Ecuador | Semester Abroad | Development | Politics | Spanish | Amazon

Ecuador: Development, Politics, and Languages

Study Ecuador's development processes while considering the relationship between power and discourse as the country's multilingual and multiethnic populations strive for social change and sustainability.

On this program, you will study power and politics in Ecuador, focusing specifically on both dominant development paradigms and resistant models that different groups have proposed. You will consider how these discussions are shaped through different discourses. Because power and ideology are reproduced and challenged through language, you will also explore how different stakeholders in Ecuador have used both Spanish and indigenous languages to instill, reinforce, subvert, and reinvent power relationships, both historically and today. The program thus combines a political and economic focus with an emphasis on discourse and language. You will leave with a highly sophisticated understanding of how this small, bio-diverse, and multi-ethnic country is thinking about development.

Major topics of study include:

  • Power and politics in Ecuador, hegemonic and counter-hegemonic discourses of development
  • How different groups in Ecuador conceptualize and talk about issues such as sustainability, restoration, extractive industries, social inclusion, and inter-ethnic relations
  • The impact of Ecuador’s development processes on the environment, discourses surrounding sustainability and quality of life
  • The relationship between the language(s) of political power and social movements in Ecuador
  • Indigenous languages, politics, interculturalism, and plurinationality

Meet the program’s academic director.

While studying abroad with SIT you are constantly being stimulated, constantly learning, and constantly being challenged. It redefines education and provides you with the tools to redefine the world, and your role in it.

Lucy Wallace, Connecticut College

The program invites you to study development and politics from a unique angle, focusing on how power structures are imposed, reproduced, and challenged through language, whether through political speeches, propaganda, and media; through the use of indigenous languages and bilingual education; or through laws and documents that cover environmental policies, ethnic relations, and other issues.

Live in Quito and engage with local experts from diverse areas of practice.

QuitoThe program base is in Quito, and you will spend a considerable part of the program in this beautiful city, which was founded by Spanish colonizers in the sixteenth century on top of an existing indigenous settlement. Quito is located at over 9,000 feet above sea level. It is long and narrow, nestled into the Andes and surrounded by volcanoes. Its architecture reflects a mix of colonial and contemporary styles, and you will find churches, typical Ecuadorean restaurants, and hip European-looking cafés and nouveau gourmet Ecuadorian spots.

Quito has several internationally renowned universities, such as the Universidad de San Francisco, from which the program draws lecturers and ISP advisors. It is also home to many NGOs, which students are able to visit and with whom students often organize Independent Study Projects (ISPs).

Take a Quichua workshop as part of a seminar.

As part of a seminar, you will participate in a workshop to learn basic Quichua, which you’ll put into practice during a village stay in Quichua-speaking communities. 

Study in the Galápagos on a short excursion.

One of Ecuador’s most challenging and controversial issues is how to develop while preserving the natural resources its development has so often depended upon. Ecuador’s constitution actually posits Nature as a subject with rights, and its many indigenous communities share a worldview that also calls directly for the respect of natural resources and sites. In practice, however, Ecuador relies upon extractive industries and tourism, with their resulting environmental risks, to develop. On this excursion to the Galápagos, you will study the discourses related to sustainability and tourism as you explore this most fascinating site.

Conduct an Independent Study Project (ISP).

All students produce a final Independent Study Project. The ISP offers you the opportunity to conduct field research on a topic of your choice within the program’s broad concerns with power, politics, language, and development. The ISP can be conducted in Quito or in another approved location in Ecuador appropriate to the project. The program enjoys links with local NGOs, state institutions, and community-based projects and can facilitate contacts.

Sample ISP topics include:

  • Linguistic landscape of Quito
  • Discourses of sustainability in the Galápagos
  • Development and impoverishment in migrant communities of Guayaquil
  • Social communication, micropolitics, and activism in the Andes
  • Political perspectives on endangered languages: the Sapara case
  • Bilingual intercultural education in Otavalo


Three recent semesters of college-level Spanish or equivalent and the ability to follow coursework in Spanish, as assessed by SIT.

