Chiang Mai Semester

Explore South East Asia

In the heart of Southeast Asia, Thailand is a land of contrasts; gorgeous countryside of rice fields, mountains, hills and ancient temples; bustling city life in the capital of Bangkok; and beaches world famous for diving and snorkling. Students in Chiang Mai can study Thai, gender and sexuality, human rights, and other courses focused on social justice and refugee rights.

Students spend a fall or spring semester in Chiang Mai, studying Thai culture, language and society at Chiang Mai University and engaging in substantive volunteer service in a wide range of community development agencies and NGO’s. The volunteer service immerses students and deepens their understanding of Thai society. Opportunities to study the Thai language and to live and study with other international students as well as to experience a short homestay with a Thai family makes for a multicultural experience that participants never forget.

Students have an exclusive opportunity to volunteer with and learn about rural Thai life by exploring the language, culture, and social issues of the people of Baan Ton Chok villiage to help create sustainable change. On the Service-Learning PLUS program, students travel to rural northern Thailand and spend a week living with a Thai village family and  engaging in a language and cultural exchange while volunteering alongside local villages, helping in the work of their daily lives. The Service-Learning PLUS program exposes students to a location different than urban Chiang Mai and provides a venue to begin to learn Thai,  gain cultural understanding and serve others.

Through service-learning, you will learn about Thai culture, religion, 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.


Students live in modern apartments very close to the campus of Chiang Mai University with a Thai student room mate. The apartments accommodate both international and Thai students, and are situated near plentiful, delicious and  inexpensive cafes. 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 for Breakfast and dinners during the weekdays provided 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) nor some meals.

Program Director: Mr. Adam Dedman


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

Thai Taxi


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 academic home, College of Mount Saint Vincent in New York City. 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.

Course offerings

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)

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
Recommended U.S. Credits: 3

Reflections / SL Practicum Seminar (ONLINE)

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 Electives Offered

You may choose a maximum of three electives (or more based on whether the course is a full semester in length or a half semester) from the following subject areas related to Thai Studies: Sociology/Anthropology, Religion, History/Political Science, Business 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.

Part 1 of the Semester:

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 peoples 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

Part 1 AND Part 2 Semester Long Courses:

Thai Language (Part 2)

This course is a continuation of Thai Language Part 1. The emphasis remains on spoken language competency as it relates to daily life but also introduces students to the Thai language writing system and basic reading. 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

Self Exploration through Visual Art & Culture of Thailand

Our eyes are open more hours than they are closed. What do we see? How are these images, people, signs, buildings, colors and etc., affecting us, communicating with us, and what is the emotional impact on us from seeing these images? And how do these images convey meanings to us?

This is a course where students will deepen their perceptions through exploring visual images about art and culture while living in Thailand. Class exercises and homework are tools used to stimulate questions and feelings on a personal level for students in relation to where they are studying
abroad in Thailand.

Contact Hours: 45
Recommended U.S. Credits: 3

Government and Politics of Thailand

The Thai nation emerged as a social construct, grouping together various peoples under a common political identity. Since World War II, the country gradually stabilized, both politically and economically. Thailand today has fast emerged as a thriving economy, an evolving constitutional monarchy, and an increasingly important player in the regional politics of Southeast Asia as well as an actor on the larger world stage. As such, Thailand represents a significant case study of a "second generation" developmental state, following Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea.

This course examines the evolution of Thai governmental structures as well as Thailand’s political and socioeconomic development over the last 75 years. Prominent themes will include dictatorship and democratization, globalization, decentralization, human rights, and Thailand’s position on the global/regional stage. Why is Thailand struggling to democratize? Exactly how consolidated is pluralism today and how imbedded are civil liberties? Why is there an insurgency in southern Thailand? What is the situation of ethnic minorities in the country? Why is Thailand economically ahead of many of its neighbors? This course will study these and other related questions.

