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Nepal: Development and Social Change

Nepal: Development and Social Change

Witness the challenges Nepal faces as it works to balance tradition and progress and negotiate economic, political, and social change during a dynamic period in its history.

This program examines the multidimensional ways in which development is reshaping a traditionally rural society into one that is rapidly becoming globally connected and modern. Through both classroom and field activities, students investigate the social, political, cultural, environmental, and economic forces that are reshaping rural and urban communities. Study how international development, political conflict, an emerging civil society, and global markets are all working to redefine Nepal in the twenty-first century.

Major topics of study include:

  • Economic development, the emerging middle class, and labor migration
  • Climate change and environmental concerns in the Himalayas
  • Development theory and defining development in Nepal
  • Redefining development, social capital, and civil society
  • Ethnicity, nationhood, and social and political change
  • Causes and conditions for change and conflict
  • Caste, class, gender, and religion in Nepal 

Experience how global, regional, and local forces are interacting dynamically to shape and reshape Nepal today.


By engaging with an outstanding array of academic and community experts, students experience how global, regional, and local forces are interacting dynamically to shape and reshape Nepal today. The Nepal: Development and Social Change program examines the myriad factors — including historical, religious, economic, and political forces — that have impacted, and continue to affect, the diverse country of Nepal.

Lectures and discussions on this program, provided both in Nepal and on excursion, incorporate the following topics:

  • Introductions to Nepal and development: Locating Nepal in the region (and Kathmandu’s place in Nepal); Hinduism and Buddhism; causes and conditions for change and conflict; introduction to international development
  • Diversity and history: Caste and ethnicity in Nepal; early history of the Kingdom; economic forces in the Himalayas; defining development
  • Ethnicity, nationhood, and social and political change: Ethnicity and nationalism; political history of Nepal; social change in conflict areas
  • Development and social issues: Gender issues in development; women’s legal challenges in Nepal; in search of agency
  • Development redefined: Social entrepreneurship; social capital and civil society; development and freedom
  • Governance, opportunities, and challenges: “Fixing” development in Nepal; development in the twenty-first century; bridging the nonprofit and business sectors; under the governance umbrella

Learn from influential experts in the development arena.

The program takes full advantage of the countless academic resources located in the Kathmandu Valley, including visiting scholars, a plethora of NGO and INGO headquarters, bilateral and multilateral donors (such as USAID, DfID, GTZ, and the World Bank), and a wealth of important, world-famous cultural heritage sites.

Students have direct exposure to some of the most inspired and important Nepali scholars and practitioners in the development arena, such as activists for ethnic rights, women's issues, education reform, press freedom and responsibility, and urban renovation.

Explore the Kathmandu Valley (program base).

The program is based in the colorful and dynamic Kathmandu Valley. The SIT program house is conveniently located in Naxal, right in the center of Kathmandu, and provides a safe and quiet haven for students in the midst of busy urban activity.

Famous for its architecture and Newari culture, the Kathmandu Valley contains seven monuments listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites. These include the ancient city of Bhaktapur, Kathmandu Durbar Square, the famous Buddhist stupas of Swayambhu and Boudha, the Hindu temple complex Pashupatinath, and Patan city. The program incorporates numerous excursions to many of these important locations within the Valley.

Nepali language classDevelop competency in Nepali.

Students develop speaking, reading, and writing skills in Nepali in small classes taught by some of the best Peace Corps–trained teachers in the country. The homestay further supports language acquisition, and students quickly develop competency in spoken Nepali.

Before the ISP period, most students gain enough fluency in Nepali to test at Intermediate Mid on the ACTFL, and every semester there are a few who reach Advanced levels. All students typically develop a level of fluency that allows fieldwork without need of translators. Many alumni of the program have used their Nepali language skills in support of winning Fulbright fellowships and securing professional positions in Nepal after graduation.

Learn appropriate methodologies to undertake fieldwork.

