Laos

Conservation & Development in Southeast Asia

A 4-week Summer Abroad Program

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Duration
30 Days
Description

Witness the awakening of Southeast Asia’s hidden gem: discuss the environmental impacts of mega-dams, trek through jungle forests, unpack little known stories from the US Secret War.

Dates

Jun 28 - Jul 28, 2017


Suggested Ages

15-17

Number of Participants

12


Availability

closed

Begins In

5 Weeks

Land Cost

$6,125


Estimated Flight Cost

$1,980

Vientiane

Luang Prabang

Thakhek

4,000 Islands

Program Overview

Imagine living in a fishing village in the middle of the Mekong River.


Laos People Democratic Republic (Laos PDR) is a land of staggering beauty, reverent Buddhism and languid mystique—a land where locals pride themselves on the motto: Laos ‘People Don’t Rush’. To live this way requires a mindset and manners as fluid and clear as water itself.

Southeast Asia’s only landlocked country, Laos is dominated by two main geographic entities: the mighty Mekong River, which forms a 1,500-mile-long border with Thailand, and the tropical highlands that rise like a limestone spine running down the length of the interior. Within this diverse tropical ecosystem dwells an incredible array of endemic flora and fauna, including Indochinese tigers, Asiatic elephants, Agile gibbons and critically-endangered Siamese crocodiles. With a population less than 7 million, much of Laos remains rural and wild. But times are changing, and rapidly, in a country that has traditionally been considered a geo-political after-thought. Laos now finds itself at the center of international…

Laos People Democratic Republic (Laos PDR) is a land of staggering beauty, reverent Buddhism and languid mystique—a land where locals pride themselves on the motto: Laos ‘People Don’t Rush’. To live this way requires a mindset and manners as fluid and clear as water itself.

Southeast Asia’s only landlocked country, Laos is dominated by two main geographic entities: the mighty Mekong River, which forms a 1,500-mile-long border with Thailand, and the tropical highlands that rise like a limestone spine running down the length of the interior. Within this diverse tropical ecosystem dwells an incredible array of endemic flora and fauna, including Indochinese tigers, Asiatic elephants, Agile gibbons and critically-endangered Siamese crocodiles. With a population less than 7 million, much of Laos remains rural and wild. But times are changing, and rapidly, in a country that has traditionally been considered a geo-political after-thought. Laos now finds itself at the center of international debates focused on mega-dam projects, regional water rights, conservation efforts, alarming deforestation and resource management.

Dragons’ Laos summer program begins just north of Vientiane on the placid shores of Nam Ngum Lake, where we orient ourselves to the pace of life and cultural complexities of Laos culture. Here students receive an overview of Theravada Buddhism, a critical basis for understanding the country as it is the prominent belief system of the vast majority of Laotians and a philosophical thread that is woven into daily life. In this tranquil setting we brief students on current events and cultural mores while initiating survival language classes and exploring local markets. From here we embark into Phou Khao Khouay National Protected Area for a multi-day jungle trek among pristine wilderness, picturesque waterfalls and isolated ethnic Lao Theung hamlets.

The next stop is Vientiane, Laos’ quaint “capital-village,” perched on the banks of the Mekong River across from Thailand. Constructed with an array of medieval temples, French colonial architecture, Socialist monuments and 21st century construction projects that will change the face of the city, Vientiane is the perfect place to understand the interplay between modernization efforts and traditional values. While in the capital we visit NGOs that are working on “Battery” projects related to the dozens of proposed dams earmarked for construction in the next decade that will drive the next phase of Southeast Asian development. We also delve into the US’ Secret War (1964-1973) and the affects it has had on rural development. We meet with survivors, advocates and those who are risking their lives to clear the tens of millions of unexploded ordnance still buried beneath the countryside.

From Vientiane we head south to Thakhek where we live with home-stay families on the island of Don Daeng. While settled on that idyllic isle in the Mekong, we learn about rice cultivation, traditional fishing practices and comparative religion, and we engage in discourses on a diverse range of topics including identity studies and mindfulness. While staying on Don Daeng, we also visit the Nam Theun II dam, Laos’ largest and most expensive hydroelectric project to date.

From Thahek, we travel further south to the wilds of the Mekong River’s Four Thousand Islands, where we conclude our program with an exploration of the ancient Angkor temples at Wat Phou, treks on the Bolaven Plateau and a magical farewell ceremony on the shores of the mother Mekong.

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Program Components

3/5
Comparative Religion

Examine Theravada Buddhism in theory and practice through a socio-cultural lens, and learn about minority religions and traditional animistic belief systems.

5/5
Development Studies

In-depth study of land-use and sustainable development, dams and river systems, ethnic minority issues and relocation, urban and rural healthcare, economic growth and education.

5/5
Focus Of Inquiry

Learn about the Secret War in Laos, ancient kingdoms, political transformation post-Vietnam War, peace and reconciliation, heath issues, regional politics and the mega-dam projects that are shaping the future.

3/5
Home Stay

Immersion in a week-long home-stay on an island in the Mekong River in southern Laos, live with villagers on the island of Don Daeng, stay overnight in jungle hamlets while on trek.

3/5
Independent Study Project (ISP)

Selected opportunities for mentored study in local crafts, interviews with international public organizations, ecology, agriculture, and meditation.

3/5
Language Study

Study basic Lao language at the onset of the program (5-10 hours per week), continue building proficiency with home-stay families, and learn survival phrases in ethnic minority languages.

2/5
Learning Service

Give and learn through opportunities to teach in rural schools, provide assistance on rural development projects and environmental awareness/conservation. 10 hours or less of learning service.

4/5
Rugged Travel

Travel through rural Laos by boat, bus, bicycle and foot. Find yourself in remote jungles, distant islands in the Mekong and mountain paths seldom seen by anyone except locals.

2/5
Trekking

Challenge yourself on 2-3 day treks through the jungle to hidden waterfalls, find yourself discussing culture with minority villagers in out-of-the-way locales, and explore newly created national parks.

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