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Chile: Cultural Identity, Social Justice, and Community Development

Chile: Cultural Identity, Social Justice, and Community Development

Explore Chile's recent political and social history and discover how Chileans are working to reconcile with the past and create a more equitable and culturally inclusive society.

This program examines the political, economic, and social changes that have shaped Chile, including its cultural identity, community fabric, and development. You will experience the social, cultural, and political means by which Chileans today are seeking new ways of representation, communication, and identification.

Major topics of study include:

  • Chile’s "successful" economic model, development, and social inequalities
  • Community responses to Chile's socioeconomic changes
  • The Pinochet regime, human rights violations, and Chilean history 
  • Truth, justice, and reconciliation  
  • Current civil society expressions
  • Challenges facing Chile's indigenous peoples 
The best part of the program is the Independent Study Project (ISP). I loved being able to explore a topic of my choosing in depth. As an economics major, I would have never guessed that I would end up doing an alternative ISP. I spent my month of research compiling a cookbook of Mapuche recipes while learning about indigenous food systems and changes in diets in relationship to globalization, health, culture, and personal narratives. I am so grateful for this experience.

Victoria Perez-Zetune, Gettysburg College

Explore the social, cultural, and political means by which Chileans are seeking new ways of representation, communication, and identification.

community service in ChileIn the last four decades, Chile has experienced fundamental political, economic, and social changes that have greatly impacted the cultural identity, community fabric, and development model of its society. The democratic socialist experience of the early 1970s and a subsequent 17-year dictatorship with its “free” market policies have been followed by an extended transition period to democracy as Chileans struggle to build a more equitable and inclusive nation. 

On this program you will have the opportunity to:

  • Examine the challenges facing Chile's indigenous peoples from the perspectives of indigenous communities
  • Explore links between international images of a successful economic model with the deep social inequalities expressed in class, gender, and racial discrimination
  • Learn firsthand about local community responses to Chile's socio-economic changes
  • Witness the debate between truth and justice and reconciliation, in the context of the human rights violations during the Pinochet regime 
  • Experience a two-week excursion to the Mapuche region of Temuco as well as local excursions in Valparaíso and Santiago

Community Service Project in Valparaíso

During the program, you will engage in a two-day volunteer project with local Valparaíso communities. You will work with an NGO on community-identified projects, such as building a community greenhouse or reclaiming an abandoned neighborhood square and playground for local children. Through these partnerships, you will learn about the unique challenges local communities face as well as the various development strategies being utilized. 

Intensive Spanish language instruction

You can expect to rapidly improve your Spanish on this program. Intensive language instruction in the classroom is enhanced by lectures in Spanish, field activities, excursions, and time with host families.

beaded storefront in Chile

Independent Study Project

You will spend the last four weeks of the program focused on an Independent Study Project (ISP), pursuing original research on a selected topic of interest to you. The ISP is conducted in Valparaíso, Santiago, Temuco, or another approved location appropriate to the project.

Sample topic areas for the ISP include:

  • Memory and political violence
  • Social movements
  • Gender and sexuality
  • Indigenous beliefs and culture
  • Migration and ethnic minorities
  • Youth culture, political parties, and processes
  • Social class and community
  • Youth culture, art, music, and cultural production


Previous college-level coursework in the social sciences, sociology, anthropology, gender, and/or cultural studies. Three recent semesters of college-level Spanish or the equivalent and the ability to follow coursework in Spanish, as assessed by SIT.

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This program combines topical seminars and discussions with field-based learning, around the themes of cultural identity, social justice, and community development. These themes are divided into modules so that students can contextualize the Chilean reality, taking into account historical elements, current realities, and emerging trends.

Theoretical perspectives are provided through academic seminars and are reinforced through the Spanish language classes. Subsequently, academic excursions and community work experiences serve to contextualize theories and provide opportunities for critical reflection around programmatic themes.

The topic of human rights is intertwined with the programmatic themes of social justice and development as part of an expanded concept of social, economic, political, and cultural rights within Chile.

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.