The Field Methods and Ethics seminar focuses on the concepts of learning across cultures and from field experience. Material includes:

  • Cross-cultural adaptation and skills building
  • Appropriate methodologies
  • Field study ethics and the World Learning/SIT Human Subjects Review Policy
  • Developing contacts and finding resources
  • Developing skills in observation and interviewing
  • Gathering, organizing, and communicating data
  • Maintaining a work journal
  • Twentieth-century ethnography

KathmanduEnjoy unique learning opportunities.

As part of the program’s thematic seminar, students have worked with traditional stone carvers in their Patan workshop and enjoyed tours of the Bahals of the ancient city near Kathmandu’s Durbar Square. Students can expect to interact with scholars at the forefront of development studies.

Experience Nepal's tremendous diversity on excursion.

Though rich in academic resources and the nerve-center for international development interventions, the program base in Kathmandu is just one part of Nepalese culture in the Himalaya, making excursions outside the valley indispensable in recognizing the social, economic, and developmental differences among Nepali people in the region. Excursions outside the Kathmandu Valley expose students to Nepal’s remarkable biological, geological, cultural, linguistic, social, and religious diversity.

Independent Study Project

Students spend four weeks working on an Independent Study Project (ISP), pursing original research on a selected topic of interest to them. The ISP is conducted in Kathmandu or, conditions permitting and with program approval, in other parts of Nepal. A large number of students have gone on to use their ISPs as the basis for further research under Fulbright fellowships in Nepal or in securing professional positions with INGOs, the State Department, and the United Nations.

Sample topic areas for the ISP include:

  • Rural development and aid
  • Community forestry
  • The emergence of a middle-class society
  • Remittance economies and development
  • Women’s health challenges and roles in development
  • Human rights in post-conflict situations
  • Preservation of world heritage sites
  • Changing food geographies and agricultural practices
  • Emerging dating and marriage patterns in urban Newari youth

Access virtual library guide.

This interdisciplinary program balances an overview of Nepal's history, religions, environments, and diversity, with an analysis of some of the most pressing contemporary issues in development and social change. Students will be exposed to different environments and viewpoints and develop their own questions about Nepal’s development and interaction with international agencies, its diverse regions and ethnic identities, and its place in South Asia and the world.

Through the Field Methods and Ethics course, students learn appropriate field methodology and gain practical experience working in the field, ultimately leading toward their Independent Study Project (ISP).

Students are also well prepared for their ISP through an excellent and intensive language course. With highly experienced teachers on hand, students typically reach intermediate (and sometimes advanced) levels in their Nepali language and are not only able to negotiate everyday needs, but can also conduct most of their fieldwork in Nepali.

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.

Development and Social Change Seminar – syllabus
(ASIA3000 / 3 credits / 45 class hours)
An interdisciplinary course conducted in English with required readings and relevant educational excursions. The seminar examines historical and contemporary Nepal, and the social, political, cultural, environmental, and economic forces — both internal and global — that have shaped and continue to define the country. Lecturers are drawn from academic institutions such as Tribhuvan University and the Fulbright Commission, as well as from nongovernmental organizations such as Ashoka and other international and local development agencies working in Nepal.

Nepali – syllabus coming soon
(NEPA1500 / 6 credits / 90 class hours)
This course helps students develop a working fluency in Nepali language with an emphasis on speaking and comprehension skills through classroom and field instruction, combined with practice in reading and writing the Devanagari script. Classes are taught two and one-half hours daily. Instructors are native speakers who have received training in language instruction from SIT and the Peace Corps. Instruction includes a variety of interactive, communication-based language teaching techniques that incorporate cultural information into language learning.

Field Methods and Ethics – syllabus coming soon
(ANTH3500 /3 credits / 45 class hours)
A course in the concepts of learning across cultures and from field experience and an introduction to the Independent Study Project. Material includes cross-cultural adaptation and skills building; project selection and refinement; appropriate methodologies; field study ethics and the World Learning/SIT Human Subjects Review Policy; developing contacts and finding resources; developing skills in observation and interviewing; gathering, organizing, and communicating data; and maintaining a work journal.