Contact Hours: 45
Recommended U.S. Credits: 3

Business in SE Asia

This course will provide you with an understanding and skill-base appropriate for an informed business profession in Southeast Asia. This course also addresses the historical trajectories of each major country, their relations with each other and the wider world in socio-economic aspects. In preparation for a more critical discussion of contending development rationales, patterns of industrialization are explored in comparative perspective, using some examples from Southeast Asian business organizations experience as an interpretive model. Economic change and its impact upon government, business, ethnic minorities, social classes and individuals will be the key learning foci of this course. In addition, brief business case studies will also be reviewed covering various business management challenges specific to the Southeast Asian business context. This study abroad course will be taught in Thailand which lies at the heart of the Greater Mekong SubRegion (GMS). It will examine trade and other development projects and international organizations working in the GMS. This course will also take up business practices and trends throughout the 10 countries of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in the midst of globalization and international integration. The rapidly increasing integration and interdependence of the economies of this dynamic region is taking place at breathtaking speed and an unprecedented scale. The 21st century has been called the “Asian Century” and this course will aim to unpack why that is the case and how foreign students can engage in business and investment in Southeast Asia.

Contact Hours: 45
Recommended U.S. Credits: 3

Socially Engaged Buddhism in Asia

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

Thai Market


I really enjoyed my service placement and having the class to go with it. It was a small group-just my professor and another student. It was easy to open up and really talk when we felt like the experience was overwhelming. And overwhelming is definitely a feeling that was a big part of this experience at times. I feel lucky to have had a fellow student by my side, somebody to share the experience with, somebody to talk to when the experience felt overwhelming. We were really able to support each other. This program has really showed me the importance of service, community work and most importantly staying informed and involved. After doing service in Thailand, I've been inspired by the people making change within their own communities. When I graduate, I will be spending a year with City Year New York, reconnecting with the city I grew up in and giving back as much as I possibly can. - Pamela, Chiang Mai

After a week of orientation to Chiang Mai and Payap, 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
  • 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.

Volunteer Service Examples

Following are examples of agencies where students have served in the past or may be able to serve. Other service placements may be available. Your placement will be determined by community and agency needs, as well as your interests, goals, and skills.

AIDS ministry organization

This is a Christian organization working on AIDS issues primarily in Northern Thailand. CAM was founded in 1991 by a group of Christian leaders concerned about the growing AIDS epidemic in Thailand. It was formally created as an ongoing part of the Church of Christ in Thailand AIDS ministry in 1993. It has since expanded its role across the country. CAM promotes and fosters group formation at the level of the local church and its immediate community to confront problems arising due to AIDS. CAM holds out an alternative vision of the community as love, mutual concern, and happiness— the value of each life and the dignity of each person including the inherent equality of persons made in the image of God. CAM supports a holistic approach to persons in crisis, observing the peoples’ foundations in culture, faith, love, and sharing as exemplified in the actions of a God who stands up and struggles, and yet fosters a calm heart of peace in the wake of turmoil in life.
Population Served: Persons affected by HIV/AIDS
Areas of Service: Social services / HIV/AIDS issues

Aid to Victims of Sexploitation

Center aiding young hill-tribe women who have been sex workers or who are at risk This center was established to help young hill-tribe women who have worked as prostitutes or are at risk of becoming prostitutes. The Center operates three residences in Chiang Mai and one in Chiang Rai. There are approximately thirty women living at each residence. These women attend non-formal education classes to obtain their compulsory education. In addition, they receive some vocational training, and they receive physical, mental, and spiritual support from the Center’s staff and volunteers. The Center also provides scholarships for hill-tribe girls living at home.

Population Served: Young hill-tribe women who have been sex workers or are at risk for becoming sex workers
Areas of Service: Education / Job training / Counseling / Women's issues

Juvenile Delinquent Center

This center studies and assists juvenile delinquents who have been convicted of crimes by a juvenile court. The ORC studies and analyzes the youths in order not only to find out why they commit crimes, but also to motivate them to change their behavior. The ORC offers a variety of treatment programs to the juveniles, and it helps them find places where they will be able to work and live without discrimination. The ORC also helps homeless people and children who are repeat offenders through its detention program.

