Culture, Social Change, and Development

Examine economic and social change in the cultural context of Vietnam, one of Asia’s most dynamic and rapidly changing countries.

At a Glance





Language of Study


Courses taught in



Sep 5 – Dec 18

Program Countries


Program Base

Ho Chi Minh City

Critical Global Issue of Study

Development & Inequality

Development & Inequality Icon


Why study development in Vietnam?

Vietnam’s rising status as a nation of extraordinary growth and socioeconomic change is matched only by its ecological and cultural attractions, which include six biosphere reserves and seven UNESCO World Heritage sites. Study Vietnam’s rich history, overcoming decades of war and isolation through social, political, and economic transformation to become one of Asia’s strongest economies. Meet government officials, Vietnamese National Assembly members and speakers with the Fulbright Program Center, as well as local university students who attend SIT lectures and can help you experience their culture. Observe international and local NGOs such as Oxfam and UNICEF. Experience indigenous music, arts, dress, and traditions. Visit the capital city of Hanoi, the cradle of Vietnamese civilization. Explore Hue, Vietnam’s last imperial city and home to the Forbidden Citadel and its tombs. Trek to the Phong Nha caves system and see the oldest karst mountains of Asia, formed 400 million years ago. Live with a Vietnamese host family in Ho Chi Minh City, the program’s base, and assist in a community-led service project.


  • See Vietnam’s economic, political, and social metamorphoses in action.
  • Pair with a local university student to experience Vietnamese culture.
  • Build your professional network, engaging with NGOs and government officials.
  • Visit indigenous K’ho Lach, Hmong, Red Dao, and Giay communities.




Ho Chi Minh City

Get an introduction to Buddhism by a monk at Van Hanh Institute. Visit the War Remnant Museum and the Cu Chi tunnels to look at the Vietnam War from multiple perspectives. Take day trips to Can Gio mangrove forest on the coastline of Ho Chi Minh City, and to Ho Chi Minh City’s District 7 to see the new Phu My Hung residential development, an example of new international influence. On a two-day trip to Cat Tien national park, you’ll observe rich flora and fauna systems and learn about the park’s conservation efforts

Mekong Delta

Attend lectures at Can Tho University and Mekong Delta Rice Institute on farming, crop diversification, husbandry, water resources, climate change, and microfinance. In the forests and gardens of Ben Tre province, study vegetation diversification to support sustainability. Discover efforts to protect mangrove forest in Tra Su, a habitat for water birds, bats, and rare species. Conduct village case studies, see revived festivals, and witness the resurgence of popular religion in the Vietnam-Cambodia border area.

Da Lat Central Highlands

Home to some of the best mountain biking and hiking in Vietnam, Da Lat’s altitude (1,500–2,000 meters) and fertile landscape also make it one of Vietnam’s main agricultural areas. Explore French architectural legacies untouched by the Vietnam conflict and learn about the culture of the K’ho Lach ethnic group, who have promoted ethnic and cultural tourism as a development strategy. Learn about poverty reduction in the Central Highlands and how the region has improved market access.

Da Nang and the Ancient Cities of Hue and Hoi An

This region features UNESCO World Cultural Heritage sites Hoi An, My Son, and Hue. In Hue, Vietnam’s last imperial city, explore the Forbidden Citadel and learn about Hue culture and the last feudal dynasty. In Hoi An, witness efforts to preserve hundreds of old houses and intangible cultural spaces. This visit may include My Son sanctuary, a center of Hinduism for the Cham Kingdom, which dominated central and southern Vietnam from the 4th to the 13th centuries, and learn about Cham architecture and music.

Cu Lao Cham

In the fall semester, an excursion may be arranged to Cu Lao Cham, an island marine park in Hoi An. Learn about plans for sustainable development in the region to preserve the environment while enhancing income opportunities for the residents. Activities at this location may include snorkeling at a nearby coral reef. Also visit Da Nang, the fastest-developing city in central Vietnam.

The Phong Nha Caves System

In the spring semester, travel to UNESCO World Heritage site Phong Nha National Park in Central Vietnam. The remarkable park contains the oldest karst mountains in Asia, formed approximately 400 million years ago. Riddled with hundreds of cave systems — many of extraordinary scale and length — as well as spectacular underground rivers, Phong Nha is a speleologist’s dream.

