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Development, Politics, and Languages

Study indigenous concepts of sustainability as it intersects with biological diversity, culture, and quality of life in Ecuador.

At a Glance




3 semesters Spanish

Language of Study


Courses taught in



Sep 2 – Dec 15

Program Countries


Program Base


Critical Global Issue of Study

Development & Inequality

Identity & Human Resilience


Why Ecuador?

Living in Ecuador, you will experience a multilingual and multiethnic nation that is also one of the America’s most biologically diverse countries. Here, you’ll study development as well as alternatives grounded in indigenous worldviews that call for respect of natural resources. Two homestays will deepen your understanding of both urban and rural life and culture in Ecuador.

On excursions to the threatened Andean Chocó Biosphere Reserve and the Galápagos Islands you will observe the conflict between development and natural resource preservation. You will also visit the Upper Amazon, where you will experience direct exposure to political ecology and socio-linguistic issues regarding this highly diverse but threatened region.

You’ll explore how Spanish and indigenous languages are used to reinforce and reinvent power relationships as you consider how intercultural and inter-ethnic relations are shaped. You will learn basic Quichua and develop your Spanish language skills through classroom instruction, homestays, excursions, and cultural immersion.


  • Study development, power, and language in a multilingual, multiethnic society.
  • Visit the spectacular Galápagos Islands, the Cloud Forest, and Upper Amazon Basin.
  • Explore how languages instill, reinforce, and subvert power relationships.
  • Learn how to identify your own cultural biases and imagine a different society.


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

program map


Galápagos Islands

You will visit the Galápagos Island to explore the impact of sustainability and tourism and the ways in which a place is constructed through dramatically varying discourses. During your excursion, you will visit civil society organizations, natural history sites, and learn about conservation initiatives led by the Charles Darwin Research Station, National Park headquarters, and civil society organizations.

Upper Amazon Basin

During this four-day excursion, you will experience direct exposure to political ecology and sociolinguistic issues regarding this highly diverse but threatened region. Kichwa (Quichua) cosmology and mythology, language revitalization initiatives, inter-ethnic relations, resource management, and political mobilization are examined in the vicinity of the Napo and the Pastaza Rivers.

Andean Chocó Biosphere Reserve

During your excursion to the Andean Chocó Biosphere Reserve you will witness the conflicts and links between development and natural resource preservation in one of the most biologically diverse, but threatened, ecosystems in the world. Examine how Ecuador is addressing one of its most challenging and controversial issues: how to develop while preserving the natural resources upon which its development has so often depended.




Please note that SIT will make every effort to maintain its programs as described. To respond to emergent situations, however, SIT may have to change or cancel programs.


Program Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion of the program, students will be able to: 

  • Articulate alternative paradigms to development.  
  • Explain the way the Ecuadorian nation-state and its functional democracy are being challenged by traditionally excluded populations.  
  • Analyze the ways in which coloniality of power and knowledge shape interethnic and gender relations.  
  • Examine the discourse and language use associated with government, political actors, and civil society organizations.    
  • Synthesize the learning acquired on the program in an Independent Study Project. 
  • Enhance your communicative proficiency in Spanish.  

Read more about Program Learning Outcomes.


Access virtual library guide.

The following syllabi are representative of 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.

Please expand the sections below to see detailed course information, including course codes, credits, overviews, and syllabi.

Key Topics

  • Power and politics; hegemonic and counter-hegemonic discourses
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  • How different groups think and talk about societal issues
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  • Development’s impact on environment, sustainability, and life
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  • The language(s) of political power and social movements
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  • Indigenous languages, politics, interculturalism and plurinationality

Languages in Contact: Spanish, Quichua, and Other Languages in Ecuador

Languages in Contact: Spanish, Quichua, and Other Languages in Ecuador – syllabus
(LACB3000 / 3 credits)

In this seminar, students combine theory and practice to study Ecuador’s languages in three different manners. First, from a cultural standpoint, students learn about the encounter between Spanish and Ecuador’s indigenous languages and how language and power have interacted and contributed to tensions between domination and resistance. They look closely at Ecuadorian Spanish to ask what makes Ecuador’s Spanish Ecuadorian, examining the influence of different populations, time periods, and events on the evolution of the language, considering regional differences as well. Finally, they study Quichua, Ecuador’s main indigenous language, examining the politics of bilingual education, questions surrounding intellectual production and translation, and the use of Quichua in different settings. Students also examine the growing concern for other indigenous languages, particularly those in danger of extinction. Finally, all students participate in a workshop of introductory lessons in Quichua to finish out this experience. This course is conducted in Spanish, although it may occasionally include a few readings in English and in Quichua.

