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Enst 427: Society, Economy and Environment of the Mekong Delta (3 credits)

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Deep in the Delta: Wintersession in Vietnam

The University of Montana

December 26, 2014 to January 19, 2015

ENST 427: Society, Economy and Environment of the Mekong Delta (3 credits)
Co-requisite Course:

ENST 437: Climate Change Effects and Adaptation in the Mekong Delta (3 credits)


Dr. Nicky Phear, Climate Change Studies. Several professors from Can Tho University will also provide major contributions to the program, as indicated in the itinerary.

Course Description and Learning Objectives

This travel seminar course integrates two co-requisite courses: Society, Economy and Environment in the Mekong Delta and Climate Change Effects and Adaptation in the Mekong Delta. The goal of the program is to use the Mekong Delta case to explore the potential social, economic and environmental impacts of climate change in a tropical, developing country context. Adaptation strategies and mitigation opportunities will be emphasized, and comparisons will be made with the North American context.

Vietnam is an amazing country with welcoming people, a fascinating history and culture, warm tropical climate, and diverse, but threatened, ecosystems and their associated flora and fauna. The program will be based out of the city of Can Tho in the Mekong Delta, but include time in Ho Chi Minh City and two weeks in the field visiting small and large scale agriculture and aquaculture farming communities, wetlands, forests, Can Tho University agricultural and mangrove management field experiment stations, and cultural sites (e.g. temples and a traditional village). Field activities will include investigative learning through conversing with local people and performing field research in Tram Chim National Park and mangrove forests in Ca Mau Province. The program also includes a home stay with families in Can Tho.
ENST 427 Society, Economy and Environment of the Mekong Delta focuses on the history, culture, economy and environment of Vietnam, with particular emphasis on the Mekong Delta region. The goal of this course is to provide an understanding of the unique environments and the socio-economy of the Mekong Delta region to facilitate learning about the effects of climate change on these complex natural and anthropogenic systems.

Expected student learning outcomes include:

  • Understanding the historical climate and distribution and ecological diversity of natural ecosystems in the Mekong Delta;

  • Developing an understanding of the ecology and ecosystem services provided by large floodplain rivers, like the Mekong River, and mangrove ecosystems in the Mekong Delta;

  • Developing an understanding of the historical and contemporary political and socio-economic contexts in which the Mekong River and Delta in Vietnam have been managed.

  • Understanding the current land uses, including land management practices in the Mekong Delta;

  • Understanding the condition and causes of the current state of health of natural ecosystems in the Mekong Delta;

  • Developing an appreciation of the socio-economic condition and common livelihood activities of people living in the Delta, including agriculture and aquaculture development and management practices;

  • Understanding the growing importance of tourism for local livelihoods and the economy of the Mekong Delta;

  • Developing an understanding of the perceptions and attitudes that local people have about their environment, including climate change impacts, and possible adaptation strategies;

  • Understanding the historical and contemporary anthropogenic impacts on the Mekong Delta and how the Mekong River and the Delta’s ecosystems affect peoples’ lives; and,

  • Recognizing complexities in Mekong Delta management due to the river catchment spanning Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and China.


There are no prerequisites, but eligible students must be accepted by the University of Montana and be in good academic standing at their home institution.

Compulsory pre-departure meetings and course work

Students are required to attend three compulsory two-hour pre-trip meetings, one in October, one in November and third in December, for an introduction to the program and to discuss preparations for the trip. You should also be prepared for about twenty hours of pre-departure coursework, including required readings and one required essay, to be written before the program in Vietnam begins.

Required and Recommended Readings (available via Moodle by December 8)

Required pre-departure course readings (download onto your computer to take with you)
Required Texts:
Vietnam: Rising Dragon. (2011) by B. Hayton. (New Haven & London: Yale University Press); ISBN: 9780300152036 (paper).
Vietnam: A Natural History. (2006) E.J. Sterling, M.M Hurley, and Le Duc Minh. (New Haven & London: Yale University Press); ISBN: 9780300126938 (paper).
When Heaven and Earth Changed Places. (1990) by Le Ly Hayslip. (Plume); ISBN: 0452271681
Read or Watch before arriving in Vietnam:

  1. Vietnam: Rising Dragon. (2011) by B. Hayton. (New Haven & London: Yale University Press); ISBN: 9780300152036 (paper).

  1. Vietnam Study Abroad Manual.

  2. State Department Background Notes on Vietnam.

  3. Lonely Planet Vietnam Travel Guide (not the Hanoi and Halong Bay travel guide). Provides an introduction to the history and culture of the country, along with travel tips.

