9 Study Abroad Courses You Can Take to Learn About Indigenous People

Indigenous peoples are those who are practicing unique traditions and retaining social, cultural, economic and political characteristics that are distinct from those of the dominant societies in which they live.

Although there are more than 370 million indigenous people spread across 70 countries worldwide, there’s perhaps no better opportunity to study and learn about these lives and culture other than through study abroad.

Whether you’re seeking to learn more about indigenous people for heritage reasons, academic reasons, or sheer curiosity, we’ve got nine classes that will not only enhance your knowledge and understanding of indigenous peoples but many allow you to enter into villages and speak with and learn directly from the people who live there.

Chengdu, China

Chinese Minority Culture and Society
Term offered: Spring
Sociology; 300-level; 3 credits

This course focuses on religious and cultural diversity within communities in southwestern China. You’ll learn to apply social science methodologies to topics related to Chinese ethnic groups, societies, the economy, and cultures. The course is scheduled to include guest lecturers to discuss topics such as migration, intercultural communication, development, and Aboriginal experiences in Taiwan and Canada. The course also includes a field trip to a museum, which will be free for students enrolled in the course.

Tibetan Culture and Society
Term offered: Fall
Anthropology, History, Sociology; 400-level; 3 credits

A student poses with locals during the Tibetan Culture and Society Course

This course introduces Tibetan Society and Culture, including history and structure, emphasizing the relationship between Tibetan Buddhism or Lamaism and Tibetan Culture. As a central element of Tibetan civilization, Tibetan Buddhism has shaped its politics, economy, identity, education and society. However, Tibetan Culture is not only Tibetan Buddhism, and Tibetan Buddhism is not equal to Lamaism. The course also explores some aspects of social life and culture. The course may introduce academic research, such as Why Tibetan Culture has become a global phenomenon and how Tibetan traditional cultural to face globalization.

Chiang Mai, Thailand

Hill Tribe field study
Term offered: Fall, Spring
Anthropology; 400-level; 1 credit

Students learn about making a broom from locals during the Hill Tribe Field Study
Students learn about making a broom from locals during the Hill Tribe Field Study

You’ll get the chance to participate on an educational tour of the Hill Tribes. This is an excellent opportunity to break the routine of classes and get acquainted with other parts of the country. This optional 1-credit field study course includes a 2-day, 1-night field trip to Akha village in Chiang Rai province for a rural homestay and several additional half-day field trips to sites close to Chiang Mai city and additional half-day field trips and an additional 2-day, 1-night field trip to a Hmong village in Chiang Mai province. USAC encourages each student to enroll; however, this segment of the program is optional, quite physically demanding, and has an additional fee. You will register for the field study on your Course and Tour Registration Form.

Highland Ethnic Peoples and Social Transformation of Northern Thailand
Term offered: Spring
400-level; 3 credits

Engaged in a discussion with local peoples of Northern Thailand
Engaged in a discussion with local peoples of Northern Thailand

This course will explore historical background of highland ethnic groups in Northern Thailand and their social transformation. It also covers the state government policies, regionalization, and globalization impacts toward them. Ethnic responses in various aspects will also be explored and discussed. Furthermore, field studies will be organized for students to experience ethnic people’s livelihood and culture.

Florianópolis, Brazil

Peoples of the Amazon
Term offered: Fall, Spring
Anthropology, Sociology; 400-level; 3 credits

USAC Students during the Peoples of the Amazon Field Study

This course is intended to give a general introduction into the cultures of Amerindian peoples living in Lowland South America (including but not limited to the Amazon basin). The course is structured in three parts. The first part of the course focuses on historical dimensions, exploring both European and Amerindian forms of rendering the past: explorers/travellers’ narratives and archaeological findings, on the one hand, and indigenous mythology on the other hand. In the second part of the course students are introduced into classic themes that have recently informed the anthropological debate on Amazonian peoples: warfare and anthropophagy; indigenous cosmologies; kinship and social organization; gender; shamanism and the body. The last part of the course addresses the theme of sociocultural change through a number of layers, bringing to bear and contrasting Western and indigenous models of transformation. Among the topics covered in this last section are notions of “purity/isolation” vs. “mixture/acculturation”; the emergence of new ethnic identities in the Brazilian public sphere; citizenship, democracy and indigenous peoples’ relationship with the nation-state in the framework of multiculturalism.

Montevideo, Uruguay

Rio de la Plata – People and Culture & Field study
Term offered: Fall, Spring
Anthropology, History; 300-level; 3 credits

Tasting a Torta Frita during the Rio de la Plata Field Study
Tasting a Torta Frita during the Rio de la Plata Field Study

The course provides an introduction to the history and culture of the Rio de la Plata region, specifically Uruguay and Argentina, with a focus on recent history. The course examines the pre-conquest native populations from the 1850s through the 1950s as well as the foundation of Buenos Aires and Montevideo and the influences of European populations on the cultural patterns that define “Che” culture of Rio de la Plata. During the field study, you’ll visit different sites in the country, museums, iconic buildings, and classic neighborhoods, and through the rich interaction with local people, students will learn first-hand about history and traditions, and how they can inform our understanding of Rio de la Plata today.

The places/sites we will visit will be chosen purposely for their relevant historical and cultural significance, in order to provide an authentic and thorough learning opportunity for students.

New Zealand

Variety of classes offered on Māori culture

USAC partners with Massey University for our program in New Zealand. While attending Massey University, students have the opportunity to take a variety of courses on the Māori culture, the indigenous people of New Zealand.

To learn more about the classes offered, you can check out the School of Māori Knowledge at Massey University.

Santiago, Chile

Chile’s Native Cultures and Languages: Northern Chile
Term: Fall
400-level; 3 credits

This course provides an overview of Chile’s native cultures focusing on the northern region, encompassing diverse cultural contexts, from the ancient Aymaras and Atacameños, to more recently recognized indigenous groups. This course will introduce the important aspects of these cultures, including prehistory, myths, religion, economy and social organization; how these elements combine to form cultural identities and the transformations undergone in historical times and up to the present day.

Chile’s Native Cultures and Languages: Southern Chile
Term: Spring
400-level; 3 credits

This course will focus on the diverse indigenous Cultures of Southern Chile (Patagonian Cultures, Mapuche, etc.) as well as the Polynesian culture of Rapa Nui. It will provide an insight into the basics of these societies and how the Western world has changed dramatically their way of living and traditions, since the first contacts between these two worlds.

No matter what term you study abroad, take advantage of the unique opportunity to celebrate and learn about indigenous peoples from around the world.