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Madagascar: Urbanization and Rural Development

Madagascar: Urbanization and Rural Development

Study rapid urbanization and rural development efforts in Madagascar and examine the relationship between rural and urban areas.

This program explores development and social change from the perspectives of communities in urban and rural settings across Madagascar. The program’s emphasis on the causes and consequences of rapid urban growth stems from a massive demographic shift that is currently under way. Although about 75% of the population lives in rural areas, within the next ten years it is projected that more than half of the population will be living in urban centers. Throughout the semester you will engage with contemporary and historical issues related to community development.

Major topics of study include:

  • Madagascar’s demographics, urban and rural migrations, and ongoing rural to urban shift
  • Culture, economy, government, and politics in a postcolonial context
  • Subsistence farming and land rights in rural areas
  • Food and human security, social mobility and exclusion, and community organization
  • Infrastructural challenges: water, electricity, roads, housing
  • Cultural identity, ethnicity, gender, and social change
  • Geography, environment, and natural resources

The Madagascar: Urbanization and Rural Development program combines classroom learning with field-based study in Antananarivo and beyond.

sailboat in MadagascarExplore Antananarivo (program base).

The program is based in Antananarivo, commonly referred to as Tana, where you will spend about one month in the longest of three homestays. Tana has a distinct character and, as the country’s capital, is at the center of Madagascar’s cultural, economic, and political life. The city reflects a fascinating mix of Malagasy and foreign influences, evident in its layout, architecture, economy, attitudes, and atmosphere. Most national and international organizations with operations in Madagascar are headquartered in Tana. Since its inception in 1992, this program has benefitted from a close partnership with faculty from the University of Antananarivo. Tana's central role as a  capital city makes it an excellent base from which to explore the program's major themes.

As the largest city in Madagascar, Tana attracts rural migrants from throughout the countryside; the city is the main destination for migrants from rural villages and towns across Madagascar. Although the city is considered part of the ancestral homeland of the Merina people, its population is composed of people from all parts of the country, and all of Madagascar's ethnic groups are represented in Tana.

Improve your French language skills in a new context.

You will use academic French throughout the program's coursework and apply your French while in Tana and other larger cities. The program's immersive French language course focuses primarily on conversation in the Malagasy context with some emphasis on writing skills. In addition, the course explores texts in French to interrogate the postcolonial politics of Malagachization, bilingualism, and the role of French language in the integration of Malagasy society into the international francophone community.

You will be divided into at least three groups based on ability level. Efforts are made to meet the specific needs of each student. You will have the opportunity to practice your language skills both in and outside the classroom, including during homestays, lectures, and field visits.

Note: It is assumed that students enter the program with at least a low intermediate level in French; basic instruction at the novice or beginning level is not part of the curriculum.

Student doing her research project in MadagascarLearn Malagasy.

French is less commonly spoken in Madagascar’s rural areas. The program’s Malagasy language course will help you better communicate during village stays and excursions to rural areas and/or smaller urban centers. You will learn everyday Malagasy with an emphasis on Official Malagasy, the dialect most commonly spoken in Antananarivo. Some instruction in key words and phrases from other dialects is provided as the program moves to other regions of the country. Learning even basic Malagasy will help you make inroads into the culture and make friends and contacts.

Linguists classify Malagasy among the Malayo-Polynesian subgroup of the Austronesian language family. The numerous Malagasy dialects are closely related, and all are considered to be variants of a single language.

Independent Study Project

In the final month of the program, you will complete an Independent Study Project (ISP), a field-based academic study of a topic related to Malagasy culture, society, and economic development. You will work with an ISP advisor selected from among the outstanding array of researchers and professionals affiliated with the program. The ISP will be conducted in an approved region of Madagascar appropriate to your project.

Sample topics for the ISP include:

  • Human security in Antananarivo
  • Family planning at the community level
  • Sanitation and citizen empowerment
  • Role of traditional leaders in governance
  • Aquaculture and sustainable rural development
  • Prenatal healthcare in rural areas
  • Gendered perspectives on rural to urban migration
  • Malaria prevention and treatment
  • Language of instruction in primary and secondary education
  • Local radio as a means of communication
  • Ethnicity and political participation


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

Access virtual library guide.

