adventurous, diverse, humbling, invigorating Past Review

By (VISUAL AND PERFORMING ARTS., Yale University) - abroad from 01/05/2012 to 05/10/2012 with

ISDSI: Sustainable Development Studies: Thailand

What did you gain/learn from your experience abroad? Was it worthwhile?
I had a truly wonderful semester with this program and would highly recommend it to any student with a willingness to adapt quickly to change and a sense of adventure. I decided to spend my semester abroad with this program because of my dear friend, Alyssa Cheung, whose program report is right below mine. As she did in her report, Alyssa had explained to me in great detail what the classes are like, where I would be going, how long I would be spending there, what kinds of people I would meet. Her report is extremely thorough about the different facets of the program and what to expect for each course, for housing and language and stipends. I recommend that you read her report before you read mine. However, no amount of storytelling can really prepare you for these kinds of experiences. My semester was exhilarating, challenging, spiritual, and really has shaped how I think about development, the relationship between culture and ecology, and my own life within a natural world. ISDSI is different from other study abroad programs because it is entirely field based. Only for the first 5 weeks are you consistently in the city, living with your first host family (you have many during the course of the program, but the one in Chiang Mai will be your longest homestay). In Chiang Mai, you begin to learn to speak Thai, you get a taste of Thai culture, and you also participate in a CrossFit fitness program to prepare you for the field. Of course, academics regarding Thai culture and society are not the caliber that you would find in Yale classes, but the time you spend in the field afterwards really make up for the mediocre classroom hours. After those five weeks, you spend nearly all of your time in areas all over Thailand, with brief periods of rest back in the city between block courses. The time frame of each course is extremely structured and you do not have time to travel outside of the country during the program as you perhaps would be able to in other study abroad programs. However, I really did enjoy experiencing the different areas of the country and felt no regret that I did not get to travel much to other Southeast Asian countries. Culture, food, environment, and even language changes significantly from course to course. I would say that this program is not for everyone since, during your time with it, your environment is continually changing and you must be willing to welcome the uncertainty. However, I grew up rollerblading in the sidewalk-lined suburbs of Boca Raton, Florida. I have never backpacked, canoed, or kayaked, but the instructors are very supportive in the field and all the students learn quickly. The other courses during the Spring semester are Rivers, Forests, and Oceans. During Rivers, you canoe on the Mekong between Thailand and Laos, you drive into Laos and learn about dam development and management of the water as a transboundary resource flowing from China to Cambodia. During Forests, you drive out to a remote swidden farming village of Mae Hong Son and then hike from village to village to an increasingly more urban area. During Oceans, you dive among reefs and sea kayak for a week in the remote Andaman islands, camping on uninhabited beaches, and then you stay at a coastal village, eating delicious foods and traversing the mangroves. For much of the program, you are together with the same students. It can be exhausting, especially for someone who is accustomed to having a lot of alone time. Even when you are not with students, you are likely spending time with a host family who is very eager to feed you, talk to you, and listen to you speak Thai. I found myself meditating to find the strength to be patient and calm when the chatter got overwhelming. Because the program emphasizes “active learning” a lot, the academics fluctuate a lot depending on how much effort you and your peers are putting into learning. Some days, we would hike for seven hours, get to a village, meet our host family, eat dinner with them, and then have to gather ourselves to prepare for an evening village meeting. I’m sure you can imagine how distracted students could be in that setting. However, because the program is field based, it’s hard not to learn a lot just from being aware of what your senses take in. What I learned about sustainable development broke down and redefined a lot of my initial assumptions. Although, I did not learn as much hard ecology as I would have liked. I would recommend reading some ecology books about reefs, mangroves, fungi, and forest structure in preparation for the program—really any science-related material you are curious about. I would also recommend reading the book Land on Fire before beginning the program. You get a lot of reading during courses. Bring your laptop; it makes life easier when you get back to the city and need to touch base with things back in the States. I brought cash for spending money (you don’t need much because they provide you with stipends) and just exchanged it in Thailand. I would also follow the gear list that they send to you (some students didn’t and had to have items shipped to Thailand). I think that’s most all of my advice. Also, I am an art major, not an environmental studies major or an international development major, as most students were on the program. I still loved my time there and no trouble keeping up with the academics. Don’t hesitate if this isn’t relevant to your major; it was definitely one of my best semesters and I daydream of Thailand’s old growth forests often.

Personal Information

How much international exposure did you have prior to this program? 1 month - 6 months

Review Your Program

* Overall educational experience

Academic rigor, intensity, resources, etc.

* Host Country Program Administration

On-site administration of your program

* Housing:

How satisfied were you with your living arrangements?

* Food:

* Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

* Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

* Safety:

If you could do it all over again would you choose the same program? Yes


* Money: How easily were you able to live on a student's budget?

(1 = not very easy/$200+ on food & personal expenses/week, 2.5 = $100/week, 5 = very easily/minimal cost)

Not including program expenses, about how much money did you spend on food and other expenses each week? Very little, maybe 200 dollars total.
Do you have any general money-saving tips for future study abroad participants? Try not to spend too much money on American food.


* Did your program have a foreign language component? Yes
How much did the program encourage you to use the language?

0 = No encouragement, 5 = frequent encouragement to use the language

How would you rate your language skills at the beginning of the program? None
How would you rate your language skills at the end of the program? Intermediate
What was the highest level language course you had completed prior to departure? None
How many hours per day did you use the language?

Other Program Information

* Where did you live?

Select all that apply

  • Host Family
  • Apartment
* Who did you live with?

Select all that apply

  • Americans
  • Host Family
* Who did you take classes with?

Select all that apply

  • Americans

A Look Back

* What did you like most about the program?
  • look at the last question
* What could be improved?
  • academic portion
* What do you know now that you wish you knew before going on this program? There might be a lot of sea lice.

Reasons For Studying Abroad

To help future students find programs attended by like-minded individuals, please choose the profile that most closely represents you.
The Academic or Linguist
You went abroad with specific academic goals in mind; the program credentials and rigor of your coursework abroad were very important to you. You had a great time abroad, but never lost sight of your studies and (if applicable) were diligent with your foreign language study. Good for you!