In Cambodia, conservation has found its roots in community. Spend the semester exploring Cambodia’s diverse landscapes – from the great Tonle Sap Lake to the ancient Angkor temples. Study threats to biodiversity, learn about environmental justice and policy, and discuss traditional medicines with Indigenous communities. Embark on expeditions across the region, visiting an elephant sanctuary in Mondulkiri, the capital city of Phnom Penh, conservation sites along the Mekong River, and the Four Thousand Islands in Laos.
Meet the gentle giants of Mondulkiri: Visit the Elephant Valley Project, Cambodia’s first elephant sanctuary, to study elephant behavior and ecology.
Spend the night in a floating village on the Tonle Sap Lake and learn from villagers about how they’re adapting their livelihoods to climate change.
Take an expedition to a vast riverine archipelago in southern Laos, home to endangered Irrawaddy river dolphins and stunning waterfalls during the wet season.
All students are welcome to apply for our need-based financial aid. Students who exhibit financial need for their program will be offered SFS financial aid. SFS aid is offered through a combination of scholarships, grants and loans.
Pell Grant Match
SFS matches Federal Pell Grant funding for students applying to an SFS semester program.
Many SFS students receive aid through their home institutions or other outside sources, so check with your financial aid office to see what aid may apply to an SFS program.
Itinerary varies from term to term and is subject to change. Program activities take place 6 days a week with one day free.
Week 1: Welcome to Cambodia! Move into dorms, meet roommates and the SFS staff, and attend program orientation. Tour of Siem Reap. Start classes with lectures on conservation perspectives, environmental ethics, and regional ecosystems. Visit Kbal Spean (sacred carved riverbed) at Phnom Kulen and the Angkor Centre for Conservation of Biodiversity (ACCB).
Week 2: Visits to the Angkor World Heritage Site. Visit a monastery and learn about Buddhism in Cambodia. Lectures on biodiversity and protected areas, traditional perceptions of forest ecosystems, and ecotourism. Intro to WWF Climate Crowd project. Start learning the Khmer language. Optional sunrise visit to Angkor.
Week 3: Intro to conservation field research techniques. Multi-day trip to the Mekong River. Visit Koh Pdao Island, attend a guest lecture from WWF on conservation efforts along the river and lectures on river ecology, endangered species, dam impacts, and Indigenous land rights. Spend time on the river on a dolphin observation exercise. Visit the Mekong Turtle Conservation Centre.
Week 4: Travel to southern Laos for a multi-day excursion. En route, overnight in Cambodia’s Phnom Tnout forest. Camera trapping, forest hikes, field lectures, and an optional night hike offer the chance to see threatened species such as pileated gibbons and sambar deer. In Laos, explore a vast riverine archipelago. Lectures on natural resource management, dam impacts, and endangered species. Return to Siem Reap.
Week 5: Visit the Royal Palace Gardens in Siem Reap with guest lecture and field exercise on the urban bat colony. Learn about urban ecology, environmental pollution, and waste management. Visit a lowland agricultural village and a waste management site. Intro to qualitative research techniques and grant proposals. Neighborhood trash clean-up activity.
Week 6: Head to the Mondulkiri highlands for a multi-day excursion. Field exercise with elephants in the Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary. Meet the Indigenous Bunong people and learn about their relationship with nature. Lectures on Indigenous people’s access to natural resources and principles of environmental justice. Visit the capital city of Cambodia, Phnom Penh to learn more about the history of Cambodia.
Week 7: Return to the Center in Siem Reap. Field exercise in a community forest to learn about traditional medicines. Review classes and take midterm exams.
Week 8: Field excursion to local wetlands with plant ID exercise. Species overview and lectures on biodiversity and ecology. Explore climate change impacts in the Lower Mekong.
Week 9: Birding at the Phnom Krom marshes. Excursion to Prek Toal, floating village homestay. Water bird monitoring activity in the Tonlé Sap Biosphere Reserve.
Week 10: Cambodian cooking class. Lectures on wetland ecology, globalization, and the future of conservation. Review classes and take final exams for Ecosystems and Livelihoods, Conservation Science and Practice, Environmental Ethics and Development, and Language and Culture of Cambodia. Extended free weekend.
Week 11: DR lectures on qualitative and quantitative research methods and scientific writing. Preparation for field data collection. Attend the Phare Cambodian Circus and an Apsara dance performance.
Week 12: Spend the week in the field collecting data for DR project.
Week 13: Spend part of the week in the field collecting data for DR project. Begin data analysis: organize, analyze, and write up results in a scientific paper.
Week 14: Final papers due. Create a presentation and poster based on your findings.
Week 15: Present research to students, staff, and community members. Re-entry exercises. Closing activities. Head home.
This academically rigorous program follows a six-day/week schedule. The interdisciplinary curriculum is designed to help students actively discover and understand the complexities of environmental, social, and economic issues in Cambodia. Read more about the SFS program model.
