Borders, Identity & Community Resilience

Witness Nepal’s challenges negotiating tradition and modernity while the country balances its neighbors India and China and analyze Tibetan and Himalayan politics and religion.

At a Glance





Language of Study

Tibetan, Nepali

Courses taught in



Feb 8 ‎– May 20

Online Component

Feb 8 ‎– Feb 12

On Site Component

Feb 15 ‎– May 13

Online Component

May 16 ‎– May 20

Program Countries


Program Base


Critical Global Issue of Study

Identity & Human Resilience

Identity & Human Resilience Icon

Development & Inequality

Development & Inequality Icon

Geopolitics & Power

Geopolitics & Power Icon


Why study identity and social change in Nepal?

Please note that SIT will make every effort to maintain its programs as described. To respond to emergent situations, like COVID-19, however, SIT may have to change or cancel programs.

This transdisciplinary program will explore the critical global issues of Identity and Human Resilience and Development and Inequality, in the Nepalese context.

Your program starts online with discussions, assignments, and readings designed to equip you for immersion and hands-on learning. Tackle critical global issues through lectures and writings, while starting Nepali or Tibetan language lessons.

In Kathmandu, live in a local guesthouse/lodge, and get involved in society. Study identity, borders, and humans’ relationship with the state and speak with activists to understand their struggles for equal rights, recognition, and justice. Visit Chitwan and engage with locals to discover how they are working toward community development and environmental protection. Explore religion, transboundary relations and identity in Lumbini. Trek in the high Himalayas as a guest of Tibetan[-oid] communities. Traverse a vertical slice of the country from sea level in the southern plains (Lumbini and Chitwan), to the highest gorge in the world on the edge of the Chinese border, exploring and analyzing Nepal’s remarkable biological, geological, and cultural diversity.

Prepared with essential language and research skills, conduct original fieldwork on a topic of your choice during the final four weeks of the semester.


  • Explore changing gender and social justice rights from notable regional experts and local activists.
  • Examine Tibetan and Himalayan society, geopolitics, religion, and arts, and visit remote communities on high-altitude treks.
  • Live with a host family in Kathmandu; learn the Tibetan language and/or Nepali.
  • Traverse Nepal, south to north, from Indian border to Tibet/China border, from sea level to the roof of the world.




From Border to Border: Lumbini to Muktinath

Transect Nepal from south to north and from low altitude to high on two, two-week excursions exploring the country’s geological and cultural diversity, identity, community resilience, and borders with India and China. First, we will visit Lumbini, the Buddha’s birthplace, on the Indian border in the southern plains, and Chitwan National Park. Then travel to Pokhara and stay in Tibetan refugee settlements before journeying between the Annapurna peaks, interacting with a local mothers’ community group and learning about local development efforts. Trek between trans-Himalayan villages to investigate the culture and identity of communities on the Chinese border before finishing in the pan-South-Asian Hindu and Buddhist pilgrimage center of Muktinath.

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.



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.

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

Key Topics

  • Climate change and environmental concerns in the Himalayas
  • Caste, class, gender, and religion in Nepal
  • Redefining development, social capital, and civil society
  • Ethnicity, nationhood, and social and political change
  • Complexities of Nepalese, Tibetan, and Himalayan border tensions between India and China
  • Traditional Tibetan and Himalayan civilizations, politics and Buddhist history, and urgent issues of exile

Borders, politics, and identity among Tibetan and Himalayan peoples (3 credits)

Borders, Politics, and Identity among Tibetan and Himalayan Peoples – syllabus
(ASIA3015 / 3 credits)

Students examine politics on the geopolitical scale, including the significance of various regions in the Himalayas as well as the maneuvering between Asia’s giants, India and China. Through examination of current conditions in the region, students are asked to reflect on and reconceptualize ideas of power, autonomy, authority, and vulnerability on individual, group, and state levels. The course challenges the prevalent analysis of Tibetan(-oid/-ish) politics synchronically and in emic terms, disconnected from change, larger dynamics, and regional events, including religious preferences. Individual political systems are examined, such as the Tibetan government in exile and the young implementation of the Nepalese constitution. This course also examines the politics inherent in processes of everyday life in an exile community, covering themes such as individual articulations of identity as well as the politics of language and of religious practice. Tibetan Buddhism is examined in relation to the broader Tibetan(-oid/-ish) cultural sphere and civilization, incorporating but not limited to the realms of politics (including the “Tibet issue”) and of ritual. The course goes beyond the typical focus on Himalayan culture in terms exclusively of a core Tibetan Buddhism. Furthermore, the course assesses how emerging systems such as secularism and spiritual materialism, whether or not sprung from Communist ideologies, also play determining roles across the region.

Development, gender and community resilience in the Himalaya (3 credits)

Development, Gender and Community Resilience in the Himalaya – syllabus
(DVST3000 / 3 credits)

An interdisciplinary course conducted in English with required readings and relevant educational excursions. Using gender as a lens for engaging with development theory and practice, 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 a cross-section of Nepali society, including activists and experienced academics drawn from academic institutions such as Tribhuvan University, Kathmandu University, and the Fulbright Commission. Site visits to nongovernmental organizations may include rights and development agencies like MITINI Nepal, ICIMOD, and Teach4Nepal, among others.

Language Course Options

In addition to taking the above courses, students will also need to enroll in one of the following two courses:

Beginning Nepali – syllabus
(NEPA1003-1503 / 3 credits)

Intermediate Nepali – syllabus
(NEPA2003-2503 / 3 credits)

Advanced Nepali – syllabus
(NEPA3003-3503 / 3 credits)

These fun, interactive courses help 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-a-half hours daily. The expert instructors are native speakers with many years of teaching and teacher training experience with SIT and the Peace Corps. Instruction includes a variety of interactive, communication-based language teaching techniques that incorporate cultural information into language learning, which helps facilitate ISP research and internships during the final month of the program.


