Center for Conservation and Development Studies


Here, remnants of 12th-century temples share the landscape with wild forests, Buddhist monasteries, and small villages. Diverse ecosystems, from the mighty Mekong River to the dense highland forests of Mondulkiri, are home to rare species like the Asian elephant, sun bear, and Irrawaddy dolphin. The Tonle Sap Lake swells exponentially each year with the monsoon season, creating a dramatic seasonal shift for the fishing and farming communities and wildlife of this flooded region.


15 Weeks


18 Credits

Fall 2023

 Sep 1 - Dec 12


Spring 2024

 Jan 27 - May 9





Room & Board:


Total Cost:


Sample Itinerary

Sample Itinerary:


semester PROGRAM

Climate Change, Ethics, and Conservation

Siem Reap

In Cambodia, conservation has found its roots in community. From the ancient temples of Angkor to the evergreen jungle highlands, efforts to preserve biodiversity are deeply intertwined with community livelihoods. Spend your semester in this fascinating country, learning about threats to ecosystems and natural resources, environmental governance, and the ethics of conservation and development. Traveling extensively, you will spend time in the elephant-inhabited forests of Mondulkiri, along the banks of the mighty Mekong River, and the vibrant capital city of Phnom Penh.

In the final weeks of the semester, you’ll spend your time out in the field conducting an extensive research project.


  • Spend the night in a floating village on the Tonle Sap Lake and speak with villagers about climate-related livelihood challenges and adaptation strategies.
  • Visit the Mondulkiri highlands to study elephant conservation and learn about the changes and challenges to the indigenous Bunong peoples’ traditional lifestyles.
  • Conduct a comprehensive field research project: Develop a research question, collect and analyze data, write a paper, and present your findings. Read more about SFS Directed Research projects.

Application deadlines:
Spring – November 15
Fall – May 15

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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 livelihoods and ecological knowledge
  • Community conservation strategies
  • Indigenous rights and challenges
  • 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
SFS 3800
Conservation Science and Practice
4 credits
SFS 3810
Ecosystems and Livelihoods
4 credits
SFS 3820
Environmental Ethics and Development
4 credits
SFS 4910
Directed Research
4 credits

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.


View Syllabus

SFS 3800 Conservation Science and Practice (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.


View Syllabus

SFS 3810 Ecosystems and Livelihoods (4 credits)

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.


View Syllabus

SFS 3820 Environmental Ethics and Development (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.


View Syllabus

SFS 4910 Directed Research (4 credits)

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.


View Syllabus

Core Skills

You will gain practical skills in the field such as: biodiversity assessments, population monitoring, animal behavior observation, protected areas 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.

Field Sites

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, fishing and farming villages, protected community forests, semi-evergreen rainforests, historical and cultural sites in Phnom Penh, mountains, farms, and the bustling markets of Siem Reap.

summer session I

06 Weeks


06 Credits

Summer 2023

 Jun 6 - Jul 18





Room & Board:


Total Cost:


Sample Itinerary

Sample Itinerary:


summer session I PROGRAM

Elephants of Southeast Asia

Cambodia & Thailand

Spend your summer exploring some of the remote regions of Southeast Asia where the elephants roam. In Cambodia, the lush Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary will be your base, studying the behavior, ecology, and welfare needs of the endangered Asian elephant. Visit the vibrant city of Phnom Penh and the ancient temples of Angkor to explore the history and culture of Cambodia.

  • In Thailand, delve into human-wildlife conflict and conservation pressures and examine elephant management practices while you are based in a village bordering KuiBuri National Park. Complete your journey in the vibrant hustle and bustle of Bangkok. Stay at the Elephant Valley Project (EVP) in the forested Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary to observe semi-wild, rehabilitated, Asian elephants from meters away as they forage, bathe, and interact with each other in a protected setting.
  • Stay at Bring the Elephants Home (BTEH) in homestays in Ruam Thai village next to the world reknown Kuiburi National Park where you are guaranteed to see wild elephants on safari tours and when crop-raiding.

Application deadline:
April 1
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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:

  • Asian elephant behavior, ecology, health and welfare in Cambodia and Thailand’s mountain range ecosystems
  • The role of elephants in local culture
  • Human-elephant interaction and conflicts
  • Wildlife management policies
  • Conservation strategies


On the Elephants of Southeast Asia program, you will take one 6-credit course. This course is participatory in nature and is designed to foster inquiry and active learning combining lectures, field exercises, assignments, and tests. This course is taught in English. Click on the course to view a description and download the syllabus

SFS 3112
Ecology and Conservation of Southeast Asian Elephants
6 credits

SFS 3112 Ecology and Conservation of Southeast Asian Elephants (6 credits)

Please note: this syllabus is still in draft form, pending final approval from the University of Minnesota, our School of Record. This special topics course focuses on the ecology and conservation of the Asian elephant and the habitats in Cambodia and Thailand where extant populations live. Students spend several weeks observing semi-captive elephants and visit regions frequented by wild elephants. Elephant welfare and management practices will be examined and the livelihoods of people affected, both positively and negatively, by elephants will be explored. In addition to the work with elephants, students will visit the World Heritage site of Angkor and the capital city of Phnom Penh.   View Syllabus Draft

Core Skills

You will gain practical skills in the field such as: behavioral observations of elephant social interactions, foraging, and welfare, distance sampling, line-transect surveys, basic Khmer and Thai language, qualitative and quantitative data collection techniques, mock debating, research report writing, and oral presentation skills.