Independent Study Project – syllabus coming soon
(ISPR3000 /4 credits / 120 class hours)
Conducted in Kathmandu or, conditions permitting and with program approval, in other parts of Nepal, the Independent Study Project is an opportunity for students to conduct firsthand meaningful, and original research. Sample topic areas: ecotourism and its effect on wildlife management; geographies of development; preservation of temple architecture and heritage sites; non-timber forest products and ethnobotany; herbal trade; community forestry; migration and population issues; ethnic politics; rural development and aid; women’s health challenges.

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.

TeraiTime outside the Kathmandu Valley is a major component of the program. Students take advantage of this through two excursions during the semester, one to the middle hills or Terai and another to the Himalayas. Nepal is a country containing part of the Gangetic Plains in the south and the highest point on earth (Mt. Everest) in the north, all within a distance of 120 kilometers. The tremendous biological, geological, cultural, linguistic, social, and religious diversity of the country can only be understood by visiting these different areas. Excursions allow students to better contextualize topics discussed during the seminar by experiencing for themselves the lived experiences of local populations and the on-the-ground realities of development.

Language learning and practical use are emphasized on all excursions, and SIT Nepal’s experienced language staff accompanies students on all major trips. Classes are held daily and can often be very intensive. A field-based approach to learning, focusing on developing interdisciplinary field research skills, is stressed as preparation for the Independent Study Project.

Excursions vary from semester to semester but may include visiting some of the following locations:

The village of Sauraha, in the buffer zone of the Chitwan National Park (spring semesters)

Through directed fieldwork around the village of Sauraha, in the Chitwan district of the Terai, students visit numerous NGOs, community-based organizations, tourist operations, indigenous villages, community forests, business entrepreneurs, and the Chitwan National Park Headquarters. Students gain a heightened understanding of the trends of adaptation, growth, and balance around the park. Before returning to Kathmandu, students experience one of the world’s premier national parks on an elephant safari, searching out the endangered Asian one-horned rhino, many species of deer, monkeys, wild elephants, birds, and if they are very lucky, leopards and tigers.

The middle hills, Palpa (fall semesters)

Between the high Himalayas and the jungle flood plains is the middle hills region of Nepal, but only in Nepal would these mountains be called “hills.” Often seen as the traditional bedrock of Nepali culture, the middle hills contain incredible natural and cultural diversity. Students visit traditional towns that are still in the process of changing from way stations along the old Himalayan trade routes into modern administrative centers. Amidst terraced fields, students investigate the dynamics of tradition and modernity and see firsthand the results of development interventions and changing social relations. Through directed fieldwork around the town of Tansen and village of Madanpokhara, in the Palpa district in the middle hills, students visit community forestry user groups, a community radio station, Dhaka cloth factories, mother’s groups, and coffee grower cooperatives, among other locations.

A Nepali rural village

During an excursion to a Himalayan village, usually in the Annapurna or Everest regions, students have the opportunity to observe firsthand the effects of tourism, development, and modernization on fragile mountain communities. Students examine the unique development challenges that gravity defines for Nepal. The village varies from semester to semester but the parameters of the fieldwork focus on similar issues: ecotourism, sustainability of development efforts in mountain areas, local culture and religion, and economic links.

HimalayasTrekking in the Himalayas

Part of the village excursion, students trek from two to four days in some of the most majestic and beautiful areas in the world. Sometimes going as high as 13,000 feet, students experience Himalayan culture and its beautiful and dramatic manifestations. Most trekking in Nepal follows ancient trade routes from village to village and though most trekking involves short days on the trail, Nepal is a mountainous country and some days can involve steep uphill climbs.  

