Oral Health in Costa Rica: From Global to Local (Spring Break Global Health Seminar)


Global health as a field of study has emerged as a priority for the social and biological sciences. The global health field highlights inequalities in health outcomes and access to good health both between communities and within them, emphasizing a holistic understanding of socio-cultural and environmental contexts. In addition, global health captures the need to work in collaboration, emphasizing a multisectoral and transdisciplinary approach to manage the transcultural and often trans-bordering dimensions of worldwide health inequities.

Participants will immerse themselves in the increasingly dynamic field of global health with an introduction to public oral health as a thematic thread throughout this program. A field at the intersection of public health, medicine and dentristy, the discipline of public oral health can be used to explore how access to care and social inequities contribute to poor oral health, which is in turn a contributor to additional non-communicable diseases later in life.  Course objectives are specifically tailored to build on the CUGH global health competency matrix and the global oral health competencies matrix. 

Set in rural southern Costa Rica, this unique 1-week program will be embedded in some of the pressing grand challenges in the field of global health: achieving universal health care, environmental degradation, migrations and the demographic, nutritional, and epidemiological transition. The program provides students with a broad understanding of health and the social, political, cultural, behavioral and economic forces that influence health access, health outcomes, and health systems. 

CFHI offers options for students and faculty to fit your interests and schedule. Choose your program duration, or for a comparative experience, choose to participate in multiple programs. CFHI can also often accommodate alternate program dates upon request. For more information see our How to Apply page.


1 Week $1,800
Arrival Dates: 
Mar 05, 2022 Mar 12, 2022 Mar 19, 2022 Mar 26, 2022 Apr 02, 2022 Apr 09, 2022 

Key Themes & Site Information

The Global to Local program represents an opportunity in which the interaction between the theoretical content and the identification of common factors of health inequities is realized through a combined approach of online pre-departure training and an immersive experience.  Student participants will be able to experience together the multiple components that determine health, expanding their competencies within an ethically responsible and participatory approach. 

Major themes and sites include: 

  • Indigenous people and traditional knowledge in La Casona indigenous territory

  • Migration, trade, and health in the bordering region of Panama and Costa Rica

  • Integration of Oral healthcare into primary healthcare in a local rural clinic

  • Food systems and the epidemiological transition in communities affected by monoculture

CFHI is considered a global health ethics leader therefore CFHI programs uphold strict standards and comply with all local laws regarding student involvement in health settings. Your experience on the program depends on your previous clinical training (if applicable), Spanish level, and the relationship you build with your supervising preceptor. Above all, YOU are the most important factor in making the CFHI experience as fulfilling as possible by being respectful, culturally humble, inquisitive, and open to the wide variety of learning experiences which you will encounter.


Despite its small size, Costa Rica has great ecological and cultural diversity. Costa Rica has a well-developed health system and boasts high human development indices. However, there are regions of the country that to this day remain forsaken, and achieving true health equity remains a challenge.

Brunca Region

Most of the program will take place in the Brunca Region. This region in the southern part of the country is the poorest and most isolated in Costa Rica. Yet it counts with invaluable assets such as its people, its nature and its body of traditional knowledge. Unfortunately, structural inequality and poor social determinants have led to poor health outcomes that due to the nature of the populations that are affected, become invisibilized at the national level.

Accommodations & Homestays

Participants will stay in the Organization for Tropical Studies- Las Cruces Field Station. This location counts with all the educational facilities required for a world-class experience, including Wi-Fi, lecturing rooms, libraries, dorms, among other services and amenities.  Dietary requirements and restrictions can be accommodated throughout the program.

Eligibility: Who Can Apply?

This CFHI program is ideal for students who have a foundation in Spanish and have an interest in global health and oral health in small town and rural settings. 

To confirm whether you're eligible to apply, please read CFHI's general eligibility requirements.

Minimum Language Required: Beginner 1 Spanish or Above

Beginner 1 Spanish: “I can speak a little and understand at times if people speak slowly and clearly.”

  • I can understand and use familiar everyday expressions and simple phrases to get across basic needs.

  • I can introduce others and myself. I can ask and answer questions for example where I live, people I know and things I have. 

All CFHI participants applying to programs in Latin America will evaluate their Spanish language skills as part of their application. This information will then be shared with the on-site partners. A placement test will also be given at the start of the program to ensure you're learning at the correct level. Most important is your general ability to communicate verbally with those around you and to be proactive in speaking Spanish, versus accuracy with grammatical tenses. All CFHI Latin America programs include Spanish language instruction on-site. 

