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Programs : Brochure

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  • Locations: Chiang Mai, Thailand
  • Program Terms: Fall Semester, Full Academic Year, Spring Semester
  • Homepage: Click to visit
  • Program Sponsor: ISDSI 
  • Dates / Deadlines
Fact Sheet:
Fact Sheet:
Language of Instruction: English Minimum GPA: 3.0
Housing Options: Apartment, Host Family Areas of Study: Anthropology and Sociology, Asian Studies, Biology, Educational Studies, Environmental Studies, History, Humanities, Political Science
Program Type: Field Studies, Internship
Program Description:
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Students at ISDSI hiking

Sustainable Development Studies: Thailand
Semester Program in Chiang Mai, Thailand with ISDSI

Journey into the forests, mountains, and islands of Thailand to study the links between culture and ecology, and how local communities are creating a sustainable future.

This study abroad semester is like no other, with our unique Expedition Field Course format allowing students to travel and study throughout Thailand, from remote hill tribe villages in the North to the islands in the South.

Expedition Field Courses are hands-on learning — assignments include everything from coral reef surveys to ethnographic research. Students live with local families, and backpack, sea kayak and travel through the landscapes they are studying.


The culturally and ecologically rich country of Thailand is the ideal setting in which to study how people interact with an array of ecosystems within the context of sustainable development.  From our institute in the vibrant northern Thai city of Chiang Mai, students travel throughout Thailand to learn about issues in sustainability directly from the people being impacted by and in turn impacting the ecosystems on which they depend.  

Our program is designed around our Expedition Field Courses that enable students to spend as much time as possible in the field, interacting with and learning directly from the subjects they are studying.  Every course is interdisciplinary and highly experiential and provides an incredibly immersive learning experience.  

Program Highlights:
  • Immersive Learning
  • Home Stays
  • Wilderness Travel Skills including backpacking, snorkeling, and sea kayaking
  • Leadership and Risk Management training
  • Thai language study
  • Main academic courses taught in English
  • Backpacking and sea kayaking between remote villages
  • Study of both ethnic Thai majority society and several ethnic minority cultures
  • Meetings and discussions with leaders from villages, government institutions, and NGOs
  • Ecology field research
  • Optional Intership Placements following the semester


THAI FOUNDATIONS-- Thai Language, History, and Culture

Small group language classes (3-5 students). No English is used in the classroom, and students will learn to speak, read, and write in Thai. Each morning during Foundations students are in the classroom studying Thai, with experiential learning opportunities each week. Language instruction continues throughout the semester when students are at the institute, and Thai is used during each Expedition Field Course. Depending on the policies of the home institution, Thai may be used to meet language requirements depending on the level of proficiency achieved.  A series of seminars on Thai history, culture and society take place throughout the course, with extensive guest speakers and visits to local Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs). By the end of the course students will have the background to understand the key sustainability issues and development challenges in Thailand.


This course examines in depth both the context and practice of agroecology and sustainable agriculture.  These issues form the core of sustainability, and include such topics as ecology and natural resource management, food supply, and the role of biological and sociological systems in global sustainability. Seminars and discussions  take place “in context” to the learning— i.e. reading about agroforestry, then going into an agroforest to study the plants growing there.  This is—literally—a “hands on” course. Students will get muddy tramping through the fields, blisters from working on the farm, and tired from hiking up into remote villages.


This course explores the ethno-ecological relationship between humans and forests.  Most of the course will be conducted within villages in the extreme northwest corner of Thailand, nestled among mountains that have long since been the domain of Karen ethnic people. Tropical forest ecology, the Karen adaptation to this environment, and the conflicts over forest resource management form the thematic backbone of the course. By living, farming, interacting, and traveling through the forests with villagers, students will learn firsthand how the Karen livelihood is intertwined with their forest world.


This course focuses on the coastal communities and islands of the Andaman Sea, Southern Thailand.  This course examines two ecologically important areas — the coast of Trang and the Adang Archipelago — focusing on reef ecosystems, mangroves, seagrasses, and the human communities that depend on them for their survival. Both the physical and cultural environments are challenging—over a week of travel will be by sea kayak, and half of the course will be in a small Southern Thai fishing village. By the end of the course, students will have an understanding of the major issues surrounding coastal ecology and culture, with experience in and understanding of coral reefs, mangroves, sea grasses and tidal areas; as well as understand the unique challenges and struggles of the human communities that live in the coastal zone — the semi-nomadic Urak Lawoi and Southern Thai Muslim fisherfolk. These cases represent a complex situation of multiple and often conflicting resource uses in the coastal ecosystem and rapidly changing ways of life for the coastal and island people.

For more information and for details on applying, please visit

ISDSIs new campus

International Sustainable Development Studies Institute - Thailand
Program Advisor - Nancy Eberhardt

Academically challenging and intensely experiential, ISDSI courses are expeditions into the cultures and ecology of Thailand. Each course is focused on understanding sustainable development and is designed in collaboration with local communities.

Integrating both the social and natural sciences, on our courses students may work on an organic farm alongside villagers while learning about agroecosystems, backpack on remote forest trails in the mountains with upland people in order to study indigenous forest management or sea kayak to learn about oceans, reefs and fishing communities.

Components of the semester in Thailand include:

Home stays: An initial 5 week home stay with a Thai family in Chiang Mai.  Following this, students will often be in home stays on-course, in the villages where the courses take place. These include Northern Thai, Karen hill tribe, Southern Thai, and other cultures.
Independent living: After the home stay, students move into apartments and stay there while in Chiang Mai for the seminars and internship portions of their coursework.
Expedition travel: Most courses contain a significant component of expedition travel, including hiking, backpacking and sea kayaking.
Field research: Both natural science methods and survey methods from the social sciences are used in ISDSI courses.  Students may be doing a field experiment or biodiversity survey one day, and the next interviewing farmers or fishermen about their livelihood the next.
Language immersion: A core component of the program is intensive Thai language study — using small classrooms with hands on and interactive learning while in Chiang Mai, and required field use of Thai while on the courses. Students come out of the program with a sold working knowledge of Thai.

Dates / Deadlines:
Dates / Deadlines:
Term Year App Deadline Decision Date Start Date End Date
Spring Semester 2023 02/01/2022 03/01/2022 TBA TBA
Full Academic Year 2022-2023 02/01/2022 03/01/2022 TBA TBA
Fall Semester 2022 02/01/2022 03/01/2022 TBA TBA