The North: Hanoi and Sapa

On the banks of the Red River, 1,000-year-old Hanoi is Vietnam’s capital and the cradle of Vietnamese civilization. Visit Van Mieu Temple; the oldest university in Vietnam; the Presidential Palace; and the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology. Your visit will include the newly excavated 11th century Imperial City of Thang Long, built when Vietnam gained independence from Chinese occupation. Meet historians and government officials; discuss the preservation of heritage sites; observe international and local NGOs in action; and learn about rural development issues while meeting with communities in beautiful, mountainous Sapa, a town northwest of Hanoi.

Please note that SIT will make every effort to maintain its programs as described. To respond to emergent situations, however, SIT may have to change or cancel programs.


Program Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion of the program, students will be able to: 

  • Navigate cultural differences through the use of historical context, cultural dimensions, and social changes in Vietnam. 
  • Articulate the strategies and practices of economic reforms in Vietnam in the last four decades. 
  • Analyze the challenges of sustainability in urban and rural areas in Vietnam. 
  • Evaluate the diversity, equity and inclusiveness among local ethnic peoples in the context of Vietnam. 
  • Explain the Vietnamese perspective on increased respect and tolerance of differences. 
  • Synthesize the learning acquired on the program in an Independent Study Project or internship experience paper. 
  • Develop basic communicative proficiency in Vietnamese.

Read more about Program Learning Outcomes.


Access virtual library guide.

The following syllabi are representative of this program. Because courses develop and change over time to take advantage of dynamic learning opportunities, actual course content will vary from term to term.

The syllabi can be useful for students, faculty, and study abroad offices in assessing credit transfer. Read more about credit transfer.

Please expand the sections below to see detailed course information, including course codes, credits, overviews, and syllabi.

Key Topics

  • How Vietnam emerged as one of Asia’s strongest economies
  • Impacts of war, development, and tourism on fragile cultural sites
  • Shifting gender relations and development pressures
  • Social and political issues caused by rapid development
  • Challenges of sustainable development and prosperity
  • Microfinance and how start-up businesses grow

Ethnicity, Gender, and Social Change

Ethnicity, Gender, and Social Change – syllabus
(ASIA3010 / 3 credits)

This course explores the repercussions of the processes of social change in Vietnam with a special focus on specific groups such as women and ethnic minorities. Students are asked to analyze gender relations and ethnic minority perspectives from a comparative standpoint, in relation to both regional and global social and political change. Students look at the governance of ethnic minority affairs, the development problems faced by minority peoples, and the challenge of maintaining Vietnamese people’s diverse traditions throughout the process of nation-building. The course enables students to identify agents of change and their role in shaping sustainable social change.

Economic Reform and Development

Economic Reform and Development – syllabus
(ASIA3020 / 3 credits)

The course examines Vietnam’s development agenda and ethics and equity issues within the context of the country’s growing market economy and consumer class. Rapid economic development has come with sociopolitical changes and environmental costs. Students examine in detail the major turning point in Vietnam’s development, the Doi Moi “Renovation” economic reforms launched in 1986, and the rapid growth in trade and investment since that time. Excursions to both rural and urban areas in Vietnam, including the Mekong Delta, Central Vietnam, Hanoi, and Ha Giang, provide students with a variety of unique environments in which they can investigate the nuances of development. In spring, students examine new development efforts at Phong Nha National Park. In fall, students examine the tradeoffs among coal mining in Hon Gai areas, conservation efforts, and the rapid growth in tourism in Ha Long Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


Beginning Vietnamese – syllabus
(VIET1003-1503 / 3 credits)

Intermediate Vietnamese – syllabus
(VIET2003-2503 / 3 credits)

Advanced Vietnamese – syllabus
(VIET3003-3503 / 3 credits)

Emphasis on speaking and comprehension skills through classroom and field instruction. Based on in-country evaluation, including oral proficiency testing, students are placed in beginning, intermediate, or advanced classes.

Field Methods and Ethics

Field Methods and Ethics – syllabus
(ANTH3500 / 3 credits)

The course provides an introduction to the Independent Study Project and Internship and Seminar, and provides the foundational skills for conducting research in Vietnam. Topics include cross-cultural adaptation and skills building; project selection and refinement; identifying appropriate research methodologies; field study and internship ethics and the World Learning / SIT Human Subjects Review Policy; developing contacts and finding resources; developing skills in observation and interviewing; gathering, organizing, and communicating data; and maintaining a work journal.