The Urbanization and Rural Development seminar focuses on a constellation of issues linking urban and rural communities. Classroom and field-based sessions allow students to explore the program theme from a range of local perspectives as the program moves from one setting to another over the course of the semester. An academic emphasis is on the importance of community groups, with the following thematic areas for exploration: 1) culture and identity; 2) social and economic development; 3) governance and politics; and 4) environment and natural resources. Specific issues within these thematic groupings include rural migrations, rapid urban growth and its relationship to rural development, ethnic and cultural differences, history, politics, education, public health, ecological impacts, and the challenges of adequate infrastructure in urban and rural areas.

University professors and experts in relevant fields teach the course in collaboration with the academic director. As part of the seminar, the program visits urban centers and rural villages. Field-based activities include visits to historical and cultural sites, agricultural and industrial centers, transportation and shipping hubs, national parks, development projects, schools, hospitals, and government offices.

Classroom and field-based sessions are conducted primarily in academic French. In situations where a guest speaker or host for a site visit feels more comfortable speaking in Malagasy, translation is provided as necessary. Regular discussion sessions are conducted primarily in English in order to help ensure that students have a firm grasp of the material covered.

The Research Methods and Ethics course, conducted in English, focuses on research techniques and cross-cultural adjustment skills and is intended to prepare students for the Independent Study Project. Course readings and classroom sessions are supplemented by a short, independent field research project undertaken in a rural village. 

The French language course builds students' capacity through its focus on conversational French and its examination of francophone cultural and literary production in Madagascar as it relates to the program theme. Coursework in Malagasy provides students with the foundational and essential tools required for daily communication.

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.

Community Development Seminar: Urban and Rural Perspectives – syllabus
(DVST3000 / 4 credits / 60 class hours)
An interdisciplinary course conducted primarily in French with required readings in English and French focusing on community work — in urban and rural areas — to explore strategies of adaptability and resilience in Madagascar and the ways in which urban and rural communities are mutually dependent. Classroom lectures, readings, seminar discussions, critical reflection sessions, and field-based activities are designed to be complimentary and, taken together, constitute an experiential approach to learning. Sample classroom lectures include Social Geography of Madagascar, Sustained Local Development, and Malagasy Culture & Global Influences. Examples of field-based activities include visits to outdoor markets, schools, hospitals, government offices, local NGOs, a women’s weaving cooperative, a microfinance institution, farms, a commercial port, new housing developments, and national parks.

Malagasy – syllabus
(MALA1000 / 3 credits / 45 class hours)
Emphasis on beginning speaking and comprehension skills through classroom and field-based instruction. Formal instruction is augmented by language practice with host families during homestays.

French in the Malagasy Context – syllabus
(FREN2000-2500 / 3 credits / 45 class hours)
French in the Malagasy Context – syllabus
(FREN3000-3500 / 3 credits / 45 class hours)
This language course focuses on the rich Malagasy cultural and literary production in French. By studying postcolonial texts, students learn about the postcolonial politics of Malagachization, bilingualism, and the role of French language in the integration of Malagasy society into the international francophone community. In support of these objectives, course content provides additional focus on the fundamentals of spoken and written French to increase student capacity. Based on in-country evaluation, including oral proficiency testing, students are placed in the appropriate level, with additional language practice in homestays and on field visits.

Research Methods and Ethics – syllabus
(ANTH3500 /3 credits / 45 class hours)
Conducted primarily in English, this is a course in the concepts of learning across cultures and from field experience, including an introduction to the Independent Study Project. The focus includes cross-cultural adaptation and skills building; topic selection and refinement; appropriate methodologies; field study ethics and the World Learning/SIT Human Subjects Review Policy; identifying contacts and resources; developing skills in observation and interviewing; gathering, organizing, and communicating data; and maintaining a field journal.

Independent Study Project – syllabus
(ISPR3000 /4 credits / 120 class hours)
Conducted in any region of Madagascar based on program approval. Sample topic areas: role of fady (taboo) in Malagasy life; urban-rural inequalities; role of ombiasy (traditional healers); push factors in rural out-migration; family planning at the community level; roles of women in society; uses of medicinal plants; ethnic dimensions of rural to urban migration; traditional weaving techniques; prenatal healthcare in rural areas; malaria prevention and treatment; language teaching in primary and secondary education; local radio as a means of rural communication; HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention.

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.

Eastern Excursion

This excursion lasts for total of six nights and allows you to begin exploring geographic, cultural, and economic realities in a range of urban and rural settings outside the capital city of Antananarivo.

