Chile | Semester Abroad | Community Health | Traditional Medicine

Chile: Public Health, Traditional Medicine, and Community Empowerment

Gain unique insight into healthcare policies, politics, and delivery within the Chilean context, with a special emphasis on indigenous peoples and traditional medicine practices.

Examine public health within the context of both official national healthcare policies and intercultural and alternative healing practices in urban and rural Chile. Over the course of the semester, you will consider different conceptions of health, disease, and wellness, including beliefs and health practices of the Aymara and Mapuche indigenous peoples. The program will give you the opportunity to experience Chile's health system firsthand with guided, insightful visits to public and private health centers as well as direct dialogues with biomedical and ethnomedical practitioners.

Major topics of study include:

  • Chile's national and indigenous healthcare systems
  • The specific health needs and practices of indigenous populations
  • Social, economic, political, structural, and ideological determinants of public health planning, practices, and outcomes
  • Diversity of healing and spiritual beliefs
  • Health of women, children, teenagers, the elderly, and other potentially vulnerable populations
  • Public health, community participation, and community empowerment 

Based in Chile's northernmost city of Arica, this study abroad program gives you the opportunity to examine theoretical and existing approaches to healthcare delivery in diverse communities across Chile, including urban and rural areas, with a notable focus on national indigenous populations. Through interdisciplinary coursework, field study, and meaningful site visits to government public health centers and community-driven health delivery systems, you will scrutinize both "modern" and traditional medicine practices and delivery methods.

Gain global perspectives.

SIT Students with local studentsFrom the program base in Arica, you will enjoy excellent access to urban and rural health centers and hospitals, learning from academics, practitioners, and community experts in both Arica and the greater region. Arica is historically home to a multitude of ethnic communities including, first and foremost, indigenous peoples, but also including groups of African descent, and a wide array of immigrant populations from throughout Latin America and the world. You will discover that despite these communities’ shared locality, extraordinary differences and differentials in cultural worldviews, health practices, and equal and equitable access to health services continue to exist.

Given Arica’s strategic location on the borders of Peru and Bolivia, you will be able to examine healthcare from unique international perspectives. You will learn about cross-border issues and initiatives concerning health policy on topics including primary healthcare and infectious disease management (for example, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis). 

Be exposed to multiple sources of knowledge.

On this program, you will learn from and engage with:

  • faculty members at the University of Tarapacá,
  • medical health professionals,
  • national and local government health officials and policy makers,
  • intercultural medicine practitioners,
  • communities and health centers where traditional medicine is practiced, and
  • local university students in both urban and rural settings.

Close interaction with academic, professional, and community experts allows you to develop a comprehensive, up-close understanding of health and community welfare in the Chilean context.

Learn the methods and ethics of public health research.

indigenous medicine

Through the program's Public Health Research Methods and Ethics course, you will receive instruction in research methods in both the social and health sciences. You will learn how to collect, analyze, integrate, and report social and public health data to understand and assess public health and intercultural issues. Field studies may include designing a research project, writing a research proposal, interviewing, conducting surveys, and maintaining a field journal.

Specific public health field study methods could include concepts and objectives of scientific research, basic techniques used in public health research, data collection and analysis, epidemiology and considerations in the Chilean context, ethical issues related to public health projects and research, and the World Learning / SIT Human Subjects Review Policy. Through this course, you will frequently observe and participate in community health projects. The course also serves as an introduction to the Independent Study Project, or the health practicum. 

Complete an Independent Study Project.

Potentially conducted in Arica, Putre, Temuco, Santiago, Valparaíso, or other appropriate and approved locations in Chile, the Independent Study Project offers you the opportunity to conduct field research on a topic of your choice within the program’s thematic parameters. The project integrates learning from the various components of the program and culminates in a final presentation and formal research paper. Alternatively, you may choose to  design and apply a guided practicum experience in which you directly participate with a local health facility or social services nongovernmental organization.

Many possibilities of topics exist. In the past, research topic areas have included:

  • Indigenous health practices
  • Traditional and intercultural health
  • Chilean health policy
  • Women’s and children’s health
  • Sexual and reproductive health
  • Community outreach
  • Mental health
  • Drugs and alcohol
  • HIV/AIDS treatment promotion and prevention policies
  • Local epidemiological variables


Previous college-level coursework in public and/or global health, development studies, anthropology, community and/or social sciences, or other related fields. At least four recent semesters of college-level Spanish or equivalent, and the ability to comprehend (as assessed by SIT) coursework conducted entirely in Spanish (including lectures, seminars, active student participation, and all course reading and writing assignments).

