Spring Semester in Costa Rica and Montana, 2017. Now Accepting Applicants!

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 a river (we have used the Sevegre, Sarapiqui and Pacuare Rivers in the past) 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

Whitewater Rescue Technician (WRT)

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, one of the two facilities we use in Montana.

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.

TENTATIVE 2017 Dates. These dates will be firmed up by the end of summer, 2016.

  • January 9-26: on-line coursework (6-10+ hours per week)
  • January 28: Meet at SJO Airport, Costa Rica, and take shuttle to Mastatal. Or, if traveling independantly, meet at Mastatal in afternoon.
  • All of February : Costa Rica Section
  • March 1: Travel back to US
  • March 7-April 14: Montana section


  • $16,000 base cost (see Scholarships/ Discounts, below), including
    • 15 upper division credits from the University of Montana
    • Health insurance while in Costa Rica through the University of Montana
    • Room, board
    • These course texts
      • Leave No Trace
      • Outdoor Leadership
    • These certifications
      • Leave No Trace
      • Swiftwater Rescue Technician
      • Level 1 Avalanche Rescue
      • Search and Rescue
      • Wilderness EMT
    • Shuttles to and from airports
  • Not included
    • Flight to and from Costa Rica (typically $500-$700 round trip from the US)
    • EMT text book (approximately $100)
    • National Registry of EMT on-line registration and computer testing fee (approximately $100)
    • Health insurance while in the US
  • Scholarships/ discounts available for (call us for details):
    • Early-Bird Registration: $1,000 for any student paying their non-refundable $2,000 deposit by November 1, 2016
    • AmeriCorps members/ alumni using their AmeriCorps awards will have their awards matched, up to $5,000
    • Alumni of the Student Conservation Association, Washington Conservation Corps, Minnesota/ Iowa Conservation Corps and Montana Conservation Corps, $3,000
    • Montana-state residents or students enrolled at a Montana state school (for example, the University of Montana, Montana State University, Montana Tech), $3,000
    • US Military Veterans, $3,000
  • In addition to Aerie's scholarships, students may also be eligible for:
    • FAFSA Awards
      • 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.
    • AmeriCorps Awards
      • 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. The process for doing this is described here. You can also contact our office for information.
    • GI Benefits


General Semester Questions and Answers Can Be Found at our Semester Page. The Following Q & As Pertain Mostly to the Costa Rica Montana Semester.

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 Swan Valley Connections' websites offers information about the ranch and life in the Blackfoot and Swan Valleys of Montana.

Q: What are the physical requirements for the program?
A: All Aerie Semesters are physically challenging. Students will carry 30-60 lb backpacks 6-8 miles per day during certain sections of the program. During these days, they will climb 2000-3000 vertical feet and will be living at elevations of 3000-12000 feet above sea level. They will carry litters and gear across uneven terrain and rivers and will be expected to swim and climb. They will be in snow, rain and ice and will be expected to maintain a positive learning attitude regardless of the weather or activity. Great athletic, climbing, skiing or swimming experience are not necessary to successfully complete the program; however, all of these activities require physical conditioning and body habitus that are conducive to constant movement in these environments. Please contact us if you have any concerns.

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 based around rice and beans. Other 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).


Q: What credits are offered and how do I get my university to transfer the Semester credits?

  • For a general overview of the credits offered by the Semester, click here. The Semesters all consist of three, five-credit upper-division courses from the University of Montana: Emergency Medical Technician and Incident Management; Wilderness Medicine and Risk Management; and Wilderness Rescue and Survival Skills. Please write us for more information, and feel free to forward the syllabi to your advisor for review.
  • The issue of transferring credits is determined by your advisor - and possibly by your university's registrar. That said, most schools allow transfer of credits from other degree-granting institutions. Our students receive official transcripts from the University of Montana, as if they had taken classes on campus. That would be important information for your advisor to know.
  • Second, assuming your university will accept transfer credits from UM, your advisor will need to make a determination about HOW the credits will transfer to your degree. They may come in as upper-division electives, or your advisor may agree to use them towards a specific degree requirement.

Q: Will there be tests and homework?
A: Yes. Homework is assigned each night and initially may include up to 100 pages of reading per night. At least two written exams are given each week in addition to a weekly practical exam.

Q: Is this program considered an "international program" by university standards?

A: Aerie's Spring (Costa Rica) and Fall (India) Semesters are approved by the University of Montana's Office of International Programs (OIP) as Faculty Directed Programs, and, students in UM's Global Leadership Initiative, required to pursue a study abroad program, can choose Aerie's Semesters as one of those options.