Watch this: A very good short half-hour lecture about the ethics of climate change by Peter Singer, 2010: And a 3 minute video, The faces of climate change: Vietnam.

  1. Economist. (2010). Adapting to climate change: Facing the consequences. Nov. 25. Print Edition.

Calculate your carbon footprint for this trip, and compare your yearly carbon footprint to that of the average Vietnamese. Here is one potential site for calculating your carbon footprint:, which comes from the Missoula-based organization, ClearSky Climate Solutions.

Readings for Dec 27 to Dec 31, 2014:

  1. Be, N.V. Lecture 1: Introduction to Mangroves. PowerPoint presentation given to UM Vietnam Wintersession class, January, 2011.

  2. Be, N.V. Lecture 2: Mangrove Management in the Mekong Delta. PowerPoint presentation given to UM Vietnam Wintersession class, January, 2011.

  3. Be, N.V. Lecture 3: Mangrove and Shrimp Farming Systems. PowerPoint presentation given to UM Vietnam Wintersession class, January, 2011.

  1. Be, N.V. Lecture 4: Shrimp farming in Coastal Zone in the Mekong Delta. PowerPoint presentation given to UM Vietnam Wintersession class, January, 2011.

Readings for Jan 1 – 8, 2015 in Can Tho

  1. Bich, L.D. An Introduction to The Rural Culture of Southern Vietnam.

  2. Bich, L.D. Communication and Culture Forming.

  3. Mong, A. (2007). A farmer’s son tried to save the Mekong Delta. World Blog.

  4. Ni, D.V.. The Mekong Delta of Vietnam: Development and Environment. PowerPoint presentation given to UM Vietnam Wintersession class, January, 2011.

Readings for Jan 9 - 12, 2015: Field Trip to Soc Trang, Bac Lieu, Ca Mau, U Minh Thuong

  1. Field Trip Background Information on Soc Trang, Bac Lieu, Ca Mau, Va Kien Giang.

  1. Safford, R.J. et al. (1988) “Melaleuca Wetlands and Sustainable Development in the Mekong Delta, Vietnam.” In The Wetlands Handbook, E. Maltby and T Barker, eds.

Readings for Jan 13 - 17, 2015: Can Tho, Field Trip to An Giang Province & Tram Chim

  1. “Conservation: The Future of Vietnam’s Living World” in Vietnam: A Natural History. (2006) E.J. Sterling, M.M Hurley, and Le Duc Minh. (New Haven & London: Yale University Press), 349-377.

  1. Van Ni, et al. (2007). Integrated water and fire management strategy for Tram Chim National Park, Vietnam. Mekong Wetlands Biodiversity Conservation and Sustainable Use Programme.

  2. Nga, T.T., Tram Chim Water Management lecture. PowerPoint presentation given to UM Vietnam Wintersession class, January, 2011.

  3. Nga, T.T. Wetland Lecture Intro. PowerPoint presentation given to UM Vietnam Wintersession class, January, 2011.

Additional Recommended Readings:

  1. SEAT Program at Can Tho University.

  2. White, I. (2002). Water management in the Mekong: Changes, conflicts & opportunities. International Hydrological Programme. UNESCO, Paris. pp. 5-24.

  3. Race to the Bottom: Burma and Vietnam head in opposite directions on human rights.

  4. The Conservation of Key Wetland Sites in the Mekong Delta. BirdLife International report.

  5. Wetlands Management in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta: An Overview of the Pressures and Responses. By Magnus Torell and Albert M. Salamanca.

Readings: Course readings can be accessed via the links provided above and will be available electronically through Moodle by December 8, 2014. Please download these readings onto your computer and print any for which you would like hardcopies. Please contact Nicky with any questions or difficulties downloading or printing the readings. Make sure you do the required pre-departure readings before arriving in Ho Chi Minh City.
Each student should read the book Vietnam: Rising Dragon, by Bill Hayton (2011) prior to arriving in Vietnam. Students will write a critical response paper to the Hayton text as one of the first course assignments (due Dec. 31), and we will have the opportunity to discuss the book together upon arrival in Vietnam. Please bring with you to Vietnam, the other required text, Vietnam: A Natural History.
Other recommended titles include:
The Sorrow of War: A Novel of North Vietnam, by Bao Ninh (1996)
Understanding Vietnam, by Neil L. Jamieson (1995)

Vietnam: A History, by Stanley Karnow (1997)

The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien (2009)

Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War, by Karl Marlantes (2011)

Required post-trip activities and assignments

Students and the University of Montana instructors will meet early in Spring semester for a two-hour de-brief and final synthesis of the program. You should also be prepared for about ten hours of final coursework to complete course assignments once you return from Vietnam.


