Vietnam: Culture, Social Change, and Development

Educational Excursions

Please note that in order to take advantage of dynamic learning opportunities, program excursions may occasionally vary.

"I have never travelled another country, including my own, in the same amazing way that I travelled across all of Vietnam with SIT. From the Mekong Delta to Ho Chi Minh City to Da Nang to Hue to Hanoi to Sa Pa, this study abroad experience is like none other because of the richness of your travels. You are not just a tourist; you leave each city with intimate knowledge, local friends, and a burning desire to return."

—Kaitlin Hansen, Northwestern University

Rice fields in the Mekong Delta

Educational excursions directly immerse students in the cultural context and local realities of diverse Vietnamese communities. On excursion, students explore key questions related to issues such as traditional culture preservation, development pressures, and pervasive social inequalities. While in rural areas, students learn about rural development patterns and sustainable development practices. Direct immersion in varied environments provides students with a deeper understanding and appreciation of Vietnam's cultural and natural heritage. 

Mekong Delta (Ten Days)
During this excursion, students examine rural development trends and sustainable development practices by attending site workshops facilitated by well-known lecturers at Can Tho University and the Mekong Delta Rice Institute. Topics explored include:

  • Rice farming and agricultural diversification
  • Community-based livelihood systems, such as organic farming and husbandry
  • The biogas model within the Mekong Delta’s integrated farming system
  • Mekong Delta water resources and the impact of climate change
  • Microfinance programs

Central to this excursion is conducting a community volunteering project, which could focus on organic farming methods or on installing a bio-digester with local farmers. Students experience how local residents are working to reduce current poverty levels and build suitable livelihood farming systems. Students witness ongoing conservation efforts to protect the Cajuput mangrove forest in Tra Su. Restoration efforts have been underway since 1983, and the forest has been extended by 700 hectares. The forest serves as a habitat for many kinds of water birds (primarily storks), colonies of bats, and various rare animal species. They also conduct village case studies in pairs with the help of local volunteers.

During the excursion to the Mekong Delta, students also observe local religious and cultural practices by examining the revival of local festivities and the upsurge in popular religion in Chau Doc, the border area between Vietnam and Cambodia.

See photos of the Mekong Delta excursion.

Day Trips and Historical and Cultural Field Visits
In Ho Chi Minh City, the program includes educational excursions designed to complement and enhance classroom study and field-based activities. These excursions provide students with experiential learning opportunities for a broader and deeper understanding of course content. Such excursions may include:

  • An introduction to Buddhism delivered by a monk at Van Hanh Institute
  • Visits to the War Remnant Museum and the Cu Chi Tunnel to introduce the Vietnam War from multiple perspectives
  • A day trip to Can Gio Mangrove Forest on the coastline of Ho Chi Minh City, which could include a tree planting activity
  • A day trip to Ho Chi Minh City’s District 7 to see the new Phu My Hung residential development, an example of some of the international influences on the city today
  • A two-day trip to Cat Tien, one of the most important and largest national parks in Vietnam, where students can observe rich flora and fauna systems and learn firsthand about the park’s conservation efforts

Da Nang and the Ancient Cities of Hue and Hoi An (One Week)
During this excursion, students examine the sustainable tourism boom in Hoi An, Da Nang, and Hue. Highlights of the excursion include visits to the ancient town of Hoi An and to Hue, Vietnam's last imperial city. In Hoi An, students observe conservation efforts to preserve the hundreds of old houses and the intangible cultural spaces in this ancient town. While in Hoi An, students have the opportunity to visit My Son sanctuary. My Son served as a center of Hinduism for the Cham Kingdom that dominated central and southern Vietnam from the fourth to the thirteenth centuries. While observing this ancient ruin, students will learn about Cham architecture and music.

From Hoi An, students may have the chance to visit Cu Lao Cham, an island marine park also known as Cham Island Biosphere Reserve. Students learn about plans for sustainable development in the area with an emphasis on preserving the environment and enhancing the income-generating capacity of the local people. In addition, students can go snorkeling in a nearby coral reef area. Hoi An, My Son, and Hue are all recognized as UNESCO World Cultural Heritage sites.

On the way from Hoi An to Hue, students visit Da Nang, the fastest developing city in central Vietnam. While in the imperial city of Hue, students visit the Forbidden Citadel and see well-known tombs while learning about Hue culture and the last  feudal dynasty — the Nguyen dynasty. Many students take advantage of this time to access Independent Study Project (ISP) research sites in Hoi An, Da Nang, and Hue and often meet potential ISP advisors and supporters.

Northern excursion

Excursion to the North: Hanoi, Sapa, and Ha Long Bay (Twelve Days)
Located on the banks of the Red River, Hanoi is Vietnam's capital, its center of government, and the cradle of Vietnamese civilization. The year 2010 marked the 1,000th anniversary of the founding of Hanoi.

In Hanoi, students attend seminars at Vietnam National  University and at the Faculty for International Studies, where lectures are delivered by many of the university's most esteemed professors. Students learn alongside Vietnamese students with whom they share insights, observations, and research. The lectures may focus on such diverse topics as

  • Civil Society in Vietnam and the roles of nonprofit organizations.
  • Vietnam’s international relations with the USA, China, the EU, Japan, South Korea, and ASEAN.
  • Government minority policies toward and relations with Vietnam’s ethnic groups and nationalities.
  • Current issues of land reform and land ownership.

During their time in Hanoi, students have the opportunity to do the following:

  • Meet with top historians and members of the Vietnamese National Assembly to discuss current political topics.
  • Visit major historical sites, including Van Mieu temple, the first and oldest university in Vietnam; the Presidential Palace; and the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology.
  • Visit the newly excavated historic Forbidden City, Thang Long, the royal city built in the eleventh century after Vietnam gained independence from Chinese occupation and rule. This visit is of particular interest for students interested in archaeology.
  • Meet with government officials and residents to discuss the preservation of cultural heritage sites. 
  • Observe the work NGOs such as Catholic Relief Services, Oxfam, UNICEF, and UNDP are conducting in Vietnam.


In Sapa, students experience Vietnamese indigenous cultures and observe local music, dress, embroidery, and other crafts. They learn about the cultures of Hmong, Dao, and Giay ethnic groups in several surrounding villages. During excursions, students may witness firsthand activities of a Red Dao shaman and the indigo dyeing by Hmong women, and they may interact with local students. These educational excursions enhance students' understanding of the regions by allowing them to directly observe the dynamics affecting ethnic minority communities in Vietnam.

In Ha Long Bay, students experience the grottos, caves, and marine life of this beautiful and scenic bay.

The itinerary changes each semester to include less visited sites and rural areas vital to understanding Vietnam and the visible gap between urban and rural areas. Students engage with local residents through visits to religious temples and monasteries, nature reserves, local markets, orphanages, schools, and factories. Immediately preceding the Independent Study Project, this excursion forms the core of the travel portion of the program, and exposes students to myriad possibilities and contacts for their ISP.

Costs Dates

Credits: 16

Duration: 15 weeks

Program Base: Ho Chi Minh City

Language Study: Vietnamese

Prerequisites: None

View Student Evaluations for this program:

About the Evaluations (PDF)

Fall 2013 Evaluations (PDF)
Spring 2013 Evaluations (PDF)
Fall 2012 Evaluations (PDF)

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