Madagascar marketMoramanga

A crossroads for transport by road and a market town, Moramanga offers you the opportunity to explore a smaller urban environment (a population of 42,300 in 2010). The town also figures prominently in Madagascar’s struggle for independence from French colonial rule. The program visits a tomb known as Fasan’ny Mahery Fo, located a few kilometers outside of town. The site includes a mass grave and national monument dedicated to the Malagasy who lost their lives on March 29, 1947. While in town, you will meet with local officials and visit a history museum at the Ecole Nationale de la Gendarmerie.

You will spend two nights in the town of Moramanga.

Tamatave (Taomasina)

As Madagascar’s principal port, Tamatave plays a vital role as a commercial hub and link to international markets. A regional capital, the town also serves as an administrative center for the eastern part of the country. Given its position on the Indian Ocean and the relative ease of access from Antananarivo, the town and its surroundings attract significant numbers of domestic and international tourists.

You will spend three nights in Tamatave. Scheduled program activities include lectures and field-based activities related to local history, culture, economy, and administrative structures.


Andasibe National Park, part of a montane rainforest ecosystem, is one of Madagascar’s most accessible and popular natural areas. Home to numerous species of endemic flora and fauna, the park offers you opportunities to experience some of the island’s rich biodiversity and to consider the needs and lifestyles of the local population in relation to the environment as well as questions of natural resource management and eco-tourism as they relate to rural livelihoods.

You will spend one night in the small town of Andasibe, which is located on the perimeter of the park.

Western Excursion

On the way from Tana to Majunga, you will visit the towns of Maevatanana and Marovoay and  spend a night at Ankarafantsika National Park.

Woman in a Madagascar marketMaevatanana and Marovoay

You will visit the market towns of Maevatanana, located in the Betsiboka region, and Marovoay, located in the Boeny region. In each place, you will gain insight into a highly productive agricultural zone through site visits in each town and the surrounding rural areas.


The visit to Ankarafantsika, a dry deciduous forest, includes two nights of camping at the park entrance. Located along the road to Mahajanga, the visit allows you to continue exploring the themes introduced during the Andasibe visit, but in a completely different ecosystem.

During the visit, you will take part in a half-day guided hike in the forest, followed by a guided night walk. In addition, the visit includes sessions with park management officials and a stop at a local weaving cooperative that was started with seed money derived from park entrance fees. The local partner for both of these visits is Madagascar National Parks, a national association devoted to the management of the country's parks and protected areas. Additionally, you will visit the small town of Andranofasika, located on the periphery of the park, in order to learn more about the relationship between local populations, access to natural resources and conservation.

Central Highlands Excursion

This excursion takes place in the Vakinankaratra region of the central highlands. The excursion begins with three nights in the regional capital of Antsirabe and continues with a six-night homestay in the vicinity of the town of Betafo.


A former colonial capital, Antsirabe remains the administrative and commercial center of the Vakinankaratra region and is noted for its hot springs and thermal baths. The city and surrounding area have a population of at least 200,000. Most of the inhabitants are either Merina or Betsileo, but people from all parts of the country can be found here. While in the Antsirabe area, you will visit a number of locations, including a factory and a microfinance institution.


The town of Betafo is about 20 kilometers to the west of Antsirabe. It is situated in a region of inactive volcanoes; the volcanic soil helps to make the Betafo area rich in terms of agricultural production. The area has a relatively high population density and the size of the local population is increasing rapidly, which is also bringing about social change and economic growth.

The rural homestay near Betafo allows you to participate in daily life in a peri-urban/rural area by living with a host family; to gain an understanding of local social structures, livelihoods, and access to resources; to explore issues related to farming and rural development; and to decide whether or not you are interested in conducting your ISP in a rural area.

The SIT faculty and staff based in Antananarivo went above and beyond in helping me when I needed it, even in areas that were not academic.

Program alum

Bo PritchettRoland Pritchett, Academic Director

Roland Pritchett received his BA in French and anthropology as well as his MA in French literature from the University of Kansas (KU). As an undergraduate, he participated in an academic year exchange program at the University of Franche-Comté in Besançon. Later, a one-year KU graduate direct exchange scholarship allowed him to pursue an interest in sociolinguistics and identity politics at the University of Strasbourg. From 1993 to 1997 Roland served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Madagascar where he worked in two locations on projects related to education and community development. In 1997, after his Peace Corps service, Roland returned to Kansas to become the senior program coordinator at KU’s Office of Study Abroad. His responsibilities there included coordination of study abroad programs in the Mediterranean region, the Middle East, and Africa. He has directed programs for SIT Madagascar since January 2005.