Dan PutnamDan Putnam, Academic Director

Dan Putnam is a PhD candidate in geography (with a graduate minor in development studies and social change) and a fellow at the MacArthur Interdisciplinary Center for the Study of Global Change at the University of Minnesota. He received his BA in environmental studies and psychology from the University of California, Santa Cruz and an MA in international development and social change from Clark University. Dan’s research interests concern relations of power (including core-periphery, class-caste, and global-local), how these relations are spatially oriented, and how those who are disadvantaged exercise agency within the development context. His dissertation research, as a Fulbright-Hays Fellow, focuses on the scales of neoliberalization, the ways neoliberal development travels to Nepal and takes hold locally, and how these transnational aid flows are reconfiguring state institutional structures in Nepal.

Dan first came to Nepal as a Peace Corps Volunteer in 2000 where he worked with twenty-five village development committees in Palpa District as part of a NARMSAP soil conservation and watershed management project. His master’s research in Nepal focused on the ways in which development organizations were responding to the Maoist “Peoples’ War” and the ways in which conflict shapes development programming. As a Fulbright Scholar in Nepal in 2004–2005, he researched how participatory practices affect and shape local decision making of community forestry user groups. In addition to extensive research experience in Nepal, Dan also has worked for years in experiential education as an education coordinator for Hurricane Island Outward Bound School’s Florida programs.

Anir ChitrakarAnil Chitrakar, Senior Teaching Faculty

Anil Chitrakar received one of the first Ashoka fellowships in Nepal in 1987 for his founding of and subsequent work with Environmental Camps for Conservation Awareness (ECCA). He has spent the past two decades working as a conservationist, environmental leader, and senior Ashoka fellow in Nepal. An engineer by training, Anil pursued graduate work in energy planning at the University of Pennsylvania and then joined the Kathmandu municipality for several years before heading to Washington, DC, to work as a senior fellow in residence. His projects and organizations have received numerous awards and grants, and he is presently working to scale his work on a solar lighting system for rural villages in Nepal. Anil has been teaching and working with SIT students in Nepal for many years and occasionally travels with the program on excursion.

Ram B. Chhetri, Senior Teaching Faculty

Dr. Chhetri is a professor and former head of Central Department of Sociology/Anthropology at Tribhuvan University. He has been a Fulbright Visiting Scholar at the University of Georgia and a visiting faculty at the University of Bergen, Norway, and the Institute of Social Studies, The Hague. Ramji has an extensive national and international publication record of books, articles, and reports on a range of topics in community forestry, knowledge systems, social mobilization, livelihood strategies, gender inclusion, and development. Ram holds his PhD from the University of Hawai'i.

Other Faculty:

Krishna Bhattachan, PhD

Dr. Krishna Bhattachan has a PhD in sociology from the University of California, Berkeley, and is a professor of sociology and anthropology at Tribhuvan University. Dr. Bhattachan is an expert on issues related to Nepal's indigenous people. Dr. Bhattachan currently serves as a panel expert for the Centre for Constitutional Dialogue (CCD).

Mukta S. Tamang, PhD

Mukta S. Tamang has a PhD from Cornell University. His publications include “Cultural Diversity and Democracy in Nepal,” Himalayan Research Bulletin, (21)2, 2002; The Working of Democracy in Nepal, seminar, April 2005; and “Culture, Caste and Ethnicity in the Maoist Movement” and studies in Nepali History and Society, (11)2, 2006.

Sudhindra Sharma, PhD

Sudhindra Sharma has a PhD from the University of Tampere in Finland (2001) and is currently a docent in development studies at the University of Helsinki and an adjunct professor of sociology at the Nepa School of Social Sciences and Humanities.

