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 of Cambodia’s struggle to balance biodiversity, development, and human needs. Through coursework, field excursions, and Directed Research, students focus on conservation, environmental ethics, and rural livelihoods by studying the interface between livelihoods and the environment, assessing biodiversity and ecology, and gaining an understanding of natural resource use and governance.
The program has a particular emphasis on qualitative field research methods. Students are enriched in their studies by meeting and interviewing a wide variety of villagers and the members of various local and international conservation and development organizations.
The greater Siem Reap region provides many 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. Students learn how Buddhism has directed societal norms and principles regarding environmental protection.
In addition, students explore a variety of regional development and conservation challenges and community-based solutions during travel across rural and urban Cambodia. While on the road, students visit key conservation sites along the Mekong River, gain appreciation for Cambodia’s recent history in Phnom Penh, and discover coastal ecosystems and development pressures in Kampot Province.
The program also travels overland to the Mekong Delta in Vietnam, where students experience contrasting political, social, and economic systems from those of Cambodia. Students explore key environmental issues in the Delta including climate change, water resource use, and agricultural development.
- Travel across Cambodia, studying the diverse ecosystems and livelihoods of the Lower Mekong Basin
- Evaluate opportunities and challenges in tourism development while exploring the resplendent Khmer temple complex of Angkor, the world’s largest pre-industrial urban complex
- Participate in baseline biodiversity surveys in the Tonle Sap Biosphere Reserve and investigate the status of migratory bird species
- Stay in bungalows at a community fishery project in coastal Cambodia to learn about community-based natural resource management and plant mangroves along the tidal flats of the Gulf of Thailand
- Explore Cat Tien National Park in Vietnam, visiting a primate rehabilitation center and learning about indigenous peoples’ connections with forests from Chau Ma elders
- 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 sites in Phnom Kulen National Park while undertaking qualitative research on community-based ecotourism initiatives
- Get to know the many major social justice and environmental organizations that operate in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, and learn about the international conservation non-governmental organization (NGO) community
- Study conservation efforts for the endangered Irrawaddy dolphin and Cantor’s giant softshell turtle along the Mekong River in Kratie Province
- Interview coastal fishers and fishing families on Tonle Sap Lake to discover challenges and adaptation strategies to declining natural resources
- Visit Phnom Bokor National Park to assess development approaches in a highland protected area
- Study mangrove restoration projects on the Cambodian coast in Kampot
- Develop social science research skills including research design and interviewing techniques, environmental impact and protected-areas assessment, and using qualitative data analysis software
- Gain field science research skills including species identification, bird and bat population monitoring techniques, multivariate statistical analysis, and scientific writing
SAMPLE DIRECTED RESEARCH PROJECTS
- 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
- Explore the impacts of boat noise disturbance on the Tonle Sap
GET INVOLVED WITH THE COMMUNITY
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. Our urban location in Siem Reap and our partnership with local university Pannasastra University of Cambodia (PUC) offers SFS students a variety of opportunities to engage with community projects and social activities such as:
- Engaging with the rich cultural heritage of Cambodia, including Khmer language lessons and local homestays
- Interacting with local students inside and outside of Pannasastra University’s campus, through activities including community cleanup days, cooking and traditional dance classes
- 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 regional 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, an 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. 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, the coast of Cambodia, and Vietnam.