Culture and Society in Contemporary Chile – syllabus
(LACB3000 / 3 credits / 45 class hours)
This course introduces students to societal and cultural changes in Chile by reviewing the military dictatorship and the post-dictatorial political order. Students analyze both old and new forms of subjectivity and sociocultural practice, which have emerged as a consequence of and in response to hegemonic political and economic discourses. Students will analyze cultural values and antagonisms, considering issues of exclusion and marginalization in terms of class, gender, sexuality, youth, and ethnicity. Students also consider the cultural influence and impact of political violence in the production of subjectivity and culture during the dictatorship. All coursework is conducted in Spanish.

Socioeconomic Development in Chile – syllabus
(LACB3005 / 3 credits / 45 class hours)
Chile has undergone a number of drastic and diverse economic and political changes since the military coup of 1973. After the end of dictatorship in 1989, economic growth and political stability in Chile were hailed by the international business community and economic agencies as a model to follow for the rest of Latin America and the world. In this course, students will critically question this process by looking at the impact the Chilean political system and the neoliberal model of economic development have had on the standards of living and quality of life of most Chileans. The course addresses political issues related to human rights violations, the character of the political constitution, labor relations in Chile, and the institutional continuities and discontinuities between dictatorship and democracy. All coursework is conducted in Spanish.

Spanish for Social and Cultural Studies I – syllabus
(SPAN2500 / 3 credits / 45 class hours)
Spanish for Social and Cultural Studies II – syllabus
(SPAN3000 / 3 credits / 45 class hours)
Spanish for Social and Cultural Studies III – syllabus
(SPAN3500 / 3 credits / 45 class hours)
Spanish for Social and Cultural Studies IV – syllabus
(SPAN4000 / 3 credits / 45 class hours)
In this course, students hone their speaking, reading, and writing skills through classroom and field instruction. They practice reading cultural studies literature as they learn the theoretical terms and local expressions needed to discuss socio-cultural issues, to conduct field research, and to interact in settings related to the program themes. Students are placed in small classes based on an in-country evaluation that tests both written and oral proficiency.

Research Methods and Ethics – syllabus
(ANTH3500 / 3 credits / 45 class 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. Through lectures, readings, and field activities, students study and practice basic social science methods. They examine the ethical issues surrounding field research related to the program themes 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 the program themes. All coursework is conducted in Spanish.

Independent Study Project – syllabus
(ISPR3000 / 4 credits / 120 class hours)
Conducted in Valpara¬°so or in another approved location 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 thematic parameters. The project integrates learning from the various components of the program and culminates in a final presentation and formal research paper. Sample topic areas: memory and political violence; social movements; gender and sexuality; indigenous beliefs and culture; migration and ethnic minorities; youth culture, political parties, and processes; social class and community; youth culture, art, music, and cultural production.


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.

ValparaisoThe program's three local, field-based excursions — in Valparaíso and nearby Santiago — give you additional opportunities to learn about Chilean cultural identity, social justice movements, and human rights struggles. Highlights include visits to:

  • Villa Grimaldi in Santiago
  • Chile’s National Congress
  • Valparaiso social organizations
  • Visit to the region rural sites to learn about their reality

Visits to a local fishing village and artisan workshops allow you to experience Chilean culture and Valparaíso's enchanting ambience. Many of these visits are combined with testimony from individuals who shed additional light on these vital aspects of Chile's recent history and current realities. Local excursions are conducted in Spanish in order to strengthen your oral language use and expand your vocabulary.


Temuco: Mapuche region

This excursion focuses on one of Chile's largest indigenous groups and is approximately two weeks long. You will have seminars, site visits, interactive workshops, and group discussions organized by university faculty, development practitioners, government officials, and local community groups. You will consider key cultural, political, and social issues that affect these indigenous peoples.

The Mapuche are not only the largest indigenous people in Chile, they also have a very complex relationship with the Chilean state and the construction of the country’s national identity. The excursion to the southern region of Chile, near the city of Temuco, is a fascinating journey to the origins of Mapuche culture and society. Although the Mapuche successfully resisted foreign conquest for over three centuries, they continue to struggle with the Chilean state for the recovery of their land and their right to self-determination.

During this excursion, you will consider the challenges facing the Mapuche population. You will spend almost two weeks living with a Mapuche family, which will give you the chance to understand current development issues from the Mapuche perspective. You will also travel within the region, from the Pacific coast to the Andean mountains, learning about local cultural and economic survival initiatives such as the Llaguepulli Lafkenche community’s projects and the Intercultural Guacolda School in Chon Chol or the experience of Mapuche in local government in Galvarino.