Hanta Raonivololona, Program Assistant and Language Coordinator

Mrs. Raonivololona has served as program assistant with SIT Madagascar since 1994. Her primary responsibilities include general program coordination as well as language coordination and teaching. She holds a license in mathematics, and in 2010 she completed her maîtrise in sociology at the University of Antananarivo. Her academic interests include the sociology of religion in Madagascar. In addition to Malagasy, her mother tongue, she is fluent in French and proficient in English.

Rivo Rajaonah, Administrative Assistant

Mr. Rajaonah has worked with SIT Madagascar since 2000. His primary responsibilities involve program logistics and communication. In addition to Malagasy, his mother tongue, he is fluent in French and has a working knowledge of English.

Professor Rafolo Andrianaivoarivony, PhD

Mr. Rafolo Andrianaivoarivony obtained his doctorate in archaeology, ethnology, and prehistory in April 1989 at the University of Paris 1 Pantheon-Sorbonne. The title of his thesis was “Archaeology of Lohavohitra – Vonizongo Madagascar – Cultural Heritage.” His area of specialization is African archaeology. Currently he is the director of the Center for Art and Archaeology at the University of Antananarivo. He is also a professor in the Department of English Language and Literature at the Faculty of Letters and Humanities of this same university. He was elected to serve as representative of Madagascar on the World Heritage Committee in Paris from 2006 until 2009. In 2009 he received the title HDR (authorization to supervise dissertations). He is a master’s thesis, postgraduate certificate, and doctoral dissertation advisor. In December 2011 he participated in the international colloquium at the National Institute of Oriental Languages and Civilizations in Paris. He presented a paper on “New Archaeological Discoveries in the Southwest Indian Ocean.” In 1997 he spent three-and-a-half months at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands in order to conduct research on historical anthropology. The focus of this research was on “Religious Legitimization of Power – the Queen’s Palace of Antananarivo.” His career at the University of Antananarivo started in 1982 when he began giving lectures on the archaeology and ancient history of Madagascar. He has now served the University of Antananarivo for 30 years. He published an article titled, “Mixed Cultures of Madagascar between 600–1492” in chapter 5 of the History of Humanity, UNESCO, 2000. He has worked as a lecturer and ISP advisor with the SIT Study Abroad in Madagascar since 1992.

Professor Bernardin Victor Rabarijaona, PhD

Mr. Rabarijaona obtained his doctorate in anthropology in 1995 at the National Institute of Oriental Languages and Civilizations in Paris. The title of his dissertation was “The Malagasy through Their Literature of the Sea,” and it focused on oral literature with an orientation toward the anthropology of the Vezo (customs, gestures, and dances related to fishing). He is currently an associate professor in the Department of Malagasy Language and Literature in the Faculty of Letters and Humanities at the University of Antananarivo. He is in charge of cultural mediation related to francophonie within the school. He also teaches the Malagasy language to foreigners. In 1982 he began his career at the University of Antananarivo as a teaching assistant in charge of tutorials. In 1984 he became assistant research fellow at the same school. He has served the University of Antananarivo for 30 years. He is a master’s thesis and postgraduate certificate advisor. He has worked as a lecturer and ISP advisor with SIT Study Abroad in Madagascar since 1992.

Professor Bakoly Rakouth, PhD

Ms. Bakoly Rakouth obtained her PhD in botany in 1980 at the University of Massachusetts. The title of her dissertation is “Systematics of the Saxifragaceae from Madagascar and the Mascareigne Islands.” Currently, she is vice dean and professor in the Department of Botany, Biology, and Vegetable Ecology in the University of Antananarivo’s Faculty of Sciences. She was chair of the department from 1998 until 2009 when she received the title HDR (authorization to supervise dissertations). She conducted postdoctoral studies in 1994 at the University of Hawai‘i, Maui. In 1980 she began her career at the University of Antananarivo as associate professor at the Faculty of Sciences. She has served at the university for 32 years, during which time she has advised 80 students on their master’s theses or postgraduate certificates. She has attended international conferences on forestry and the conservation of plants in Africa (Kenya, Malawi, Morocco, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe), in Latin America (Peru), in Asia (Thailand and Japan), and in Europe (France, Finland, Poland, and Switzerland). She has worked as a lecturer and ISP advisor with SIT Study Abroad in Madagascar since 1992.

