Spring Semester in Costa Rica and Montana

Certifications/Credits Earned and Areas of Focus:

  • 15 upper-division University of Montana credits
  • Aerie Wilderness Emergency Medical Technician (WEMT) certification
  • National Registry EMT (EMT) certification
  • State of Montana EMT certification
  • American Heart Association Healthcare Provider CPR certification
  • Avalanche Rescue certification
  • Swiftwater Rescue Technician (SRT) certification
  • Wilderness Survival
  • Wilderness Navigation
  • Extensive Medical Clinical Experience Running a Free Health Clinic and Observing on an Ambulance and in the ER

Program Highlights:

Aerie's Spring Semester is a unique program, providing students with the opportunity to learn wilderness medicine and rescue skills in the Costa Rican rainforest and the snowy Montana mountains. The program begins with 4+ intensive weeks in Costa Rica, where students complete most of their EMT training and then immediately use that training to help Aerie physicians and medics organize and run a free health clinic in a small indigenous community. After the clinic, they head to the beautiful Sevegre River for Swiftwater Rescue Technician training. There, Aerie instructors who founded the Whitewater Rescue Institute teach students how to manage complex rescues in a challenging whitewater environment.

Dr. Greg Moore, Aerie's Medical Director, assessing patients with Aerie students at the free health clinic in Costa Rica

Swiftwater Rescue Technician (SRT) on the Sevegre River while staying at the Rafiki Lodge

View from inside the open-air classroom at Rancho Mastatal

View from just outside the classroom, looking at Cangreja Peak in la Cangreja National Park

Immediately after the swiftwater program, we pack up and fly to Montana, and, on arriving there, finish up with a week of EMT review and EMT testing, and then put on snowshoes and head up for a week of avalanche rescue and wilderness survival and navigation training. At the amazing Yurtski in the Swan Range, students earn their Level 1 Avalanche certification. When digging around in the snow, it is always hard to imagine that just a week before you were rescuing patients out of a warm Costa Rican river, but that is the essence of the Semester. Environments do not change medicine, but the opportunities and obstacles provided by each environment are unique and require specialized training and preparation.

The view, literally, out of our front door at our Montana classroom in Condon.

Enjoying a break while learning wilderness navigation in the Swan Mountains.

Learning the fundamentals of snow stability while earning Level 1 Avalanche certification

After completing avalanche training, students return to the base of the mountains and continue with their Search and Rescue and wilderness EMT training. They also augment their EMT skills with human anatomy instruction at the University of Montana cadaver lab, vehicle extrication training with local firefighters, and clinical hours both on an Advanced Life Support Ambulance and in an emergency room.

The program culminates with students putting their route-finding and wilderness medical treatment skills to the test in an overnight RATRACE ("reach and treat") adventure race, where they are evaluated on all skills they learned in the program. At the conclusion of the RATRACE, students have truly earned every certification, credit and experience they have gained.

Dates (please note that while these dates are accurate, a more precise schedule will be handed out as the program approaches):

  • January 9-29: on-line coursework
  • January 30: Meet at SJO Airport, Costa Rica, and take shuttle to Mastatal. Or, if traveling independantly, meet at Mastatal in afternoon.
  • February 1-February 29: Costa Rica Section
  • March 1: Travel back to US
  • March 7-April 15: Montana section


  • $10,000-$16,000 (depending on scholarships), including almost all expenses (15 upper division credits, room, board, all course texts, most certifications, in-country travel) except international airfare, with scholarships available for:
    • AmeriCorps members and alumni
    • Conservation Corps alumni
    • Montana-state residents
  • As an example, a Montana resident or UM, MSU student should expect to pay $10,000 for the 2016 program. AmeriCorps and conservation corps members and alumni who are not MT residents or MT University System students would pay $13000.
  • Because the program is offered through the University of Montana, students from the MT University System or other universities who are currently receiving FAFSA awards are often able to use their awards for the Semester. Aerie can help facilitate this process.
  • Similarly, because the program is run through an accredited Title IV university, AmeriCorps members and alumni can use their Segal Education Awards to pay for their tuition.


Q: How much is the typical airfare to San Jose, Costa Rica?
A: Typical round-trip airfare from major US cities to San Jose is $500-$750.

Q: Will I have time off during the program to sightsee and visit local areas?
A: There will be very little time for traveling/sightseeing in Costa Rica or Montana. You should plan time before or after the Spring Semester for personal travel. The week off in the middle of the program (between Costa Rica and Montana) is designed to give students time to take a much-deserved break, catch up on reading and possibly attend to family concerns. It is not sufficient time to both sightsee in Costa Rica and ensure a timely return to Montana.

Q: Will I be able to communicate with friends and family?
A: Communications will be challenging throughout each program. In Costa Rica, there is a single pay-phone shared by all village residents and an inexpensive, local internet business consisting of 3 computers, available on a first-come, first-served basis. Expect to be able to get on a computer several times a week to check email or use Skype. Most evenings, the phone is available for a short window of opportunity.
In Montana, the Rich Ranch has wireless internet service students can hook in to with their own laptop. Cell phone coverage is tentatively available at this time at a few good spots on the ranch.

Q: What are the towns like in Costa Rica and Montana?
A: Mastatal is home to about 150 residents; the nearest big town is Santiago de Puriscal, which can be found on most maps and is often simply called Puriscal. San Jose, the capitol city of Costa Rica, is about 3.5 hours away by private car or taxi; however, a public bus ride can take most of a day. In Montana, we typically stat at either the Rich Ranch, outside of Seeley Lake, or Northwest Connections, in Condon. Both Seeley and Condon are small, rural and fairly remote towns.

Q: What are the accommodations like in Costa Rica and Montana?
A: Both locations are beautiful, comfortable, and rustic. Students share bunks in dorm-style living quarters, and use a shared bath house in Mastatal. In Montana, students live at a guest ranch in individual cabins or in a homestead barn converted to dorms.. Visit the website of Rancho Mastatal for more information about living quarters there (you will be based out of “Jeanne’s” bunkhouse) as well as life in the village of Mastatal. The Rich Ranch and Northwest Connections' websites offers information about the ranch and life in the Blackfoot and Swan Valleys of Montana.

Q: What is the food like?
A: The food varies according to both of the locations where the Spring Semester takes place. In Mastatal, the primarily vegetarian meals are made almost entirely from local Costa Rican ingredients and feature fresh morning coffee, eggs and homemade granola; abundant fresh fruit; creative variations on rice and beans as a staple for lunches and dinners accompanied by fresh vegetables; and afternoon sweets baked each day in solar ovens. A nearby one-woman café sells fish, chicken and pork dishes to satisfy carnivorous appetites. In Montana, expect hearty meals prepared fresh each day, with abundant coffee and snacks. On weekends in Montana, food will be available for students to prepare themselves. We can always accommodate vegetarians; please let the Aerie office know about other dietary restrictions (which may not be possible to accommodate).


It is important for you to know that our Semester programs have inherent risks. Semesters are rigorous. Aerie believes that students learn best when they are involved in realistic, engaging scenarios and practical sessions. As a result we simulate these environments and head out to experience them during our classes as often as possible, and the risks we face during those exercises are similar to any faced in an austere, remote environment. No course is capable of operating without the risk of injury or illness. We encourage you to talk with our staff about risks inherent in our training programs before enrolling. Depending on course location, injuries and illnesses that occur may require prolonged evacuations and may necessitate repatriation to the United States. Our students take our classes because they travel, work and live outdoors, away from immediate medical care; they want to learn to care for patients under less than ideal conditions.

Please do not register for any Aerie course, particularly our Semesters, without exploring, understanding and accepting these risks.