Major academic themes include:
Climate change impacts
Elephant ecology and conservation
Traditional medicine and ecological knowledge
Community conservation strategies
Protected areas and threatened ecosystems
Environmental ethics and justice
Natural resource governance
On the Climate Change, Ethics, and Conservation program, you will take three 4-credit disciplinary courses, one 2-credit language and culture course, and a 4-credit capstone Directed Research course. Courses are participatory in nature and are designed to foster inquiry and active learning. Each course combines lectures, field exercises, assignments, tests, and research. All courses are taught in English.
Click on each course to view a description and download the syllabus
SFS 2080 Language and Culture of Cambodia (2 credits)
This course contains two distinct but related modules: society and culture of Cambodia, and Khmer language. This course provides a basic introduction to spoken and written Khmer as well as the history and culture of Southeast Asia. The Khmer language module offers listening, oral, and limited written practice of the Khmer language at a beginner/basic level of proficiency to increase students’ communication and comprehension skills. The sociocultural model helps students develop a more refined understanding of Cambodian and Vietnamese cultures while learning about the rich history of the region. Both modules are designed to help students immerse into regional culture and work more effectively in their Directed Research efforts.
SFS 3800 Conservation Science and Practice - Cambodia (4 credits)
This course introduces the concepts, tools, and incentives to effect conservation of the environment and natural resources. The field of conservation is focused on protecting biological diversity—including ecosystems, species, and genetic diversity—by promoting processes, both ecological and social, that support biodiversity. The course focuses on five core themes: what biodiversity is; why biodiversity is important; threats to biodiversity; strategies for conservation; and the concept of sustainability. We explore the practical aspects of conservation using local case studies, considering the array of conservation strategies in the region, and using this lens to evaluate global concerns on a local scale.
This course focuses on the human landscape that envelops the natural ecosystems of the Lower Mekong Basin. We examine the intersection of natural and physical systems with the livelihood strategies employed by fishers, farmers, and merchants in the Mekong Basin. Students investigate the high levels of dependence upon natural resources by local populations and the critical threats to the ecology of the region. Students discover the primary drivers of change in local livelihood strategies and analyze attempts by international and national actors to find a sustainable balance between human needs and preserving biodiversity.
SFS 3820 Environmental Ethics and Development - Cambodia (4 credits)
This course takes a pragmatic approach to environmental ethics, looking, through a variety of thematic scenarios, at how decisions relating to the environment can be made through an applied ethical lens. Following an introduction to the foundations of environmental ethics and the cultural context of Cambodia, we explore ethical problems that are pertinent to environmental studies. In particular, students in this course examine contemporary environmental dilemmas and topics as they affect Cambodia and its neighbor further down the delta, Vietnam. Students study environmental ethics in relation to economic growth and development, and consider the purpose of nature and humans’ role in managing it while still encouraging responsible development.
This course prepares students to distinguish hidden assumptions in scientific approaches and separate fact from interpretation, cause from correlation, and advocacy from objectivity. Students learn specific tools including: experimental design; field techniques; basic descriptive statistics; and parametric and non-parametric quantitative analysis. Emphasis is placed on succinct scientific writing, graphic and tabular presentation of results, and effective delivery of oral presentations.
You will gain practical skills in the field such as: biodiversity assessments, species ID and population monitoring, animal behavior observation, protected areas assessments, water quality assessments, tourism impact assessments, environmental impacts assessments, conservation strategy assessments, biodiversity survey techniques, forest survey methods, tag/recapture techniques, camera trapping, video and photo tracking, forest restoration techniques, interview methods, species management planning, citizen science protocols, conservation projects proposals, grant writing, ethics and reasoning, research design and implementation, quantitative/qualitative data collection and analysis, scientific writing and communication, basic Khmer language skills.
You will visit different ecosystems and communities which may include multiple elephant and animal sanctuaries, the ancient temple complex of Angkor, freshwater ecosystems of the Tonle Sap Lake, Mekong River, and southern Laos, fishing villages, protected community forests, semi-evergreen rainforests, historical and cultural sites in Phnom Penh, mountains, farms, and the bustling markets of Siem Reap.
In the Directed Research course, each student completes a field research project under the mentorship of a faculty member – beginning with data collection and analysis and concluding with a research paper and presentation. Project subject areas span ecology, natural resource management, conservation science, environmental ethics, and socioeconomics.
Our most urban center lies on the outskirts of Siem Reap, near the famed temples of Angkor. The Center is a breezy, modern campus nestled in a quiet neighborhood minutes away from the bustling downtown area where you will find restaurants, shops, and markets with unique Cambodian flair.
Dorm living with 4-person bunkrooms
Classroom building includes library, study spaces, and balcony
Student lounge with open loft and beanbag chairs
Expansive open-air dining area, and on-site cooking staff
Gyms and running routes in surrounding neighborhood
Swimming pool, volleyball court, and hammock bungalow
Click on the icons below to learn more about our Center in Cambodia.