Hanoi...a blend of cultures in Vietnam's charming capital city

As the capital of Vietnam for almost a thousand years, Hanoi is considered one of the main cultural centers of Vietnam, where most Vietnamese dynasties have left their imprint. A city between the rivers, built from lowland, Hanoi has many scenic lakes and it is sometimes called "city of lakes". Among its lakes, the most famous are H? Tây, West Lake, Halais Lake and Bay Mau Lake. The charming Vietnamese capital has aged well, preserving the Old Quarter, monuments and colonial architecture, while making room for modern developments alongside. Hanoi may have shrugged off several former names, including Thang Long, or "ascending dragon," but it hasn't forgotten its past, as sites such as Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum and Hoa Lo Prison attest. Lakes, parks, shady boulevards and more than 600 temples and pagodas add to the appeal of this city.

Socialism in Vietnam has its own unique style, forged through years of resistance to threats from larger and more powerful nations. This determination to remain independent has created a culture of self-reliance, discipline and solidarity that is still visible today in public life. Conversations with ordinary Vietnamese people about the past and future of their nation permit students to understand this culture and people in a deeper, more meaningful way.

You will spend a summer  in Hanoi, studying Vietnamese culture, language, and service-learning; living in student housing at the Center for Sustainable Development Studies (CSDS) and engaging in substantive volunteer service for 12-15 hours per week. Your volunteer service immerses you in the culture and deepens your understanding of Vietnamese society in a way that goes beyond that experienced in traditional study abroad programs. It also contributes to your knowledge and use of the Vietnamese language.


Students live in modern dorm/student housing at the Center for Sustainable Development Studies (CSDS). The dorms accommodate both international and Vietnamese students and volunteers, and are situated very close to the campus of Hanoi University (about 5 kilometers). There are also many services on campus that students can utilize. All meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner, 7 days per week) are included and served at the CSDS center. Self-serve western style breakfast and Vietnamese lunch and dinner are offered.

Program Director: Don Tuan Phuong


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



Students learn first-hand about Sustainable Development while in Vietnam

At CSDS (Center for Sustainable Development Stueies), you will take the Service Learning Course, Institutions in Vietnamese Society as well as a Vietnamese Language and Culture Course.   An official transcript is issued by the partner school of record in the United States. Unless otherwise noted, courses are at the 300 level or above except for any foreign language course. * 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. In the Hanoi summer program, students earn a total of 6 semester credits.

Course offerings

Required: Vietnamese Language

An introduction to spoken and written Vietnamese. 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 Vietnamese language. Upon completion of this course, students will be able to communicate effectively, utilizing everyday spoken Vietnamese, and should be able to read simple words and short sentences.

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

Service-Learning Institutions in Vietnamese Society

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

The purpose of this class is to introduce students to Vietnamese social challenges, 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 Vietnamese. 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-Vietnamese social institutions.

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 Vietnamese context; (3) awareness of major Vietnamese social problems and examination of the challenges NGOs face working on these social issues; (4) practical experience addressing a specific Vietnamese social problem through working in a Vietnamese social service agency; and (5) analysis and firsthand practice/participant observation leading to enhanced understanding of Vietnamese 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


During Orientation, you will have an opportunity to work with IPSL staff to learn about the various service opportunities available  and select one (or possibly more)  that is of interest to you.  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 12-15 hours per week in a local agency.

Volunteer Service Examples

Generally our students serve with projects developed by the IPSL partner, CSDS (The Center for Sustainable Development Studies). Other service placements may be available. Your placement will be determined by community and agency needs, as well as your interests, goals, and skills.

Service opportunities in Hanoi focus on:


Support of rural and urban children and youth of all ages including orphans and street children.

Population Served: Disadvantaged Children, orphans and street children
Areas of Service: Social services / Education / Nutrition

Sustainability and the Environment

Vietnam faces problems regarding pollution and environmental degradation which impacts on the lives of the local population, the sustainability of water and land resources as well as impacting the area’s flora and fauna. To contribute to environmental protection and combat climate change, CSDS is implementing projects for environmental protection, such as supporting community-based ecotourism programs by local women and fishermen.

