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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.


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

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Summer Program
Study Spanish, take courses, do an internship for 5-10 weeks during the summer!

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

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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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Our semester-long programs take place in the fall and spring semesters each year, for 15 weeks (see a description, below).The program can be tailored to almost any major or discipline - talk with your advisor about your credits transferring. Spanish and elective courses are taken at accredited Costa Rican universities.

What does the semester look like?
Orientation, Spanish classes, an intro course to Central America, elective courses, and an internship. Also included are many weekend trips, site visits and a study trip to Panama or Nicaragua.

Elective course offerings: Spanish language and literature, Environmental Studies, Biology, Sustainability, Business, Economics, Political Science, Theology, Art, Dance, Architecture, Communications, Sociology, Healthcare, Film Studies, and more.
Internships: are available in disciplines like social work, healthcare, veterinary medicine, environmental studies, sustainability, organic agriculture, education, business, law, media studies, engineering, nuclear physics, meteorology, criminology, dance, music, etc.

Contact us to talk about the possibilities!

Summer program

  • Intensive Spanish instruction, taught by native speakers through an accredited Costa Rican university.
  • Orientation seminars about the country, cultural adaptation, etc.
  • 4-9 week internship in any field.
  • Homestays with carefully selected Costa Rican families.
  • Excursions:

        6 week program: 1 day trip and 1 overnight excursion at no additional cost.
        10 week program: 1 day trip and 2 overnight excursions at no additional cost.

  • Continuous supervision and assistance from bilingual staff and availability 24-7.
  • 5 weeks: $2,800 3 credits of Spanish + Internship
  • 6 weeks: $3,300 3 credits of Spanish + Internship
  • 8 weeks: $4,100 6 credit hours of Spanish + Internship
  • 10 weeks: $4,700 6 credit hours of Spanish + Internship
Airport pickup and drop off, all textbooks and materials, official transcript, two meals per day and laundry service.
Students may arrive at any time from May 14 to July 16. However, Spanish and elective courses only start at certain times. Consult with the staff about your preferred dates.
Elective courses may be taken at accredited Costa Rican universities in English or Spanish in the subject areas of Art, Business Administration, Communications, Dance, Economics, Environmental Studies, Biology, Healthcare, History, Marketing, Management, Psychology, Philosophy, Photography, Sociology, Theology and more.
If a student would like to take an elective course there is an additional fee.
If a student wishes to take an elective course instead of Spanish (and has proof of an intermediate level of Spanish), there is no additional fee.
  • HEALTHCARE: assisted living centers, small primary care clinics, public health, physical therapy, veterinary medicine, dentistry, rehabilitation, alcohol & substance abuse, 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 programs.
  • RELIGIOUS ORGANIZATIONS: programs with children and youth, music, worship, camps.
  • BUSINESS: small businesses, cooperatives, larger companies, non-profits, micro-credit.
  • BIOLOGY, ENVIRONMENTAL STUDIES: habitat preservation, organic agriculture, forestry management, animal rescue.
  • ENGINEERING, METEOROLOGY, NUCLEAR FUSION: Alternative energy, water treatment, weather forecasting, research in nuclear plasma, etc.
  • Miscellaneous expenses for lunches, public transportation and entertainment: $60 -- $80/week
  • Students may receive academic credit for their Spanish language instruction. Students who are completely fluent in Spanish may opt out of the Spanish language component. They will receive a discount of $500.
  • Most internships are in Spanish. There are a limited number of internships available in English.

Spanish Language

Nearly all of our programs (except for short-term service learning programs) include Spanish courses as a requirement. 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 Central America! 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 your program to your 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 maximize leadership by the 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 25 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: 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.
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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