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IHP/Comparative: Human Rights: Foundations, Challenges, and Advocacy

IHP/Comparative: Human Rights: Foundations, Challenges, and Advocacy

Investigate the historical and social contexts of diverse human rights movements, including the roles of culture, political economy, and international law in four different countries.

On this program, you will examine the rhetoric and reality of human rights, using an issues-based approach. Peacebuilding, truth and reconciliation, civil liberties, humanitarian intervention, environmental justice, gender equity, and labor rights are just a few of the inroads the program takes to pose a broader inquiry on the nature of human rights and its variance across borders.

Key questions include:

  • How are human rights universal?
  • What are the root causes that incite struggles for human rights in different locations?
  • What impacts do international institutions such as the UN have on securing human rights?
  • What is the role of popular mobilization and activism? How can solidarity across borders be built on a human rights platform?

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

Human Rights Contexts in the Countries to Be Visited

United States
(2 weeks)

The program launches in New York City in order to critically examine the United States’ relationship to human rights. New York City is an ideal launch site for the program, as it is home to many of the largest international human rights bodies, from the United Nations to Amnesty International. Visits to such agencies offer both historical perspectives on human rights and insights into the contemporary practice of human rights organizations internationally. The program also meets with a diversity of community organizers, city officials, and activists working to advance human rights causes in New York City, such as the right to housing, immigrant rights, anti-racism in the criminal justice system, workers’ rights, and LGBTQ rights.

(4 weeks)

NepalNepal emerged in 2006 as a parliamentary democracy after a decade of armed conflict pitting Maoist rebels against a long-standing Hindu monarchy. It officially became a republic in 2008. The nation-building process has been long, and you will be exposed to its intricacies, from developing a viable constitution that guarantees equal rights in a multi-ethnic country to confrontations with impunity for wartime abuses, including enforced disappearances, rape, torture, and extrajudicial executions. In Kathmandu, you will meet with lawyers and activists who are working to ensure a more just future in Nepal. Your study will also extend to the complicated politics of the everyday. You will meet grassroots organizers for issues as wide-ranging as urban squatters’ rights, the precarious livelihoods of Tibetan refugees, the labor struggles of domestic workers, and the work of organizations working for LGBTQ rights. The program also spends one week on a rural excursion in the south of Nepal, visiting indigenous communities involved in struggles for land, resources, and political representation.

(4 weeks)

At a refugee camp in Jordan

Jordan is a safe haven in the Middle East and, as such, is an appropriate locale to enquire into the array of human rights violations arising from geopolitical conflicts afflicting the region. For decades, Jordan has received thousands of Palestinian, Iraqi, and Syrian refugees. The program probes the historical and contemporary origins of Jordan’s refugee populations by visiting with refugee communities and refugee-focused NGOs living and working both inside and outside refugee camps. The program also has a strong emphasis on gender rights, meeting with an array of scholars and women’s rights organizations with differing interpretations of Islamic feminisms. During the program’s stay in Amman, you will meet with members of Parliament, and international agencies such as the UN and get multi-layered perspectives on pathways utilized to enact human rights–based change. Additionally, you will go on excursions to historic sites such as Petra, the Dead Sea, and Aqaba, and you will go camping in the desert sands of Wadi Rum.

(5 weeks)

ChileThe rich political history of Chile provides fertile ground for analyses of human rights struggles. After the end of the Pinochet dictatorship, a transition to democracy has been entwined with both the reconciliation of history and the continuation of neoliberal policies that make Chile a profoundly unequal society. You will spend half of your stay in Santiago and visit sites such as the Museum of Memory and Human Rights and Villa Grimaldi. You will also meet with feminist leaders, historians, student activists leading the cause for equal access to education, and officials from the UN and multiple NGOs. The second component takes place in the Mapuche territories of southern Chile on farms in the Andes. You will be immersed in indigenous communities that negotiate the challenges of large-scale natural resource extraction, dam-building, and industrial agriculture, along with racial discrimination. The program concludes in Chile with a student retreat at La Isla Negra, the oceanfront residence of poet and Nobel laureate Pablo Neruda.


Coursework in social sciences such as anthropology, history, economics, sociology, and/or political science. Humanities coursework (philosophy, religion, and/or ethics) is also 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 could involve written essays, oral presentations, and/or more creative projects such as posters and photo stories.

Students enrolled in this program 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.

Foundations and Frameworks of Human Rights – syllabus
(HMRT 3000 / 4 credits / 60 hours)
The United Nations articulated the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. Using that historic moment as a point of departure, this course employs the UN framework as a preliminary lens to examine and understand how basic social and economic rights are contested globally. International safeguards for rights embodied in supranational organizations and national legal systems are discussed. Current human rights conditions, threats, and protections will be examined in each country studied. The meaning of a human rights discourse in the political economy of development, as well as in defining the role of the security state, is foregrounded at each field site. This course is taught by traveling faculty.