Independent Study Project or Internship

In addition to taking the above courses, students will also need to enroll in one of the following two courses:

Independent Study Project
Independent Study Project – syllabus
(ISPR3000 / 4 credits)

Conducted in Ho Chi Minh City or in another approved location appropriate to the project. Sample topic areas: gender roles in Vietnamese society; the impact of migration on urban life; colonial architecture; heritage site management and conservation; the business environment and entrepreneurship in Vietnam; craft villages in transition; microcredit projects; poverty reduction and hunger eradication; Vietnamese culture viewed through the media, literature, or popular music; memory and the French and American wars; fortune tellers, magic, and mysticism in a modern socialist society.

Sample ISP topics:

  • Gender roles and sexuality in Vietnamese society
  • Food culture and organic farming
  • Healthcare and inequality
  • Colonial architecture
  • Heritage site management and conservation
  • Entrepreneurship and business development in Vietnam
  • Memory and the French and American wars
  • Aquaculture: shrimp and catfish farming
  • Issues of HIV/AIDS and public health
  • Music and performance arts
  • Fortune tellers, magic, and mysticism in a modern socialist society

Browse this program’s Independent Study Projects / undergraduate research.


Internship and Seminar
Internship and Seminar – syllabus
(ITRN3000 / 4 credits)

This seminar consists of a four-week internship with a local community organization, research organization, business, or international NGO. The aim of the internship is to enable the student to gain valuable experience and to enhance their skills in an international environment. Students will complete an internship and participate in a weekly seminar in which they process their learning experience (typically online), write progress reports, and prepare a final paper and presentation. A focus will be on linking internship learning with the program’s critical global issue focus and overall program theme.

Sample internships:

  • Supporting training workshops, micro-credit programs, and women’s empowerment at the Center for Community Health and Development in Hanoi
  • Doing innovative work with green living, public space development and restoration, and organic agriculture with the Action Center for City Development in Hoi An
  • Assisting ongoing projects on mental health, micro-nutrients and nutrition, policy advocacy, and social work at the Research and Training Center for Community Development in Hanoi
  • Providing support services to local nonprofits, international nongovernmental organizations seeking Vietnamese partners, and individual volunteers and philanthropists who are committed to building strong communities at LIN Center in Ho Chi Minh City
  • Participating in projects to improve local livelihoods at the East Meets West Center in Da Nang
  • Helping teachers and students with art projects in schools in Hue


Ho Chi Minh City

Stay for four weeks with a middle-class family in Ho Chi Minh City, a vibrant and cosmopolitan city representing the rapid change experienced throughout Vietnam. Homestay families often have multiple generations in one home and typically at least one university student about your age. Practice language skills with family members, learn about Vietnamese culture, and participate in discussions about Vietnamese life. Take part in family activities including family visits, weddings, and outdoor picnics. Whenever possible, visiting students and host families are matched according to professions and interests.

Other Accommodations

Other accommodations during the program include guesthouses, hostels, or small hotels.

Career Paths

Alumni of this program are currently:

  • working in NGOs in Washington, DC; New York City; Los Angeles; and elsewhere.

  • studying in graduate programs in law, medicine, business, and other fields.

  • volunteering with the Peace Corps, Volunteers in Asia, and other organizations.

  • returning to Vietnam to start up new businesses with local entrepreneurs.

  • conducting research on Fulbright scholarships in Malaysia, Indonesia, and Vietnam.

Faculty & Staff

Vietnam: Culture, Social Change, and Development

Duong Van Thanh, EdD
Academic Director
Vu Hai Truong, MA
Program Coordinator
Dao Mai Phuong, MA
Vietnamese Language Teacher

Discover the Possibilities

  • Cost & Scholarships

    SIT Study Abroad is committed to making international education accessible to all students. Scholarship awards generally range from $500 to $5,000 for semester programs and $500 to $3,000 for summer programs. This year, SIT will award more than $1.5 million in scholarships and grants to SIT Study Abroad students.

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    Prepare for an accessible educational experience with SIT Study Abroad! In-country conditions and resources vary by site. Students with disabilities are encouraged to contact [email protected] for more information.

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