Access virtual library guide.

The program’s coursework combines topical seminars and discussions with field-based learning around the themes of public health, traditional medicine, and community empowerment. These themes are divided into modules so that students can contextualize the Chilean reality, taking into account theoretical frameworks, sociocultural and historical elements, current political realities, and emerging trends.

Theoretical perspectives are provided through the interdisciplinary thematic seminars and are reinforced through the Spanish language classes. Subsequently, educational excursions and community work experiences complement classroom work and provide opportunities for critical reflection around programmatic themes.

The topic of public health is intertwined with the predominant programmatic themes of traditional medicine and intercultural health practices, indigenous peoples, community welfare, and social justice within the Chilean context.

Spanish is the primary language of instruction throughout the program. Students will be expected to understand advanced readings and conduct conversations with professors and health professionals, in addition to writing all assignments in Spanish.

Links to syllabi below are from current and forthcoming courses offered on this program. Because courses develop and change over time to take advantage of dynamic learning opportunities, actual course content will vary from term to term.

The syllabi below can be useful for students, faculty, and study abroad offices in assessing credit transfer. Read more about credit transfer.

Public Health in Chile – syllabus
(IPBH3000 / 3 credits / 45 hours)
Through this interdisciplinary seminar, students examine theoretical and practical approaches to healthcare delivery in Chilean communities that include both urban and rural contexts. Students explore the relationship between public health, social justice, and community welfare; reproductive and sexual health; HIV/AIDS; mental health issues; and differences between national and private health systems. All coursework is conducted in Spanish.
Traditional Medicine and Community Health – syllabus
(IPBH3005 / 3 credits / 45 hours)
In this second seminar, students learn about traditional healthcare practices in Chile and analyze the role of these practices in overall community health. The course focuses on the Mapuche and Aymara peoples in particular. Students explore these indigenous conceptualizations of health and healing, the connection between healing and spiritual beliefs, and indigenous cosmovisions. Intercultural health and challenges to “legitimizing” and “mainstreaming” traditional indigenous healthcare are studied. Disparities in healthcare access among diverse populations are also analyzed. All coursework is conducted in Spanish.
Spanish for the Health Sciences I – syllabus
(SPAN2000 / 3 credits / 45 hours)
Spanish for the Health Sciences II – syllabus
(SPAN2500 / 3 credits / 45 hours)
Spanish for the Health Sciences III – syllabus
(SPAN3000 / 3 credits / 45 hours)
Spanish for the Health Sciences IV – syllabus
(SPAN3500 / 3 credits / 45 hours)
In this course, students hone their speaking, reading, and writing skills through classroom and field instruction. Students read professional health science literature as they learn the formal terms and local expressions needed to discuss health policy issues, to conduct field research, and to interact in settings (e.g., clinics and community health centers) related to the program themes. Students are placed in small classes based on an in-country evaluation that tests both written and oral proficiency.
Public Health Research Methods and Ethics – syllabus
(IPBH3500 / 3 credits / 45 hours)
In this research methods course designed to prepare students for the Independent Study Project, students learn how to organize and conduct a research project or health practicum. Through lectures, readings, and field activities, students study and practice a range of methods appropriate for researching health topics. They examine the ethical issues surrounding field research related to public health and are guided through the World Learning / SIT Human Subjects Review process, which forms a core component of the course. By the end of the course, students will have chosen a research topic, selected appropriate methods, and written a solid proposal for an Independent Study Project related to public health, traditional medicine, and community empowerment in Chile. All coursework is conducted in Spanish.
Independent Study Project – syllabus
(ISPR3000 / 4 credits / 120 hours)
Conducted in Arica, Santiago, Valparaíso, Temuco, or other approved locations appropriate to the project, the Independent Study Project offers students the opportunity to conduct field research on a topic of their choice or perform a health practicum within the program's thematic parameters. The project integrates learning from the various components of the program, and culminates in a final presentation and formal research paper. Students may choose to incorporate a guided practicum experience into the project as well. Sample topic areas: women's health; community outreach; drug and alcohol treatment; traditional and intercultural health; Chilean health policy; AIDS treatment promotion and prevention policies; indigenous health practices; epidemiology; etc.

