SEACS Thailand and Cambodia Semester

Live, study and volunteer in two countries in one semester.

The South East Asian Comparative Studies (SEACS) program will enrich your understanding of two complex and historically rich nations.

You will spend the first 7 weeks of the program in Chiang Mai, studying Thai culture, language, and society on the campus of Chiang Mai University; living near the campus in beautiful new international student housing; and engaging in substantive volunteer service for 10-15 hours per week. The last 7 weeks are spent in Phnom Penh, Cambodia either living with a Cambodian family in a homestay or in a student apartment and learning and serving alongside Cambodian youth in an NGO focusing on leadership training and other assistance and education for less advantaged Cambodian children, youth and families.

Your volunteer service immerses you in the culture and deepens your understanding of both Thai and Cambodian societies in a way that goes beyond that experienced in traditional study abroad programs. It also contributes to your knowledge and use of the Thai and Cambodian (Khmer) languages.

"Learning and serving in both Cambodia and Thailand offered me a diverse and dynamic experience. I had the opportunity to study at two incredible universities, and serve with two organizations. BEAM is a migrant-learning center where I taught a population of young Burmese adults with an unlimited amount of drive; Chab Dai is an anti-trafficking coalition that I had the opportunity to research with. I had an immeasurable amount of meaningful interactions and experiences abroad that I cherish: arm wrestling with my Thai host mom in a Thai village we stayed in, riding and bathing with Pain Wad (the coolest lady elephant alive), yearning for mindfulness at meditation retreats, and venturing around the beautiful ancient temples of Angkor Wat. In Cambodia, I spent endless hours laughing and learning from my host family: one night my Cambodian family couldn’t stop laughing as I awkwardly tried to eat a dessert with a spoon, not realizing it was acceptable to eat by hand. My family named me Bopha, meaning flower. As corny as it sounds, with their warmth, love, and care, they played an integral role in helping me grow, or blossom, from this experience. I found ‘home’ in Cambodia, and I cannot wait to be back laughing at the dinner table with them. Want some advice? Be present and stay curious." 
Carly J. - New York

Two Programs in One...

The countries of S.E. Asia are as different as they are similar and students have a unique opportunity to live, study and serve in TWO important SE Asian countries, Thailand and Cambodia, in ONE study abroad and service-learning program! Interesting courses and hands-on service-learning experiences in the S.E. Asian Comparative Studies (SEACS) program will enrich your understanding of these two complex and historically rich SE Asian countries.

Thailand is a land of contrasts:  gorgeous countryside of rice fields, mountains, hills, and ancient temples; bustling city life in the capital, Bangkok; and beaches world-famous for diving and snorkeling. A largely Theravada Buddhist society, Thailand’s population is varied with many tribal and ethnic groups, as well as immigrants. Through service-learning, you will learn about Thai culture, the role of Buddhism, and contemporary social issues while addressing social and economic problems caused by globalization and rapid development. Set amidst the cool and beautiful mountains of northern Thailand, Chiang Mai has the advantages of a city but with the feel of a small town where the traditions of Thai living are preserved.

The country of Cambodia, officially known as the Kingdom of Cambodia, is located in the southern portion of the Indochina Peninsula and is bordered by Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. The capital and largest city of Cambodia, Phnom Penh, is the political, economic, and cultural center of the country. The country has a wealth of diversity and minority groups including:  Vietnamese, Chinese, Chams and 30 independent hill tribes.

Cambodia's ancient name is "Kambuja." The Khmer Empire  which flourished for over 600 years built monumental temples such as Angkor Wat (Angkor Temple)  and facilitated the spread of first Hinduism, then Buddhism to much of Southeast Asia. The Vietnam war (or, more accurately, the American War in Vietnam) extended into Cambodia, giving rise to the Communist Khmer Rouge which took Phnom Penh in 1975 and whose rule resulted in political executions, starvation, forced labor and displacement.  After a decade of Vietnamese occupation following the fall of the Khmer Rouge and a transitional period when the United Nations directly administered the country in the early 1990's, this war-ravaged nation was reunited under the monarchy in 1993 and has seen rapid progress in the economic and human resource areas while rebuilding from decades of civil war. Part of this development includes an amazing array of NGOs, which operate in and around Phnom Penh.

