Students and professors from the University of Montana learn about how people are dealing with life and livelihoods under dynamic conditions

Introduction to the Vietnam 2014 class

Thirteen students from the University of Montana will be in Vietnam from December 27, 2013 – January 19, 2014 for a study abroad field course focused on climate change impacts and adaptation in the Mekong Delta.  It’s the only program of its kind in the U.S, developed through a partnership between The University of Montana’s Mansfield Center and Can Tho University, an innovative university in the Mekong Delta.

Students will study the intertwined relationships of society, environment, and economy, to look at the potential impacts of climate change on each of these, and to see how people are adapting, or planning to adapt, to the coming changes.

The group will be spend several days in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly known as Saigon), take field trips to coastal fishing communities, meet with rice and aquaculture farmers, and visit cultural sites. They’ll also travel to mangrove forests in Ca Mau Province and wetlands in Tram Chim National Park (one of the last natural wetlands in the Plain of Reeds wetland system), and spend four days in a homestay.

Meet the group and follow along through our daily blogs posts and photos:

ImageDan Spencer is a faculty member at the University of Montana where he teaches in the Environmental Studies program and contributes to the International Develop Studies and Climate Change Studies minors.  Some of his areas of teaching and research interest include ecological ethics, ethical issues in ecological restoration, and globalization, justice, and environmental issues in Latin America, Africa and Asia.  He first had a chance to visit Vietnam and Cambodia while teaching with Semester at Sea in 2011, and he led the 2013 UM Vietnam class for our four weeks together in Vietnam. He is delighted to be able to return to Vietnam to study the effects of climate change on the Mekong Delta with this year’s group.

Greetings everyone! My name is Zach Bauerle and I am a senior in the environmental studies program at the University of Montana. Outside of the classroom I enjoy backpacking, fly fishing, and playing music. ImageI spent the majority of my life Barrington, Ill until I moved to Missoula for college 3 years ago. Although most of my studies have focused on restoration ecology, learning about climate change has always been another interest of mine. I am extremely excited to begin my journey studying climate change in Vietnam to not only improve my understanding of how climate change impacts different areas of the world, but also to explore the rich Vietnamese culture.

Howdy! My name is Sam Dexter, a graduate student in EVST at U Montana studying the integration of conservation science and development. I’m excited


to see first-hand different conservation models at work, as well as the various cultural, political, economic, and ecological forces interacting to shape the Vietnamese landscape.Besides tromping around the Mekong Delta, I also enjoy skiing pow, wrestling rock faces, getting tossed around a rugby pitch, and playing my Strat at volume 11. I also have a penchant for international cuisine – I currently hold the nickname “bhat maaraa/rice killer” in multiple Nepali villages, and could point you to the best taco cart in western Mexico!

My name is Rachel Dickson and I am a freshman at the University of Montana. I am very interested in studying Environmental Studies and Biology. I grew up outside in Montana hiking, rafting, kayaking, and skiing. ImageI am passionate about environmental work because I want to preserve our beautiful outdoors and wildlife. I hope to travel a lot more in the future and work internationally on environmental studies and education. I want to gain an understanding of the impacts of climate change in Vietnam because it will provide me with knowledge for my future studies. I am very excited to gain an understanding of how culture, history, and science are all integrated in the changing climate.

ImageWill Findell was born along a ridge top at 14,000’ in Colorado. Just after delivery, his father, the impromptu doctor, slipped and sent Will glissading down a nearby snowfield. Ever since, Will has had a close and personal relationship with water, in all its forms. It makes the snow he skis, the rapids he runs, the canyons he descends, and the pho he slurps. Water is what brought Will to the University of Montana, where he is studying Resource Conservation with minors in Climate Change Studies and Wildland Restoration. The ecosystem services provided by river systems are a particular interest of Will, so he is interested in exploring the delta of one of the world’s great rivers. Will decided to go to Vietnam because he is interested in global perspectives of climate change and its impacts on water resources. He also hopes to learn more about Vietnamese culture and eat some great food.

