“You had to be flexible, have back up plans and be able to let things go, go with the flow. It took time and shared understanding as well as sensitivity of how we approached and presented the ideas.” – Maya

Who is eligible for the course?
The course is open to undergraduate and graduate students in all faculties at OCAD University. Eligible students must be second year standing or higher. Students who meet these requirements must submit an application and be approved by the course instructor in order to enroll in the course.

How does this course fit into my program requirements?
Design Abroad counts as 1.0 expansion studio credits for students in the Faculty of Design and 1.0 elective credits for students in the Faculty of Art. It does NOT count towards Liberal Arts credits. To best understand your program requirements, visit Student Advising on the second floor of 100 McCaul. The Student Advising Centre has drop-in hours Monday through Friday from 10:00 AM to 3:30 PM. You can also talk to your Program Chair about getting credit for the Design Abroad course in your program.

How do I apply for Design Abroad?
Your application for the course includes a 250-word essay describing why you want to be part of the course and how you see yourself contributing to the team of student designers and a mini-portfolio of your work. This mini-portfolio should contain 3 to 5 projects that you will feel best exemplify your ethos/point of view and abilities as a designer. Your portfolios should provide descriptions of the work shown and how it ties to your emerging design practice. You must save this as a single PDF and email it to Sarah Tranum at stranum @ faculty.ocadu.ca. Be sure that your PDF is smaller than 25MB so that it can sent as an email attachment. Portfolios and essay documents that are larger than 25MB and that are sent via Google Drive, Dropbox, or another method other than email will not be accepted. Please put your first and last name in the title of the PDF file. The application deadline for the 2019 class is now closed.

Design Abroad: Costa Rica 2021 will run again in May 2021. Check back to this site in fall of 2020 for program details and application information.

What kind of projects will I working on as part of this course?
The focus of the project for this year’s course is working with a local community to co-design a comprehensive waste management solution. We will work in El Cocal, a small informal community located next to the town of Quepos. El Cocal is home to over 800 households and several businesses. It also has a beautiful, undeveloped beach that extends for several miles.

The lack of waste management in the community has significant environmental implications as well as public health impacts. It is also a barrier to creating more economic opportunity. We will co-design a viable solution to managing waste in El Cocal. Using the participatory design process, we will engage in systems thinking to develop a solution that can be implemented and sustained by the community. We will consider the social, cultural, environmental, and financial sustainability of the solution and ensure that it fits with the challenges and opportunities presented within the community.


In this important to note that each year the project focus in this course is different. There is no prescribed project or outcome year-to-year and thus the scope of the projects will vary. The students in the course and the partnering organizations together shape the process and final products.

The areas of focus and type of organizations that students may work with include:

  • Community development
  • Environmental conservation
  • Human rights
  • Economic empowerment for women
  • Educational skills for children
  • Social enterprise for people with disabilities

How much does the course cost in total?

The 2019 program fees are below:

Accommodation, Food, & Program Fee                                            $2835

Round Trip Flight Toronto/San Jose                                             $600-950
(This is an estimate – you book your own flight and
meet the class in Costa Rica) 

Weekend Trips (Cocoa Farm, Volcano/Waterfall Hikes, etc.)          $30-197
(The total cost of these weekend trips is $530 and is
being subsidized through CEAD International 
Experiential Learning funding. Level of subsidy per
student depends on student enrollment of 10-15 students.)

Tuition for 1.0 Credit Course                                                              $1345
(Tuition bursaries are available)

Estimated Costs without Tuition                                          $3465-3982
Total Estimated Costs including Tuition                              $4780-5327

*These costs are estimates and subject to change; costs will be confirmed by start of February.

Why does it cost this much?
At first it may seem like a lot of money, but when you break it down it is very affordable for three weeks of travel in Costa Rica while earning 1.0 credit (the equivalent of two 0.5 credit courses). The costs above include your round trip flight, accommodations for the entire trip, nutritious homemade food, continuous support staff/translation services while on the ground in Costa Rica, studio space, and TWO optional weekends trips. You could NOT get the quality of service and access to the community and local culture for this price if you traveled on your own. Plus, by earning 1.0 credits in three weeks, you can free up your schedule to work, graduate sooner, and benefit from other cost savings in the long term.

Do I have to pay tuition to be part of the course?
Yes, every student who is part of Design Abroad must register for the course and pay tuition for 1.0 credits. There are no exceptions. Even if you are graduating right after the course ends or you do not need the credit, you still need to take Design Abroad for credit and pay tuition for the course.

I am an international student; do I pay international tuition for this course?
Yes, this course is the same as any other course offered at OCAD U in terms of tuition. International students pay the international tuition rate for this course.

