Building Robust & Inclusive Democracy

Tufts Civic Semester Thailand

Thailand Program

Our Thailand program focuses on indigenous rights, environmental conservation, and sustainable development. Through both academic coursework and by learning from and supporting local community organizations, students in the program grapple with complex social issues, and connect classroom discussions with hands-on projects.

Thailand Program

Our Thailand program focuses on indigenous rights, environmental conservation, and sustainable development. Through both academic coursework and by learning from and supporting local community organizations, students in the program grapple with complex social issues, and connect classroom discussions with hands-on projects.

Program Location

Located on the banks of the Ping River, Chiang Mai is the largest city in northern Thailand. Chiang Mai possesses a rich cultural history that dates back to its founding as the capital of the Lan Na Kingdom in the 13th century. Ancient city walls and moats still surround the city center, a testament to its former strategic importance as a regional seat of power and trade. Today, Chiang Mai is known for its living cultural heritage, as a center of traditional arts and crafts, as home to more than 300 Buddhist temples, and as a base for numerous local and international NGOs. In a country where tourism dominates the economy, Chiang Mai is also a major destination for travelers, welcoming visitors from all over Thailand and the world. Yet, all it takes is a short walk away from the city center to find oneself immersed in neighborhoods and villages absent of tourists and representative of life in this still largely rural country.

Program Experience

Students engage with and support local community organizations in their work, participate in workshops and seminars about global citizenship and identity, and explore different regions of northern Thailand and the natural environment through excursions. The Civic Semester is designed to be a holistic learning experience in which learning happens in and out of the classroom. Students make connections between academics, civic engagement, and personal identity, and they leave the program with an expansive approach to learning and to making a difference that transforms the rest of their college experience. Learn more about the Civic Semester student experience on our blog.

Learning from nonprofits and collectives is the heart of the Civic Semester experience and provides students with real world examples of civic engagement in action. The beginning of the program offers group visits to a number of partner organizations. Visits with organizations often include in-depth discussions with staff and program leaders about the work they do and why as well as, when possible, hands-on projects that support the organization. For the remaining two months of the program, students work individually or in pairs with one organization. Whether students are learning about organic farming through seed and crop cultivation, translating materials to English to reach a wider audience, helping to refurbish or paint a vital space, or creating brochures and posters to support a public recycling campaign, we seek to build reciprocal and supportive relationships with every organization we work with, and to find meaningful ways for our students to learn while making an impact. Examples of the types of organizations students will engage with include a network dedicated to supporting indigenous women’s rights; an organization focused on action and awareness around waste and sustainability education; and an internationally linked collaborative supporting historically marginalized communities through health, education and other projects.

The cohort experience is central to the Civic Semester program, as students develop deep connections with one another and their instructors. For the first half of the program, students live in a program house that offers comfortable group living with shared bedrooms and ample indoor and outdoor spaces for the group to gather, whether for movie night or virtual class sessions. Living in a collaborative community setting, students work toward academic and personal goals and explore complex issues - together. Mid-way through the program students deepen their community immersion through living with a host family. While they continue to gather as a group for class sessions and group activities, this individual opportunity to get to know a local family is a highlight for many students.

And though the Civic Semester ends in December, its impact continues far beyond. Students participate in a retreat at the start of the spring semester to support their transition to campus and to reconnect with each other. They also engage with the broader First-Year Global Program (FYGP) alumni community through on-campus events. For many FYGP alumni this community is a vital support system during their four years at Tufts and beyond.

*Program details are subject to change.

  • At the core of the Civic Semester experience are five for-credit Tufts University courses. Selected and designed specifically for the program, they give participants a strong academic context for the issues and communities they explore, and provide a foundation for their development into civic leaders. Instead of large first-year lectures, students enjoy the quintessential college seminar experience in which 10-12 students can engage in substantive discussions with their professors and with each other on issues like Thai history and culture, civic engagement, and equity and social change.

    The courses are:

    • SOC 50: Globalization & Social Change: With a focus on Southeast Asia, students will explore social problems associated with the development of globalization such as distribution of economic and political power, role of multinational businesses, movement of peoples, cultural flows, intersection of global and local, the negative features of globalization, global cities, "anti-global" social movements, and different models for reform.
    • HIST 44: Introduction to History of Southeast Asia: This course familiarizes students with the history, culture, and/or current issues in Thailand and the surrounding region. Through various mediums, students gain historical and cultural knowledge to deepen their experiences on the ground.
    • CVS 45: Civic Semester Pathways: Through a collaborative exploration of research and practice on civic engagement, racial equity, and socioemotional well-being, students will build skills and knowledge of best practices in civic engagement that will allow them to be effective change agents during their Civic Semester experience and beyond.
    • CVS 95: Community Change in Action: This reflective seminar will provide an academic framework for the learning that students do on the ground with community organizations. Through readings, writing, and discussion, students will analyze their civic engagement work throughout the program and discover connections between the theory and practice of social change.
    • ML 40: Thai Language in Context: Through small group tutoring focused on local vocabulary and communication, students practice basic Thai language skills to enhance their immersion and experience.
  • While the in-person Civic Semester program runs during the regular fall semester schedule, students take summer courses before their arrival in Thailand. This not only prepares students with important academic content, but also supports their learning during the semester by freeing up more time for community engagement.

