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IHP/Comparative: Climate Change: The Politics of Food, Water, and Energy

IHP/Comparative: Climate Change: The Politics of Food, Water, and Energy

Study the social impacts of climate change through the political economy of food, water, and energy in some of the world’s most productive and vulnerable landscapes.

This program examines the interconnections between the economics, politics, geography, and science of climate change and its effects on human society. You will learn about the varied impacts of climate change — extreme weather, desertification, ocean acidification, melting glaciers, rising sea levels, loss of biodiversity, and dangerous social upheavals — and will be encouraged to think seriously about realistic solutions.

Key Questions:

  • How is climate change impacting regions differently? How are people adapting to these changes?
  • What are the appropriate roles of government, business, social movements, and individuals in addressing this multifaceted crisis?
  • Which technologies and traditional forms of local knowledge can realistically meet humanity’s need for energy in a sustainable way?
  • What are the economic interests and institutional arrangements that prevent us from more effectively addressing the climate crisis?

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

United States: San Francisco

(2 weeks)

windmills in the USThe program begins in the San Francisco Bay Area, where you will examine basic climate science both globally and regionally. You will also explore the fossil fuel industry and California’s burgeoning renewable energy sector involving wind, solar, and geothermal energy. The program looks at the health of San Francisco Bay and examines the politics and economics of aquaculture. South of the city, you will study the state’s massive agricultural sector, both organic and chemical based. You will also meet activists struggling to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Vietnam: Ho Chi Minh City, Can Tho, Mekong River Delta, Hanoi

(4 weeks)
You will pass through Ho Chi Minh City, the largest city in Vietnam, on your way to Can Tho, the main city in the Mekong River Delta, which is a site of major rice and fish production and is, in many ways, the heart of the Vietnamese economy. The Delta, along with being economically important, is very vulnerable to rising sea levels caused by anthropogenic climate change and is threatened upstream by massive dam building. In the Delta, you will stay with a local family, meet farmers, spend time in an eco-reserve, and possibly tour a new wind farm. Next, your group will travel north to Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital city, to meet with NGOs and government officials and to tour sites like a major hydro-electric dam and to visit the Red River Delta.

Morocco: Rabat, Casablanca, the Atlas Mountains

(4 weeks)
You will be based in the port city of Rabat, Morocco’s capital and political and diplomatic center, and will travel to other important sites within the country. You will visit Casablanca, Morocco’s largest city and economic center, and will have an excursion to the Atlas Mountains, where you will study issues around water and development. Further north, in Tetuan, you will visit a major wind farm.

Bolivia: Cochabamba, La Paz, Lake Titicaca

(5 weeks)
BoliviaYou will be based in Cochabamba, one of Bolivia’s most socially progressive cities and, in 2000, the location of successful protests against the privatization of water. You will take excursions to La Paz, Bolivia’s seat of government, and Lake Titicaca, which, since 2000, has experienced consistently receding water levels because of changes in climate. Bolivia is a politically complex country; on one hand it has very strong social movements, has elected the first indigenous president in the world, and has passed a new constitution that recognizes the “rights of Mother Earth.” On the other hand, Bolivia’s economy is still structurally dependent on mining and exporting natural gas.


None, although previous coursework in political science, economics, and/or environmental science is recommended.

Access virtual library guide.

The program takes a holistic, interdisciplinary view of academic topics, drawing not only on articles and faculty lectures, but also student observations, guest lectures, and homestay interviews to facilitate learning. Assignments typically involve written essays, oral presentations, and more creative projects such as posters and photo stories.

A major portion of the curriculum will be based on field trips, interviews, and guest lectures. The field trips and interviews must be structured around the core themes of the curriculum as laid out in the four classes. In addition to classroom time and field trips, students will have time to reflect on and write about their learning and experiences on the program. At the end of the program, students will produce a cumulative project involving data collection and qualitative research undertaken in each of the countries visited.

Students enrolled in this program will take all courses listed below for a total of 16 credits.

The following syllabi are either from a recent session of this program or for an upcoming session. 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.