While we are in Can Tho and Ho Chi Minh City we will have access to hotel wireless internet connection and internet cafes. This level of access should be sufficient for keeping in touch with friends and family via email, as well as submitting your written work to Prof. Phear via email. You are strongly encouraged to bring along a laptop computer if you do have access to one, as we will do this class as a paperless course. Please always keep your laptop with you in your carry-on luggage while travelling, and be sure to bring a power adapter.


The following table outlines the assessment for the program. There are five assessment items (including two response essays).



% course grade

Critical Review of Vietnam: Rising Dragon with focus on history, economy & political structure of Vietnam

(Complete before Vietnam program and bring with you)

27 December


Blog post: one required, due on a rotating schedule during the course, TBA

Variable due dates



23 January


4 Speaker responses

23 January




Critical Review of Vietnam: Rising Dragon with focus on history, economy & political structure of Vietnam. Discuss important historic influences, current domestic and international issues concerning Vietnam, political and economic structure, and important cultural customs and practices drawing on information in Vietnam: Rising Dragon. Due: December 27 upon arrival in Vietnam.

Blog post

Students will each write one, 500-600 word weblog entry on a particular topic of interest that you expect will emerge from our experiences and course learning. By Friday, December 13, you will need to send Nicky a list of two to three possible topics you may want to cover. These blog posts will be edited and posted on a blog site. Check out student blog posts from the past three classes at to get ideas for topics. More detailed instructions and guidelines for blog writing will be provided separately.


Students are expected to keep a personal journal with daily entries chronicling experiences and observations and interactions with guest speakers. Guidelines for writing journal entries will be provided separately. Due at end of week after return to the U.S.: 5:00 pm January 23.

Speaker Responses:
You will need to write a short 1-page response following four of our formal presentations expressing 1) what was new and interesting to you about the presentation, 2) what (if any) was the speaker’s perspective on climate change, and 3) what questions do you still have.  I suggest these speakers, but you can substitute with permission:

  • Mr Nguyen Tuan Khan, Introduction to Vietnam

  • US Consulate meeting

  • Dr. Pham Le Thong, Economy of Mekong Delta

  • Dr. Nguyen Huu Chiem, Sustainable development in the Mekong Delta

  • Mr. Ly Quoc Dang, Delta Youth Alliance, Environmental Issues on Con Son Island

  • Speakers from Heifer Project International

Do not fall behind on your journal entries and speaker responses! They are due by email to Nicky at end of week after the Vietnam portion of the class: 5:00 pm, January 23.

Active participation in all scheduled program–related activities is required, including group meetings, discussions, field excursions, as well as lectures and any other scheduled activities. Your participation grade will be based on both your academic and experiential participation. I expect active engagement in class discussions, with course speakers and academic activities. I also expect you to participate in the necessary practical aspects of the course, including respect for local customs and culture, safety consciousness, following directions, and timeliness. Please be conscious of being open to new perspectives and aware of judgments we carry from the USA.

Attendance and lateness policy

During the field studies, no student is to leave the group without the consent of a University of Montana instructor, and punctual attendance at all field and on-campus meetings is required. Unless an absence is approved by one of the instructors, students will lose 10% of their final grade for each day or part-day they fail to participate. Any unexcused absences or continued late arrival to program activities may, at the discretion of University of Montana instructors, be grounds for dismissal from the program.
Permission must be obtained in advance to turn in any assignment late. A standard policy of subtracting 10% per day late (or part of day late) is fair to everyone (students, instructors, and administration).
Some things to consider when preparing for the trip:

This trip is taking place during Vietnamese dry season (some locals refer to this period as “winter”); the most comfortable time of year for outdoor activities in the Mekong Delta. The average daily minimum and maximum temperatures in Can Tho in January are 22ºC (72ºF) and 28ºC (82ºF), respectively. The average daily humidity in January is 71% and average monthly precipitation is about two inches (compared to 89% and 19 inches in August!). Nevertheless, accept that you are probably going to be hot and sticky whenever you are moving around outside. Drink plenty of water. These conditions also make it important to bathe regularly and not to let dirty clothes accumulate in piles. Keep ahead of your laundry pile by washing clothes regularly and hang dirty clothes to air out if you are not washing them right away, or use the laundry services at the Guesthouse.

