Sustainable Development Studies: Thailand
96% Rating
(11 Reviews)

Sustainable Development Studies: Thailand

The Sustainable Development Studies: Thailand program gets you out of the traditional classroom and into the field on adventurous expedition-style courses. Traveling from remote hill tribe villages in the north to the southern islands, you will study the unique relationships between Thailand's rich cultures and diverse eco-systems while learning from local community leaders. Additionally, you will kayak the Andaman, trek the mountains of northern Thailand, learn about sustainable agriculture, conduct a coral reef surveys, live with host families & more!

Hands-on and academically challenging, the People, Ecology & Development program allows you to engage with the local people and immerse yourself in a way of life different than your own. It is an adventure that will stay with you forever!

An optional 4-6 week internship/independent study with a local organization is available following completion of the program!

  • Expedition Travel
  • Home Stays In Remote Villages
  • Highly Immersive and Integrative
  • Learn from Local Leaders
  • Learn Thai Language and Culture
Chiang Mai
Program Type
Direct Enrollment
Subject Areas
Asian Studies
Conservation and Preservation
Cultural Studies
Liberal Arts
Library Sciences
Marine Biology
Natural Sciences
Social Sciences
Sustainable Development
Women's Studies
Degree Level
Academic Year
Host Family
Domestic Airfare
SIM cards
Travel Insurance
Online Application
Official Transcripts
Letters of Recommendation
GPA Requirement
Starting Price
Price Details
The listed cost is a "comprehensive fee" that includes tuition, housing, in-country books/readers, program related travel, and a monthly cash stipend for food and local transportation on your own. This allows you to apply existing financial aid to both tuition and cost-of-living in Thailand during the program.

Questions & Answers

Program Reviews

based on 11 reviews
  • Academics 7.6
  • Support 8.9
  • Fun 9.5
  • Housing 9.6
  • Safety 9.6
Showing 1 - 11 of 11
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Super great. Some things to think about

This was an amazing experience that I will never forget and encourage everyone considering to apply for. The language and culture immersion was amazing, the host families and field instructors were awesome, and the locations and courses were better than I could have hoped for. Overall this was an amazing program and I am really happy I didn't choose any other program. I think every college student should have an immersive learning experience like the one that ISDSI offers. Initially I was concerned that my Thai language skills would feel useless. But that is what allowed me to learn the most from local instructors and from my host families, and even though I don't use it now I think it's what contributed most to my education with ISDSI. Be aware that a lot of the villages and home stays will be with Christian Thais, not Buddhist or animist ones like you may expect. Many of the organizations ISDSI works with and the majority of the staff are Christian as well. This is not mentioned on the website but it's good to know before you go. The internship experience was not great but the program was excellent.

How can this program be improved?

Better support and communication from executive director. Better communication and faster action on internships.

Response from

It's great to know you had an amazing experience during your time studying abroad at ISDSI!

Some students are surprised to find out that Thailand is culturally and religiously diverse, and not just Buddhist. During one course we do stay in villages for a few nights where many of the families are Christian, and some students do find that surprising. But that is part of the history and identity of that ethnic minority group, so we feel it is appropriate to learn from those communities. In the same way, we have extended stays in many Buddhist communities and a Muslim community so students learn from and experience villages and ways of life that reflect the ethnic and religious diversity of Thailand.

A couple of the projects we work with were started by development workers who are Christians, but again, the focus is on the quality of the project and not the religion, except when the focus is on religion. For that we focus on Buddhism, animism and Islam - talking with a Buddhist monk, meeting a Muslim Imam, studying animism and forests, etc.

Similarly, ISDSI employs individuals based on their knowledge of local culture, ecology and expedition skills, and does not discriminate based on personal belief systems. While some staff are Christian, the majority are Buddhist or non-religious.

In terms of doing an internship with ISDSI, we have now changed our policy since there was a lot of confusion this semester. Students will need to write up a formal proposal before they come to Thailand, rather than trying to figure out what they want to do once they arrive, and they will have a chance to set up their own internships and independent studies.

Thank you again for your feedback, and we hope you always remember all the great things you experienced in the Land of Smiles.

Yes, I recommend
Default avatar

The people mean everything to me

Studying abroad in Thailand with ISDSI was "life changing" for me. As much as I dislike the stereotypical narrative of going abroad and coming back a changed person, I do think that the personal connections I developed while studying in Thailand will affect me for the rest of my life. My favorite parts about this program were the homestay experience where I developed close relationships with my host families -- enough so that I returned the next year to complete my senior thesis work in Thailand, and am considering moving there post-undergrad to work, mainly to stay in touch with those communities and individuals I became close with. The other facet of the program that I enjoyed the most was the intensive language learning. Learning Thai from scratch in an extremely fluid and intuitive way really helped me towards a greater respect and understanding of Thai culture and people in a way that would be impossible without the language skills.