Access virtual library guide.

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

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

Languages in Contact: Spanish, Quichua, and Other Languages in Ecuador – syllabus
(LACB3000 / 3 credits / 45 hours)
In the second seminar, students combine theory and practice to study Ecuador's languages in three different manners. First, from a cultural standpoint, students learn about the encounter between Spanish and Ecuador's indigenous languages and how language and power have interacted and contributed to tensions between domination and resistance. They look closely at Ecuadorian Spanish to ask what makes Ecuador's Spanish Ecuadorian, examining the influence of different populations, time periods, and events on the evolution of the language, considering regional differences as well. Finally, they study Quichua, Ecuador's main indigenous language, examining the politics of bilingual education, questions surrounding intellectual production and translation, and the use of Quichua in different settings. Students also examine the growing concern for other indigenous languages, particularly those in danger of extinction. Finally, all students participate in a workshop of introductory lessons in Quichua to finish out this experience. This course is conducted in Spanish, although it may occasionally include a few readings in English and in Quichua.
Paradigms of Development and Political Discourse in Ecuador – syllabus
(LACB3005 / 3 credits / 45 hours)
Discourse and power are related in all nations, but Ecuador has a particularly sophisticated discursive system in place. At the same time, counter-hegemonic discourses are also prevalent. In this broadly defined interdisciplinary seminar, students examine the core political and development themes of the program and inquire specifically into the complex relationships between development, power, and politics in Ecuador. After a review of Ecuadorian history, socio-political movements and development paradigms, students consider the concept of political discourse as an object of study. Through lectures, course readings, site visits, and excursions, students examine several dominant discourses related to development, politics, sustainability, interethnic relations, and other issues in Ecuador. They study resistant discourses to ask how people are voicing alternative ways of knowing and developing. While learning about politics and development in Ecuador, students construct a nuanced understanding of how discourse has been used to instill, reinforce, subvert, and reinvent power relationships over time in this nation. This course is conducted in Spanish, although it may occasionally include a few readings in English.
Spanish for the Social Sciences I – syllabus
(SPAN2000 / 3 credits / 45 hours)
Spanish for the Social Sciences II – syllabus
(SPAN2500 / 3 credits / 45 hours)
Spanish for the Social Sciences III – syllabus
(SPAN3000 / 3 credits / 45 hours)
In this course, students refine their Spanish language skills, with a focus on enhancing oral proficiency. The course deepens students’ contact with public, private, and community media in Ecuador and includes visits to several relevant sites in Quito, such as the Secretaría Nacional de Comunicación and Fundamedios. Students take an ungraded placement exam to determine the appropriate class placement. The outgoing exam includes both a written and an oral component.
Research Methods and Ethics – syllabus
(ANTH3500 / 3 credits / 45 hours)
In this research methods course designed to prepare students for the Independent Study Project (ISP), students examine the ethical challenges of field research and learn how to prepare a research proposal and how to employ basic ethnographic methods appropriate to a range of themes as well as more specific methods appropriate to the study of politics, language, and discourse. By the end of the course they will have chosen an ISP topic, selected appropriate methods, and written a solid proposal for an ISP related to the program themes. The course is conducted in Spanish with occasional sessions in English.
Independent Study Project – syllabus
(ISPR3000 / 4 credits / 120 hours)
Conducted in Quito or in another approved location in Ecuador appropriate to the project, the Independent Study Project offers students the opportunity to conduct field research on a topic of their choice within the program's broad concerns with power, politics, language, and development. The project integrates learning from the various components of the program and culminates in a final presentation and formal research paper. Sample topic areas: linguistic landscape of Quito; political perspectives on endangered languages; sustainability and restoration in indigenous communities; the discourse of development in Ecuador; bilingual intercultural education; social communication, micropolitics, and activism.