Where you'll stay in Thailand and Cambodia

Thailand- Students live in modern apartments very close to the campus of Chiang Mai University with a Thai student roommate. The apartments accommodate both international and Thai students, and are situated near plentiful, delicious and  inexpensive cafes and open-air eateries. There are also many services on campus and in the dorms including a post office, banks, cafes, fitness rooms, a pool, hair salons, stores, laundry service and much more. There will be a meal stipend provided for breakfasts and dinners during the weekdays upon arrival. Program fees do not include utilities (electricity and water) that would be paid directly to the building management (averages about $20 per month) or for some meals.

Cambodia -  You will either live in a homestay with a local host family in a private room (some meals provided) or in a self-catering apartment (meals paid for and prepared by the student - no meal stipend included in program fee). Please note: homestay may or may not be available every term and is suitable only for those students who understand and are willing to adhere to stricter family rules and cultural norms. The homestay is an integral part of both the program, giving you the opportunity to make lifelong friends, reinforce the language skills acquired during daily lessons, and experience modern Cambodian culture from "the inside." Host families are carefully selected, experienced with hosting students, and view the experience as a form of cultural exchange.

Program Director: Mr. Adam Dedman


The program welcomes students of any nation who have a high school diploma or equivalent credential. TOEFL equivalent 550.



Immersion Focused on Real Cultural Understanding

The program is based at Chiang Mai University, a public university accredited by the Ministry of University Affairs of the Royal Thai government. At Chiang Mai University, you will join with other foreign students in taking required courses (Service-Learning: Institutions of Thai Society; Thai Language; Pre and Post Departure Seminar) and electives for a total of 18 credits per semester. A grade report  is issued through Chiang Mai University upon successful completion of the program and an official transcript is issued by the College of Mount Saint Vincent in Riverdale, NY. Unless otherwise noted, courses are at the 300 level or above except for any foreign language course that will vary as well as elective courses that students can choose from depending upon their particular interests.

* Please note that each credit hour corresponds to 15 hours of instruction. A 3.0 credit course involves 45 hours of instruction and a 2.0 credit course involves 30 hours of instruction.

Required Courses: Thailand

Thai Language (Part 1)

An introduction to spoken and written Thai. The emphasis is on spoken language competency as it relates to daily life: pronunciation and listening comprehension with additional skills in elementary reading and writing. The course is designed for students with no prior knowledge of Thai language. Upon completion of this course, students will be able to communicate effectively, utilizing everyday spoken Thai, and should be able to read consonants, vowels, simple words and short sentences.
Contact Hours: 45
Recommended U.S. Credits: 3

Service-Learning Institutions in Thai Society (Semester Long Course SPLIT between Thailand and Cambodia)

Linked to your service experience, this course will explore service-learning cross-culturally by seeking to address some of the social problems facing Thailand, and examine responses from the Thai public sector and members of civil society, including NGOs and religious institutions. Visits to local NGOs, guest speakers, and discussion of articles and Thai social problems are the format for this course.

The purpose of this class is to introduce students to Thai social problems, social institutions and social change through a combination of academic study and practical service. Through engaging in service students will gain a better academic understanding of these issues. At the same time, the academic understanding will provide a fundamental background for successful completion of the service.

This course will explore service-learning cross-culturally by seeking to address some of the social problems facing Thailand, and examine responses from the Thai public sector and members of civil society, including NGOs and religious institutions. Students will also examine the nature of and the practical dimensions and challenges of effecting social change from outside of a society, and will examine the nature and impact of non-Thai social institutions. A number of visits to local NGOs and guest speakers are part of this course.

Throughout the course, students will engage in service through placement in a local agency. A key component of service-learning is action and reflection. Through the use of journals and class discussions, students will analyze and reflect critically on their service and attempt to integrate it with the learning they have gained from readings and in class.

Following the completion of this course, students will have gained the following:

(1) understanding and experiential application of service-learning; (2) knowledge of how to work cross-culturally in the Thai context; (3) awareness of major Thai social problems and examination of the challenges NGOs face working on these social issues; (4) practical experience addressing a specific Thai social problem through working in a Thai social service agency; and (5) analysis and firsthand practice/participant observation leading to enhanced understanding of Thai culture, social problems, social institutions and solutions.

Evaluation is based on active participation, maintaining a service-journal log and journal reflections, a midterm reflection, and a final reflection.