Browse this program's Independent Study Projects / undergraduate research.

Please note that in order to take advantage of dynamic learning opportunities, program excursions may occasionally vary.

Educational excursions are an important component of the Chile public health program and provide different contexts in which to examine national healthcare delivery. Program excursions may include field visits to public health centers throughout Arica and the surrounding valleys, including community medical centers, hospitals, public health centers, rural health facilities, mental health centers, and women's health centers.

Longer excursions include traveling to the rural area of Putre in the high plains (altiplano), the region from which the Aymara population of Chile originates, and Temuco in southern Chile, home to the indigenous Mapuche nation.

PutrePutre (Northern Chile)

A seven-day excursion to the Chilean highlands will expose you to the health practices and beliefs of the Aymara people. The excursion will introduce you to a rural health system, Chile's intercultural health practices, alternative medicine, and the Aymara cosmovision. During this excursion, you will also experience northern Chile's impressive natural beauty through visits to Chungara Lake, Lauca National Park, and the Lauca Biosphere Reserve.

Temuco/Makewe (Mapuche Territory)

TemucoYou will experience the unique Chilean intercultural hospital located in the town of Makewe, outside of the city of Temuco. Over the course of ten days, you will explore health beliefs and practices of the Mapuche people while considering issues of access related to alternative methods of health treatment. This excursion sparks debate on the topic of “multiculturalism” in relation to healthcare. You will have the opportunity to learn firsthand how policies and politics surrounding healthcare directly affect indigenous people in Chile, within a national context that continues to manifest elements of discrimination and social marginalization. You will also have the opportunity to experience the region's beautiful volcanoes, valleys, and forests.


During a five-day visit to the national capital, you will have the opportunity to visit the Chilean Ministry of Health, speak with health policy makers at the national level, meet with social organizations engaged with improving healthcare access to marginalized and vulnerable populations, and get a close-up look at the work of community-based and advocacy groups focusing on the rights of indigenous migrants to the urban area, including the Aymara, Mapuche, Quechua, Rapa Nui, and Atacameño peoples.

Brian B. Johnson, PhD, MPH, MA, Academic Director

Brian JohnsonDr. Johnson is a cultural medical anthropologist whose academic and professional specializations include critical perspectives on health, medicine, and healing; traditional medicine and intercultural health; violence and social suffering; political and social movements; and indigeneity in the Americas, primarily the Andean region. He holds a PhD in sociomedical sciences and anthropology from Columbia University and master’s degrees in public health and Latin American studies from UCLA. Brian has lived and worked for more than 20 years in numerous Latin American countries—primarily Bolivia, where he has collaborated with national governments, nongovernmental organizations, and indigenous social organizations on both technical and academic projects for primary healthcare, community health, and social development. These include positions of senior leadership (e.g., health coordinator and national director) in differing organizations and numerous independent consultancies. In the US, Brian has worked with community programs promoting healthcare access for underserved populations in Los Angeles and New York City and as a visiting professor at Trinity College (Hartford, CT), where he taught medical anthropology, the political economy of health and disease, and introductory classes in sociocultural anthropology. Prior to becoming academic director in Chile, he was traveling faculty with the SIT / International Honors Program Health and Community: Globalization, Culture, and Care, conducting courses focused on medical anthropology, public health, and research methods in Brazil, South Africa, and India.

Daniel Poblete, Academic Coordinator

PobleteDaniel Poblete received his doctorate in social anthropology, with a specialization in issues of cultural diversity and citizenship, at the Complutense University of Madrid, Spain. Dr. Poblete’s professional focus is on the analysis of processes of cultural recognition, including themes associated with the study of intercultural and multicultural issues in Chile and throughout Latin America. A native of Santiago, Daniel has conducted ethnographic work for more than a decade in both northern and southern Chile and internationally in both the Ecuadorian Andes and with groups of Ecuadorian migrants in Madrid.

Norma Contreras, Student Services Coordinator

ContrerasNorma Contreras holds a professional degree in administrative management from the University of Tarapacá in Arica. She has been with SIT since the spring of 2013 and is responsible for arranging and monitoring student homestays as well as the overall care of student health and personal needs. Previously, Norma and her family were a homestay family for SIT students.