Excursions to both rural and urban areas throughout Ecuador link classroom learning to interactions with institutional, community, and individual experiences of different development models, sustainability policies, and linguistic diversity/bilingual initiatives.

  • In Quito, you will visit both NGOs and public entities focused on development and politics.
  • During the semester you will visit Quichua-speaking towns and communities.
  • An excursion to the Intag Cloud Forest Reserve provides you with exposure to one of the most biologically diverse but threatened ecosystems in the world, and this is complemented by an excursion to an Amazonian community later in the semester.
  • You will visit the port city of Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city and main port. Here, you will explore a city with extreme social inequity and tremendous ethnic diversity (with large Chinese and Lebanese communities). Discussions will be framed around such themes as cultural identity and difference, local urban imaginaries, development, and regionalism. 
  • You will have the opportunity to visit the Galápagos Islands, where you will gain an understanding of the impact of sustainability and tourism and the ways in which a place is constructed through dramatically varying discourses. Here, you will visit the Charles Darwin Research Station, National Park Headquarters, tourism agencies, the USFQ campus, civil society organizations, artisan collectives, and natural history sites. On this excursion, you will consider how politics, tourism economics, and sustainability desires combine and clash.

Fabian Espinosa, Academic Director

Fabian EspinosaFabian Espinosa studied biology and anthropology at the University of California at Santa Cruz, where he completed his MA in anthropology. His previous experience includes serving as communication and information coordinator for the Charles Darwin Research Station on the Galápagos Islands, executive director of and researcher for the Cofán Ethnographic Museum in the Cuyabeno Nature Reserve, and advisor to the president of Ecuador on environmental and indigenous affairs. Additionally, he has extensive experience in Ecuador as a naturalist guide and cultural interpreter, leading specialized groups in archaeology, indigenous cosmologies, and natural history. He is also associated with the Instituto Cientifico de Culturas Indigenas (ICCI) and the Universidad Intercultural Amawtay Wasi (UIAW). He co-directed the SIT Ecuador: Development, Politics, and Languages program from 1999 to 2013 and, since 2013, has been the sole director of the program.

View Fabian Espinosa's full CV.

Read Oregon State University’s interview with Fabian Espinosa.

Leonore Cavallero, Intercultural Specialist

Lenore CavalleroLeonore Cavallero has an MA in multicultural education/bilingual counseling from the University of San Francisco, California. She has worked with SIT since 1993, as an academic director of the Ecuador: Culture and Development program and, for one semester, SIT’s Cape Town, South Africa, program. Her professional experience in Ecuador includes eight years working for the Peace Corps Training Center as family coordinator, master trainer, and interim training center director. Prior to the Peace Corps, she worked for two years as a guidance counselor for Ecuadorian high school students. Leonore regularly presents sessions on intercultural/interpersonal relationships and safety issues to international education and volunteer organizations based in Ecuador. She wrote Surviving Re-entry: A Readjustment Manual for Parents, a handbook for parents of students returning home from studying abroad, as well as a safety manual for students. In her role as intercultural specialist, Leonore serves both SIT programs in Ecuador using her expertise to provide support and assistance to students and staff. She has lived in Ecuador since 1981 and raised her two children in a bilingual environment. She has Ecuadorian residency and dual nationality in the US and Italy.

View Leonore Cavallero's full CV.

Faculty and lecturers typically include:

Diego Quiroga, PhD

Diego Quiroga holds a PhD in anthropology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is currently vice president of external and student affairs at Universidad San Francisco de Quito and co-director of the Galapagos Academic Institute for the Arts and the Sciences (GAIAS). His area of expertise is sociocultural anthropology and his topical interests include medical anthropology, environmental anthropology, and indigenous and Afro-American cultures of Latin America. Dr. Quiroga has served as dean of the graduate school, dean of academic affairs, dean of social sciences, and full-time professor at Universidad San Francisco de Quito teaching courses in history, Andean anthropology, and medical anthropology. He has conducted extensive research in Ecuador, and his work has been published in many prestigious academic journals. Amazon Basin Productive Systems and Health in Communities Living in the Upper Amazon Basin, Ecuador and Magic and Healing: The Role of the Devil and the Saints in Muisne, Ecuador constitute some of his major contributions to the field.    

