Sustainable Development Studies in Thailand

Video and Photos

In Ayutthaya, Thailand.
With other Thai students.
Buddhist temple.
immersive cultural experience study abroad sustainable agriculture
immersive cultural experience study abroad sustainable agriculture
immerse in cultural experience study abroad homestay host family
immerse in cultural experience study abroad homestay host family

About

The Sustainable Development Studies in Thailand program is a life changing opportunity that will get 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. You will kayak the Andaman Sea, trek the mountains of northern Thailand, learn about sustainable agriculture, conduct coral reef surveys, live with host families & more!

Hands-on and academically challenging, the SDS: Thailand program allows you to engage with local Thai culture 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!

Highlights
  • Participate in life changing expedition travel
  • Home Stays In Remote Villages
  • Highly immersive and integrative experiences
  • Learn from local leaders
  • Learn Thai Language and Culture

Questions & Answers

Reviews

9.63 Rating
based on 16 reviews
  • Academics 7.9
  • Support 8.9
  • Fun 9.6
  • Housing 9.6
  • Safety 9.6
Showing 1 - 8 of 16
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Erin
9/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Learning to Learn for Life

I studied Thai language, culture and ecology but I took away with me skills for how to approach people, places and situations that I am unfamiliar with. Everything is interconnected, and knowing how to speak a new language, be a good host, ask good questions, pay attention to the landscape, learn in a cohort of students while traveling were all important skills that I had never had to rely on so much before. My semester in Thailand gives me hope that I can live or work with deep knowledge of the places I end up.

What was the most unfamiliar thing you ate?
So much, but the ant larva soup in one of my first host families was very unforgettable.
Koki
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Lasting Impact!

We practiced describing our semester to our friends and family before heading home from Thailand, but I still feel that I never have enough time to explain the richness of existence I felt during the ISDSI semester. As an Environmental Science major and Education minor, I feel that my biggest takeaway is that my learning in college is now more contextualized and meaningful. Close relationships with local instructors and field instructors personalized our learning about ecological, political, and social systems. I find myself remembering conversations, feelings, and personalities of Thai friends and host families as I navigate my classes. ISDSI challenged me just the right amount to grow interpersonally and intellectually. I'll never forget learning about handicrafts in Mae Hong Son, eating moo ping and som tam, and making lifelong friends from Thailand and the US.

What is your advice to future travelers on this program?
Put your pride aside and learn Thai quickly! Don't be afraid to reach out and make conversation.
Default avatar
Maya
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Incredible experience

I never know where to start when describing my experience with ISDSI, other than that it was incredible. There are plenty of accounts already about the amazing and life-changing way ISDSI approaches education, so I won't try to repeat what has already been said. Instead, I'm going to list a few things that I think make ISDSI unique:

1. Learning directly from farmers who are experiencing the challenges of sustainable development everyday gives a whole new perspective on the issue. ISDSI has an incredible relationship with all of the communities they work with. This is one thing I think really distinguishes the program.

2. ISDSI classes are challenging in a way I've never experienced before. Experiential learning sometimes feels more like play than work (I mean, you get to backpack through Thailand!), but you learn so much and it is constantly forcing you outside your comfort zone.

3. The students that were in the program with me were from all majors - environmental studies, biology, economics, and sociology just to name a few - and it was amazing how this diversity allowed us to look at sustainable development through different lenses.

4. The ISDSI faculty and staff are almost entirely Thai natives - they really put sustainability into practice.

5. Yes, you will learn to have full (if simple) conversations in Thai. I didn't think it would be possible to learn how to converse in an entirely new language in 4 months, but halfway through our group led an entire interview in Thai without a translator. I also had a full conversation with one of my host dads about Karen culture.

6. I'm still in touch with my Chiang Mai host family. Kee-tung!

7. The "this could be your classroom" promos are not exaggerating. I kept thinking those words to myself all semester.

If you like the outdoors and adventure and are looking for an immersion program that will challenge you - this is the best you can get.

What is your advice to future travelers on this program?
Be flexible! Have fun and challenge yourself. Use your Thai as much as possible.
Default avatar
Casey
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Incredible experience

The four months I spent in Thailand were the best four months of my college experience. I was not sure when I would ever have the chance to go over to Southeast Asia so I was extremely excited about this program. We traveled all around Thailand learning about sustainable development from local people. We studied forests, agriculture, oceans and the city of Chiang Mai. The best part of this program was how integrated you are with the Thai culture. You live with a host family which is nerve-wracking because of the language barrier, but at the end of the semester, everyone in the program was competent in the Thai language. But this only happened by our integration into the community. Thai culture is beautiful and lively and not to mention the food is incredible. I was not ready to leave Thailand at the end of the semester. I still talk to my host family and it has been over a year since I was last in Thailand. This program is unlike any other programs because of the experiential learning. I highly recommend this program to everyone, no matter your major!

Default avatar
Caleigh
9/10
Yes, I recommend this program

I love (and miss!) ISDSI

ISDSI was the most incredible experience, and really pushed me outside of my comfort zone. The semester was like nothing I have experienced before, and I value it above most things in college for the eye-opening opportunities it provided me. The home stays were incredible, the food is amazing, and the connections I made there will continue throughout the rest of my life. It's an intense semester, so be prepared to have your brain 'turned on' for four months straight without much of a break. Sometimes that can be overwhelming, and the only thing ISDSI could have done better would be to have better mental health support/communication, or support in general for students who might be struggling, for whatever reasons. Overall, though, I LOVED and miss my semester with ISDSI very much.

What would you improve about this program?
Better mental health support, having an on-staff or on-call counsellor of some sort, giving structured and built-in days off more frequently.
Default avatar
Freda
9/10
Yes, I recommend this program

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.

What would you improve about this program?
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.

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Jasmine
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

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.

What would you improve about this program?
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.
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Marie
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

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.