How can this program be improved?

At times the logistical side of the program felt simultaneously scattered and high school-esque. I understand that the staff are operating under flexible and constantly changing circumstances, and that many college students are unreliable and working on developing responsibility, however, I think that restructuring the student leadership portion of the program could simultaneously reduce student frustration and encourage them to grow into real leadership roles.

Yes, I recommend
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Fall Semester

Sustainability is extremely applicable to the current state of affairs in the US. ISDSI provides students with insight into the development of a country and its sustainable capacity.
The program can be challenging at times in terms of being in situations that may not be familiar for many students that have grown up in the US. However, ISDSI is a truly unique program, and I am extremely grateful for the people that I have met and the education I have gained.

Yes, I recommend
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ISDSI was the best semester of my college career!

I think the ISDSI program is unique among study abroad programs in that you get the opportunity to explore all over the country. At the beginning of the semester, you are based in Chiang Mai, which is a really cool city with lots to do. You get to be truly immersed in Thai culture by staying with a host family and spending a significant portion of every school day learning Thai. But for the other courses in the semester you get to travel to northern Thailand to hike in the mountains and southern Thailand to stay on the coast and kayak to islands. During my semester we also got to go to Laos as part of the rivers course.
I would highly recommend this semester to anyone that is interested in how people interact with their environment. We got to learn hands on by speaking to local people about the different ways they relied on the forests, rivers, or coasts. This semester does not really focus on sciences like biology (although you will learn identification of some plants and animals from the host families you stay with) but rather on cultural anthropology.
I definitely made lasting friends that I still keep in touch with, years later and I hope to be able to go back and visit Thailand and my host family! I would recommend this program to anyone that loves outdoor activities and has the itch to travel. Thailand is one of the most beautiful countries I have been to.

Yes, I recommend
Default avatar

Amazing Place, Amazing People

ISDSI's program offered an abundance of opportunities to immerse oneself in the language, culture, and environment. The people we worked with left a lasting impact on the ways I perceived my surroundings, and strengthened and shaped my overall worldview. Perhaps my favorite part was getting to learn Thai as a way of asking to be let into a different world in which we did not "belong".

I hope to go back to visit some of the people I met in this program, and hope to have lasting relationship with them for life.

How can this program be improved?

There were occasions that I felt like I was being treated like a child. Obviously we required more information and guidelines being in a new place, but the way in which this information was delivered did not always feel respectful.

Yes, I recommend
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Great experience and immersion of culture

This program is like none other. It immerses you into Thai culture so you actually learn and live like local people.

Field courses are challenging and basically you will learn quickly to accept things you can't change, eat what you don't want, and appreciate what you have.

There are no nicer people than Thais. I wouldn't change my experience at all.

If you have the chance to come here, do it. It will challenge you in many ways constantly, but you will grow immensely from this experience. It is humbling and amazing to be in this culture and get to maneuver around Thailand as a local. This program is the only one that makes sure you are treated as a local and not a tourist in Thai culture.

How can this program be improved?

The academics are not taught the best before field courses, but it depends on the professor. Communication between staff and students could be improved and lastly, this program academic content is not as science based as it looks. I learned way more culture and anthropology-esque things than science. However, the learning was constant.

Yes, I recommend
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Great Experience

ISDSI is a really great program for those who are interested in learning about complex issues of both environment and culture in an entirely experiential way. It is a very immersive experience which allows students to experience Thai culture in a unique way by emphasizing language skills and integration with you host family and others that you meet. This hands-on approach allows students to take charge of their own education and explore personal interests within the realm of sustainable development. Well trained and staff are welcoming and make everything run smoothly.

Yes, I recommend
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Totally changed my life!

This program is incredible. It was challenging; it pushed me beyond what I thought I was capable of doing...and I came out with a better understanding of who I am, what I believe, and what I want to do with my life. The teachers and instructors really care about the students and really work hard to provide you with the best possible learning environment. And I felt like I was part of a family, which was especially important during those days that I longed to be back in the states. I am not going to say that it was an easy semester, but I will tell you that this program was pivotal in my life. I would not be where I am today and doing the things I am doing if I hadn't been apart of ISDSI. Thank you!!

