2016 Thailand Field School Course

In July and August 2016, Professor Nick Kontogeorgopoulos and 13 Puget Sound students traveled to Chiang Mai, Thailand, to participate in a three-week field school, an extension of the spring 2016 course Political Economy of Southeast Asia.

The program was facilitated by a partner organization in Chiang Mai, the International Sustainable Development Studies Institute (ISDSI), which provided field instructors—one Thai, one Karen, and one American—for the program, facilitating three distinct learning and living experiences:

  • The group visited the Upland Holistic Development Project (UHDP), located in the Fang district of Chiang Mai province. UHDP is another partner organization that has worked with ISDSI for several years and conducts research on agroforestry and works with marginalized upland ethnic minorities in northern Thailand on sustainable rural development. While staying at UHDP, students learned about agroforestry, organic farming, seed sharing, and the ways in which surrounding communities have taken advantage of the agricultural research being done at UHDP.  
  • Students stayed in homestays in the village of Mae Ta, just outside Chiang Mai city. At Mae Ta, students met with several farmers and community leaders in order to learn about the history, benefits, and challenges of establishing an organic agricultural cooperative at the village level.
  • Students visited a remote village near the Myanmar border called Huay Hee. Located in Mae Hong Son province, Huay Hee is a Christian Karen village that practices shifting cultivation. The students stayed in homestays at Huay Hee as well, and spent a full week in the village learning about rotational agriculture in high-elevation communities.

Experiential Learning & Reflection

Throughout the field school program, students wrote reflection essays, completed field guides every day, and gathered information for their final presentations, which were based on research paper questions they first addressed during the field school course on campus in the spring. These presentations will be refined and delivered during the Southeast Asia Symposium Oct. 28–29, 2016.


Aside from the hands-on, experiential components of the field school, cultural immersion was the key feature and strength of this field school experience. Students participated in a Buddhist blessing ceremony, learned to weave with Karen villagers, cooked with host families, and even played soccer (a.k.a., "football") with local residents, but some of the most memorable—and most rewarding—experiences involved simply hanging out with host families and trying to communicate. 

See many of the experiences students shared through social media posts and photos on our Thailand Field School photo album page.