Q: What does the "online coursework" consist of?
A: Because of the heavy reading load in the National Registry EMT text, we assign chapters of reading and associated online quizzes during each of the three weeks preceding the start of each Semester. Students can complete this work wherever they happen to be, as long as they have internet access to submit their quiz answers. Grades for these quizzes count towards the final score in the Emergency Medical Technician and Incident Management course.

Q: What are Aerie’s academic expectations?
A: High. Aerie’s course policies outline our academic expectations; you will be given a handbook outlining our course policies once you have been accepted into the Semester. Students must receive passing grades on weekly exams to be eligible to test for the National Registry final exam; this is not an Aerie policy – it is a National Registry policy. Poor grades may result in expulsion from the program and may result in not being able to test for, or receive, your National Registry EMT certification.

Q: How long do the certifications last, who issues them, what are the their recertification requirements, and what types of jobs and/or further opportunities can I get with the experiences and certifications the Semester offers?
A: The certifications and experiences the Semester offers are unique, professional-level, and rewarding, designed specifically for the highly competitive professional outdoor and medical/ nursing/ PA ambitions of our students. The following lists shows where our students use their certifications, but please remember that there are no guarantees that any organization or school is going to hire or admit you based on a certification or transcript.

  • Aerie Wilderness Emergency Medical Technician (WEMT) certification: Aerie WEMT certifications last for two years. To recertify, WEMTs need to also recertify their urban EMT (see next bullet) and complete 8 additional hours of wilderness-specific training. For jobs, the National Park Service, US Forest Service, many guiding and outdoor organizations such as NOLS, Outward Bound and the Student Conservation Association look for Wilderness EMTs to lead their backcountry crews. Wilderness EMTs must be current urban/ state/ National Registry EMTs to keep their "wilderness" certifications.
  • National Registry EMT (NREMT) certification. NREMT certifications are valid for two years. To recertify, NREMTs must complete 48 hours of continuing education, a 24 hour EMT refresher, and have six months affiliation with an agency providing EMT-level care. These requirements are listed here. This is the standard certification for working on an ambulance or in an Emergency Room as a Technician in many parts of the US. If you are looking to see what your home state require for EMT licensure/ certification, click here. Many ambulances around the US require EMTs to be 21 years old to drive the ambulance.
  • State of Montana EMT certification, offered through the Montana Board of Medical Examiners. Montana EMTs must recertify every two years, complete 48 hours of continuing education, a 24 hour EMT refresher class, and have 6 months affiliation with an agency providing EMT-level care. You do not need your Montana EMT certification if you are not planning on working in MT as an EMT. This is the certification you will need if you want to work as an EMT in the state of Montana.
  • American Heart Association Healthcare Provider CPR certification. This certification lasts for two years and is recertified by taking a 2-8 hour refresher course. This is the highest level of CPR certification, is required for EMTs, and can be used for any job requiring CPR certification.
  • Level 1 Avalanche certification. Level 1 Avalanche certification is valid for two years and is recertified by taking another Level 1 course. This certification is often required for ski patrollers and others taking people out into a mountainous, snow environment.
  • Whitewater Rescue Technician (WR-Technician) certification, offered by the Whitewater Rescue Institute. WRT certification lasts three years and like Level 1 Avalanche is recertified by taking another course. Other course details can be found here. This certification is often required for raft and/ or river guides.
  • Wilderness Survival. There is no certification for wilderness survival training. It's stuff you need to know to keep yourself and others alive.
  • Wilderness Navigation. The wilderness navigation skills are essential knowledge for any outdoor traveler and do not come with a specific certification.
  • Extensive Medical Clinical Experience Running a Free Health Clinic and Observing on an Ambulance and in the ER. Students will complete approximately 60 hours of clinical observation during the Semester, which our graduates often use in applications for medical/ nursing and PA school.

Q: Do I need to be enrolled in college to participate in the Semester?
A: No, participants do not need to be university students to enroll. However, they may need to be enrolled to receive federal financial aid and university sponsored health insurance.

Q: Are there any prerequisites for the Semester?
A: Students must be ready for an intense, challenging experience, but there are no specific academic prerequisites. Many of our best students have had no previous medical training. Students must be 18 years of age. In addition, to test for and receive National Registry EMT certification, students must have a high school diploma/ GED and have no current felony convictions. Otherwise, we expect students to arrive with a solid work ethic, open mind and positive attitude.

Q: What are the refund policies for the Semester?

A: No refunds are given for any reason, including sickness, family emergencies, or expulsion from the program. For this reason, we STRONGLY encourage all participants to have travel and health insurance to cover the possibility of their not completing the program. In the event that a student leaves the program early, whether voluntarily or at Aerie's discretion, all expenses associated with their departure from the program, including airfare, travel to and from field sites to airports/ bus facilities, health costs, are solely the student's responsibility.


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.