Yes, I recommend
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Number One Best Choice I Made in College

ISDSI's well-organized program is designed for a student from any discipline. In fact, one of its greatest strengths is that it brings together scientists, writers, and political scientists, among others, to learn together as a cohort. The common bond is that they care about sustainability. Undoubtedly, most of what I learned in Thailand was enhanced by the group I learned it with.

The best part of the program for me was the significant time we spent outdoors and its focus on outdoor leadership. ISDSI does not require you to be an advanced hiker, camper, kayaker, or mountain climber. The program meets you where you are and helps you challenge yourself.

My second favorite aspect was the well-planned academic programming. From the history of Thailand to Thai culture to the many ethnic minorities to the changing economic climate among the ASEAN countries, I left with a life-long fascination with the history of southeast Asia, and a much better understanding of the regional politics.

When I selected this program, I was studying Spanish. I worried that choosing a non-Spanish speaking country would inhibit my long-term goal of going to the U.S. Peace Corps in a Spanish-speaking country (which I did--Guatemala). In the end, the choice was actually empowering. Learning a completely different language in a short period of time (4-6 months) was very empowering. I found I was able to quickly return to my Spanish and, at times, tried to learn the two languages side-by-side. So, if you're focused on improving your language skills by studying abroad, considering a new language like Thai.

Since leaving the program, I've gone on to be a Peace Corps volunteer, a community organizer, a policy analyst, and now an attorney. Not a week goes by that I don't discuss Thailand with someone. To study abroad through ISDSI was the best choice I made in college. Consider it.

How can this program be improved?

This is a minor critique, because, ultimately, this aspect of the program helped me to grow: Because the program is a lengthy six (to nine) months, I found myself craving alone time, away from my cohort and my host family. Thus, I used to feel that the program should identify ways for the students to have more free time. Even so, spending a lot of time with others helped me to grow as a student and a leader.

Yes, I recommend
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Best semester ever

ISDSI has an amazing program for students interested in development, social issues, environmental issues, biology, anthropology/sociology, outdoor ed/recreation, sustainable agriculture, and more! Each course looks at a different environmental and social issue in Thailand, giving you hands on experience. This is not a study abroad program where you just take classes at another university. You take "classes" from nationals in a remote village, or from a government official in a National Park or district office, or from a NGO worker at their project. Regardless of your background/major, ISDSI prepares you to excel not only in field courses, but also in Thai culture. While unconventional teaching methods can be difficult to adjust to, what you learn is much more valuable and is (in my opinion) much more than if you were to just take classes at a university.

Yes, I recommend
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A program like no other

This program is a phenomenal way to experience local community life in a foreign country. They has done an exceptional job forming partnerships with both urban organizations and rural villages that are a part of the program. My experience was beyond what I expected, and post-graduation I am back visiting friends and family all around northern Thailand whom I know I will be close to for the rest of my life. Learning Thai language allows students to engage with people freely and form self-directed relationships. This program is also great for people who want experience with team building and expedition skills in the outdoors (day hikes and overnights, sea kayaking and snorkeling etc.) ISDSI uses models of experiential education and other National outdoor leadership school principles. Thailand is a very tidy and conservative culture... I felt safe at all times wearing the clothes I was told to wear. All aspects of Thai culture were explained to us, and we had many resources to ask questions of Thai instructors and other Thai staff at the school. The school is a wondErful mix of "p's" (or older brother/sister- somewhat like a trip leader) who are both Thai and from the USA, fostering a wonderful supportive community of understanding of the ways student might be feeling during transitions and "culture shock", and also a wonderful network of Thai mentors who are willing to help and answer questions. All become great friends. Other highlights included cross fit workouts while living in the city at crossfit chiang mai, these were a part of the program. The housing was a perfect balance with 5 weeks in host families in the city, and the rest of the time was mixed with village housing and apartments in the city for some time to feel what it is like to live on our own in chiang mai. My favorite part was my internship as a part of the integrative Cultural Research Project during which I worked with a social enterprise Akha Ama coffee. I know I will be working with this organization on and off for the rest of my life. I am so grateful for this experience! Choose ISDSI!

How can this program be improved?

I cannot think of any immediate improvements. The internship was not a part of the schedule so that every student my semester could participate. This who started school in January. We're unable to participate. This was my favorite part and it would be wonderful if the schedule could be so that everyone could do this, but I know that is difficult.
Also if I had known I was going to like it so much I would have stayed for longer. Students can stay up to a year!

Yes, I recommend

About International Sustainable Development Studies Institute

Study abroad at International Sustainable Development Studies Institute (ISDSI), and immerse yourself in the vibrant cultures of Thailand and the surrounding region. Our programs are designed to get you out of the traditional classroom and into the...