    Approximate 2024 dates are listed below:

    • July 1 & 2: Civic Semester Orientation Part I (virtual)
    • July 9 - August 15: Summer courses in Globalization & Social Change and Civic Semester Pathways (virtual)
    • August 16: Arrive to campus for last week of classes & Civic Semester Orientation Part II (in person, on campus)
    • August 16 - 22: Civic Semester Orientation Part II (in person, on campus)
    • August 23 - 28: Pre-Orientation (in person, on campus)
    • August 29 - 30/31: New Student Orientation (in person, on campus)
    • August 30/31: As a group, fly to Thailand to meet your Where There Be Dragons instructors and begin group programming and hands-on community work
    • September 3 - December 9: History of Southeast Asia, Community Change in Action, Thai Language in Context (virtual, hybrid and in person) 
    • Late September: Excursion 1
    • October: Shift from group organization visits to individual and small group placements with selected orgs
    • Mid-October: Shift from shared group housing to individual host families
    • Late October: Excursion 2
    • Late November: Excursion 3
    • November 29: Students depart for home
    • December 12 - 19: Final Exams
    • January 15: Spring semester classes begin
    • January 18 - 19: Civic Semester retreat (in-person, on campus)
    • Spring 2025: Monthly cohort gatherings

    The Tufts Civic Semester is designed to be responsive to the needs of the communities with which students interact. As the cohort explores different themes and topics, engages with various community organizations and experiences new landscapes, no two weeks of the semester are the same. In addition, the program must be flexible due to conditions on the ground. This sample weekly schedule gives you an example of what a week in the program could look like:

    Tuesday - Thursday: Coursework & Home-Based Activities. Students attend virtual courses with Tufts professors and in-person Thai language class on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, have independent time for studying and course-related discussions, and engage in hobbies or independent activities near or in the group home. Throughout the program, students also share cooking and meal-planning responsibilities, learning about and preparing local cuisine with an emphasis on food systems, sustainability, and engaging in the history and stories that surround different foods and culinary practices.

    Friday - Monday: Hands-On Community Projects & Excursions. When they don’t have class, students engage with community organizations whose work is related to course themes and explore their new environments. 2 days a week are normally spent learning from and supporting the work of local organizations. Group excursions offer opportunities to discover and enjoy different areas of northern Thailand, as well as to discover the incredible landscapes of the region through hiking and outdoor excursions. All activities are designed to be accessible regardless of comfort or skill level and absolutely no prior outdoor experience is necessary.

    As with all international programming we must be flexible in our planning, and all programmatic elements and courses are subject to change.

  • We’re proud to work with Where There Be Dragons, an organization with more than 25 years of experience crafting and leading service experiences for students around the world. The mission of Dragons is to cultivate meaningful connections through immersive and responsible travel. With a focus on self-exploration, skill-building, and global engagement, Dragons programs seek to nurture empathy and understanding through authentic cultural exchange, with the goal of helping participants develop the self-awareness and cross-cultural competencies to be active participants in the world. The organization’s emphasis on ethical travel and service, as well as social justice, informs all of their programming and promotes valuable experiences for all students.

    Two Dragons instructors manage the program on the ground, living in the group accommodation, leading activities and excursions, facilitating curriculum and group reflections, and supporting students throughout the semester experience.

  • Our programs are built with safety and risk management at the forefront. Dragons staff support students with any medical care that is needed throughout the program and On Call International provides travel assistance and medical coverage to all Tufts travelers. Program instructors guide students on local safety and health risks and support an environment focused on responsible decision making and accountability. Students live in a secure home with program instructors and with vetted host families, and are required to carry a local cell phone so they can always reach instructors at any time.

    We continue to adjust COVID protocols and interactions with local organizations and communities based on international, federal, and local public health information and guidance. Our first priority will always be the health and safety of our students, instructors, and those in our host communities.

  • Interested students can apply to Civic Semester by checking the box on their Tufts application, after which they will be asked to select their location preferences and complete a brief short-answer question about their interest in the program. If admitted, their admission to Tufts University is contingent upon their full participation in the Civic Semester program.

    Due to degree restrictions, only incoming students in the School of Arts & Sciences, not including BFA, SMFA and NEC combined degree students and participants in the BLAST program, are eligible to apply. We welcome and are proud to have international students in the program each year!

    Questions? Please contact us.