Are there bursaries available for this course?
Yes! A bursary is a non-repayable award given on the basis of financial need. OCAD U has launched a new online bursary application system. Students can access AwardSpring through the myocadu.ca portal. To learn more about Summer financial assistance, visit https://www.ocadu.ca/services/financial-matters/summer-assistance.htm. The deadline to apply for a bursary for 2019 is now open.

Is financial aid available for this course?
Part-time and full-time OSAP may be available for students who are eligible. This can bring tuition costs down for you. OSAP is dependent on your individual financial situation and is determined through the help of the Financial Aid Office. Stop by or make an appointment with Financial Aid to learn more about your OSAP options.

Where in Costa Rica does the course take place?
We will be staying in Quepos, Costa Rica, and we will be working in a nearby community called El Cocal.

Where will I stay while in Costa Rica?
Students will stay in the Wide Mouth Frog, a small, high-quality backpackers hotel located in Quepos. It offers comfortable accommodations for travelers of all ages. The Wide Mouth Frog has a lovely pool and outdoor seating areas, including a second-story open-air lounge that will be our studio/classroom for this course. Two to four students will share a comfortable room with two to four beds. There are shared bathrooms with showers. Free WIFI is available throughout the premises.

What kind of food will I be eating while on the course?
The course tuition include three meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) a day during your 10-day stay in Costa Rica. Participants will enjoy a variety of typical Costa Rican cuisine. Although it is not particularly complex or spicy, Costa Rican cuisine is refreshing, varied and delicious.

Breakfast will be served at the accommodation and will typically consist of cereal, fruit, yogurt, toast and porridge. Lunch will usually be cooked by a local community member and shared with her family, enabling participants to understand a bit better the local methods for cooking and sharing a meal. Dinners will be served by La Cocina at the accommodation, featuring Costa Rican favorites like a rice-and-beans concoction considered to be the national dish of Costa Rica; casado (rice and beans, salad, plantains and one kind of meat or vegetarian option), picadillo (variety of veggies chopped and cooked) for vegetarians. Participants will also enjoy a variety of refrescos, a fresh fruit drink that is a favorite of locals and tourists alike.

Participants can expect a variety of healthy meals and snacks to be available throughout their visit to Quepos. Additional options are available for purchase at nearby grocery stores and restaurants, if desired.

What if I have food allergies?
With advanced warning, some dietary restrictions can be accommodated

Do I book my own flight or do we travel as a group?
Because students may be traveling from different cites and countries, booking flights will be up to each person individually. Plan to fly into Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO) also referred to as San José International Airport. Students will be met at the airport by course staff and travel together to the course location in Quepos. This offers students the flexibility to join the course from any location in the world and to choose the best connections for your journey. Students may choose to extend your stay before or after the course to further explore Costa Rica.

Students will arrive to start the course in San José, Costa Rica on May 12, 2019, before 2:00PM Central Time, and depart from San José at the end of the course on June 1, 2019, anytime after 12:00PM Central Time. If you are arrive outside of this time or arrive to San José by other means, you will need to arrange your own transport to Quepos.

Note, that some international flights leaving San José do not include an exit tax within their ticket cost. This exit tax is a fee that must be paid  in order to leave the country. Check with your airline if this tax is covered in the ticket price or if you will be required to pay it as a separate fee at the airport before checking into your return flight. If the fee is not included in the ticket, plan to keep $29 USD in cash for the end of the trip in order to pay the fee. Learn more at https://sjoairport.com/en/passenger-guide. Do not plan to use a credit card for this expense as the fee is processed by the San José airport as a cash advance and you may be charged cash advance fees and interest by your bank.

What is the weather like in Costa Rica in February?
The average temperature for Quepos, Costa Rica, in May is an average high of 33°C/92°F and average low of 26°C/80°F. It is hot and humid but manageable. Mid-May is a period at the end of the dry season and at the start of the rainy season for Quepos so it is possible that there will be rain during the three weeks of the course.

Costa Rica has two seasons, wet and dry. The dry season is between December and April, and there is generally very little rain with sun and high temperatures each day. The wet season or green season is May through November, with rain showers daily. Temperatures on the coast are much hotter than inland, averaging about 32°C or 90°F during the day and slightly cooler temperatures at night. The heat can be oppressive, but is usually somewhat tempered by the breeze coming off the ocean. Insects are also abundant-expect a high diversity in wildlife, including the six-legged variety! Never the less, shorts and t-shirts is the preferred attire, changing into long-sleeved shirts and trousers in the evening, and/or using insect repellent at dusk. Covering up is the best way to avoid sunburn and insect bites.