Paradigms of Development and Political Discourse in Ecuador

Paradigms of Development and Political Discourse in Ecuador – syllabus
(LACB3005 / 3 credits)

Discourse and power are related in all nations, but Ecuador has a particularly sophisticated discursive system in place. At the same time, counter-hegemonic discourses are also prevalent. In this broadly defined interdisciplinary seminar, students examine the core political and development themes of the program and inquire specifically into the complex relationships between development, power, and politics in Ecuador. After a review of Ecuadorian history, socio-political movements and development paradigms, students consider the concept of political discourse as an object of study. Through lectures, course readings, site visits, and excursions, students examine several dominant discourses related to development, politics, sustainability, interethnic relations, and other issues in Ecuador. They study resistant discourses to ask how people are voicing alternative ways of knowing and developing. While learning about politics and development in Ecuador, students construct a nuanced understanding of how discourse has been used to instill, reinforce, subvert, and reinvent power relationships over time in this nation. This course is conducted in Spanish, although it may occasionally include a few readings in English.

Spanish for the Social Sciences

Spanish for the Social Sciences I – syllabus
(SPAN2003 / 3 credits)

Spanish for the Social Sciences II – syllabus
(SPAN2503 / 3 credits)

Spanish for the Social Sciences III – syllabus
(SPAN3003 / 3 credits)

Spanish for the Social Sciences IV – syllabus
(SPAN3503 / 3 credits)

In this course, students refine their Spanish language skills with a focus on enhancing oral proficiency. The course deepens students’ contact with public, private, and community media in Ecuador and includes visits to several relevant sites in Quito. Students take an ungraded placement exam to determine the appropriate class placement. The outgoing exam includes both a written and an oral component.

Research Methods and Ethics

Research Methods and Ethics syllabus
(ANTH3500 / 3 credits)

In this research methods course designed to prepare students for the Independent Study Project (ISP), students examine the ethical challenges of field research and learn how to prepare a research proposal and how to employ basic ethnographic methods appropriate to a range of themes as well as more specific methods appropriate to the study of politics, language, and discourse. By the end of the course students will have chosen an ISP topic, selected appropriate methods, and written a solid proposal for an ISP related to the program themes. The course is conducted in Spanish with occasional sessions in English.

Independent Study Project

Independent Study Project syllabus
(ISPR3000 / 4 credits)

Conducted in Quito or in another approved location in Ecuador 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 broad concerns with power, politics, language, and development. The project integrates learning from the various components of the program and culminates in a final presentation and formal research paper.

Sample ISP topics:

  • Linguistic landscape of Quito
  • Discourses of sustainability in the Galápagos
  • Social communication, micropolitics, and activism in the Andes
  • Political perspectives on endangered languages: the Sapara case
  • Bilingual intercultural education in Otavalo
  • Agroecological practices on the Ecuadorian coast

Browse this program’s independent study projects / undergraduate research.


Tumbaco/Cumbayá and Quito

You will stay for four weeks with a middle-class family in the Tumbaco/Cumbayá Valley located in the outskirts of Quito. You will also stay for three weeks with another family in the city  and enjoy Quito’s vibrant cultural life. Founded by Spanish colonizers in the 16th century atop an existing indigenous settlement, Quito’s architecture today is a mix of colonial and contemporary. You will find churches, typical and nouveau gourmet Ecuadorean restaurants, and hip cafés. Host families often take students to concerts, museums, movies, and other sites.

Andean Chocó Region

You will stay for four to five days in rural communities in the Andean Chocó Biosphere Reserve. This provides a very different perspective on Ecuador and is an opportunity to implement fieldwork methodology prior to your Independent Study Project.

Excursion & Orientation Accommodations

Hostels, guest houses, and small hotels

Career Paths

Positions held by recent alumni of this program include:

  • Environmental and Human Rights Campaigner at Amazon Watch, Oakland, CA

  • Policy Associate at OneAmerica, Seattle, WA

  • Fulbright Scholar at Universidad Autónoma de México, Mexico City, Mexico

  • Foreign Affairs Officer at the U.S. Department of State, Washington, DC

  • Program Associate for Latin America and the Caribbean at the Center for Reproductive Rights, New York, NY

  • Fulbright Fellow researching AfroEcuadorian collective rights, Ecuador

Faculty & Staff

Ecuador: Development, Politics, and Languages

Fabian Espinosa, MA bio link
Fabian Espinosa, MA
Academic Director
Sofía Tobar, MA bio link
Sofía Tobar, MA
Program Coordinator

Discover the Possibilities

  • Cost & Scholarships

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  • Facebook

    SIT Study Abroad Ecuador: Development, Politics, and Languages

  • El Manglar Desaparecido

    For her ISP, alumna Elizabeth Hasier produced a video on the environmental and social impacts of the shrimp industry in southwestern Ecuador.

  • On SITe: Climate Change in Ecuador

    Hear a discussion on climate change in Ecuador with Academic Director Fabian Espinosa.