Contact Hours: 45 Total over two parts
Recommended U.S. Credits: 1.5 each part for a total of 3 credits

Reflections / SL Practicum Seminar (Semester Course Offered ONLINE in Both Sections)

This course is delivered virtually and begins before departure and completes after returning. The content includes both pre-departure and post departure information, discussion and reflection and serves to compliment the Institutions in Society Course. The course explores the theories and practical realities of intercultural service-learning to help make sense of the international experience and to develop intercultural competence. One credit will be awarded for 15 hours of academic relections work and 2 credits for the  hands-on service-learning volunteering.
Contact Hours: 45
Recommended U.S. Credits: 3

POSSIBLE Elective Courses: Thailand

You may choose one to two  electives from the following subject areas related to Thai Studies: Sociology/Anthropology, Religion, History/Political Science, or Fine Arts. Please note that electives vary from term to term and are confirmed approximately one and a half months prior to the start of each term.

International Relations of Mainland SE Asia

This course represents an introduction to the international politics of mainland Southeast Asia. Mainland Southeast Asia comprises the countries of Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, Lao PDR, Cambodia, and Vietnam.  The region is hemmed in by China in the north and India as well as Bangladesh in the west.  Though most people in this region share Buddhism as a common religion, their cultures and languages are vastly different.  Except for Thailand, these countries have also experienced colonization while all the states have had wars with other states or insurrections.  This course frames the issues of conflict and conciliation in mainland Southeast Asia, by utilizing the lenses of Realism, Pluralism, Neo-Marxism, and Social Constructivism to explain and predict events in the region.  Issues examined include border conflicts, non-boundary-related security threats, economics and trade within Southeast Asia, how nationalism has hindered collaboration, prospects for cooperation (e.g. ASEAN), and mainland Southeast Asia’s relations with the great powers.  The course is designed for anyone interested in Southeast Asia or international relations rather than for specialists in the region.
Contact Hours: 45
Recommended U.S. Credits: 3

Religions of SE Asia

Southeast Asia is a fascinating region, not least of all because of its diversity of religious expressions. Although the countries of mainland Southeast Asia have majority Theravada Buddhist populations, throughout the region we find communities of Christians, Catholics, Sikhs, Mahayana Buddhists, Muslims, Taoists, and Hindus. Not only focusing on world religions, we will also have opportunities to discuss and explore indigenous religions and the major developments and themes regarding the emergence and predominance of Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam. We will survey the changing places and diverse impacts of these religions on the political and social lives of various groups in the region. In this course we will have an opportunity to explore this variety of religions and their particular manifestations within Southeast Asia. In addition to learning about the variety of Southeast Asian religious experiences, we will also consider the ways these populations interact and engage with one another. How does interreligious dialogue work in mainland Southeast Asia, where Theravada Buddhism and the state are completely intertwined? How do Indonesians Buddhists and Hindus fit into a predominantly Muslim society? What forms does Christianity take among indigenous ethnic minority populations? We will consider and debate these real and contemporary issues while understanding the historical context of religious diversity in this region. Through excursions to a variety of religious sites, this course provides a balanced overview of religious expressions in Southeast Asia.
Contact Hours: 45
Recommended U.S. Credits: 3

Socially Engaged Buddhism

This course is a study of Buddhism’s practical applications in the modern world. We will discuss how Buddhists in Asia approach various social issues. Focusing on topics such as gender, education, ecology, social justice, and others, this course offers opportunities for critical thinking and discussion about the relationship of Buddhism to modern problems. How can a 2500 year-old tradition be adapted to our most relevant concerns? Where do we look? Who has interesting answers and why? After investigating the most prominent Asian Buddhist practitioners and scholarly voices on these topics, we will create our own responses to these questions. This course will focus specifically on social issues and Buddhist solutions within Southeast Asia, with particular emphasis on Thailand.
Contact Hours: 45
Recommended U.S. Credits: 3

Required and Elective Courses: Cambodia

Required: Khmer Language (Part 1)

An introduction to spoken and written Khmer. The emphasis is on spoken language competency as it relates to daily life: pronunciation and listening comprehension with additional skills in elementary reading and writing. The course is designed for students with no prior knowledge of Khmer language. Upon completion of this course, students will be able to communicate effectively, utilizing everyday spoken Khmer, and should be able to read consonants, vowels, simple words and short sentences.
Contact Hours: 45
Recommended U.S. Credits: 3