What is appropriate to wear during the course?
The dress code is comfortable but conservative. Do not bring any tight fitting, short or see-through dresses, skirts or shorts. Spaghetti straps and short shorts are often considered inappropriate at the program sites. GVI t-shirts are worn every day on project; you can handwash them in the evenings. Outside of project, note that very short shorts, miniskirts or revealing bikinis will draw unwanted attention. It is hot in Quepos – clothing will get sweaty every day and may get discoloured due to insect repellent.

What level of physical fitness is required for this course?
It is recommended that you build up your physical fitness in the weeks preceding your time on the project. The heat and humidity can make walking and working in this environment difficult when you first arrive: 28°C (82°F) can feel like 40°C (110°F). Do not underestimate the heat – it is typically the most significant health and safety consideration. Having a good level of fitness before you arrive will make it easier for your body to acclimatize.

Do I need visa to travel to Costa Rica?
In most cases, you do not need a visa to visit Costa Rica for this three week course.  Requirements are dependent on your citizenship and the intended length of stay passed the timeframe of this course. It is your responsibility to ensure you have the correct visa for your trip. Course faculty and staff are available to provide you guidance on this.

What is the currency in Costa Rica?
The colón is the currency of Costa Rica. The plural is colones. U.S. dollars are often accepted, although small denomination notes are much easier to exchange. Change will usually be given in colones, even when paying in U.S. dollars. For an up-to-date currency conversion, visit the website, www.xe.com/ucc.

Most of your expenses (meals, water, cultural activities,) are covered in your tuition for this course, however you might want to have spending money for calling/SIM cards, bottled drinks, snacks, clothing, toiletries, souvenirs, etc. Allow for a budget of about $50 to $100  over the three weeks, depending on what you choose to spend.

Quepos is a busy coastal town with shops for buying all kinds of basic items such as snacks, toiletries, souvenir items, clothing, etc. However, you may not be able to find specific brands or other items locally, so come prepared.

It is advised to contact your bank and credit card company before flying and let them know you will be traveling. Some banks will block credit cards due to security reasons if illegal activity is suspected.

Is it safe to travel in Costa Rica?
Quepos is considered safe for its own residents as well as for tourists. Student safety is a main priority for OCAD University Continuing Studies and GVI while on this course, including ground travel, accommodations, and students’ work in the community.

For information about security issues in Costa Rica or other countries you are traveling to please see the following resources:

Information for Canadians Abroad:

US Government State Department:

UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office:

Australian Government Travel Advice:

New Zealand Government Travel Advice:

Whenever travelling you should be aware of the risk of opportunist crime and take common sense precautions to minimize the chance of becoming a victim. The vast majority of visits are trouble-free, but if you have any specific questions about your safety and security on the program please contact the course faculty.

What is access to healthcare like in Costa Rica?
There are medical facilities in Quepos, with English speaking doctors available for emergencies. There are emergency procedures, first aid trained staff, and safety briefing in place.

Please consult your primary care provider (doctor, GP, etc.) or visit a travel clinic for further information. Please be forthcoming about any health issues before you join the course. Failure to do so may have serious consequences for you, the staff and other participants, including your removal from the course, possible serious injury or infections. It is recommended that you take a credit card with you to ensure you can get immediate treatment in the event of a medical emergency (if suitable insurance is held, you will be reimbursed by your insurance company).

What kind of vaccinations will I need?
Public Health Agency of Canada does not suggest any specific vaccinations when traveling in Costa Rica. To determine what preventative vaccinations and medications are good choices for you, consult a doctor, nurse or health care provider, or visit a travel health clinic preferably six weeks or more before you travel. Depending on what vaccines and medications you choose to take, you will need to budget this expense which can cost in the range of $200 or more (for doctor’s visit, injections fees, and prescriptions, if not covered by your health insurance. For more info, visit https://travel.gc.ca/destinations/costa-rica or your home country’s public health site.

Do I need to have travel insurance?
Yes, you are required to have a travel health care insurance policy that covers health costs above and beyond OHIP during the dates of your travels in Costa Rica. If you opted into OCAD University student insurance, you are covered while you are traveling outside Canada. If you opted out of OCAD University student insurance, you must check that your policy covers you while traveling abroad.

Trip cancellation is optional. You can obtain travel insurance through banks, Blue Cross, Manulife, as well as other providers. Be sure to read through the details of your policy to understand what is covered and what is not covered during your time abroad. For more information about travel insurance, read this article, http://www.lonelyplanet.com/canada/travel-tips-and-articles/76903.