Comparative Issues in Human Rights – syllabus
(HMRT 3500 / 4 credits / 60 hours)
Through selected readings, focused discussions, and case studies, this course critically considers an array of current human rights challenges. Among them are the conflicts between national sovereignty and human rights, such as international humanitarian interventions; how universal rights are imbricated with the nuances of culture, ethnicity, and religion; and how national governments affirm and protect human rights in written law, yet simultaneously compromise rights in the realm of politics, economics, media, and social well-being. Human rights questions involving labor conditions, migration, environmental crises, freedom of the media, and the accountability of multinational corporations are explored comparatively within and across program sites. This course is taught by locally based faculty.

The Role of Civil Society: Grassroots Movements and Nongovernmental Organizations – syllabus
(SDIS 3320 / 4 credits / 60 hours)
This course focuses on the practical aspects of advocacy and the protection of human rights by nongovernmental organizations and grassroots, popular movements. Through case studies, interviews, and visits to local organizers of advocacy groups, students learn how popular movements are launched and developed, as well as strategies to navigate legal, political, and public arenas. The course contrasts the role, agendas, and effectiveness of grassroots organizations with those of governmental, private sector, and supranational stakeholders. Students meet with local activists and officials who advocate for various human rights agendas to learn about successful and unsuccessful campaigns and to evaluate the use of inquiries, documentation, public outreach, legal action, and other approaches to protecting rights. This course is taught by locally based faculty.

Fieldwork Ethics and Comparative Research Methods – syllabus
(ANTH 3500 / 4 credits / 60 hours)
This course provides students with the theoretical, conceptual, and practical knowledge for gathering, analyzing, and interpreting information from a range of primary sources. It offers insights for students to assess their own cultural assumptions and to understand other cultures. Students are familiarized with the SIT Human Subjects Review Policy. The course is the foundation for a cumulative study project involving research in three countries and culminating in a paper and presentation at the end of the semester. This course is taught by traveling faculty.

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

Letters Home: Human Rights

February 16, 2015
Letter Home: Human Rights Launch Highlights from New York City
We will have to deal with more intellectual ambiguity, emotional challenges and, sometimes, moral dilemmas, but we feel safe and confident in this supportive and collaborative IHP learning community. Dear friends and family, We had an incredible start to our IHP journey in New York City! Despite the cold and Snowmaggedon—which wasn’t really worth the […]
October 21, 2014
Letter Home from Chile
A Letter Home from students on the IHP Human Rights Fall 2014 program: Dear IHP Family, ¡Hola y mari mari de Chile! We write to you bearing stories of transitional justice in Santiago, volcano-hiking and Mapuche struggles in Temuco and Curarrehue, and flailing our way through ordering empanadas in Spanish … everywhere we go. We started […]
May 7, 2014
Letter Home from Santiago, Chile
A digital letter home from students on the IHP Human Rights: Foundations, Challenges, and Advocacy Spring 2014 program:  

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.

Chris Westcott, MA, Program Director

Chris WestcottChris is an educator and change-maker with extensive experience working with grassroots human rights NGOs and social change–oriented study abroad programs. Chris’s human rights work has focused predominately on the provision of economic, social, and cultural rights. Chris has worked on housing and workers’ rights campaigns with the Urban Justice Center and the Freelancers Union in New York City. Additionally, Chris was a founding staff member of ENGAGE, where he worked in Thailand and the San Francisco Bay area on trade justice campaigns affecting the economic rights of farmers and access to affordable medicines for people living with HIV/AIDS. Chris has worked as a traveling faculty member, then as a program manager with IHP since 2012. Earlier, Chris worked for two years on CIEE Thailand’s study abroad program focusing on globalization and development. Chris has a BA in environmental studies from Bates College and an MA in international educational development from Columbia University. Chris has conducted ethnographic research on the land reform process in post-apartheid South Africa and has done participatory action research on housing rights and educational equity in New York City. Chris currently serves on the solidarity board of Community Voices Heard, a social, economic, and racial justice organization based in New York. 

Lucas ShapiroLucas Shapiro, Launch Coordinator

Lucas Shapiro comes to IHP after years of working as a community organizer for housing rights and racial justice in New York City. Most recently, Lucas served as senior organizer at Families United for Racial and Economy Equality (FUREE), based in downtown Brooklyn. At FUREE, Lucas worked with members to fight for living-wage jobs, affordable housing, access to healthy food, and a seat at the table in shaping local development. After earning a degree in studies in social change from Ithaca College, Lucas moved to New York City to become the national organizer for a progressive youth and student organization and later worked as an organizer with a tenants’ rights nonprofit. Lucas is dedicated to multi-issue movement-building and strengthening member-driven organizations, and he has a keen interest in political strategy, public policy, and popular education. He is currently working to launch Mayday Space in Bushwick — a dynamic center for social justice organizing, community empowerment, and creative expression. He lives in a cooperative house located in Fort Greene and enjoys reading articles, watching films, playing games, going on bike adventures, and visiting friends and family in Spain.

Anna Gail Caunca, MA, Program Manager

Anna Gail 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 program. 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.