Cambodia's Development in Historical and Political Perspective

This hands-on course examines Cambodian society and culture as well as the evolution of the Cambodian nation from its roots as a series of Indianized kingdoms to the establishment of a vast Khmer Empire across Southeast Asia; 1863 subjugation as a French colony; independence in 1953; civil war (1967-1975); genocide under the Khmer Rouge (1975-1979); occupation by Vietnam (1979-1989) and 1993 emergence as a post-conflict country.  Then, against this backdrop, the course explores the multiple challenges facing Cambodia today. Such obstacles include incessant poverty, inadequate health care, insufficient access to food, gender inequality, rights of ethnic-religious minorities, environmental degradation, corruption, dependence on overseas development assistance, political injustice, defective democracy, and border as well as security problems with Cambodia’s neighbors.  The course sets out to understand these challenges by examining topics such as genocide, international relations, economic development, gender/LGBT rights, democratization, human security, human rights, and globalization in the contemporary Cambodian context. Ultimately, this course seeks to facilitate a critical understanding of developmental challenges facing Cambodia today, based upon an understanding of Cambodian society, culture and history. The course is appropriate for those desiring an introduction to Cambodian society, culture, history, politics, gender, economy, culture and developmental issues.
Contact Hours: 45
Recommended U.S. Credits: 3

Chiang Mai Road Sign


Thailand Service Opportunities

After a week of orientation to Chiang Mai and Chiang Mai University, you will visit various service agencies; service assignments will begin shortly thereafter. As you work with local people and care for those in need, you will find your experience and understanding of the culture enriched and deepened, your leadership skills developed, and your language skills enhanced.

You will serve approximately 10-15 hours per week in a local agency. Service opportunities for most students center around:

  • Services to disadvantaged children
  • Services involving education and support of migrant workers
  • Services involving support of sex industry workers and the transgender population
  • English language consulting and / or tutoring related work in which Thai language is not a barrier.

Additional service opportunities can be arranged depending on your Thai language ability. These may include work with:

  • Schools for the deaf and blind
  • Environmental programs
  • Organizations serving the elderly and the handicapped, Burmese refugees/immigrants, street children, hill tribe girls, sex workers, or farmers who are seeking another means of livelihood.

Cambodia Service Opportunities

You will serve approximately 10-15 hours per week in the programs operated by the non profit, ACE (Attitude Center for Education). Service opportunities for most students center around:

  • Food distribution for "Slum" Children
  • Teaching (English, computer, health and hygiene, life skills) in Leadership Training Center for poor and rural Cambodian youth
  • English education for children and youth in "relocation" community
  • English, health, sports, art and leadership education for 5-18 year olds in "slum" community
Your placement will be determined by community and agency needs, as well as your interests, goals, and skills.

College Participants

Things to do

Day trips and excursions in Thailand

Guided academic excursions, accompanied by Chiang Mai University professors and staff members, occur throughout the first part of the semester and may include visits to famous monasteries in the Chiang Mai area, hill tribe villages, and other sites of interest in the mountainous region of the north. Class-related work includes some day trips to nearby sites and overnight excursions to Bangkok or Sukhothai, the former capital, and to a lowland and upland village in Northern Thailand. Visits to an elephant rescue camp as well as a multi - day excusion to Mae Sot, the border area with the Burmese refugee camps.

Day trips and excursions in Cambodia

Guided academic excursions accompanied by professors and staff members, occur throughout the second part of the semester and may include visits to famous Wats (temples)  in the Phnom Pehn area, hill tribe villages, and other sites of interest in Cambodia. During the orientation week after arrival in Cambodia, students will participate in a multi-day/night excursion to Angkor Wat and other famous temples from the Angkor period.

Examples of possible excursions include:

Angkor Wat - The greatest attraction in Cambodia and one of the most spectacular ancient sites on earth, Angkor Wat is a vast temple complex featuring the remains of several capitals of the Khmer Empire, from the 9th to the 15th century AD. These include the famous Angkor Wat temple, the world’s largest single religious monument, the Bayon temple (at Angkor Thom) with its multitude of massive stone faces and Ta Prohm, a Buddhist temple ruin entwined with towering trees.

Siem Reap (literally “Siam Defeated”) is undoubtedly Cambodia’s fastest growing city and serves as a small charming gateway town to the world famous destination of the Angkor temples. Thanks to those Cambodia attractions, Siem Reap has transformed itself into a major tourist hub. It is laid-back and a pleasant place to stay while touring the temples.

Tonlé Sap is the largest freshwater lake in South East Asia and is of major importance to Cambodia. The lake expands and shrinks dramatically with the seasons. Tonlé Sap is home to many ethnic Vietnamese and numerous Cham communities, living in floating villages around the lake.

Royal Palace - Located within the Royal Palace compound in Phnom Pehn, the Silver Pagoda houses many national treasures such as gold and jeweled Buddha statues.