Topics of study during the excursion include Mapuche cosmovisión, education, alternative development, gender roles, cultural identity, and social movements.

Sandra Rojas, Interim Academic Director

Sandra RojasSandra “Choqui” Rojas holds a licentiate degree in special education from the Universidad Católica de Valparaíso (1989) and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in education with a focus on community-based education. Choqui brings a wealth of experience to the program having worked with SIT for many years. She began working with SIT as a Spanish instructor in 1993 and has been the Spanish program coordinator since 2000, developing innovative language learning approaches. She served as interim academic coordinator twice in past semesters during which time she led the Northern Chile excursion. She has also coordinated the program’s homestay component. 

In addition to her work with SIT, Choqui has taught and oriented foreign students in local Chilean universities and has conducted SIT language teacher trainings in several Latin American countries. Choqui has worked for several years at a local NGO assisting at-risk youth and their families. 

Eduardo Urzua, Academic Coordinator

Eduardo Urzua is a political scientist and political consultant with experience in both Bolivia and Chile. While living in neighboring Bolivia, he hosted a widely viewed television program of interviews with politicians and social activists, and he is now widely known as a political commentator on Chilean radio. He previously served as the academic coordinator of the SIT Chile: Political Systems and Economic development program in Santiago from 2006 to 2014.

Karina Bilbao, Homestay Coordinator

After becoming the proud mother of her first child, Vicente, in August 2009, Karina resumed the position of homestay coordinator, a position she has held since 2008. She has a degree in cultural tourism management from the University of Valparaíso (2006) and worked for several years with foreign students at the same university prior to joining SIT Study Abroad. In addition to her professional skills, Karina draws on her own personal study abroad experience, having lived and studied in Utah for two years. Karina works with each of the students and host families to ensure a rewarding homestay experience.

Pedro Alfaro, Spanish Program Coordinator

A Spanish teacher for the program since 2002, Pedro assumed the role of Spanish program coordinator in the fall of 2009. In this role, he applies his expertise in guiding the program’s staff of talented language teachers, who are all specialists in teaching Spanish as a second language at the university level. A proud native of Valparaíso, Pedro holds licentiate dual degrees in education and Hispanic literature and language from the Universidad Católica de Valparaíso where he currently teaches Spanish as a second language. In 2007, he completed a master’s degree in Hispanic philology from the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas in Madrid where he also conducted research at the Real Academia Española de La Lengua.

Walkiria Jorquera, Community Work Program Coordinator

“Walki” joined the program last semester as the community work program coordinator. She currently works as a social worker with COTRA, a local NGO supporting at-risk families and youth in the Valparaíso area. Since 1993 she has worked professionally and as a community volunteer with a variety of community-based and nonprofit organizations that serve marginalized groups such as low-income women and street children. Walki has also been a longtime human rights activist both in Chile and Sweden where she lived after being exiled for her opposition to the Pinochet dictatorship. She holds a licentiate degree in social work from the Universidad Católica de Valparaíso and has been an ISP advisor to past SIT students.

Juan Antonio Painecura Antinao, Educational Excursion Coordinator (Southern Chile)

Mr. Painecura has coordinated SIT excursions focused on the Mapuche people for the past 16 years. He is a guest lecturer on Mapuche history and philosophy at Chilean universities and is the author of several articles on Mapuche history including “La Historia del Pueblo Mapuche en el Contexto del Modelo Neoliberal” (ARCIS, 2004). A longtime activist on Mapuche community development and culture survival issues, he has conducted indigenous leadership trainings in other Andean countries and is a founding member of CINPRODH, a human rights organization in Temuco. Mr. Painecura is a Mapuche retrafe (silverwork artist) and consultant to the Smithsonian and the Royal London Museum on their Mapuche silverwork art collections. He is the owner of Ruka Kimun, a Mapuche cultural training and indigenous tourism business and holds a degree in design from the Universidad Católica-Temuco.

