Social Change and Development in Ecuador:
A Service Learning-Based Semester Abroad


Nowhere in the Americas can you find a concentration of cultural
and ecological diversity to rival that of Ecuador’s.

This diversity was the setting for the fluorescence of some of the
hemisphere’s most advanced early civilizations. These indigenous
cultures were greatly damaged --but not destroyed-- by the disease,
violence, and lust for gold and silver that accompanied the Spanish
Conquest. Later, U.S. economic and military policy took its toll on the
political autonomy and human rights of average Ecuadorians. The
post-Colombian experience of Ecuador and the Andean region has
largely been a byproduct of two clashing philosophical and cultural
systems resulting from the physical and economic colonization of
Latin America.

Today --more than 500 years after the initial colonization-- Ecuador
is a fascinating country steeped in political dynamism, incredible
cultural diversity, popular social change movements, and highly
organized ecological and anti-globalization activism. The economic
crisis that spurred the government’s decision to dollarize the
economy in 2000 also sparked the rise to power of Pachakutik  --the
world’s most successful Indigenous-based political party-- and a
national reexamination of state power and agricultural policy. Today,
popular movements in Ecuador are at the global forefront of
grassroots political organization and egalitarian social reform.

Social Change and Development in Ecuador: A Semester Abroad
provides a historical, cultural, and environmental survey of modern
Ecuador utilizing a multidisciplinary learning philosophy with a heavy
emphasis on service learning, independent research, and hands on
experiential education. This semester abroad experience provides
students with the opportunity to learn from the incredible social
dynamism of Ecuador through volunteer work projects, community
home-stays, and direct contact and dialogue with political activists,
students, campesino and indigenous organizations, and the rural
agrarian people that are the backbone of Ecuadorian and global

Through academic seminars, readings, and research, students will
gain an understanding of Ecuador’s indigenous and Afro-Latino
cultures and religions, the impact of the Conquest, the
transformation brought by Spanish colonialism, and the period of
popular revolution that led to political independence.

In a present-day context, we will study contemporary Ecuadorian
issues including: the impacts of illegal drug production and the “war
on drugs;” the continuing struggle of indigenous people for political
power and autonomy; the effects of oil development and
deforestation in the Amazon basin; dollarization and the effects of
economic globalization; Ecuador’s geo-political importance on a
global scale; and the historical relationship between U.S. foreign
policy and Ecuadorian social and economic development.

After a preparatory month in the small city of Cotacachi--
participating in an intensive Spanish workshop, academic seminars,
and field trips-- students spend the majority of their semester
abroad in the field, engaged in volunteer service learning projects
and conducting individualized research. Social Change and
Development in Ecuador offers volunteer programs in the Amazon,
Sierra, Cloud Forest, and Pacific Coast regions of the country.
These volunteer experiences offer students the chance to live and
learn in rural Ecuador and develop a wide-range of research
interests including human ecology, environmental policy,
rural/indigenous political activism, Afro-latino culture and political
organizing, U.S. militarization, sustainable development design and
implementation, women’s rights and political organizing, the
economics of rural agriculture, the local effects of global economic
policy, Quichua cosmovision, and many more.

This emphasis on hands-on, experiential learning is what sets
Change and Development in Ecuador
apart from other semester
abroad programs. Students identify their research and academic
goals, and our wide network of educators, activists, and
development organizations allow for a custom-designed study
abroad experience based on specific interests.

Program Dates: First week in February through the first week of May

Program Fee: $4420 + airfare and tuition. This a comprehensive fee
that covers food, lodging, in-country transport, and all program,
activity, and volunteer fees.

Semester Learning Goals

  • To develop a general understanding of the historical, cultural,
    and ecological patterns and characteristics of the Andean
    region, and their interconnectedness

  • To use the semester abroad in Ecuador as a lens through
    which to analyze contemporary global issues

  • To develop a working knowledge of major socio-political and
    economic themes affecting Ecuador and the Andean region

  • To build on the historical, cultural, political, and ecological,
    foundation gained from the classes taken during the first part
    of the semester through volunteer experience and personal
    exploration in Ecuador

  • To gain a working knowledge of the primary components of
    Ecuador’s local, regional and national economies, the effects
    of a possible free trade accord with the U.S., and the process
    of dollarization

  • To understand the political economy and social impacts of
    major export industries such as oil, bananas, roses, and

  • To learn from, and make connections with, host communities
    through community service and conversation

  • To study alternative development models being implemented
    in urban and rural settings in Ecuador

  • To improve understanding of the cultural evolution of the
    region from the pre-Colombian era to its present-day
    incorporation into the global economy

  • To improve ability to comprehend, communicate, and read in

  • To develop an understanding of Ecuador’s ecosystems, their
    interconnectedness, and the interdependent relationship
    between environmental preservation and cultural survival

  • To develop an understanding of Ecuador’s dynamic political
    landscape and geo-political significance on a global scale

  • To better understand the history, culture, and modern social
    roles of Ecuador’s indigenous and Afro-latino populations

  • To develop and complete a conceptually advanced research

14 weeks     16 credits

Weeks 1-4

For weeks 1-4, students will live with families in Cotacachi through
homestays arranged by the Inter-American CASA.