Medication and immunization

Visit your doctor, the Curry Health Center, or the Missoula County Health Clinic to find out what vaccinations you may require before travelling to Vietnam, and medication to prevent contracting malaria (such as Malarone) and for treating an upset stomach (such as Azithromycin). You should seriously consider being immunized against typhoid, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, meningitis, Japanese encephalitis, tetanus and polio.

Dress code

In general, Vietnam has a conservative dress code. Dress code laws do not appear to be strictly enforced in Vietnam, but regulations governing Vietnam’s historic sites and tourist attractions state that, “Entry is forbidden to tourists wearing sleeveless shirts or shorts”. At universities and cultural sites and other tourist attractions, plan to wear long pants or longer skirts or dresses. Long or short-sleeve shirts are acceptable. Shorts and sleeveless shirts are not acceptable. Dirty clothes are not acceptable.

When getting around Ho Chi Minh City and Can Tho in your free time, shorts will generally be acceptable, but consider where you plan to go and dress appropriately. Clothing that exposes the belly button and shoulders are not appropriate anywhere.
For our field trips, long pants are recommended for men and women, but shorts will be acceptable in many cases (check with the Can Tho University professors leading field trips). Long or short-sleeved shirts will be acceptable. Your clothes will get dirty in the field and this will be acceptable in rural areas

In Can Tho, all students will enjoy a homestay experience for a few days with a local family. Although we will be busy with other learning activities during your home stay, this experience will help you to appreciate life and culture in Vietnam, and hopefully discover some things about yourself. You will find your hosts to be friendly and open with you, but remember that to make the most of your experience you will need to reciprocate and spend time with your family. You will be expected to behave as a self-supporting adult member of the household. Be aware of and sensitive to how your presence can contribute positively and negatively to the family. More information about the homestay will be provided at a pre-departure meeting and in Vietnam.

In the field

Make sure you have with you each day:

  • sturdy, closed-toed shoes;

  • at least one liter of water (Avoid drinking tap water. We will be buying bottled water);

  • field notebook, pencils/pens and a map of the Mekong Delta to get you oriented (you can obtain from bookstores in Can Tho);

  • hat, sunglasses and sunscreen;

  • insect repellant (consider wearing light-colored, light-weight long sleeve shirts and long pants if you are particularly concerned about insect bites);

  • rain gear and a dry shirt;

  • snacks to eat in between meals provided if you think you will need them;

  • any medication or medical supplies you might require; toilet paper and hand wipes;

  • binoculars and camera (optional).

Academic honesty

All academic work must meet standards of academic honesty (as described in the Student Handbook). Each student is responsible for informing themselves about those standards before performing any academic work. Academic dishonesty is not just copying the work of others, but also includes such behaviors as tolerating the academic dishonesty of others or giving false reasons for failure to take a test.
Your signature on any exam or name printed on any assignment indicates your acceptance of the following policy: “I have neither given nor received unauthorized aid on this exam or assignment.” Please give due credit to other people’s ideas by referencing or quoting the source.
Special accommodations

Any student with a disability who needs an accommodation or other assistance in this course must contact the instructor at least four weeks before the program begins. After that time, we cannot guarantee that such needs can be accommodated. Some activities involve moderate exercise, such as hiking and swimming and participation is voluntary for all students. If you are a vegetarian, please let the instructor know and we will do our best to accommodate you in meals and let your family know for home-stays. Note: it is not always possible to have a vegetarian option in some situations, such as when we are being hosted by a rural family. The course instructor will try to let you know when this may be the case. It will be helpful for you to carry some snacks or other foods you can eat in these circumstances.

Conduct regulations

All students must be familiar with the general conduct regulations described in the Student Handbook. Below are other program-specific conduct regulations to which students must adhere. Failure to obey these policies may result in dismissal from the program, at the discretion of the Program Director.
Student Conduct in Accommodation: Our program depends on goodwill between us and accommodation owners and managers, including homestay families. If we have any issues with unpleasant or noisy conduct in the accommodations, it creates problems when we attempt to book for the students in the NEXT program. Thus, for the sake of the students that follow you, improper conduct in the accommodations that disturb other guests or the staff or cause damage are not acceptable and can be grounds for dismissal from the program.
Conduct in the Field: Students must follow the instructions of staff exactly and promptly when in the field. This is a serious safety issue when we are doing outdoor activities in particular. Failure to follow instructions that incur actual or likely physical harm to self or others, or result in time wasted by the staff or other students may, at the discretion of the Program Director, be grounds for dismissal from the program.

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