Clara Salinas, Language Coordinator

Clara Salinas holds a master’s degree in intercultural bilingual education and a bachelor’s degree in language and communication from the University of Tarapacá. She has worked as a teacher in higher education and as an instructor at the University of Tarapacá, teaching classes in oral and written expression and mass media as a learning tool. She has worked with SIT since 2014.

Faculty and lecturers may include:

Fresia Caba Burgos, PhD, MPH

Fresia Caba Burgos received her doctorate in public health with a specialization in epidemiology from Mexico's National Institute of Public Health. Dr. Caba also holds a master's degree in public health from the University of Chile, degrees in biological sciences and health management from Galilee College in Israel, and several degrees in epidemiology and qualitative methods. She has more than 20 years' experience teaching undergraduate and graduate students at institutions such as the University of Chile, the University of Tarapacá, and the University of Santiago.

Roxana Gálvez, MS

Roxana Gálvez completed her studies at the University of Tarapacá with a BA in midwifery, obstetrics, and neonatology. In 2000, she joined the Health Service of Arica directing HIV/AIDS prevention projects. In 2001, she joined the Dr. Juan Noé Hospital as the head midwife in charge of the Center of Sexually Transmitted Diseases (presently UNACESS), a position she holds today.

Roxana holds a degree in logistical management within health and has a postgraduate degree in HIV/AIDS education. She coordinated the regional working group of HIV/AIDS advisors from 2000 to 2006 and is still an integral member of that committee.

Patricia Huber, MD, MPH

Patricia Huber studied medicine at the University of Concepción and completed postgraduate work in public health at the University of Chile. Dr. Huber also obtained a master's degree in epidemiology and occupational health from the University of Chile. Additionally, she has a certificate in social management and public policy from the Faculty of Social Sciences (FLACSO) in Chile.

Between 2005 and 2008, Dr. Huber was head of the Health Service of Arica's Epidemiology Unit and later head of the Department of Information in Health and Production Services for Health. Dr. Huber is now medical director at the Arica center of the TELETON Foundation.

Ester López, PS, SW, MHR

Ester López obtained a degree in social work from the University of Valparaíso and a degree in psychology from the University of Tarapacá. She also holds a certification in rationalist mental psychotherapy from the Institute of Mental Therapy of Santiago. She graduated with a certificate in family mediation from the Technological University of Chile, and she holds a master's degree in human resources management from the University Arturo Prat and the University of Valparaíso. Currently, Ester is head of the Mental Health Unit of the Health Service of Arica, in charge of mental health teams and community psychiatry.

Rodrigo Valencia Severino, MPH, MBA

Rodrigo Valencia Severino has a bachelor's degree in nursing from the University of Valparaíso and a master's degree in public health, with a concentration in public health promotion, from the University of Chile's School of Public Health. He received an MBA from the University del Mar in the management of public health centers and institutions. He also holds a master's degree in participatory management and healthy communities from the Complutense University of Madrid. Rodrigo has gained experience teaching in the primary pedagogy in education and preschool programs at the University of Tarapacá. He currently works in the Department for Coordination of Medical Networks in the Arica Municipal Health Services.

host family in Chile

During your time in Chile, you will have the opportunity to live with three different homestay families. These homestays provide particular insight into the relationship between families, health, and well-being by offering you a place, however temporary, in these support systems. Furthermore, by living with three distinct families, you will deepen and challenge your emerging understanding of family and community in three different sites, comparing urban mestizo to rural indigenous communities, thus allowing you to form a more comprehensive understanding of each.

Your host families will warmly welcome you into their homes and help you become further immersed in Chilean culture and society. The homestay provides you with an excellent opportunity to improve your Spanish language skills by sharing daily conversions and activities with host family members. The homestay also forms a cornerstone of SIT’s experiential learning model by offering you the unique opportunity to take knowledge from lectures and readings to the dinner table as you engage your families in discussions about the topics you are studying.

Host families come from different social and cultural backgrounds. You will typically enjoy breakfast and lunch with them, and on weekends you may enjoy sharing family activities together, which could include birthday, anniversary, or other family celebrations.