Population Served: Everyone
Areas of Service: Conservation / the Environment / Eco-Tourism

Volunteer and Youth Development

Both urban and rural Vietnamese youth are served through CSDS programs that promote leadership development and volunteering.

Population Served: Vietnamese Youth
Areas of Service: Education / Leadership Training

Things to do

Explore Vietnam while on your program...

Travel is an essential part of studying abroad. Taking knowledge from the classroom and applying it through direct observation allows for greater classroom comprehensions and cultural understandings. The Hanoi program offers multiple academic excursions designed to enrich one's experience of being abroad and to enhance the learning of each student.

City Tour:

The Hanoi program normally includes a city tour of Hanoi included in the arrival orientation. Depending on the time of the year, it may include a visit to Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Hanoi - the final resting place of the leader's body is preserved here in a glass case (albeit against his wishes). Ho Chi Minh is the most popular leader of Vietnam and known to his people as ‘Uncle Ho’.

Organized Academic Excursions May Include:

Bat Trang Ceramic Village

The Bat Trang pottery village is one of the most famous of the craft villages in Vietnam. It is famous for its fired clay pottery (with a temperature of 1,200 degrees, the ceramics are well known for being difficult to break). Since the 15th century this village has been creating earthenware and ceramic creations. Visiting Bat Trang village is a chance to experience Vietnamese tradition and understand the usual life of Vietnamese people in the countryside.

Duong Lam Village & Ba Vi National Park

This traditional village preserves various cultural and historical vestiges in Duong Lam such as: the worship-house, Mong Phu communal house, the Princess Mia Palace and Temple, the Mia pagoda, and others. Pass by the village and enjoy local products such as rice wine and rice cakes before heading to Ba Vi National Park.

Ba Vi National Park is one of Vietnam’s most famous areas of outstanding natural beauty, and is centered around a three-peaked mountain jutting steeply out of the landscape. The national park offers a great escape from the city with cool fresh mountain air in a mystical atmospheric backdrop of clouds, jungle and tropical rainforest. There is also a spa resort nestled at the foot of the mountain offering a host of natural therapies in an absolutely stunning setting.

Bai-Dinh and Tam Coc

A visit to Bai Dinh opens a window into the multi-faceted history of religion in Vietnam. The Bai Dinh pagoda region includes the ancient pagoda area and a new pagoda area. New pagoda has monumental but traditionally designed architecture which is symbolic of the blend of old and new which is Vietnam today. New Bai Dinh pagoda is honored as the largest pagoda in Southeast Asia.

The ancient Bai Dinh Pagoda is in a beautiful mountainous region which includes Dinh Mountain. This pagoda is located near the top of a quiet forested area and includes a Buddhist cave, the temple of God Cao Son, and the temple of Nguyen. The pagoda is a significant Vietnamese historical, cultural and religious site.

The Tam Coc (“three caves”) portion is a three-hour excursion by small boat along the river, beginning at the village of Van Lam and proceeding through a scenic landscape dominated by rice fields and karst towers. The route includes floating through three natural caves, the largest of which is 125m long with its ceiling about 2m high above the water.

Additional Academic Excursions may include:

The Imperial Citadel of Thang Long

Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site just in time for Hanoi’s millennial anniversary in 2010. The ancient site was the political center of the country for 13 consecutive centuries and served as the capital of Vietnam for eight centuries.

Ha Long Bay

A stunning natural wonder in northern Vietnam near the Chinese border. The Bay is dotted with 1,600 limestone islands and islets and covers an area of over 1,500 sq km. This extraordinary area was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994.

Students in Hanoi may also work with program staff at CSDS to arrange (at their own expense) for independent travel to other regions of Vietnam and SE Asia.

As with all travel, weather and other travel hindrances can affect the exact destinations of excursions. In such cases, program staff make every effort to find suitable replacement itineraries.

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.