Kesang Tseten

Kesang Tseten is a Nepali filmmaker of Tibetan origin. A graduate of Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism and of Amherst College, he is the director of Frames of War; We Corner People; Machhendranath: On the Road with the Red God; and We Homes Chaps. He has recently completed three films on Nepali migrant workers in the Gulf.

staffThe program is fortunate to enjoy the expertise and dedication of many other contributors, including:

Mina K. Rana, Language Director & Student Life Coordinator

Mina Rana is originally from the mid-west part of Nepal, Tanahu. She has a bachelor’s degree in law from Tribhuvan University. Mina is very experienced in teaching Nepali to foreign students and scholars, having worked with the US Peace Corps/Nepal and other study abroad programs. Mina has been with SIT Nepal since 2001. As language director, she creates and designs language curriculum and lesson plans specific to student needs. As student life coordinator, Mina helps students adjust to the physical and emotional demands students face when living in a new culture and environment, often becoming students’ didi (big sister) during the course of the semester.

Sanjib Kumar Pokhrel, Senior Language Instructor/Homestay Coordinator/Librarian

Sanjib is from the Eastern Terai of Nepal. He studied law during his intermediate college and has undergraduate degrees in Nepali and political science. He is multilingual, speaking seven languages, and has been teaching the Nepali language to foreigners for the last 15 years with US Peace Corps/Nepal, study abroad programs, and as a private tutor. As the program librarian, Sanjib keeps track of the research library and makes sure students can find what they need. Sanjib also ensures students can access SIT’s online collections. In his role as homestay coordinator, he carefully selects families that will add to each student’s experience. He also coordinates the homestay families’ training to help ensure that the homes become more than just a place to stay during the course.

Chandra Rana, Senior Language Instructor/Excursion Coordinator

Chandra Rana is from the mid hills of west Nepal. He graduated with a BA from Tribhuvan University in anthropology and is well versed in Nepal's historical and present political dynamics. After working with the US Peace Corps and other programs as a Nepali language teacher, he joined SIT in 1997 as a senior language instructor. Chandra is instrumental in helping coordinate student visas with the relevant Nepali agencies. In addition to teaching and assisting with visas, Chandra's other prime role is to reconnoiter and plan out the program’s excursions in the Terai and mountain areas or Annapurna, Khumbu, and Darjeeling, India.

homestayStudents on the program enjoy living with a host family in Kathmandu for six weeks, during which time they share daily activities with their host families and have the opportunity to observe and participate in several important festivals. Through the homestay, students have an opportunity to practice language skills and also learn local manners, customs, and traditions. The homestay is often considered one of the highlights of the program, and students often become very close with their homestay family.

Homestay placements are arranged by a local homestay coordinator who screens and approves each family. Families vary in occupational, educational, and economic levels and live fairly close to our program center — between 20 and 35 minutes walking. Families include one or more adults and may or may not include children.

On the longer excursion to the Himalayas, students participate in a village homestay. This is a unique opportunity for students to better understand the lifestyle experienced by a majority of Nepal’s population by participating in the daily activities involved in rural livelihoods.

Other accommodations during the program include guest houses or small hotels.

Program Dates: Spring 2016

Program Start Date:  Jan 26, 2016

Program End Date:    May 9, 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: $16,090

The tuition fee covers the following program components:

  • Cost of all lecturers who provide instruction to students in:
    • Nepali life, culture, and society
    • Introductions to Nepalese history, religion, and politics
    • Development and environmental issues
  • Field Methods and Ethics seminar and Human Subjects Review
  • Intensive Nepali language instruction in small classes
  • All educational excursions to locations such as UNESCO World Heritage sites in the Kathmandu Valley, fieldwork excursions to the middle hills or the Terai (depending on season), and a rural homestay excursion to the Himalayas, including all related travel costs
  • Independent Study Project (including a stipend for accommodation and food)
  • Health insurance throughout the entire program period

Room & Board:$2,860

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 (Kathmandu), 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 (six weeks in the Kathmandu Valley and six days in a Himalayan mountain village)
  • All meals for the entire program period. Meals are covered either by SIT Study Abroad directly, through a stipend provided to each student, 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: $300

Immunizations: Varies

Books & Supplies: $160

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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