidi Michelsen

Director & Founder

Heidi Michelsen grew up in multicultural Southern California and has lived in Central American on a full time basis since 1992. She began her sojourn in Mexico in 1988 where she studied Spanish and Latin American culture, then lived in El Salvador during its civil war and was privileged to accompany the process of post-war reconstruction. While there she helped to facilitate small grassroots development projects in urban squatter´s settlements as well as rural areas. She moved to Costa Rica in 1997, and has volunteered extensively with Nicaraguan immigrants in impoverished urban communities while also working with student groups from North America. Heidi holds degrees in theology and ministry and received an honorary PhD from Valparaiso University in 2018. She has done additional coursework in psychology and environmental studies. She absolutely loves sharing her passion for Central American history and culture and serving as a bridge to facilitate student learning. She lives with her son in Casa Adobe intentional community, which is located in the same neighborhood where students do their homestays--thus she is readily available for counsel and support.

Roland Harris

Internship Coordinator & Web Designer

Roland Harris, known as "Harris" by friends and family, is of Venezuelan heritage, and grew up in a bicultural family. His father is Guyanese and his mother is Venezuelan. Harris has always liked technology and working in technical support. In school he studied computer programming, but as time has passed, Harris has discovered a growing passion for social justice. He lived and worked in the Amazon rainforest installing satellite antennas to provide internet services and solar energy to indigenous communities. Harris, his wife, and two children faced political persecution in Venezuela and are now refugees in Costa Rica. Harris is dedicated to the Praxis Center's work and helps in many areas, such as transportation, student support and coordinating internships. He even does web design!




Marta Sobalvarro

Leader - Service Learning Teams

My name is Marta Sobalvarro and I am from Nicaragua. I have been an engineer for many years, and recently I returned to school to complete my nursing degree. I have been interacting with students and professors as a leader of healthcare service learning trips since 2006. Thanks to our team effort, people in underserved communities receive essential medical attention and free medication. In addition, we regularly carry out health education efforts for disease prevention and health promotion. I have enjoyed this experience greatly, because it is very rewarding to be able to help people in need, as well as experiencing their amazing generosity and willingness to participate and engage with students. I am married and I have a son who is in California and a daughter who lives with us in Nicaragua.




Jéffer Saldívar

Healthcare Inventory & Service Learning Teams

Jeffer Zaldivar holds degrees in nursing, computer science, and systems platforms for learning management. From 2002 to 2007 he worked as a human rights promotor with rural and urban families from Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Currently he works as a nurse at a public hospital, and part time with Praxis as a bilingual assistant as well as being in charge of inventory for healthcare service teams. When he´s not working he enjoys spending time with his wife Miriam, studying English, and listening to music. Jeffer feels really proud to be a part of the Praxis team and greatly enjoys sharing his knowledge of the Costa Rican healthcare system and its emphasis on public health on a community level.




Dr. Amy Buckenmeyer


Dr. Amy Buckenmeyer has over 15 years of experience as a community-based participatory researcher. She received her B.S. in Nursing from Indiana University, her M.S. in Nursing from Marquette University, her M.P.H. from the George Washington University, and her Ph.D. in Nursing Science from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her area of expertise is in global rural health, with an emphasis in maternal child health. Her foundation as a pediatric nurse practitioner in primary care provided a natural pathway for her desire to promote and protect the health and wellbeing of children, families, and communities around the world. Her doctoral work in the World Health Organization Collaborating Centre at the University of Illinois at Chicago provided the basis for her transition from practitioner to academician and community-based participatory researcher. She has experience as a community-based participatory researcher in Costa Rica, Guatemala, Haiti, Nicaragua, Tanzania, and the United States. She is passionate about achieving health justice for rural populations around the world and is eager to partner with institutions that desire to meaningfully contribute to sustainable projects using community-based participatory methodologies in the communities that Praxis Center serves.