Beginning Tibetan – syllabus
(TIBE1003-1503 / 3 credits)

Intermediate Tibetan – syllabus
(TIBE2003-2503 / 3 credits)

Advanced Tibetan – syllabus
(TIBE3003-3503 / 3 credits)

Oral comprehension skills are emphasized, along with basic literacy. Formal classroom instruction plus one-on-one sessions with a language partner in Tibetan language are given daily during the program period in Kathmandu, with less formal instruction while on excursion. Based on in-country evaluation, including oral proficiency testing, students are placed in beginning, intermediate, or advanced classes. Optional Nepali language instruction is always provided, not least since students often wish to pursue Independent Study Projects in Nepali-speaking areas (much of the Himalayas including Sikkim/Darjeeling).

Field Methods and Ethics

Field Methods and Ethics – syllabus
(ANTH3500 / 3 credits)

A course in the concepts of learning across cultures and from field experience. Introduction to the Independent Study Project and Internship and Seminar. 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; maintaining a work journal; and twentieth-century ethnography.

Independent Study Project

Independent Study Project – syllabus
(ISPR3000 / 4 credits)

Conducted in in Kathmandu or, conditions permitting and with program approval, in other parts of Nepal, and/or in Tibetan and Himalayan communities in Nepal. The ISP is an opportunity for students to conduct first-hand, meaningful, and original field study projects. Sample topic areas include: ecotourism and its effect on wildlife management; geographies of development; preservation of temple architecture and heritage sites; water scarcity in Kathmandu valley; statelessness and discourse on citizenship; community forestry; migration and population issues; rural development and aid; and women’s health challenges; the politics of language and education in Tibetan communities; reflections from former political prisoners; youth identity in the Tibetan diaspora; traditional Tibetan medicine; the reemergence of the Bön tradition; Tibetan Muslims; the economics of the Tibetan carpet industry in Nepal; the economy of Sherpas and mountaineering tourism; a case study of a traditional Buddhist college; nuns and Tibetan female mystics; the changing status of women in Buddhist monastic life; migration and Tibetan exile settlements.

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 NGOs, the State Department, and the United Nations.

Sample ISP topic areas:

  • Rural development and aid
  • Community forestry
  • Changing food geographies and agricultural practices
  • The emergence of a middle-class society
  • Emerging dating and marriage patterns in urban Newari youth
  • Remittance economies and development
  • Women’s health challenges and roles in development
  • Gender equity and rights
  • Changing status of women in Buddhist monastic life
  • Mapping street children in Kathmandu
  • Squatter communities and land access in Kathmandu
  • Human rights in post-conflict situations
  • Humanitarian aid and post-earthquake reconstruction efforts
  • Preservation of world heritage sites
  • Monastic universities for secular students from abroad: the case of Chinese and Korean disciples
  • Buddhism as a “science of mind and mental transformation” meets neuroscience and cognitive psychology
  • Options for Tibetan Muslims in exile
  • Climate change and cultural adaptation in the Himalaya
  • Economy of Sherpas and mountaineering tourism
  • Sherpa mountaineering encounters with the World Wildlife Fund



In an effort to protect our students and the local community during this global pandemic, there will be no homestays. You will live within a community in Kathmandu for four weeks, in either a guesthouse, hostel or apartment, observing daily activities and participating in cultural events. Through carefully curated intensive interactions, you will have an opportunity to practice language skills and learn local manners, customs, and traditions. Interlocutors vary in occupational, educational, and economic backgrounds.

Village Homestays

In an effort to protect our students and the local community during this global pandemic, there will be no homestays. On several weeks of excursion to rural, mountainous regions in Nepal, while staying in a guesthouse or hostel, you will  participate in village communities to better understand Nepali, Tibetan, and Himalayan lifestyles by participating in the daily activities of these rural settlements.

Other Accomodations

During the excursions, accommodations will be in guesthouses and small hostels (called tea houses).

Career Paths

Recent positions held by alumni of this program include:

  • Founder and international advisor at SmartPaani and One Planet Solution, Nepal

  • Professor of geography at the University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada

  • Assistant professor of anthropology at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada

  • Director of international operations for Nepali Tea Traders, Denver, CO

  • Independent filmmaker

  • Director with the Peace Corps, Nepal

  • Director with the Fulbright Program, Nepal

  • Senior director of Asia Programs at the World Wildlife Fund, Washington, DC

  • Senior LGBT rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, Berlin, Germany

Many other alumni have used the Nepali language skills they gained on the program to win Fulbright fellowships and secure professional positions in Nepal after graduation.

Faculty & Staff

Nepal: Borders, Identity & Community Resilience

Suman Pant, PhD
Academic Director
Isabelle Onians, PhD
Academic Director
Mina K. Rana
Language Director and Student Services Coordinator
Chandra Rana
Senior Language Instructor and Excursion Coordinator
Sanjib Kumar Pokhrel
Senior Language Instructor, Homestay Coordinator, and Librarian
Anil Chitrakar
Senior Teaching Faculty
Dhichen Wangmo
Homestay & Program Coordinator
Hubert Decleer, MA
Senior Faculty Advisor
Patricia Owens
Program Coordinator
Pasang Rinzi Sherpa
Office and Finance Manager

Discover the Possibilities

  • Cost & Scholarships

    SIT Study Abroad is committed to making international education accessible to all students. Scholarship awards generally range from $500 to $5,000 for semester programs and $500 to $3,000 for summer programs. This year, SIT will award more than $1.5 million in scholarships and grants to SIT Study Abroad students.

    See Full Breakdown