ISDSI is an educational institution dedicated to teaching about sustainability. Our study abroad programs educate American students about the key issues in sustainability through a close collaboration with local communities.
The International Sustainable Development Studies Institute (ISDSI) is a recognized leader in innovative study-abroad programs. In 2005 ISDSI’s People Environment and Development program was recognized as one of three “best practice” programs by the Institute of International Education (IIE) Andrew Heiskell Awards, and in 2006 was nominated as a UNESCO Centre of Excellence.
The program that developed into the International Sustainable Development Studies Institute (ISDSI) was started in 1998 as an initiative of Dr. Joseph Brockington of Kalamazoo College. Developed by Mark and Dana Ritchie, who were already living in Chiang Mai and working in development, the program started its first year with six students. Since then the program has grown, and has had over 450 students from more than 50 colleges and universities in the US. ISDSI now runs fall and spring semester programs, a summer program, facilitates short term programs led by faculty, as well as hosts a gap year program.
ISDSI is staffed by a mix of American, Thai and Karen (Bak’en-yaw) instructors and support staff, with a unique team-based approach to teaching — a lead instructor overseeing the course and teaching foundational seminars (in Chiang Mai and the field), and a team of field instructors leading the experiential learning activities in partnership with local community members.
Community-based learning has been a hallmark of ISDSI courses from the beginning. Rather than enter into communities with a pre-set agenda or list of lessons, ISDSI works with local communities using the principles of participatory rural development to create community-based courses. These courses combine challenging academic study with field-based learning about both local wisdom and cultural practices as well as experiential learning in the social and natural sciences. Critical to this is our deep connections to the communities we work with, and an on-going commitment to helping empower local people through the capacity building that comes from having the villagers be the experts and teachers about their own lives.
Because ISDSI courses spend extended time in the field — in remote villages and elsewhere — we have focused on a proactive approach to risk management. Borrowing heavily from the practices in wilderness expeditions and outdoor education, we have worked to combine the best of study abroad and wilderness expeditions into a unique and powerful approach to leadership, experiential learning and cultural immersion.
While Northern Thailand remains our base, ISDSI Expedition Field Courses take place throughout Thailand–from remote islands in the Andaman sea to remote tribal villages in the mountains.