Katherine Peters


Katherine (Kat) Peters holds her B.A. in Spanish and International Service from Valparaiso University, an M.Ed from Framingham State University, and a Master’s in Territorial Rural Development from the Latin American Faculty on Social Science (FLACSO) in Costa Rica. She lived in Costa Rica for nine years, where she was the Assistant Director of the Institute for Central American Development Studies, and volunteered in immigrant communities in San José. Kat currently lives in Northwest Indiana, where she is an adjunct professor of Spanish at Indiana University Northwest, and also taught at Valparaiso University. She has published several articles on “ethical study abroad,” which discuss the importance of critical perspective and mutuality of objectives in study abroad programs. Kat got her start in Central America through a program led by Heidi Michelsen, the Praxis Center director, and is thrilled to support students and communities by consulting with the Praxis Center.

Marivi Agostini


My name is Marivi Agostini, I’m a woman of faith with a social and spiritual vocation, which includes a willingness to accompany people in all aspects of their lives.  I’m originally from Venezuela and have lived in Costa Rica since 2018.  I studied administration and have an international certification in personal development. At Praxis I work as an administrative assistant and in the coordination of host families. I am also a human rights activist in defense of vulnerable people such as migrants, people with disabilities, women, etc. And I like singing and music.


Semester Program
The Praxis Center offer a semester long program with includes academic courses and internships.

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Summer Intensive

Language Study
Study Spanish, live with the a host family, volunteer in the community.

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Faith Based Groups
At the Praxis Center, we believe that action, faith, and cultures can be brought together to strengthen the church and communities.

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High School


Service Learning
The Praxis Center staff has coordinated service learning programs in Central America for decades. Learn more about getting to know communities through mutual service and learning.

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Summer Internship

Do a full time internship and live with a host family.

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Learn Spanish
Take courses in Spanish as a part of your regular program, or come with language learning as your main objective.

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Customized Programs
Universities and individuals partner with Praxis to create customized programs to meet their own particular needs.

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- Enjoy easy access to the cultural, historic and urban resources of the capital city, San José.
- Select courses from a very wide variety of subjects, in Spanish and English.
- Practice Spanish and build your resume through internship and volunteer activities.
- Explore the vast rainforest, volcanoes, beaches and nature reserves on field trips.
- Learn how to get around on public transportation.
- Learn from Afro-caribbean and indigenous people.
- Participate in clubs and organizations in the neighborhood and at the universities.
- Discover other parts of Costa Rica on optional trips with your cohort or host family.
- Praxis Center Resident Director and staff are present on-site full time to welcome and support you at all times.



Santo Domingo, Heredia

Santo Domingo, in the province of Heredia was founded in 1869 and has a population of about 50,000. It is located about 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) from Heredia and 7 kilometers (4.35 miles) from San José. This makes it an ideal location to take advantage of the cultural activities of the capital while also enjoying a more relaxed suburban atmosphere.

The Santa Rosa neighborhood, where our center is located, is a typical Costa Rican small town, with a primary school, a high school, a catholic church, several evangelical churches, and many medium sized supermarkets. It also has a soccer field, a few clothing stores, several private gyms, barber shops, and some very good restaurants and bakeries. There is exercise equipment installed at several local parks.

Other amenities like ATMs, cell phone stores, doctors and dentists and the post office are located in Santo Domingo, about a 10 minute walk from Santa Rosa. In addition, we are located along the main commuter train route. Hop on the train to get to Heredia in 10 minutes and downtown San José in 15 minutes. There are also many different bus routes that pass through the neighborhood.

Casa Paz y Flora

Casa Paz y Flora is the name of our Study Center in Santa Rosa. It provides classroom space, a library, kitchen and dining area, bathrooms, living room and a large garden with trees, flowers, and hammocks for student use.


Living Accommodations-Homestay

You will move in with your host family as soon as you arrive. All the families are located within easy walking distance of our center. The program staff also live close by and are readily available for assistance and support.
Your host family will provide you with two meals per day, a private room, access to wifi, and laundry service. They will treat you as a guest member and will serve as a good source of local practical information and advice about how to use the public transportation system, where to buy certain items, and what cultural events are happening around town. Living with a host family is an amazing way to practice your Spanish and learn about Costa Rican customs. It is often mentioned by former students as the highlight of their time here. As a general rule, we place only one student with each family in order to provide maximum opportunity for the student to be immersed in the Spanish language.