Population Served: Juvenile delinquents
Areas of Service: Homelessness / Counseling / Children & Youth / Social services

Arts Center for Disabled

Community and vocational arts program for hill-tribe people with disabilities. This center was founded by several Japanese women in 1982. The main purpose of the organization is to help hill-tribe people with disabilities live independent lives as full participants in society. The SCC also sponsors a number of projects to help hill-tribe people achieve economic independence. The SCC runs a number of community programs aimed at increasing public understanding of disabilities. Through its contemporary hand-weaving program, the SCC seeks to teach marketable skills to disabled hill-tribe people and improve their quality of life. The SCC helps the weavers sell the naturally-dyed, hand-spun yarn they produce as part of its social development project in highland areas.

Population Served: Hill-tribe people with disabilities
Areas of Service: Community development / Arts / Disabilities

Elementary school

This is a government school that provides classes from kindergarten to Mattayom 3 (grade 9). The school is one of the largest and most famous in the area. It has 17 teachers and 302 students, and it has one English study center and one computer laboratory. The school also offers a special program for autistic children. As part of a pilot service-learning project between Payap University and the Baan Mae Khu School, a group of Payap English majors took courses in teaching English to Thai students so that they might teach English at the school this past semester. The goal of this project is to improve and expand English instruction at the school, which cannot meet demand on its own. With guidance from senior teachers, the students designed their own curricula, lesson plans, and examinations.

Population Served: Youth
Areas of Service: Children & Youth / Education / ESL / Teaching/tutoring

Home for orphaned children

This home provides care for orphans, covering a wide range of ages. The home gives health care to the children and tries to educate them by teaching daily skills as well as trying to instill in them a sense of morality. The main goal of the home is to find a suitable adoptive family for the children and have the children move into a new home of their own.

Population Served: Orphaned children
Areas of Service: Social services / Children & Youth / Education / Healthcare

Micro-business assistance for villagers

Using finance and banking students as volunteers, this program helps villagers prepare business plans for selling Dok Mai Jan—the artificial flowers used in Thai funeral ceremonies for paying homage to the deceased. Students also help villagers set up a Village Fund through a simple computer program that administers a monthly loan collection system.

Population Served: Villagers setting up businesses to sell Dok Mai Jan
Areas of Service: Micro-business

NGO addressing women's issues

This organization is run by both Thai and foreign women in Chiang Mai working together to advance the status of women. For example, in northern Thailand, HIV infection has often resulted in the illness of women who are wives and mothers. In a very special way, and particularly among poor families who cannot afford hospital care, this places the entire stability of the family at risk. Care-giving responsibilities in these situations often fall to the grandparents, and particularly grandmothers. Although Thai grandmothers have always had important roles in the care and upbringing of children, this unexpected burden in their later years is a heavy one. This is particularly true if they have no previous knowledge of HIV/AIDS or of basic home care techniques such as precautions. This organization runs an income-generating and donation-support program for poor grandmothers raising their grandchildren who have lost their parents to HIV/AIDS. They also organize numerous fundraising events to generate scholarship money to support the schooling costs of underprivileged Thai children in the Chiang Mai area.

Population Served: Women and families affected by HIV
Areas of Service: Women's issues / HIV/AIDS issues / Fundraising / Children & Youth

NGO working with trafficked and sexually-exploited women

This Christian organization reaches out to women, children, and youth involved in, at risk of, or affected by prostitution, sexual exploitation and/or trafficking, by developing relationships and offering alternative livelihoods and resources for personal development so these individuals may experience a life of restoration, dignity, and hope that will lead to the transformation of Chiang Mai and Northern Thailand. The goal of this organization is to offer comprehensive, holistic programs that bring restoration and healing to those in, at risk of, or exiting prostitution and trafficking. In addition to conducting outreach to women and children in or at risk of entering prostitution or trafficked situations, this NGO is expanding its services to include the creation of a children’s drop-in center and retreat center where women and children can receive holistic healing. Students usually help either with outreach to women or with grant proposal-writing.

