Mekong Semester

Life Along the River

A 3-Month Gap Year Program

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Duration
83 Days
Description

Examine issues of transboundary resource management and international cooperation while traveling the length of the mighty Mekong River.

Spring Dates

Feb 7 - May 1, 2018


Spring Availability

open

Fall Dates

Sep 15 - Dec 6, 2017


Fall Availability

five spaces

Number of Participants

12


Suggested Ages

17-22

Spring Begins In

46 Weeks

Fall Begins In

25 Weeks

Land Cost

$14,525


Estimated Flight Cost

$1,895

Xishuangbana

Kunming

Luang Prabang

Vientiane

Bangkok

Kratie

Phnom Penh

Program Overview

From its sacred headwaters in the Tibetan Plateau, the Mekong River flows 4,800-km towards the South China Sea, cleaving a boundary between Myanmar, Laos and Thailand, and coursing into the heart of mainland Southeast Asia.


Tracing the hidden contours of mountain valley and village for more than 2500km from the Tibetan plateau to the plains of Cambodia, the Mekong semester program is an odyssey of mind, body and spirit. At times students will find themselves immersed in a broad examination of language, culture, cuisine, spirituality, history and politics, while at others the immensity of the river journey becomes all-consuming and we are submit to the course mantra: Mind like water.

To the Tibetans, the Upper Mekong is a powerful spiritual entity that courses out of the central mountains and winds its way southeast through awe-inspiring gorges and desolate valleys. To the Chinese, the river is a means of economic development, and a singular drive to control and commodify the river has left it resembling a cascade of lifeless reservoirs tumbling down central Yunnan. Once we arrive in Laos, the headwaters of the Lower Mekong, the river opens us, the deciduous forest turns to jungle, and the Mekong disappears…

Tracing the hidden contours of mountain valley and village for more than 2500km from the Tibetan plateau to the plains of Cambodia, the Mekong semester program is an odyssey of mind, body and spirit. At times students will find themselves immersed in a broad examination of language, culture, cuisine, spirituality, history and politics, while at others the immensity of the river journey becomes all-consuming and we are submit to the course mantra: Mind like water.

To the Tibetans, the Upper Mekong is a powerful spiritual entity that courses out of the central mountains and winds its way southeast through awe-inspiring gorges and desolate valleys. To the Chinese, the river is a means of economic development, and a singular drive to control and commodify the river has left it resembling a cascade of lifeless reservoirs tumbling down central Yunnan. Once we arrive in Laos, the headwaters of the Lower Mekong, the river opens us, the deciduous forest turns to jungle, and the Mekong disappears into the dense undergrowth. From central Laos to the delta it transforms into an artery of trade, transportation, economic development, critical fisheries, protein-rich mangroves and source of water. There is no way to exaggerate its importance.

Our journey begins in China’s Yunnan Province where we trek begin our Tibetan travels in the hamlet of Bucun on the banks of the Mekong river. Here at the foot of Kawagebo, one of the four sacred peaks in Tibetan cosmography, we live with host families while learning about Tibetan Buddhist practice in this area of Kham and crucial conservation efforts to preserve the flora and fauna led by our host Sina Duji. While trekking through sacred Buddhist landscapes at times in the company of prostrating pilgrims, we examine the impacts of China’s controversial mega-dam projects and eco-tourism efforts in the region.

After traveling south to the Dali basin, we hike up to Weishan, a Daoist mountain punctuated by 19 temples. Here we rejuvenate and begin our practice of taiqi and meditation. Students become versed in the essentials of Daoist philosophy and continue their studies of language and calligraphy. South still, in villages abutting the Burmese border, we explore transnational trade, ASEAN, and China’s impact on the cultural integrity and economic security of the Greater Mekong Subregion.

Crossing into Laos, we explore the provinces of Luang Namtha, Bokeo, and Udomxai on a two-day boat ride. In Vientiane, we turn our focus towards public health initiatives, visiting the headquarters of Mines Advisory Group (MAG), an international NGO working to clear unexploded ordinances leftover from the Secret War. We then slow down and enjoy rural home-stays on the idyllic river island of Don Daeng, relaxing into “Laos time” as we prepare for the final leg of our journey.

In Cambodia, students truly begin to weave together a more cohesive understanding of the Greater Mekong Subregion and its unique challenges and triumphs. It is a fragile land, and perhaps nowhere is it more apparent than in Cambodia. Here the young, booming population is emerging from decades of discord to a land of opportunity and a ravenous desire to capitalize on the nation’s bounty. Foreign investment, mega-dam projects, deforestation, climate change and a host of socio-political issues have thrust the Mekong basin into the international limelight as one those ecosystems on the cusp of irrevocable change.

The global community has recognized the need to attention and international aid is rife, presenting stark opportunities for students to meet with biologists working on mangrove restoration projects, women focused on social justice, young entrepreneurs promoting rural education, and religious leaders who have started schools, training centers, art centers and orphanages. During our four weeks in Cambodia, students ride bikes to Angkor Wat chasing sunrise, we live with host families on an island in the Bassac river, visit the important sites of the Khmer Rouge era and meet with activists and survivors working to document those who suffered and rewrite history. It is seldom the distance traveled, nor the mountains or temples, that students remember after such an odyssey, it is the collection of people and their stories that makes the Mekong a living deity.

Read More Read Less Sample Itinerary

Program Components

5/5
Comparative Religion

Gain insight into Tibetan, Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism, as well as the influence of animist traditions, Islam and Christianity in the Greater Mekong Subregion.

5/5
Focus Of Inquiry

Examine international water resources as relates to mega-dam projects, ecology and biodiversity, cultural ecology, economics, sustainable development, and regional politics.

2/5
Home Stay

Live with home-stay families in a Tibetan community in northwest Yunnan, a Catholic village on a tiny island in the Mekong in Laos, and an idyllic Khmer community just south of Phnom Penh.

3/5
Independent Study Project (ISP)

Explore your academic passions through mentored study of water rights, public health, the use of bamboo, comparative studies, leadership and student empowerment focus throughout program.

2/5
Language Study

Build proficiency in Kham Tibetan, Mandarin, Laos, and Khmer languages, while exploring the linguistic traditions of ethnic minorities and the migration of three major language families.

5/5
Development Studies

Examine comprehensively issues pertaining to international aid and development, the effects of damming on fisheries, wildlife conservation, minority status and forced relocation issues, effects of modernization on traditional livelihoods, and the impacts of tourism.

2/5
Learning Service

Acquire a more profound and nuanced understanding of complex social and development issues through community-based workshops and activities with organizations in Laos and Cambodia, and through the rhythms of daily life while in home-stays.

3/5
Rugged Travel

Hop on buses, trains, tuk-tuks, boats, trucks and your own two feet to explore the region overland -- from the high mountain passes of the Himalaya and the jungles of Laos to the temples of Cambodia.

3/5
Trekking

Challenge yourself on multi-day treks in Kirirom National Park near the Cambodian coast, in the karst limestone and rain forests of of eastern Laos and within the sacred peaks of the eastern Himalaya.

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