Home to diverse ethnic minority groups, commonly called “hill tribes,” northern Thailand offers a unique area where a number of different peoples, beliefs and lifestyles can be found in relatively close proximity. For decades, these hill tribe villages have been at the center of tourism initiatives to both the benefit and detriment of the communities they were meant to support. Spend three weeks in this fascinating region studying tourism, ethnic identity and heritage studies with a focus on how tourism has impacted ethnic minorities in northern Thailand. Based in the popular hub of Chiang Mai, the course travels to visit three distinct ethnic minority villages – consisting of the Hmong, Karen and Kayan peoples – to ethically engage with the communities and learn about tourism’s effects firsthand. Led by a leading American anthropologist living in Thailand, the course is limited to just 12 students to ensure an immersive experience.


Learn about tourism and heritage studies in Southeast Asia with an emphasis on how tourism has impacted ethnic minorities in northern Thailand

Visit three ethnic minority villages (Hmong, Karen and “long neck” Kayan) over three weeks, living in the welcoming town of Chiang Mai as a base

Get to know more about Thailand with an included Orientation and fun excursions throughout the program

Take advantage of the small program size (12 students maximum) for an inclusive, comprehensive experience taught by one of the region’s leading cultural anthropologists

Benefit from access to TEAN’s Chiang Mai Resident Coordinator and other in-country staff for continued support throughout the program

Combine this with another course from the other Summer in Thailand session for an extended summer experience


Program Terms

During the summer, this course is offered for Session One of our Thailand Summer Program. Students can select to enroll in one session for a three-week program (4 credits) or two sessions for a six-week program (8 credits). See more details on the Summer in Thailand program here.  Over the winter, this course is offered as a three-week standalone program (4 credits).


SOC 320T Tourism, Ethnic Identity and Heritage in Thailand

This course introduces students to tourism and heritage studies in Southeast Asia, focusing specifically on how tourism has impacted ethnic minorities in northern Thailand. Known for their colorful costumes, proximity to nature and unique ritual practices, Thailand’s ethnic minority groups have been the focus of tourism campaigns for decades. Mainstream tourism has had mixed effects, often bringing some benefits to these communities in terms of income, but turning their culture into a spectacle for tourist consumption. In this course, students will engage directly with ethnic minority groups in northern Thailand to better understand how tourism has impacted their lives. Through readings, discussions and field research, students will explore new approaches to tourism – including sustainable tourism and ecotourism – to learn how these approaches aim to support ethnic communities and further preserve their heritage.


  • Students will gain a broad understanding of key debates in tourism studies and learn about new approaches to sustainable tourism.
  • Students will learn about the history of tourism in Thailand and how it has affected ethnic minority groups, particularly in the upland areas.
  • Students will learn about participatory community-based research methods and apply some of these tools in the field visits.
  • Students will learn to write and reflect critically on tourism issues based on readings and fieldwork activities.

Contact us to request a syllabus for this course.


Dr. Alex Denes

Dr. Alex Denes is a cultural anthropologist specializing in heritage studies, nationalism and ethnic identity in Southeast Asia, who has lived and worked in Thailand for over 20 years. She’s conducted research on ethnic identity in Thailand, investigating the role that tourism has played in the representation and livelihood of ethnic groups, and been involved in a range of ethnic cultural heritage revitalization projects throughout Southeast Asia. She’s also taught undergraduate and graduate level courses on Colonialism and Postcolonialism in Southeast Asia, Human Rights in Southeast Asia, Cultural Foundations of Thai Society, and Multiculturalism in Asia.

As a child, Dr. Denes lived in Singapore, Bangkok and the Philippines before moving to Chicago. As an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, she participated in the College Year in Thailand Program at Chiang Mai University. After earning her B.A. in Anthropology, she pursued an MA in International Studies from the University of Oregon, spending one year in Laos interning with an NGO and conducting AusAID-funded research on gender and wild foods in the rural Salavan Province. For her PhD in Cultural Anthropology from Cornell University, Dr. Denes received a Fulbright to undertake 14 months of research on the state-led revival of ethnic Khmer identity in Thailand’s Surin province. Afterward, she moved to Thailand working as a Research Associate at the Sirindhorn Anthropology Centre in Bangkok, where she spearheaded a Field School program that brought together leading scholars in anthropology, museology and heritage studies aimed at offering participants a critical examination of the UNESCO 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage.


Upon completion of the course you will be issued with an Elmhurst University academic transcript. The course is worth 4 U.S. credits.

Elmhurst University, located in suburban Chicago, is accredited by the Department of Education of the State of Illinois, and by The Higher Learning Commission, A Member of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.




Spend the program based in Chiang Mai, a city that blends a modernizing country with traditional Thai culture, and gain an understanding of Thailand’s past, present and future. Throughout the three weeks, students will visit three ethinic minority groups using  Chiang Mai as a base. After each village experience, students will return to Chiang Mai to discuss and reflect on the experience.

Along with an Orientation to the course, the first two days will include introductory lectures on ethnic identity, tourism and heritage in Southeast Asia with a focus on Thailand, as well as visits to local museums and markets to observe tourists and ethnic crafts vendors.


Spend time in a Hmong village close to Chiang Mai meeting with the village headman and local community members, including elder Hmong crafts people. Since this village is relatively close to Chiang Mai, students will visit the village for three days but return to their city accommodations each night.