In order to participate in the program, you must have a valid passport which will not expire within 6
months of your planned return date. If you do not have a passport yet, it´s a good idea to apply for one
as soon as possible. U.S. citizens can go to the U.S. State Departments´website for more information
about passports and processing time.


You do not need to apply for a visa ahead of time. U.S. and Canadian citizens will receive a 90-day
tourist visa at the airport upon arrival in Costa Rica, and the Costa Rican government has recently
extended this period to 180 days.

Non-U.S. Citizens

Check with your home country consulate, as well as the website of the Costa Rican embassy in the U.S. regarding visa requirements. It´s a good idea to allow plenty of time to apply for the visa.


Application Deadline
Students arrive
Orientation begins
Classes begin
Holy Week
Spring Break Study tour


Students depart
October 15,
January 4,
January 5,
January 8,
March 23-27,
May 6,
May 7,


Extracurricular sports activities available include soccer, ultimate frisbee, Zumba, and membership in local gyms. Students also have the opportunity to work in local community gardens or do tutoring in English and math with neighborhood children and youth.  The universities offer a wide variety of clubs and activities as well.  Festivals, theater, exhibitions, films and concerts are readily accessible around the city, at modest prices. In addition, students are often invited to parties and social events with their host families.


The program includes field trips to various sites of cultural and historical interest, including visits to museums, a San José city tour, the central market, etc.
Some of the out of town field trips taken every semester are:

  • Guayabo National Monument, an archeological site from the 1400s, featuring ancient aqueducts and petroglyphs.
  • Longo Mai, a rural community in Southern Costa Rica, where former refugees from El Salvador cultivate the land and welcome tourists from all over the world.
  • Limón province and Cahuita National Park, where we´ll engage with Afro-Costa Ricans and Indigenous people, learn how to make chocolate, and enjoy the natural beauty of the Caribbean.
  • Orosi and Cartago, the colonial capital and site of the Basilica of the Virgin of Los Angeles, patron saint of Costa Rica.
  • A trip to a neighboring country, to learn about their history and culture.


Many students organize their own travel throughout the semester. Some popular sites are:

  • Poas and Irazú volcanoes.
  • Arenal Volcano and La Fortuna hot springs.
  • Monteverde Cloud Forest.
  • Central Pacific beaches: Jacó, Quepos, Dominical.
  • Beaches in Guanacaste province.
  • Ziplining, Tubing, hikes to waterfalls.



Semester program fees are generally collected by the sending university and are included in your regular tuition. In addition, students will need to budget for 1 meal a day ($6-$15) and public trains and buses to the universities and to their internship. (Varies from $6-$15/week). Students wishing to economize on meals may keep food at the center and prepare their own lunches.
Program Fee Includes:

  • Tuition and fees at all local universities.
  • Textbooks and materials.
  • Personalized housing placement service.
  • Housing with host family, two meals a day, wifi access and laundry service.
  • Pre-departure advising.
  • Transcripts.
  • Airport pick-up and return.
  • On-site orientation.
  • 24 hour local emergency staff support.
  • Program organized field trips.
  • Internship placement.
  • Volunteer opportunities.



All students are required to take: WLC 337: Imperialism to Globalization: History and Ethnology of Costa Rica, 3 credits. May count for General Ed history requirement or Geography/Social Science requirement.
Internship may be taken for 1-6 credits Internship may be taken for Spanish credit, and may also count for many other majors.
Please communicate with the staff if you would like to see a syllabus for any of these courses.



FALL 2024


Summer Intensive Language Study

  • Intensive Spanish instruction, taught by native speakers in small classes at accredited universities and language schools.
  • Volunteer service in the community to practice speaking and comprehension skills.
  • Homestays with carefully selected families. Homestay includes private room, 2 meals per day, laundry service and access to wifi.
  • Includes airport pickup and drop off, and orientation activities about the culture, the cultural adaptation process, and the public transit system.
  • Weekend overnight excursions and field trips to sites of historical and cultural interest included at no additional cost.
  • Continuous supervision and support from bilingual staff 24/7.