Not sure about your Spanish level? View a full list of CFHI’s language levels for all Latin America programs on our Spanish Level Guidelines page. 

CFHI partners with Canopy to offer high-quality online Medical Spanish courses. Apply using this link for a 20% discount and start improving your medical Spanish today!

Arrival Information 

Participants should arrive in SJO – San Jose International Airport, Costa Rica on the program start date and will be picked up from the airport by a CFHI representative and taken to their homestay. A welcome orientation will take place the Sunday or Monday after arrival. 

Visas are not required for U.S. citizens staying less than 3 months in Costa Rica. More information on travel and logistics will be provided by CFHI after acceptance into the program.

What's Included 

CFHI Program fees include the majority of your on the ground costs. As a nonprofit, CFHI strives to keep fees low and offers fundraising opportunities, scholarships and discounts.

Pre-Departure Support

  • Guidance from CFHI staff in San Francisco Bay Area before departure

  • Program-specific materials with information on making travel arrangements, visa requirements, recommended immunizations, etc.

On-Site Service

  • Airport pick-up upon arrival and transportation to hotel in San José with local CFHI representative

  • Welcome orientation and welcome dinner with other participants covering safety, transportation, and other logistics

  • CFHI Local Team: providing instruction, logistical support, and 24/7 emergency response

  • Daily lectures

  • Accommodation and three meals a day on most day

  • International emergency medical and evacuation insurance 

Post-Return Resources

  • Access to CFHI alumni-only LinkedIn group featuring news and career opportunities related to Global Health

  • CFHI alumni newsletter highlighting events, resources, and ways to stay involved

Uniquely CFHI, 60% or more of student program fees go directly to the communities they will be visiting, benefiting the local economy at large and specifically underserved health systems. Read more here.

Carlos A. Faerron Guzman M.D., M.Sc. 

Dr. Faerron is the co-founder and current director of the InterAmerican Center for Global Health (CISG). CISG is the first global health hub in Central America and seeks to redefine the meaning of leadership and global health through innovative educational approaches.

Dr. Faerron Guzmán began his career as a primary care doctor in a rural area of Costa Rica where he worked closely with migrant and indigenous populations. His work follows a health equity and human rights framework as a guiding principle and firmly believes in progress in health through community empowerment, research, and education. He obtained his medical degree at the University of Costa Rica, and his MSc. in International Health at Queen Mary University in Edinburgh and Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam. Additional studies include Social Justice at the International Institute for Health and Development in Scotland and Social Innovation for Health from INCAE Business School. Dr. Faerron is a Fellow of the Planetary Health Alliance and the Central American Healthcare Initiative.  He holds an adjunct faculty appointment at the Department of Oral Health Policy and Epidemiology at Harvard University, and the University of Maryland Graduate School.

Carolina Bolaños Palmieri Lic, M.Sc

Carolina Bolaños Palmieri is a registered dietitian who focuses on using food as a bridge between development, sustainability, health, and equity. Carolina has experience in the management of projects in rural low-resource settings and collaborated in Rukara Health Center in Rwanda on strategies to tackle malnutrition. She has been a visiting scholar at the Education & Training Department at the Barcelona Institute for Global Health. Being a strong advocate for food waste prevention, Carolina is the Education and Research Coordinator for the NGO Alimentalistas an initiative part of the Costa Rican Network for the Reduction of Food Losses and Waste. She also sits on the board of directors of the organization. She has a bachelor's and licentiate degree in Nutrition from the University of Costa Rica and holds a master’s degree in Global Health from the Barcelona Institute for Global Health and the University of Barcelona. Currently, Carolina is the associate director of the Inter-American Center for Global Health.

What Alumni Say

“I really enjoyed your learning strategy, because it's easier to understand when you are really involved in a critical way of thinking and the whole process of construction of the information instead of just receive information and data” - Program Participant

“It really contextualizes the theories behind global health and grounds them in a practicality that a classroom simply can't compete with.” - Harvard University Student

“It's an amazing learning experience and life experience!” - Program Participant

“It was an amazing immersive global health learning experience where I not only gained an appreciation for the sociocultural influences on health outcomes but also formed friendships Costa Rican colleagues that I am confident I will have for a lifetime.” - Harvard University Student