Political Economy and Environmental History: 1492 to the Present – syllabus
(ECON 3010 / 4 credits / 60 hours)
This course analyzes the development and history of modern capitalism on a global scale. Topics of consideration within this context include state formation, war, imperialism, technology, energy, environmental change, economic crisis, and “long waves of accumulation.” There is a particular focus on post-World War II developments, including the rise of Keynesianism globally; the role of socialist economies; the political economy of the Cold War; Third World development; the global crisis of profitability in the 1970s, the resultant economic restructuring, and the turn toward neoliberalism; the collapse of communism; the acceleration of neoliberalism and its deepening crisis; the rise of developing economies such as China; and the possibility of alternative economic models.

Comparative Issues in Food, Water, and Energy – syllabus
(SDIS 3070 / 4 credits / 60 hours)
This course looks at agriculture and energy, and the attendant resources upon which those sectors depend. Students visit farms, fishing communities, food processors, and food transportation companies, while examining the history and political economy of food production in each country visited. A similar approach is taken in examining the energy sector; fieldwork complements detailed studies of geography and political economy as students encounter the natural sciences, companies, technologies, and regulatory arrangements that constitute “the energy sector.” The course also examines the technologies of emerging alternatives such as solar, wind, and tidal power.

The Science and Policy of Climate Change – syllabus
(ECOL 3010 / 4 credits / 60 hours)
This course unpacks the basic science of the climate system by examining the state-of-the-art science collated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and through regular engagement with scientists and researchers. Students learn how to read scientific papers and analyze the policy process at local, national, and international levels. They also consider the tangle of acronyms — such as IPCCC, UNFCCC, and CDM — that define international policy discourses on climate change. The course looks at smaller scale, regional initiatives such as California’s state-level efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions and its investments in renewable energy; Morocco’s green plan; and Plan 2020.

Fieldwork Ethics and Comparative Research Methods – syllabus
(ANTH 3500 / 4 credits / 60 hours)
This course enables students to understand and benefit from experience-based learning processes. It provides students with skills related to gathering, analyzing, and interpreting information from a range of sources, maximizing the knowledge provided by local contexts. The course intends to assist students in assessing their own cultural assumptions and in understanding people from different cultures. Students are familiarized with the World Learning/SIT Human Subjects Review Policy. The seminar provides a framework for a cumulative project involving data collection and qualitative research undertaken in each of the countries visited.

These letters home are from previous terms. Site locations may vary from term to term.

Letters Home: Climate Change

December 1, 2014
Letter Home from Bolivia
A letter home from the Fall 2014 IHP Climate Change program: Ring ring ring! Ring ring ring! “Time to go sleepyhead.” Says my roommate Abe, “It’s time to leave Africa my friend.” Rising out of bed at 3:30 in the morning we begin our final leg of the journey. Our first flight to Madrid went […]
October 23, 2014
Letter Home from Morocco
A letter home from students on the IHP Climate Change Fall 2014 program: Our group, the 22 of us studying Climate Change: Politics of Food, Water, and Energy this fall, arrived in Rabat at the beginning of October after a long day of travel. Immediately, we discovered the beautiful beach and maze-like medina streets of […]
October 7, 2014
Letter Home from Viet Nam
A Letter Home written by students on the Fall 2014 program of IHP Climate Change: The Politics of Food, Water, and Energy: Touring Ho Chi Minh City  We arrived to the bustling streets of Ho Chi Minh City after our longest plane ride, glad to be done with it! On the first night in the […]

The faculty/staff team shown on this page is a sample of the individuals who may lead your specific program. Faculty and coordinators are subject to change to accommodate each program’s unique schedule and locations.

