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Semester Abroad

Program Tracks

The Oaxaca Semester Abroad program provides students with an intriguing and empowering study abroad experience. Over the years, more than 150 students have participated in this innovative program and returned to the University of Vermont rejuvenated and inspired to create change in both their own lives and throughout the world.

Students can select from two course tracks:

These are the course offerings for the 2015 Oaxaca Semester Abroad program and are subject to change.

The First Six Weeks:

All students participating in the Oaxaca Semester Abroad program will complete the first portion of the program as one cohort.


Cultural Competency through Language in Oaxaca, Mexico (3 credits) – GRS095
Professor: UABJO Professors

For the first six weeks in Oaxaca, all students will participate in a course that combines intensive Spanish language training with the acquisition of cultural competency and a general background knowledge of Oaxacan culture. The intensive language courses are offered through the public university’s language center, UABJO (Universidad Autónoma Benito Juárez de Oaxaca), and include field trips, small group in-depth discussions, Mexican vocabulary and colloquialisms, and continuous opportunities to practice. Upon arrival in Mexico, students will take a placement test to see which level of Spanish adequately meets their needs.

Oaxaca Collective Research Project (2 credits) – CDAE195
Professor: Jonathan Treat, MA

This Field Study Seminar provides students with the opportunities and the field-research tools necessary to collaboratively explore a topic of personal interest. Students will collectively identify an area of focus, develop a plan that will guide the study, and acquire skills to successfully carry out their research. This is an opportunity for students to take ownership of their learning, while collaborating with peers during their field-based research. A local advisor will mentor each group, providing consultation, feedback, and resources. Students will present their findings to peers and faculty at the end of the seminar.

Past Projects Included:

  • Art and Social Movements
  • Children’s Rights
  • Traditional Healing
  • Food Justice
  • Water Management

Networks and Communities of Oaxaca (3 credits) – CDAE195/GEOG196
Professor: Oliver Froehling, M.A.

Oaxaca, Mexico, has been described in a myriad of ways: as a state with indigenous characteristics; as a primary tourist destination with its quaint colonial capital; as one of the most underdeveloped places in Mexico; as a haven for alternative collective practices; or, since 2006, as the home of Mexico’s next revolution. This course surveys how “Oaxaca” as a place is constructed by multiple agents embedded in multiple networks, exploring the multiple layers and connections of different groups that together make up the place called Oaxaca. Emphasizing social and environmental justice, we will examine communities, government agencies, and collective actors as agents in controlling and shaping their place through various means of territorial control, within connections and networks created through professional associations, NGOs, social movements, circuits of capital, and symbolic circulation. This course will draw on geographical and social theory in order to provide students with the tools to make sense of complex phenomena. The course will use lectures, field visits, assignments, and interactive techniques in the classroom to facilitate learning. The course concludes with four day excursion to Mexico City to explore this incredible cosmopolitan hub of culture, commerce, and education.


Maximizing the Oaxaca Experience (2 credits) – CDAE195
Professor: Oliver Froehling, MA; Claire Goodwin

This course is designed to facilitate successful navigation of Mexican culture and  the Oaxacan community through practical exercises, blog posts, drop-offs, interviews, and research on aspects of Oaxacan culture. Themes include privilege, religion, music, homestays, and Spanish. A large portion of this course is dedicated to the village practicum, where students spend one week in a village participating in a community project. The course will conclude with a capstone project as a way to tie together the Oaxaca experience

Following the completion of the core courses, students will break apart to complete the following tracks:

CALS Track

The Food Systems track explores our current food system today, from community settings to the national and global level. Mexico’s traditional cuisine is an intangible cultural heritage, according to UNESCO, and Oaxaca is renowned for its cuisine within the country. It is no surprise that it is also a hotbed for discussions and action on food sovereignty and the culture of resistance through food. The courses focus on how food and culture are intertwined through analysis of the changes in diet brought about by globalization, different scales and types of farming, as well as the global health and nutritional challenges that Oaxaca and Mexico face today. The themes of environment, culture, health, and their connection to food systems will be introduced through the three courses offered, and the track will conclude with a capstone project.


Oaxaca Foodways: From Pre-Columbian to Present (3 credits) – NFS295
Professors: Teresa Mares, PhD; Cynthia Belliveau, EdD


This part of the course will explore the intersection of food and culture with a consideration of Oaxacan cuisine, or the ingredients, methods, techniques, and traditions of Oaxaca, and how it relates to cooking. Students will investigate how all elements of the food system, from farming to cooking to eating, affect Oaxacan cuisine today, and how movement of people and ingredients has influenced the way Oaxacans eat.

Agroecological Principles in the Oaxacan Landscape: Past and Present  (3 credits) – PSS096
Professor: Vern Grubinger, PhD

This two-week course uses field-based experiences to explore food production, marketing, and historical and contemporary factors affecting Oaxaca’s food systems. The course will further explore the role and relevance of different scales of farming, the effect of external forces on local agriculture, and different approaches to improving the food system. During field excursions, students will engage with a variety of people, examining different perspectives of the Oaxacan and global food system.

Sustaining Communities Track (CAS)

The SC (CAS) track examines three interrelated aspects that make communities successful and enduring: The importance of deep knowledge and stewardship of the EnvironmentCulture, in terms of old and new traditions and practices that enliven and inform community life; and Health, the way we care for and nurture each other. These three themes tie together to create forms of coexistence that are built on knowledge, trust, and cooperation. In Oaxaca, community organizations are on the forefront of struggles for social and environmental justice. We will connect these aspects of health, culture, and environment at the end of the semester with a capstone project.


The Botany of Oaxaca and its Impact on Resource Management (3 credits) – PBIO195
Dr. Michael Sundue, PhD
Oaxaca is a biodiversity hotspot that harbors a unique assemblage of plant diversity. The region is also rich in ethno-botanical culture and is the historical location for the domestication for many important crops. The Botany of Oaxaca course fosters the importance of knowledge and stewardship for the environment by exploring the geography and evolution of both wild and domesticated plants, and by examining how the management of environmental resources have profound economic and social implications for communities.

Music, Identity, and Forms of Cultural Resistance in Oaxaca (3 credits) – ANTH196/MU096
Professor: Sergio Navarette, PhD

Focusing on the concept of music as culture and using a theoretical framework to understand the ways music and society influence each other, this course will give a general overview of Mexican music history, using mapping of folk music to understand the contemporary scene of music practicing in rural and urban Oaxaca. Communal ways of living in Oaxaca are key factors for environmental preservation and sustainable ways of agriculture and art craft production. Music and dance occasions, including the fiesta, play an important role in long-term reciprocity among members of a community and exchanges between communities. In fact, the well-known “day of the dead” is an example of spiritual reciprocity between the living and the dead to share the happiness of music as a reminder of the past and a promise of continuity for the future. We will explore these themes and many more in this course.

Both CAS and CALS Tracks Will Offer:

Global Health and Nutrition in Oaxaca (2 credits) – NFS195/HLTH195
Jean Harvey, PhD, RD; Burt Wilcke, PhD, SM

This interdisciplinary course integrates several global health challenges with an examination of the Oaxacan food system. We will define the state of the problem, the etiology of the issues, and finally, current interventions designed to ameliorate these health disparities. Specifically, we will explore how the built environment, vector borne disease, migration for subsistence, and the nutrition transition are interconnected and influence, or are influenced by, communities, traditions, environment, and culture.
Students are required to meet with their advisors to discuss course listings and requirements for their major, minor, and college.