Dema Al Oun, Country Coordinator, Jordan

Dema received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in law from Jordan University. She has completed her required legal training and is expecting to take the Jordanian Bar exam shortly. She is qualified in many aspects of both civil and criminal law within Jordan and has completed over 35 training courses in legal issues. These courses dealt with civil and criminal law, and several pertained specifically to the rights of the child or the rights of women. Additionally, she is trained in international treaties and agreements pertaining to related human rights issues. Since 2004, she has volunteered at the National Center for Human Rights in Jordan, and is a member of Talal Abu-Ghazala, a famous law firm in Jordan which trains in civil and criminal law. Her past experience includes two and a half years in a law firm as a legal trainer. She has been the homestay coordinator at SIT since 2008, and was advisor for SIT students studying topics related to women, culture, and youth.

Carmen Luz MoralesCarmen Luz Morales, Country Coordinator, Chile

Carmen Luz (“Lula”) is the country coordinator for the IHP program in Chile and has co-constructed the program in Chile from its inception in 2013. She holds a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Santiago and has been working as a consultant at the Observatorio Ciudadano, a leading human rights organization based in Temuco that hosts the IHP Human Rights program, since 2005. With Observatario, Carmen has conducted historical research on Mapuche communities and has coordinated international seminars and workshops to promote the defense of human rights of indigenous communities in Chile. She also has worked at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington, DC, as a consultant at the Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression. Her investigative work as a historian has focused on oral history, focusing on the history of land dispossession and the vulnerability of fundamental rights afflicting the Mapuche people in Chile. Carmen also brings teaching experience to her role with IHP, having previously taught history courses in Chile and Spanish language and literature courses in France. She currently spends her time between Santiago and Valparaiso with her husband Matías and daughter Eloísa.

Yanik Shrestha, Country Coordinator, Nepal

Yanik ShresthaYanik is the director of Passage International, which facilitates experiential education and global understanding by creating opportunities for students to live and learn abroad. He has been working intermittently with study abroad programs since 2002. He has also assisted in guiding several treks in Nepal and India, for Passage as well as for other trek operators.

A man with eclectic tastes and passion, in 2002 Yanik participated in the No Education: No Freedom, No Opportunity seminar in Germany, organized by GTZ, on “whether education should be liberalized or not.” He was involved in an Antenna Foundation project — a dramatized TV series broadcast on the national TV channel that raised issues on women’s rights and attempted to break taboos through the program. He had the opportunity to work with two of Nepal's most acclaimed comedians Madan Krishna Shrestha and Hari Bansha Acharya during the project. He has been working in radio since 2005, first with Hits FM 91.2, a 24-hour commercial radio station. At present he is associated with Revolution Radio, an online radio station. He is also a part of a hip-hop/slam poetry group, Word Warriors. The group has played a big role in inspiring other young poets to use poetry and music as mediums of expression.

Clelia Rodriguez, Traveling Faculty (Spring 2015)

Clelia Rodriguez

Clelia O. Rodríguez joined SIT after teaching at the University of Toronto; Washington College; and, most recently, the University of Ghana. She received her BA, with specialized honors, in Spanish literature from York University and earned her MA and PhD degrees from the University of Toronto, specializing in contemporary Spanish literature. She also completed the Graduate Collaborative Program in Women and Gender Studies at the Women & Gender Studies Institute, also at the University of Toronto. 

In her doctoral dissertation, she conducted research in Equatorial Guinea in order to examine the narratives of four contemporary Equatorial Guinean writers whose texts are bound together by their attempt to question and re-write the history of their country through fictional discourse. Although her research focused on this Spanish-speaking African country, she possesses international expertise conducting interdisciplinary research and teaching drawing on cultural, gender, transoceanic, memory, trauma, and postcolonial studies (Spain, Mexico, Cuba, the United States, El Salvador, Ghana, and Canada).

The bulk of her teaching and professional development at the undergraduate and graduate levels has centered primarily on ethical questions of justice and human rights in regards to the personal and political agency of marginalized individuals and societies throughout the globe in fictional and non-fictional literary and cultural texts.

Jessica French Smith, Trustees Fellow (Spring 2015)

Jessica French Smith is an alumna of SIT Study Abroad. She graduated from Wesleyan University with a BA in anthropology and Latin American studies. She has worked in direct services with survivors of domestic violence and most recently in foreclosure prevention in New York City. She has also dedicated seven years to coordinating high school and college experiential learning trips in Nicaragua. She will be graduating from the New School for Public Engagement in December 2014 with an MA in international affairs, with a concentration in governance and rights. Her interests include housing rights, LGBTQ issues, right to the city, and growing things.


You 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 an integrated member 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 you’d expect. 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 are 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 23, 2015

Program End Date:    Dec 12, 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 New York City, Nepal, Jordan, and Chile
  • Cost of all lecturers who provide instruction to students in:
    • Locally taught classes
      • Foundations and Frameworks of Human Rights
      • The Role of Civil Society
    • Classes taught by traveling faculty
      • Fieldwork Ethics and Comparative Research Methods
      • Comparative Issues in Human Rights
  • 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 Curerrehue, Chile, 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 Nepal, Jordan, and Chile
  • 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: $150

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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