Field Sites

You will visit different ecosystems and communities, including a forested elephant sanctuary, lush evergreen and mixed deciduous forests, National parks, remote villages, historical and cultural sites such as the ancient temple complex of Angkor, and learn from local and Indigenous community members about the role of elephants in their culture.

What Students Are Saying:

“The friendships, multicultural experiences, field research techniques, and self-understanding I gained during this program made it definitely worthwhile. And the food at the SFS center is amazing. I eat a plant-based diet, and there were always plenty of yummy options at the center.”
– Yuxi, Wellesley College

“It was a dream-come-true, honestly, and more dreams were realized while on program. The amount of cultural immersion and opportunities for observation, appreciation, and critical consideration of all aspects of the country – cultural, environmental, political, historical, social, traditional, religious – is surely unparalleled. Beyond worthwhile; this was life-changing.”
– Kayla, Hollins University

“I had an amazing time with SFS Cambodia. The classwork is incredibly interesting and the ability to go into the field and connect what you have learned in class to real life experiences is unlike any learning setting I have been in before.”
– Hanna, University of Washington


Where You'll Be Living

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, artisan shops, markets, and many Cambodian cultural activities.

  • Dorm living with air-conditioned, four-person bunkrooms
  • Classroom building with library 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, badminton court, and hammock bungalow
Click here to read stories from students, staff, and faculty on our blog


Program Costs

Study abroad is an investment in yourself – you’ll return home with new experiences, skills, knowledge, and friendships that will stay with you for the rest of your life. SFS program costs cover a variety of expenses, including:

  • Pre-program advising and on-site orientation
  • Tuition and research fees
  • Housing at the field station and on excursions
  • Daily meals and snacks
  • Airport transfers (for arrival/departure)
  • Field excursions and cultural activities
  • Student success and wellness team on site
  • 24/7 mental health and well-being support
  • Emergency evacuation and repatriation insurance
  • Official transcript processing

View Cambodia Program Costs

Financial Aid

We know cost can be one of the biggest barriers to studying abroad. At SFS, we’re committed to making our programs accessible to students which is why we award more than $650,000 in need-based financial aid each year. Our Admissions Team has worked with thousands of students and are here to answer your questions about the SFS aid process, aid available through your home school, and funding from external sources.
SFS Financial Aid: Need-based aid packages typically consist of a combination of scholarships, grants, and zero- and low-interest loans. SFS matches Federal Pell Grant funding for students applying to an SFS semester program.

Home School Aid: Be sure to ask your home school study abroad office or financial aid office what financial aid resources might be available to support your study abroad experience.

External Funding Opportunities: Organizations such as the Fund for Education Abroad or the Gilman International Scholarship Program award scholarships to students going abroad. These can be a great opportunity to reduce the cost of your program even more.
Learn More about Financial Aid




Research at the SFS Center for Conservation and Development Studies covers a diverse array of topics – from the impacts of climate change on local communities and ecosystems to the transfer of traditional ecological knowledge. Students and faculty work with government partners, community members, Indigenous groups, NGOs, and other key stakeholders. Our faculty and students seek to analyze and develop strategies to assess species richness and support conservation initiatives in Cambodia.
Our research focuses primarily on the following themes:

  • Climate change impacts
  • Elephant ecology
  • Traditional ecological and medicinal knowledge
  • Biodiversity conservation
  • Environmental justice
  • Environmental anthropology
  • Influences of Buddhism on conservation


Siem Reap, Cambodia

SFS is an active part of the Siem Reap community, where we have been based since 2014.

We have built long-term, collaborative relationships in the communities around the Center, where the Center is locally known as the Center for Environmental Research in Conservation and Development Studies, and we have developed our research plans based on the environmental issues they and the surrounding ecosystems face. Throughout the program, students collaborate with local students at the Paññāsāstra University of Cambodia (PUC), take a short homestay in a floating village, visit bustling markets, and attend festivals.

At the end of each semester program, we host a Community Research Night where select students will present their research findings to the community. SFS research data is shared with the community, local NGOs, and the Cambodian government.

Read stories about our community in Cambodia

Meet the Cambodia Team

Megan English, Ph.D.

Lead Faculty and Lecturer in Conservation Science
Meet Megan

Tim Frewer, Ph.D.

Lecturer in Environmental Ethics and Development
Meet Tim

Jean Christophe Diepart, Ph.D.

Lecturer in Ecosystems and Livelihoods
Meet Jean-Christophe

Victoria Holman

Health and Wellness Manager
Meet Victoria

Vat Pich

Assistant Cook
Meet Pich

Muyhour Seng

Program Assistant
Meet Muyhour