Housing, 2 meals per day, laundry service, orientation, staff support.
3 course credits (48 hours) and supervised community engagement (volunteer placement)
  • 4 weeks: $2,950 
  • 5 weeks: $3,250 
  • 6 weeks: $3,500 
  • 8 weeks: $4,000 
  • 10 weeks: $4,500 
Additional 3 credit courses in Spanish or another field: $1,000 / course

Students may arrive at any time between May 12 and July 28. However, Spanish and elective courses only start at certain times. Consult with the staff about your preferred dates.
Grammar and Conversation (at 6 different levels), Latin American Literature, Literature Written by Women, etc.

Elective courses available in Spanish or English in: Art, Business Administration, Communications, Dance, Economics, Environmental Studies, Biology, Healthcare, History, Psychology, Philosophy, Photography, Sociology, Theology and more.

Fees include one 3 credit course. Additional courses may be taken for a fee of $1,000 per course.
  • HEALTHCARE: assisted living centers, primary care clinics, public health, physical therapy, veterinary medicine, dentistry, rehabilitation, hospice, etc.
  • SOCIAL WORK/PSYCHOLOGY/NON-PROFITS: agencies and programs involved with: women, children, domestic violence, LGBTQ concerns, immigrants, substance abuse, housing issues, etc.
  • GOVERNMENT & INTERNATIONAL AGENCIES: Law offices, United Nations Program on Crime Prevention, etc.
  • EDUCATION: Schools, day care centers, after school tutoring, arts, music and dance enrichment programs.
  • RELIGIOUS ORGANIZATIONS: programs with children and youth, sports, worship, camps.
  • BUSINESS: small businesses, marketing and social media, non-profits, micro-credit.
  • BIOLOGY, ENVIRONMENTAL STUDIES: habitat preservation, organic agriculture, watershed restoration, animal rescue.
  • ENGINEERING, METEOROLOGY, NUCLEAR FUSION: Alternative energy, water treatment, weather forecasting, research in nuclear plasma, etc.
  • ANTHROPOLOGY: Museums, indigenous communities.
  • Miscellaneous expenses for lunches, public transportation and entertainment: $65 -- $90/week.

Summer Internship Program

  • Placement in professional internships according to students' interests and skills.
  • Homestays with carefully selected families.
  • Homestay includes private room, 2 meals per day, laundry service and access to wifi.
  • Informal non-credit Spanish classes offered a few hours a week.
  • Orientation activities about the culture, the cultural adaptation process, and the public transit system.
  • Weekend overnight excursions and field trips to sites of historical and cultural interest included at no additional cost.
  • Transport to and from the airport included.
  • Intermediate level of Spanish highly recommended.
  • Continuous supervision and support from bilingual staff 24/7.
4 weeks: $2,100
5 weeks: $2,400
6 weeks: $2,650
8 weeks: $3,150
10 weeks: $3,650
Students may arrive at any time between May 12 and July 28.
  • Primary care clinic or hospice care facility.
  • Veterinary, dental, or physical therapy clinic.
  • Organic gardening, seed saving, tree planting, watershed restoration.
  • After school tutoring program.
  • Art and music enrichment program for teens.
  • Work with refugees, teaching business skills.
  • A residential treatment center for people with HIV and addictions.
  • School for visually impaired teens and adults.
  • Physics lab, doing plasma research.
  • The National Weather Service.
  • Legal office, doing document translation.
  • Anthropology Museum.
  • Digital media and marketing company.
  • Dance studio and many more.

Spanish Language

Nearly all of our programs (except for short-term service learning programs) include Spanish courses as a requirement. This requirement may be waived for students with advanced language skills.

You will be placed in a class according to your proficiency level. Your primary goal for your time abroad may be improving your language skills, or earning credits for several courses in Spanish. You can accomplish these goals in Costa Rica! Take classes in grammar and conversation, Latin American literature, or specialized courses in Business Spanish or Spanish for Healthcare Professionals. We promise you that the experience of being immersed in the language with your host family and internship, and exploring the country on your own will take your abilities to new levels of fluency. Talk with us about the kinds of Spanish courses you`re interested in, and we will help you tailor a program to your specific language needs.

Service Learning

Service Learning programs have a lot of potential for making positive change in the world - both through the impacts made in communities and the personal transformation experienced by students. However, they also have a lot of potential for unintentional consequences and perpetuating colonial systems of power relationships.