Kathryn Ledebur, Program Director

LedeburKathryn Ledebur studied Andean history at FLACSO in Quito, Ecuador, and is a graduate of Oberlin College. She has collaborated with a series of human rights and drug policy organizations in the United States and Latin America. Since 1997, she has worked at the Andean Information Network (AIN), which promotes human rights and socioeconomic justice in Bolivia and more humane and effective illicit drug control policies. AIN provides information and analysis to NGO colleagues, the media, and international policymakers on developments in Bolivia and the impact of the US government and European policies. Working closely with civil society organizations in Latin America and the United States, AIN promotes policy dialogue and the development of pragmatic alternatives that address the underlying economic, social, political, and cultural needs of Bolivia. Kathryn lives in Cochabamba, Bolivia, and has been AIN’s director since 1999. She is the author of numerous articles as well as the chapter on Bolivia in the book Drugs and Democracy in Latin America (2003).

Anna Gail Caunca, MA, Program Manager

CauncaAnna Gail's previous work experience has focused on the areas of youth and young adult leadership development, community-building, residential life and student welfare, international education, and human rights education. Building on her graduate studies in social justice and international education, Anna Gail worked with World Learning’s Youth Leadership and Peacebuilding Programs facilitating workshops with the Governor’s Institute of Vermont on current issues and youth activism and traveling with and supporting students through the LondonX and Iraqi Youth Leadership Program for two years. In 2013, she traveled as the IHP Trustees Fellow for the inaugural year of the Human Rights: Foundations, Challenges, and Advocacy. After four adventurous years living in Wellington, New Zealand, she is excited for a new chapter as the IHP program manager in 2015.

Anna Gail earned her BS in psychology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She graduated from SIT Graduate Institute with an MA in intercultural service, leadership, and management and received her educator’s licensure in secondary education: social studies, incorporating social justice in the classroom. She is a vegetarian, photographer-in-the-making, and running enthusiast with a hearty laugh.

Jawad Moustakbal, Country Coordinator, Morocco

moustakbalJawad Moustakbal graduated in 2000 with a degree in civil engineering from the EHTP engineering school in Casablanca. He worked as project manager in several companies including OCP, the Moroccan phosphates state company. He is working as consultant in construction management services (CMS). He worked also as a temporary professor in Bouchaib Doukali University. Jawad is also an active member of ATTAC/CADTM Morocco and ACME: Moroccan association for an international water agreement.

Michael Shanks, Country Coordinator, Bolivia

Michael Shanks first came to Bolivia in 1996 as an undergraduate student in SIT’s study abroad program. The experience sparked a passion and love of Bolivian culture and history that continues to this day. After completing the semester, Michael stayed in Bolivia to work as a research assistant with the Andean Information Network (AIN) and later produced a documentary video with AIN on human rights, coca production, and alternative development. Since 2013 Michael has lived and worked in Cochabamba, Bolivia: raising a family, building a house, and fundraising for a local equine therapy program that serves at-risk youth.

Michael’s professional experience also includes many years employed as a field examiner with the National Labor Relations Board. During that time he investigated unfair labor practices, administered formal hearings on union representation issues, and held elections on the question of union representation in the workplace.

Michael received his bachelor’s degree in international relations at San Francisco State University and his master’s degree in Latin American studies at U.C. Berkeley. His master’s thesis focused on the emergence of indigenous political parties, the reaction of traditional elites, and how concepts of “race” influence society, politics, and governance. While at Berkeley, Michael was a teaching assistant for courses on international political economy and economic history.

Phuong Hoang, Country Coordinator, Vietnam

hoangPhuong earned a master’s degree in sustainable development from SIT Graduate Institute in 2010 and a bachelor of science in international relations from Edgewood College, Madison, Wisconsin, in 2007. After ten years studying and living in the US, Phuong moved back to Vietnam in late 2010 and worked for UN-REDD Programme Vietnam as a communication and network officer, and now she is a coordinator for Participatory Governance Assessment for REDD+ with UNDP Vietnam.

Niels Hahn, Traveling Faculty (Spring 2015)

Before joining the Climate Change program, Dr. Niels Hahn convened and taught courses on the political economy of war, conflict, and development at the University of London. His research interests include issues such as political economy of industrial development, labor, energy, environment and climate change, neoliberalism, international relations, power, knowledge, propaganda, war, and conflict. His research and teaching is partly based on his professional experience with Médecins Sans Frontières. Niels has worked in countries such as Afghanistan, China, Ethiopia/Ogaden, Liberia, Tanzania, Somalia, and Sudan/Darfur.