Travel from Chiang Mai to Doi Inthanon, Thailand’s highest peak and home to many ethinic minorities. After the 1.5-hour drive, students will hike to a Karen village and stay overnight in a homestay. Here students will talk to local guides and the village headman about how ecotourism has benefited the community, along with its challenges and drawbacks. During the stay, students will also meet with residents to learn about their livelihood practices, seasonal calendar and more as well as walk through the forest with a Karen guide to learn about traditional knowledge related to medicinals, edible plants and rotational farming.

Before returning to Chiang Mai, students will visit rice terraces and a local waterfall.


Prior to traveling to the Kayan village, students will attend a guest lecture about the ethnic Kayan and the impact of tourism.

Located in Mae Hong Son near the Myanmar border, approximately five hours from Chiang Mai, the village was established around 30 years ago by ethnic Kayan fleeing conflict in their home state of Kayah, Myanmar. The women here wear brass rings around their necks, earning them the name of “long neck Kayan” and a place at the center of controversy due to their perceived exploitation by Thai businessmen. As tourism is one of their primary sources of revenue and livelihood, the issue is quite complex and some organizations have started challenging the idea that villages such as this one are “human zoos.”

Students will meet with the village leaders and community to hear their perspectives about ethnic tourism and its impact employing community-based research methods to learn about daily life, the seasonal calendar, ritual practices, etc. Meetings with the local community will discuss ways to improve the community’s wellbeing through tourism.


The final days in Chiang Mai will allow time for students to reflect on ethnic tourism in the region and the controversy of “human zoos” as well as enjoy some more time spent in northern Thailand’s cultural hub.



  • 2.5 GPA
  • Currently enrolled at an approved degree-granting institution of higher education.
  • Students should be prepared for a fair amount of travel by minivan, hiking and staying the night in rural villages. 

Program Details

Winter 2021/2022

This program not running for Winter 2021/2022. Please check back for future available terms.


Be introduced to Chiang Mai upon arrival with an Orientation that combines useful informative sessions with intriguing introductory cultural experiences. Experience a sensory overload as you learn about Thai culture and society, jumpstart your knowledge of Thai Buddhism with a visit to one of Chiang Mai’s glittering gold temples, practice speaking key Thai phrases, and sample an array of deliciously diverse Thai cuisine. (All meals are included!)


In Chiang Mai students stay in twin-share accommodation with other TEAN students. The accommodation is fully furnished and located in a vibrant area, close to cafes, restaurants and street food.

The Karen village frequently hosts visitors while maintaining community-based, eco-tourism principles. Students will travel to the village in Doi Inthanon via minivan (1.5 hours away from Chiang Mai) and stay in the village homestay accommodations.

For the Kayan village, students will travel via minivan (five hours) and longtail boat to stay at simple bamboo thatch guesthouses in the village. Basic amenities (private bathroom, shared bedroom) are available.


Our team works with you start to finish through the study abroad process. Our programs staff will help guide you through the application process to go abroad, then upon arrival in Southeast Asia, you will be met by our on-site staff who will provide assistance throughout your time in Thailand.

Meet the Team

Program Dates


TEAN has a rolling admissions process. Late applications may be considered. Contact TEAN if the application deadline has passed.

Program Capacity

This program accepts 12 students only. Early applications are advised as the program will close once capacity is reached. Students may be added to a waitlist.

Winter 2021/2022 dates

This program not running for Winter 2021/2022. Please check back for future available terms.

Application Deadline Nov 15
Arrival Day Dec 27
TEAN Orientation Dec 27 Dec 28
Class Starts Dec 28
Ethical elephant park visit Jan 2
Last day of class Jan 15
Program Ends Jan 16

Summer 2021 dates

This program not running for Summer 2021. Please check back for future available terms.

Application Deadline Mar 15
Arrival Day May 21
TEAN Orientation May 22
Ethical elephant park visit May 23
Class Starts May 24
Last day of class June 11
Program Ends June 12

Fees & Inclusions

Winter 2021/2022

This program not running for Winter 2021/2022. Please check back for future available terms.

Summer 2021

Estimated program fee: $3,490

Two Session Special

$500 off total cost of program
Must take a course in Session 1 and Session 2


  • Full tuition (4 credits from Elmhurst University)
  • Guaranteed pre-arranged housing
  • Overseas health insurance, plus evacuation and repatriation insurance
  • Orientation Program with meals, activities and transportation
  • WiFi access in housing (No WiFi in village homestays)
  • Airport transfers and all course-related ground transport
  • Cultural events, excursions and field trips throughout the program
  • Some meals 
  • Ethical elephant park one-day visit
  • Extensive pre-departure counseling and information
  • Readings for all courses (provided as PDFs to download)
  • Staff and resources available 24/7 to provide assistance and recommendations during emergencies


  • International airfares (approx $1,200 – 1,400)
  • Some meals (approx $150-250)
  • Local transportation in Chiang Mai and Krabi for personal outings (approx $30-50)
  • Travel insurance ($350)


TEAN Scholarships

Apply for TEAN scholarships – starting at $1,000 – for the chance to receive money specifically for studying abroad. Each year we award thousands of dollars in need- and merit-based scholarships, diversity scholarships, a full ride scholarship and more. Visit our scholarships page for details!

From the Blog