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River Ecosystems & Environmental Ethics


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Location Siem Reap, Cambodia
Language English instruction with 2-credit Khmer Language & Southeast Asian Culture course

Fall 2016: August 29 – December 7

Spring 2017: January 30 – May 10

Deadline Rolling admissions. Early submissions encouraged for acceptance into program of choice.

Program Cost

Click here for program costs. Program cost includes all tuition, room, board, local travel. Excludes airfare.
Financial Aid Click here for more information about need-based scholarships, loans, and travel grants.
Prerequisites One semester of college-level ecology, biology, or environmental studies/science; 18 years of age
Credits 18 credits
This semester has been an exceptional blend of fascinating field trips, awesome cultural activities, and beautiful sights.        

— Kayla Deur, Hollins University, Spring '15



Students in this program learn about the complexity and fundamental importance of the Mekong River to the region’s ecosystems, livelihoods, and development. Through coursework, field excursions, and Directed Research, students focus on conservation, environmental ethics, and rural development.

Students study the interface between livelihoods and the environment, assess aquatic biodiversity and ecology, and gain an understanding of natural resource use and governance. The greater Siem Reap region provides countless riverine and terrestrial habitats to explore. The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Angkor serves as a backdrop for understanding Cambodian culture and religious pluralism, blending Buddhist, animist, and Hindu beliefs. Buddhism in Cambodia is not only a religion, but also a way of life that reflects the cultural beliefs of the community. Students explore the potential Buddhism has to direct societal norms and principles regarding environmental protection.

Students follow the Mekong River during a month of travel across rural and urban Cambodia. While on the road, students visit key conservation sites along the Mekong, gain appreciation for Cambodia’s recent history in Phnom Penh, and discover coastal ecosystems and development pressures in Kampot Province.

The program then travels overland to the Mekong Delta in Vietnam, where students experience a contrasting political, social, and economic system from Cambodia. Students explore the environmental issues in the Mekong Delta including climate change, water resource use, and agricultural development.


  • Spend almost a month traveling within Cambodia and Vietnam, studying the diverse habitats and livelihoods that are supported by the Mekong River system
  • Evaluate opportunities and challenges in tourism development while exploring the resplendent Khmer temple complex of Angkor, one of the most important archaeological sites in Southeast Asia
  • Participate in baseline biodiversity surveys in the Tonle Sap Biosphere Reserve, and investigate the status of migratory bird species



  • Visit the Angkor Center for Conservation and Biodiversity and learn how captive endangered species are being cared for before they are reintroduced into the wild
  • Explore Phnom Kulen National Park and Kbal Spean while undertaking qualitative research on natural resource use by local villagers
  • Get to know the many major social justice and environmental organizations that operate in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, and learn about the international non-governmental organization (NGO) community
  • Study conservation efforts for the endangered Irrawaddy dolphin and Cantor’s giant softshell turtle in rural Kratie
  • Observe how the Angkor Butterfly Center raises “trophy” species of butterflies and encourages rural families to begin small-scale caterpillar businesses to augment their incomes
  • Visit Phnom Bokor National Park to assess development approaches in a protected area
  • Study mangrove restoration projects on the Cambodian coast in Kampot
  • Develop field research skills including aquatic and terrestrial organism behavioral observations, biodiversity assessment, survey design and interviewing techniques, environmental impact and protected-areas assessment, scientific writing, and oral presentation



  • Explore Tra Su natural reserve, one of the last few places in Southeast Asia that sustains a Melaleuca forest and is home to a number of endangered and endemic birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish
  • Learn from Vietnamese scholars about issues like climate change and the physical dynamics of river systems
  • Visit the farms of Sam Mountain—the “rice bowl” of Vietnam—and explore the conservation challenges of rice and shrimp farming in the region
  • Observe the built environment of the delta region including complex irrigation systems and flood mitigation structures that control the confluence of the Mekong River and the South China Sea



  • Assessing livelihood strategies of local residents on the Tonle Sap and in the forested Kulen highlands
  • Studying biodiversity in the Tonle Sap aquatic ecosystem
  • Evaluating the range of medicinal plant usage in rural communities
  • Understanding the role of monks and Buddhism in environmental education, environmental ethics, and wildlife conservation
  • Examining approaches to natural resource governance and management in protected areas



Community reciprocity is at the heart of the SFS organizational and educational model. SFS students face the real-world complexities of issues affecting our host communities. With the results of our research, we offer data and recommendations that inform decision makers and build relationships between SFS and local stakeholders involved in biodiversity conservation and resource management.

As at our other Centers throughout the world, SFS is a part of the social fabric of the Communities in which we are hosted. SFS students get involved in community volunteer projects and social activities such as:

  • Engaging with the rich cultural heritage of Cambodia and Vietnam, including Khmer language lessons and local homestays
  • Hosting community lectures
  • Interacting with local students inside and outside of Can Tho University’s campus
  • Attending community festivals, pagodas, and traditional Apsara dance performances
  • Partnering with local NGOs and institutions to address environmental issues
  • Exploring local markets to practice language skills and try unique foods



The program is based in Siem Reap, Cambodia, adjacent to the temples of Angkor, Phnom Kulen National Park, and the Tonle Sap lake. The SFS Center for Mekong Studies is a private compound on a small side street, just 10 minutes by tuk tuk from downtown Siem Reap. The Center’s amenities include a large, two-story dormitory with shared bedrooms and bathrooms, wireless internet, a spacious common area with a loft, an open-air dining room, a palm tree-lined in-ground swimming pool, a garden, and a yard that surrounds the Center for sports, fitness, or relaxing. Nearby attractions include Siem Reap’s day and night markets, and the famed Angkor UNESCO World Heritage Site. The variety of hotels and restaurants in town often host traditional Apsara dance shows and other cultural demonstrations. Surrounding Siem Reap are silk farms and rice paddies, as well as stilted fishing villages and wildlife sanctuaries on the Tonle Sap Lake. Students will stay at various accommodations during trips through the Mekong Basin including visits to Phnom Penh, Kratie, and the coast of Cambodia. In Vietnam, students will be housed in the international dormitory at Can Tho University.