Caitlyn Clark, Trustees Fellow (Spring 2015)

clarkCaitlyn Clark is pursuing her degree in sustainable development at SIT Graduate Institute in Brattleboro, VT. She received her BA in cultural anthropology from Bryn Mawr College in 2007 and spent the following summer studying Maya archaeology in Mexico. Caitlyn then moved to Philadelphia where she served under AmeriCorps for two years, working in public high schools. She also rehabbed an abandoned elementary school garden, taught summer school, coached soccer, and frequented many farmer’s markets. But it was a humanitarian trip to Cuba in 2006 that fostered Caitlyn’s passion for traveling, more specifically, traveling with the purpose of engaging with people in different countries, while studying the cultural, socioeconomic, and political factors within a specific context. Before moving to Vermont, she returned to Cuba and then backpacked through Latin America for eight months, setting up volunteer gigs along the way. She started in Peru, where she served as the coordinator for undergraduate students in an archaeological field school, and ended in Guatemala, at a health and nutrition nonprofit serving youth in the Tz’utujil community. Caitlyn’s studies at SIT have merged her interests in Latin America, sustainable food systems, climate change, and community development.

VietnamYou will live with a host family for between two and four weeks at each program site, with the exception of the first location. Homestays are the primary form of accommodation on the program; other accommodations can include guest houses, hostels, dormitories, and/or small hotels.

Homestay families provide you with the opportunity to live as integrated members of the host communities. In sharing daily life, conversations, family stories, celebrations, and community events, you will not only learn a tremendous amount, but also develop lasting friendships.

Family structures vary in every place, and SIT values the diversity of homestay families. For example, the host family may include a single mother of two small children or a large extended family with many people coming and going all the time. Please bear in mind that the idea of what constitutes a “home” (i.e., the physical nature of the house) may be different from what one expects. You will need to be prepared to adapt to a new life with a new diet, a new schedule, new people, and possibly new priorities and expectations.

Country coordinators in each location arrange homestay placements. In most cases, students will be placed in homestays in pairs, with placements made to best accommodate health concerns, including allergies or dietary needs. You will not receive information about homestay families until you arrive in each country.

Program Dates: Fall 2015

Program Start Date:  Aug 24, 2015

Program End Date:    Dec 14, 2015

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:   May 15, 2015


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: $17,700

The tuition fee covers the following program components:

  • Content and logistics for field programs in San Francisco, Vietnam, Morocco, and Bolivia
  • Cost of all lecturers who provide instruction to students in:
    • Locally taught classes
      • Comparative Issues in Food, Water, and Energy
      • The Science and Policy of Climate Change
    • Classes taught by traveling faculty
      • Political Economy and Environmental History
      • Fieldwork Ethics and Comparative Research Methods
  • Guest lectures and panel discussions
  • Site visit hosts and facilitators
  • Transportation to classroom spaces and daily program activities
  • All educational excursions to locations such as the Atlas Mountains, including all related travel costs
  • Traveler’s health insurance throughout the entire program period 
  • Instructional materials
  • Other direct program costs

Note: Vacation costs are not covered by program fees; students are responsible for this.

Airfare: $4,500

  • Group airfare during the program
  • Airfare includes a flight back to a city in the US at the conclusion of the program.

Room & Board:$4,500

The room and board fee covers the following program components:

  • All accommodations during the entire program period. This includes during orientation, time in all four countries, urban and rural stays, all excursions, and the final retreat. Accommodation is covered either by SIT Study Abroad directly, through a stipend provided to each student, or through the homestay. 
  • All homestays in Vietnam, Morocco, and Bolivia
  • 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:

Domestic Airfare to Program Launch Site

Domestic 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: $275

Immunizations: Varies

Books & Supplies: $150

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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