At The Praxis Center, we care about both the positive and negative potential outcomes from these programs, and we work intentionally to follow the leadership of local communities in order to promote mutuality, and to maximize critical reflection by the students in order to promote true social transformation.

Customized programs

Whether it’s a gap year or semester you´re looking for, or student teaching in Costa Rica, or you want to create a short term program about a particular topic, our staff is ready to help you make it happen. With over 30 years of experience in working with groups from US colleges, high schools, and churches, we have a vast network of contacts and experiences to draw on. Some of the different programs we´ve designed in the past are: Short term trips with a focus on: healthcare, environmental issues, refugees, cultural and ethnic studies, politics, religion, business and economics, social work, education, and the arts. In addition, we have coordinated a student teaching program at an English language high school, sabbatical plans and many other volunteer and internship experiences. The sky's the limit!

Faith Based Groups

The experience of being in another culture and in vastly different material circumstances can be a profoundly spiritual journey, even a “conversion.” It may cause one to question many long-held beliefs and bring about a desire for more serious study of scriptural foundations. Issues of war and peace, wealth, poverty and justice all have deep roots in all religious traditions. Since all the core leaders of PRAXIS are people of faith, we are well suited to working with faith based universities, congregations and groups. At the request of the coordinator, service projects may be carried out with local church or religious groups; issues of faith and religion may be included as topics of study in readings, lectures and reflection questions, and optional worship and devotional experiences may be offered. At PRAXIS we believe that faith, learning and cultures can be brought together to strengthen one´s faith commitment as well as to bring about a more just society.
Please fill the required field.


Health, Safety & Security
Student & Teacher Testimonials
Host Families

Health, Safety & Security

Costa Rica is one of the safest countries in the region, with a stable democratic government that has been in place for over a century. It also has a highly developed health system which provides our students with world class care should they become ill.

Having said this, our staff is always on the lookout for possible security threats. On arrival in the country, all students receive orientation about how to stay safe and healthy during their stay. 

Most importantly, the Praxis staff have been living in Costa Rica for over 20 years, are well connected with their local community and have deep networks of resources to draw upon for advice and assistance. They have experience dealing with such situations as student illness, theft, weather events and the like. In addition, they live in the same neighborhood where students are housed, know the host families personally and are able to respond quickly to student needs. 

Decisions and responses regarding student health, safety and security normally are made in consultation with, as appropriate: Praxis staff, local in-country resources, the host university in Costa Rica, the sending campus, US Embassy officials in Costa Rica, healthcare officials, and emergency service providers. 

Emergency plans are reviewed regularly in light of standards of good practice in the field of off-campus programming, local regional advice, risk management consultations and experience gained through previous emergency events. However, it is also important for participants, families and campuses to recognize that Praxis Center: 

  • Cannot guarantee or assure the safety and/or security of participants or eliminate all risks from the study abroad/off-campus program environments.
  • Cannot monitor or control all of the daily personal decisions, choices, and activities of participants.
  • Cannot prevent participants from engaging in illegal, dangerous, unsafe, or unwise activities.
  • Cannot assume responsibility for actions or for events that are not part of the program, or for those that are beyond the control of the staff or for situations that may arise due to the failure of a participant to disclose pertinent information.

Student & Teacher Testimonials

Veronica Campbell

Valparaiso University

Mía Casas

Valparaiso University

Tate Elie

Valparaiso University

Madeline Brown

Valparaiso University

Gary A. Carlson

Midland Lutheran College

Sarah Peters

Valparaiso University

Dr. Thomas Goyne

Valparaiso University

Rev. Dr. Mark Wm. Radecke

Susquehanna University

Dr. Michael Rehbein, M.D.

Kaiser Permanente Medical Center

Mike Whitman

Ordained elder in the Presbyterian Church

Rev. Dr. Mark Radecke

Susquehanna University

Dr. Michael Rehbein, M.D

Kaiser Memorial Hospitals

From The Blog

Contact us
+(506) 86470436
Santa Rosa de Santo Domingo, Esquina suroeste de la plaza de los deportes.
Heredia, Costa Rica