María Cuvi, MA

María Cuvi holds an MA in literature from Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador. She is considered one of the leading feminist authors in Ecuador. She has extensive experience as a researcher, teacher, and activist. As a professor, she has taught several courses on gender and development, poverty, ethnicity, social movements, environmental issues, and academic writing at several universities and graduate schools including Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales (FLACSO), Universidad Politécnica Salesiana del Ecuador, Instituto Complutense de Estudios Internacionales de Madrid, Universidad de LLeida, Catalunya, Universidad Mayor de San Simón, Cochabamba, Bolivia, and Pitzer College Program in Ecuador. María Cuvi is the author and editor of several pioneer studies in the field of gender both in Ecuador and in the Andean Region. 

Sebastián Granda, MA

Sebastián Granda holds an MA in Latin American studies from Universidad Andina Simón Bolívar. He is currently enrolled in a doctorate program on Latin American Cultural Studies at the same university. He serves as director of social sciences and human behavior studies at Universidad Politécnica Salesiana del Ecuador and teaches sociology of education and bilingual intercultural education. Sebastián Granda is also a research director and teacher at the Pitzer College Program in Ecuador. As a researcher and author, he has contributed significantly in the fields of indigenous rights, intercultural education and pedagogy, citizenship, and migration.

The homestays allowed me to fully immerse myself in the culture and daily life by becoming a part of my families' lives and connecting on a personal level. My homestay families wanted to help me learn and we would talk for hours. I gained a perception of Ecuadorian life I would never have learned from lectures or articles.

Kerry Leigh-Anne Johnson, University of Vermont

homestay mother in Ecuador


The program’s homestay in Quito is with a middle-class family in an urban neighborhood. Quito offers a variety of wonderful cultural amenities. Host families enjoy sharing the city with their students by accompanying them to concerts, museums, movies, and other sites. This homestay lasts approximately seven weeks.

Amazonian Quichua communities

The program’s second homestay is in a rural Amazonian Quichua community, offering you a very different perspective on Ecuador. This homestay provides an opportunity for you to practice your recently acquired Quichua language skills. It also serves as an exercise for implementing fieldwork methodology prior to the ISP period. This homestay lasts approximately four or five days. 

Other accommodations include hostels, guest houses, or small hotels.

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:

  • Environmental and Human Rights Campaigner, Amazon Watch, Oakland, California
  • Policy Associate, OneAmerica, Seattle, Washington
  • Fulbright Scholar, Universidad Autónoma de México (UNAM), Mexico City, Mexico
  • Foreign Affairs Officer, U.S. Department of State, Washington, DC
  • Program Associate for Latin America and the Caribbean at the Center for Reproductive Rights, New York, New York

“I experienced the culture and country to the fullest extent!” — Alumnus Jason Tinero (Washington University in St. Louis) talks about his experiences on the program.

Program Dates: Fall 2016

Program Arrival Date:  Aug 21, 2016

Program Departure Date:    Dec 3, 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: $16,330

The tuition fee covers the following program components:

  • Cost of all lecturers who provide instruction to students in:
    • History
    • Political discourse
    • Development issues
    • Cultural anthropology and the humanities
    • Evolution of language
  • Research Methods and Ethics course and Human Subjects Review 
  • Intensive language instruction in Spanish
  • All educational excursions to locations such as Guayaquil, the Galápagos, the Intag Cloud Forest Reserve, and the Amazon Basin, including all related travel costs
  • Independent Study Project (including a stipend for accommodation and food) 
  • Health insurance throughout the entire program period

Room & Board: $2,645

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 (Quito), 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 (Quito and an Amazonian community) 
  • 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: $ 450

Immunizations: Varies

Books & Supplies: $ 30

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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