Homestay locations will include the following:

Urban Homestay in Arica

You will experience a seven-week homestay with a carefully selected family in a residential neighborhood of Arica. While homestay families are mostly middle class, they are very diverse in terms of occupation, family size, region of origin, and location in the city. This diversity among homestay families provides SIT students with a complex set of life experiences within the same city and general class definition.

Rural Homestay in Putre

You will take part in a second homestay for six days with an Aymara family in high-altitude Putre. It will be possible to participate in many of the daily activities typical of this small, slow-paced town, including local commerce and cultural celebrations, while learning about traditional medicine practices from such community leaders as shamans and traditional birth attendants.

Rural Homestay in Makewe

The eight-day homestay in the rural village of Makewe, near the city of Temuco, is with an indigenous Mapuche family. You will have the opportunity to share in local living conditions and daily community life, which might include activities such as farming, animal care, or helping to cook meals. All homestays are in the immediate vicinity of the Mapuche Intercultural Hospital, and health-related activities are common.

A diversity of students representing different colleges, universities, and majors study abroad on this program. Many of them have gone on to do amazing things that connect back to their experience abroad with SIT. Learn what some of them are now doing.

Recent positions held by alumni of this program include:

  • MD/MPH Student, Miller School of Medicine, University of Miami, Miami, Florida
  • Bilingual Agricultural Safety Educator, New York Center for Agricultural Medicine and Health, New York, New York
  • Medical Student, Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California
  • Member of the Healthcare Reform Team, Planned Parenthood of Northern New England
  • Maternal Health Birth Doula, AmeriCorps, Sea Mar Community Health Centers, Seattle, Washington

Program Dates: Fall 2016

Program Arrival Date:  Aug 23, 2016

Program Departure Date:    Dec 5, 2016

The dates listed above are subject to change. Please note that travel to and from the program site may span a period of more than one day.

Student applications to this program will be reviewed on a rolling basis between the opening date and the deadline.

Application Deadline:   Jun 1, 2016


SIT Pell Grant Match Award. SIT Study Abroad provides matching grants to all students receiving Federal Pell Grant funding; this award can be applied to any SIT semester program. View all SIT Study Abroad scholarships.

Tuition: $16,400

The tuition fee covers the following program components:

  • Cost of all lecturers who provide instruction to students in:
    • Health, society, and culture
    • Public health, community welfare, and social justice
    • Chilean public health policies
    • Alternative health practices
  • Public Health Research Methods and Ethics course and Human Subjects Review
  • Intensive language instruction in Spanish (with a focus on medical Spanish)
  • All educational excursions to locations such as Tacna, Santiago, and Temuco (Mapuche region)
  • Independent Study Project (including a stipend for accommodation and food) 
  • Health insurance throughout the entire program period

Room & Board: $4,475

The room and board fee covers the following program components:

  • All accommodations during the entire program period. This includes during orientation, time in the program base (Arica), on all excursions, during the Independent Study Project, and during the final evaluation period. Accommodation is covered either by SIT Study Abroad directly, through a stipend provided to each student, or through the homestay. 
  • All homestays (seven weeks in Arica, six days in Putre, and eight days in Makewe, plus an optional rural homestay during the Independent Study Project period, depending on the student’s ISP topic)
  • All meals for the entire program period. Meals are covered either by SIT Study Abroad directly, through a stipend, or through the homestay.

Estimated Additional Costs:

International Airfare to Program Launch Site

International airline pricing can vary greatly due to the volatility of airline industry pricing, flight availability, and specific flexibility/restrictions on the type of ticket purchased. Students may choose to take advantage of frequent flyer or other airline awards available to them, which could significantly lower their travel costs.

Visa Expenses: $ 200

Immunizations: Varies

Books & Supplies: $ 50

International Phone: Each student must have a phone in each country. Cost varies according to personal preferences, phone plans, data plans, etc.

Discretionary Expenses

Personal expenses during the program vary based on individual spending habits and budgets. While all meals and accommodations are covered in the room and board fee, incidentals and personal transportation costs differ depending on the non-program-related interests and pursuits of each student. To learn more about personal budgeting, we recommend speaking with alumni who participated in a program in your region. See a full list of our alumni contacts. Please note that free time to pursue non-program-related activities is limited.

Please Note: Fees and additional expenses are based on all known circumstances at the time of calculation. Due to the unique nature of our programs and the economics of host countries, SIT reserves the right to change its fees or additional expenses without notice.


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