Development, Gender, and Social Change in the Himalaya

Witness Nepal’s challenges in balancing tradition and modernity, while negotiating economic, political, and social change in a dynamic period of its history.

At a Glance





Language of Study


Courses taught in



Feb 8 ‎– May 23

On Site Component

Feb 8 ‎– May 23

Program Countries


Program Excursion Countries


Program Base


Critical Global Issue of Study

Development & Inequality

Development & Inequality Icon


Why study social change in Nepal?

In the past few decades, Nepal has seen tremendous changes in development, discourse surrounding equality and inclusiveness, and human and civic rights. Live in the Kathmandu Valley, home to seven UNESCO World Heritage sites, and learn from experts, activists and academics about development, gender and social change. Visit organizations and institutions to understand how they work with government and nongovernment agencies to make meaningful change in society. Learn Nepali from expert teachers in small, dynamic classes. Connect with NGOs, INGOs, and bilateral and multilateral donors. Visit India to learn about gender, food systems, and civic rights, and conduct a comparative study. Then trek from village to village along ancient Himalayan trade routes, going as high as 13,000 feet, to see community development efforts as well as Nepal’s remarkable biological, geological, and cultural diversity. In the final four weeks, research a topic of your choice while conducting independent field study, or gain professional skills in an international work environment as part of an internship.


  • Explore changing gender and social justice rights from experts and activists.
  • Witness how international development and global markets are redefining Nepal
  • Visit Sikkim, India’s organic state, and the tea capitals Darjeeling and Ilam.
  • Learn from notable Nepali development scholars and practitioners.




Organic Farming in India

Learn about organic farming, women’s roles in agriculture, and food security in one of three locations:

In Sikkim (India), stay in a Nepali-speaking village in the Indian Himalaya to learn about subsistence farming and how food systems and agriculture have changed.

In Darjeeling (India) and Ilam (Nepal), learn about tea processing, market linkages, workers’ rights and gender relations.

In Dehradun (India), attend a five-day workshop on an organic, food-justice training farm where you will learn about biodiversity conservation and agroecology.

Rural immersion in Dolpa, Annapurnas, or Solukhumbu

Immerse yourself in a rural community working with homestay families on their farm. Weed, plough, or participate in a local group or a small community project with village youth. Fieldwork focuses on ecotourism; sustainability of development in mountainous areas; community development efforts; culture and religion; and economic links. Connect with villagers, learn social customs and norms, and work with community members to assimilate while remaining ethically aware of your interactions with community members.

Trekking in the Himalayas

On the village excursion, trek from two to four days in some of the most majestic and beautiful mountains in the world, sometimes going as high as 13,000 feet. Experience Himalayan culture amidst beautiful and dramatic landscapes. Most trekking in Nepal follows ancient trade routes and involves short days on the trail. However, some days can involve steep uphill climbs.

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.



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 are 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. Lectures and discussions will cover the following topics:

  • Introductions to Nepal and development: Locating Nepal in the region (and Kathmandu’s place in Nepal); religious traditions that help define Nepalese society; introduction to Nepali society and social structure
  • Gender and sexuality: Gender and sexuality in Nepal; patriarchy and social discourse surrounding issues of gender and sexual minorities; status of women in Nepal
  • Food security, community development, and social capital: Community-based development and resource governance; social capital; food security and impacts of climate change on local communities
  • Rural development and migration: Development efforts by state and communities to compete in and integrate into the global market; labour migration and impact on families, communities, and the state; changing rural landscapes
  • Development redefined: Social entrepreneurship; social capital and civil society; community driven development, and sustainable development

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) or internship. The program’s excellent Nepali language course prepares students for a rich ISP or internship experience in which even novice learners are able to engage productively in their research or internship using newly acquired Nepali language skills.

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
  • Economic development, the emerging middle class, and labor migration
  • Redefining development, social capital, and civil society
  • Ethnicity, nationhood, and social and political change
  • Causes and conditions for change and conflict

Development, Gender, and Social Change in the Himalaya

Development, Gender, and Social Change 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.


Beginning Nepali: Intensive – syllabus
(NEPA1506 / 6 credits)

Intermediate Nepali: Intensive – syllabus
(NEPA2506 / 6 credits)

Advanced Nepali: Intensive – syllabus
(NEPA3506 / 6 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.

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 and an 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; and maintaining a work journal.

Course Options

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

Independent Study Project
Independent Study Project – syllabus
(ISPR3000 / 4 credits)

At the end of the program, you will spend four weeks working on an Independent Study Project (ISP), pursuing original research on a topic of interest to you. The ISP is conducted in Kathmandu or, conditions permitting and with program approval, in other parts of Nepal, and is an opportunity for students to conduct firsthand, 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. 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
  • The emergence of a middle-class society
  • Squatter communities and land access in Kathmandu
  • Population growth and water scarcity in Kathmandu
  • 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
  • Gender equity and rights
  • Emerging dating and marriage patterns in urban Newari youth
  • Humanitarian aid and post-earthquake reconstruction efforts

Browse this program’s Independent Study Projects / undergraduate research.


Internship and Seminar
Internship and Seminar – syllabus
(ITRN3000 / 4 credits)

This seminar consists of a four-week internship and weekly academic seminar. The aim of the internship is to enable the student to gain valuable experience, enhance their skills in an international environment, and reflect more deeply on key program themes. The internship experience may be with a local community-based development organization, research organization, human rights and advocacy organization, international NGO, or organization working for food security and sustainable development. The internship seminar meets weekly (typically online) so students can reflect on the internship experience, and it includes complementary readings, weekly progress reports, and a final paper and presentation linking the internship learning experience to the program’ s theme. The internship seminar includes a module titled Internship in the Context of Nepal, which is designed to help students build a foundation on which to engage in the internship experience. SIT academic internships are hands-on and reflective.

Sample internships:

  • Engaging in agroecology activities and supporting local communities in the Karnali region with local organization Hands-On Institute
  • Documenting traditional trade patterns, local foods, agricultural systems, cultures, and traditions in remote parts of Karnali
  • Supporting research and development at a local organization involved in gender issues, rights, and advocacy



Live with a host family in Kathmandu for six weeks, sharing daily activities and observing or participating in several important festivals. Families vary in occupational, educational, and economic backgrounds and live anywhere from a 20- to 35-minute walk from the program center. Families include one or more adults and may or may not include children.

Village Homestays

On excursions to rural, mountainous regions in Nepal and India, participate in village homestays to better understand Nepalis’ lifestyle by participating in the daily activities of these rural communities.

Other Accomodations

During the excursions, accommodations may include guesthouses and small hostels (called tea houses), as well as dormitory-style housing.

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

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: Development, Gender, and Social Change in the Himalaya

Suman Pant, 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

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.

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