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Nepal: Development and Social Change (SIT)


Todd Heidt

Director, Eleanor Stellyes Center for Global Studies

2 East South Street

Galesburg, IL 61401-4999



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This SIT program examines the ways in which development is reshaping a traditionally rural society into one that is rapidly becoming globally connected and modern. Sandwiched between the emerging global powerhouses of China and India, Nepal is at the center of transnational relations and is an increasingly globalized place. Nepal's unique position makes it a compelling place in which to study development and social change.

Through both classroom and field activities, you will investigate the social, political, cultural, environmental, and economic forces that are reshaping rural and urban communities. You will study how development, political conflict, an emerging civil society, and global markets are all working to redefine Nepal in the twenty-first century.

Major topics of study include:

  • Economic development, the emerging middle class, and labor migration
  • Climate change and environmental concerns in the Himalayas
  • Redefining development, social capital and civil society
  • Ethnicity, nationhood, and social and political change
  • Caste, class, gender and religion in Nepal

In spring semesters, you will visit Chitwan National Park and the surrounding villages, and see elephants, monkeys, deer and birds on a photo safari. In fall semesters, you will see the terraced fields, community forests, and coffee grower cooperatives of traditional villages in Nepal's middle hills. You will trek from village to village along ancient trade routes in the Himalayas, sometimes going as high as 13,000 feet. Excursions expose you to Nepal's remarkable biological, geological, cultural, linguistic, social and religious diversity, and reveal the social, economic and developmental differences among Nepali communities. On these excursions, you will be able to immerse yourself in ways that tourists could never imagine.

The Kathmandu Valley contains seven World Heritage sites: the ancient city of Bhaktapur, Kathmandu Durbar Square, the Buddhist stupas of Swayambhu and Boudha, the Hindu temple complex Pashupatinath, and Patan city. Kathmandu is a cosmopolitan city, and the valley is extremely diverse, with many ancient Newari villages within easy access. The program will take on numerous excursions to these important places. The SIT program house, where you'll have most of your classes, is conveniently located near the former royal palace in Kathmandu's center is a safe and quiet haven in the midst of busy urban activity.

The program takes full advantage of the academic resources located in the Kathmandu Valley, including visiting scholars, a plethora of NGO and INGO headquarters, bilateral and multilateral donors (such as USAID, DfID, GTZ and the World Bank) and a wealth of important, world-famous cultural heritage sites. You will have direct exposure to some of the most inspired and important Nepali scholars and practitioners in the development arena, such as activists for ethnic rights, women's issues, education reform, and urban renovation.

You will learn how to speak, read, and write Nepali from Peace Corps-trained teachers. The program has been teaching Nepali for more than 40 years and has published its own language textbook. Class sizes are small, and you are encouraged to practice your language skills at every opportunity. To that end, instructors will accompany you on excursions so that language learning can continue away from the program base. Students typically reach intermediate (and sometimes advanced) levels and are able not only to negotiate everyday needs but also to conduct most of their fieldwork in Nepali.

You will live with a host family in Kathmandu for six weeks, sharing daily activities and observing or participating in several important festivals. Families live between an 20- and a 35-minute walk from the SIT program center. On the longer excursions to the Himalayas, you will participate in a village homestay, a unique opportunity to better understand the lifestyle of a majority of Nepalis by participating in the daily activities of a rural community.

At the end of the program, you will spend four weeks working on an Independent Study Project (ISP), pursuing original research on a topic of interest to you. The ISP is conducted in Kathmandu or, conditions permitting and with program approval, in other parts of Nepal. A large number of students have gone on to use their ISPs as the basis for further research under Fulbright fellowships in Nepal or in securing professional positions with NGOs, the State Department, and the United Nations. ISP topic areas include:

  • Rural development and aid
  • Community forestry
  • The emergence of a middle-class society
  • Remittance economies and development
  • Women's health challenges and roles in development
  • Human rights in post-conflict situations
  • Preservation of world heritage sites
  • Changing food geographies and agricultural practices
  • Emerging dating and marriage patterns in urban Newari youth

Learn more about the Nepal: Development and Social Change program and other SIT programs

Credits: 4.5 for the fall or spring semester

Advisor: Professor Katherine Adelsberger

Click here for more information about the application process, program selection, and more!

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Printed on Monday, May 23, 2022