Faculty and lecturers typically include:

Camila Maturana, Lecturer on Gender Justice

Ms. Maturana holds a law degree from the University of Chile and is a specialist in the areas of human rights for women and gender justice. She currently works for the NGO Humanas, which promotes and defends the human rights of women and gender equality in Chile and throughout Latin America. Ms. Maturana is coordinator of Humanas’ parliamentary monitoring program.

Dr. Mario Garcés Durán, Lecturer on Chile’s Urban Squatters’ Movement

Dr. Garcés is a historian and professor at the University of Santiago, specializing in Chilean popular movements. He is the founder and current director of the NGO Educación y Comunicaciones (ECO). Dr. Garcés is the author of several books including Tomando su sitio. El movimiento de pobladores de Santiago, 1957 – 1970 (2002);  Historia de los derechos humanos en Chile; and  La explosión de las mayorías: Protesta nacional 1983-1984. He holds a doctorate in history from the University of Chile. 

Miriam Olguín Tenorio, Lecturer on Chile’s Urban Squatters’ Movement

Ms. Olguín is currently a professor of Chilean contemporary history at the University of Santiago and co-director of the NGO Educación y Comunicaciones (ECO). ECO works on education and social science research with low-resource communities in Santiago. She holds a master’s degree in development studies from Catholic Université Catholique de Louvain, Belgium and a licentiate degree in history from the University of Chile.

Víctor Toledo Llancaqueo, Lecturer on Indigenous Peoples

Mr. Toledo is a professor of indigenous history at the Universidad ARCIS in Santiago, Chile. Additionally, he is director of the Centro de Políticas Publicas y Derechos Indigenas in Santiago and coordinator of the International Working Group of Indigenous Movements and Democracy in Latin America; coordinator for the Latin American Council of Social Sciences (CLACSO); and a consultant to the United Nations Economic Commission on Latin America for Indigenous Rights. He holds a degree in history from the University of Chile. 

Hugo Gutiérrez, Lecturer on Human Rights

Mr. Gutiérrez holds a law degree from the Universidad de Conception. He is an expert lawyer in human rights, having actively participated in the defense of the families of the "disappeared" prisoners since 1980 and in the legal team that brought the case against Augusto Pinochet for crimes against humanity. He is an adjunct professor of law at the Universidad ARCIS in Santiago. From 1989 to 2000, Mr. Gutiérrez worked for the human rights organization CODEPU. He is a member of the American Association of Jurists. In 2009, he was elected deputy (i.e., representative) to the Chilean Congress representing the Iquique area.

homestay in Chile

You will live for seven weeks with a Chilean host family located in the city of Valparaíso or Viña del Mar. Host families are generally middle class and many are single-parent families (usually headed by a woman) living in safe but relatively modest homes.

You will also spend almost two weeks living with a Mapuche family in the southern region of the country (near Temuco). This rural homestay allows you to compare and contrast your experience in Valparaíso and gain familiarity with the Mapuche way of life. During the homestay, you will participate in a number of activities with your families and explore concepts of indigenous self-determination, healthcare, political participation, and family life.

By living with host families, you will gain important insights into Chilean social relations, improve your language skills, and experience daily life in Chile.

Other accommodations during the program include hostels, private homes, 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:

  • Production Software Engineer, MaxPoint Interactive, Raleigh, North Carolina
  • Program Coordinator, FoodCorps, Washington, DC
  • Project Manager, an electronic health record software company, Madison, Wisconsin

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:   May 15, 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: $15,875

The tuition fee covers the following program components:

  • Cost of all lecturers who provide instruction to students in:
    • History and politics
    • Human rights
    • Economics and development
    • First nations
  • Research Methods and Ethics course and Human Subjects Review
  • Intensive language instruction in Spanish
  • All educational excursions to locations such as Santiago or Temuco, including all related travel costs
  • Independent Study Project (including a stipend for accommodation and food) 
  • Health insurance throughout the entire program period

Room & Board: $4,375

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 (Valparaíso), 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 the Valparaíso area and 13 days with rural indigenous families of Mapuche descent.)
  • 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: $ 75

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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SIT was founded as the School for International Training and has been known as SIT Study Abroad and SIT Graduate Institute since 2007. SIT is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, Inc. (NEASC) through its Commission on Institutions of Higher Education

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