Population Served: Women, children, and youth involved in, at risk of, or affected by prostitution, sexual exploitation and/or trafficking
Areas of Service: Women's issues / Children & Youth / Fundraising

Organization coordinating efforts and resources related to HIV/AIDS

This is a private nonprofit organization that was established in response to the need for an independent and sustainable body to continue, extend, and expand the model of facilitating and promoting multipartite coordination in AIDS work pioneered by the Thai-Australia Northern AIDS Prevention and Care Program (NAPAC). AIDSNet was conceived of and founded in 1996 in a process of consultation by representatives from government agencies, non-governmental organizations, and peer-support groups of people living with HIV/AIDS. The European Commission provided seed funding to cover the foundation’s personnel and administration costs during its initial two years of operation. AIDSNet’s primary objectives are: (1) To access and coordinate information and resources from a variety of sources—including governments, NGOs, community organizations, people living with HIV/AIDS, academia, private companies, and international organizations—in order to support AIDS-related work; (2) To strengthen and develop the capacity of individuals, organizations, and networks in AIDS-related work; and (3) To develop knowledge, understanding, and skills in the treatment and prevention of AIDS.

Population Served: Organizations dealing with HIV/AIDS-related issues; those affected by HIV/AIDS
Areas of Service: Administration / HIV/AIDS issues / Health education

Rural school

This community school has 400 students in grades 1 through 12. Like many rural schools in Thailand, it offers some English classes, but not nearly enough to meet demand, and none of the classes are taught by native speakers or by teachers who have a degree in English. In order to address this problem, the school has teamed up with Payap University on a service-learning project that will bring Payap English majors into the school as volunteer teachers. In this way, the school hopes to improve and expand English instruction at all age levels.

Population Served: Youth
Areas of Service: ESL / Children & Youth / Teaching/tutoring / Education

School for the blind

This school offers traditional and vocational education to blind students in elementary grades through high school. There are three groups of students in the school: (1) 4 to 12 year-old students who learn daily living skills; (2) ordinary primary and high school students who attend regular school with other handicapped students; and (3) students who are either too old to attend regular school, have severe physical limitations, or are learning disabled. The school has both commuter students who live at home and boarding students who live on campus.

Population Served: Blind children (elementary through high school)
Areas of Service: Children & Youth / Teaching/tutoring / Disabilities / Education / Special education

Support and Education Center for Gay and Transgender People

This Drop-In organization provided comprehensive services to the Gay and Transgender communnity including sex workers.

Areas of Service: English Language tutoring, Educaitonal Outreach, Civil Union Advocacy, HIV awareness and prevention

Red Light Center for Children of Sex Workers

An after school center for children (K-6th grade) of sex-workers providing a safe place to learn and play

Areas of Service: English Language tutoring, play and recreation, arts, crafts and music

MIgrant Worker Learning Center

An evening and night school for illegal migrant workers oif all ages.

Areas of Service: English Language tutoring, computer skills

GED High School for Migrant Workers

A school for migrants teaching all subjects to those wishing to gain a high school equivalency degree in preparation for college.

Areas of Service: English Language, math, science, social studies, history, computer skills, test preparation etc.

Pre-School and Elementary school for children of HIV Positive Parents

Areas of Service: all levels of elementary education, English tutoring, arts and crafts, recreations and games, etc.

Lantern release

Things to do

Guided academic excursions, accompanied by Chiang Mai University professors and staff members, occur throughout 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 (Spring semester) or Sukhothai, the former capital (Fall semester), and to a lowland and upland village in Northern Thailand. Visits to an elephant rescue camp as well as a multi day excursion to Mae Sot, the border area with the Burmese refugee camp. Thai Temple

AFSNext seal of approval

This program is implemented by a trusted organization within the AFSNext partnership community and has our full endorsement. While not managed or operated by AFS, it maintains the same exceptional quality standards, which are set by a network of experienced international non-profits operating within the international education field.