Intensive Spanish Language Workshop                3 credits
Monday-Thursday 8:30-12:30 a.m.                        
One-on-one instruction with university-accredited instructors

This intensive workshop is designed to develop students’ ability to
improve, understand, and communicate in Spanish as rapidly as
possible. Instructors will evaluate Spanish proficiency, and students
will be placed in Beginning, Intermediate, or Advanced curriculum
based on their level of oral communication. Daily writing, grammar,
and conversational exercises will be supplemented by tours of the
municipality’s many sustainable development inicatives and visit to
some of the area’s natural wonders. There will be a written and oral
test at the end of the course. Students are highly encouraged to
take a college-level Spanish course prior to their semester abroad.

Social Change and Development Seminar       3 credits
Mondays, 2-6 p.m. + weekend field trips         Instructor: Peter Shear

This seminar provides students with an overview of the history,
culture, ecology, political economy, and current events of Ecuador.
The course will also concentrate on field research techniques to
prepare students for individualized research projects. Weekly talks,
readings, and topical dialogues give context to weekend field study

Evaluation of student performance in the
Social Change and
Development Seminar
is heavily based on their analysis of assigned
readings, analysis of field experiences, and weekly response papers.

Elective Seminar in Ecuadorian Studies         3 credits
Wednesday, 2-6 p.m.                                           Various instructors

This seminar is designed to give students the research background,
guidance, and organization needed to design and complete their
research project at the end of the semester abroad. Depending on
research interests, students choose from a variety of Elective
Seminars in Ecuadorian Studies taught by resident educators,
university professors, activists, ecologists, artists, and development
planners. If a seminar addressing specific student interests does not
exist, it will be planned and implemented with student assistance.
Course work will consist of a combination of assigned readings,
written analysis, dialogue with the instructor, fieldwork, and research
project design. Here is a sample of just a few of the

  • Humans and the Environment: Conservation Issues in
    Ecuador: Chris James, director, Guandera Forest Reserve;
    board of directors, Jatun Sacha Foundation

  • Seminar in Ecuadorian Folkloric Dance and Music: Areceli
    Fernandez, National Dance Company of Ecuador

  • Black in Ecuador: Identity and Culture in Esmeraldas
    Province: Adriana Aparicio, art historian; B.A., Universidad
    Central de Ecuador

  • Biodiversity and Ecological Systems of Ecuador’s Primary Geo-
    Climatic Regions: Veronica Quitiguiña, researcher, Finding
    Species Foundation; B.A., Biology, Universidad Catholica

  • Oil, Power, and Cultural Survival in Amazonian Ecuador:
    Judith Kimmerling, activist; author, Amazon Crude

  • Free-Trade and National Autonomy in a Global Economy:
    Alex Arias, activist and co-director of Ecuador Decide and El
    Comité Inter-Universitario Contra el ALCA

  • Seminar in Agro-forestry and Sustainable Agriculture Design:
    Applications for Rural Ecuador: Stuart Jones, co-director of
    Fundacion Brethren y Unida

  • Protest Music and Popular Descent in Ecuadorian Political
    Movements: Jaime Guevarra, legendary Ecuadorian folk

  • Race, Gender, and Class in Ecuadorian Society: Blanca
    Pesantes, director, Liceo de Lideres del Nuevo Milenio

  • Indigenous Political Organizing and Cultural Change: Natalia
    Arias, Insitituto de Estudios Ecologistas del Tercer Mundo

  • The History of the Otaveleño People and Quichua Spirituality:
    Patricio Lima, Otavalo historian; author, La Majia de la
    Sabiduria Andina.

Weeks 5-7

Service Learning Practicum 1                                2 credits

This is the first of two three-week-long volunteer work internships
designed to give students real life experience living and working on
meaningful development projects in rural Ecuador. The volunteer
opportunities offered through CASA allow students to choose from
positions in the Andes, the Amazon, and Pacific Coast working on
projects associated with a wide diversity of cultural, agricultural,
political, conservation, and development topics. Students are
expected to keep a journal of their thoughts and experiences. The
volunteer position is also a primary research component of students’
semester-culminating research project. A ten-page project report
and analysis will be completed and presented at the end of the
semester. Students can arrange alternative volunteer positions if
those offered by CASA do not meet their academic interests.

Weeks 8-10

Service Learning Practicum 2                                2 credits

This is the second of two three-week-long volunteer work-based
internships designed to give students real life experience living and
working on meaningful development projects in rural Ecuador.
Please refer to Service Learning Practicum 1 (above) for the course

Weeks 11-14

Research Project Seminar                        3 credits
Schedule varies                                            Various instructors

This seminar is the academic reflection of the student experience
and the capstone of their study abroad experience. Students meet
with their Research Project Seminar instructor before, during, and
after their volunteer placements, but the majority of contact takes
place during the last four weeks of the semester where students
spend the month integrating their research and field experiences
into a research project (usually a 25-page research paper).
Students may elect to complete their research project in the site of
their choosing (determined by research topics and needs), although
most do the work in Quito because of the access to libraries,
universities, instructors, and Internet services that the capital city
offers. Research projects will be presented and shared at a five-day
end-of-semester retreat at the hot springs of Nangulví.

Social Change and Development in Ecuador: A Service
Learning Based Semester Abroad
is organized and directed by:

Inter-American Center for the Arts, Sustainability,and Action

 Centro Interamericano para las Artes, el Sustento, y la Acción