Professor Reine Razafimahefa, PhD

Ms. Razafimahefa obtained her doctorate in geomorphology in September 2010 at the University of Antananarivo in partnership with the University of Lyon III, France. The title of her dissertation was “The Superficial Formations of the Antsirabe Basin. Nature and Geomorphic Evolution.” Her specialization is in the areas of physical geography, population geography, and hydrology. She is currently an associate professor in the Department of Geography at the University of Antananarivo’s Faculty of Letters and Humanities, where she teaches courses to fourth- and fifth-year university students. She also advises students at the master’s and postgraduate certificate levels. In 1982 as a technical assistant she led student tutorials. In 1987 she became a teaching assistant at the university and began giving lectures and leading tutorials with first- and second-year students. She has served at the University of Antananarivo for 30 years. She has worked as a lecturer and ISP advisor with SIT Study Abroad in Madagascar since 2005.

AntananarivoThe program has three different homestays: four weeks in Tana, the country’s capital; two weeks in Mahajanga, a medium-sized port town; and one week in a rural village in the vicinity of Betafo in the Vakinankaratra region.

This diversity of homestays offers you a rich variety of perspectives on — and vantage points within — Madagascar. Living in both urban and rural settings allows you to develop an understanding of a range of interrelated themes specific to urbanization and rural development in Madagascar. In each location, you will experience the ways in which the extended family is a cornerstone of Malagasy society.

The program’s homestay families also serve as important program partners; these contacts increase students’ access to experiences and opportunities within each community.

Antananarivo (Tana)

The program's first and longest homestay is in Tana, the capital city and program base. Host families range from lower middle-class to upper-income households and from newly established to multi-generation families. You will have the opportunity to speak French on a regular basis with your Tana host families and will also be encouraged to practice your Malagasy.

As the largest city in Madagascar, Tana hosts a range of activities and cultural offerings, including music, dance, theater, and sporting events. Tana is home to many associations and social clubs devoted to specific interests.

You will live with a Tana host family for the duration of your stay in the capital.

MajungaMahajanga (Majunga)

You will live for two weeks with families in the port town of Mahajanga, on the country's northwestern coast. Living conditions in Mahajanga are normally more modest when compared with standards in Tana. Due to the hot climate, schools, offices, and most businesses often take a lengthy break during the middle of the day. Unlike people in the highlands, those of Mahajanga tend to be much more active during the cooler evening hours. You will have the opportunity to speak French on a regular basis and also are encouraged to practice your Malagasy.

A local association — Malagasy Mahomby — serves as the program's partner and helps coordinate homestays and other program-related activities in Mahajanga. Malagasy Mahomby focuses on community development and education projects.

Rural homestayAntsirabe/Betafo

You will have a rural homestay lasting six nights near the market town of Betafo, located in the Vakinankaratra region. Antsirabe, the regional capital, serves as the program base for this portion of the program. The program’s local partner in Betafo is a private school attended by most of the children from the program’s host families. This homestay offers you an indispensable opportunity to learn about everyday life within a rural Malagasy community. Conditions in the rural homestay are very basic; homes do not have running water, electricity, or telephones. As minimal French is spoken in the area, the rural stay is an excellent opportunity for you to practice your Malagasy language skills.

Many students find it to be one of the most challenging and rewarding portions of the semester.

Other accommodations during the program may include hostels, private homes, educational institutions, or small hotels.

Program Dates: Spring 2016

Program Start Date:  Jan 28, 2016

Program End Date:    May 11, 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:   Nov 1, 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: $15,310

The tuition fee covers the following program components:

  • Cost of all lecturers who provide instruction to students in:
    • Urbanization and rural development
    • History, economics, and politics
    • Sustainable development and social change
  • Research Methods and Ethics, including the Human Subjects Review process
  • Intensive language instruction in French
  • Intensive language instruction in Malagasy
  • All educational excursions to locations such as eastern and northwestern Madagascar, including the Antsirabe/Betafo areas, Andasibe and Ankarafantsika National Parks, and Tamatave, including all related travel costs
  • Independent Study Project (including a stipend for accommodation and food)
  • Health insurance throughout the entire program period

Room & Board:$2,240

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 (Antananarivo), on all excursions, during the Independent Study Project, and during the final evaluation period. Accommodation is covered either by SIT Study Abroad directly or through a stipend provided to each student, or through the homestay.
  • All homestays (four weeks in Antananarivo, two weeks in Mahajanga, one week in a rural area)
  • All meals for the entire program period. Meals are covered either by SIT Study Abroad directly or 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: $ 60

Immunizations: Varies

Books & Supplies: $175

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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