Goooooooooooodd Mornin` Vietnam! Moi, my name is Liam Hassett. I am a 26y/o senior working toward my Bs in forestry with a double minor in wildfire management as well as climate change studies. I’m originally a Jersey boy now living in Montana, but my studies have taken me all over the world. ImageI have wanted to travel to Vietnam for some 8 years when I was first inspired by a high school professor. When I learned of the program with the university a few years ago it instantly became a goal of mine. Outside class I am a total foodie and enjoy backpacking, camping, board games, meeting new people and making new friends. I hope to learn more about and explore the potential for agroforestry in the tropics while in Vietnam. Worldwide, decreasing the miles from the farm to the plate has the potential not to just decrease energy demands but also brings people closer in their hearts to what they are putting in their belly’s. A side note: I would like to take a moment here also to deeply thank all the people who helped me get this far through their support, their insight and their inspiration.

LeviBlogPhoto_189I’m Levi Bloomer and I’m a senior in the Philosophy department at the university with a minor in pre-law. I plan on going on to law school to specialize in water law and with the huge environmental challenges facing Vietnam, it seemed like the perfect fit.I’m looking forward to a cross- cultural experience that changes my perspective and makes me reflect on some of the issues we face in our own culture. I’m really excited for Vietnamese street food and warm weather. I love Montana but freezing temperatures are not preferable to the balmy 80 degree weather in Vietnam.


My name is Emily McKay and I am an Environmental Studies and Political Science major. I’m from North Carolina but the Rockies have always felt like home to me, so I came to Montana! I love anything outside; I backpack, ski, kayak, and am always up for an adventure. I also love to travel; I think it’s very important to see the world and experience different cultures.

Rising sea levels due to climate change will not only displace millions of people, but also change the whole world’s way of life. I believe that it is very important for us to assess these consequences, as well as look for preventative measures regarding climate change. I look forward to investigating rising sea levels impact on the indigenous people, as well as exploring the differences between US citizen’s views on climate change, in comparison to Vietnamese views.


My name is Erin McMahon and I am a senior at the University of Montana. I plan on graduating in May of 2014 with a Bachelors in Chemistry. I grew up camping, horse back riding, running and mostly being outdoors. I am now dedicated to rock climbing as well, which has only increased my love for the outdoors. It wasn’t until my time at the University that I became so interested in environmental issues and issues around the world. This trip was an experience that I couldn’t pass up. I am hoping this trip will help me to figure out what kind of environmental work I would like to focus on but I also hope that it will help me with my future endeavors in the Peace Corps. This trip can help me figure out what kind of projects I would like to work on in the Peace Corps, whether it be secondary education or an environmental clean up project. Either way I hope that this trip is an inspirational and eye opening experience.

ImageMary Medley is a senior at the University of Montana and is studying environmental studies. Originally from the Bay Area she grew up surfing and playing in the pacific. She has participated in several beach clean ups with surfrider foundation. After moving to the mountainous state of Montana she became active in the farm to college program. Vietnam presents the perfect opportunity to merge her love the ocean and passion for food sustainability. She is also excited to escape to a warmer climate for a month of winter and immerse herself in the Vietnamese culture.

My name is Emily Prag and I am a senior at the University of Montana. I grew up in Portland, OR which is where my love for the outdoors began.  I spent my summers romping around the forest and exploring tidepools along the coast.  ImageIn the winter, I spent as much time as I could playing in the snow on  Mt. Hood. I am studying Resource Conservation with minors in Mountain Studies and Climate Change.  When I am not in school I love backpacking, snowboarding, and any other adventure I can find! I decided to study climate change because of my love for mountainous areas.  I kept learning about changing snow patterns, glacial recession, and the impact of changing climates on biodiversity.  I decided to go to Vietnam to understand how climate change is affecting another part of the world — the tropics.  I am very excited to explore such a fascinating place and learn all about the ecology and the rich culture of Vietnam.  I can’t wait to travel to a place that is so new and make friends with people across the world!

ImageMy name is Kylie Rebich and I am a junior at the University of Montana studying Accounting and Climate Change Studies. I am from the Seattle area, but most of my family lives in Dillon, MT and I spent a great deal of time as a child helping my aunt on her ranch. As such, I think that our natural resources are one of the best opportunities and treasures we have. I plan to combine Accounting and Climate Change Studies by helping businesses learn how to become sustainable while keeping profits at desirable levels. I am excited to see first hand the impact of climate change on a society and how they are learning to adapt. I am also thrilled to experience such a vastly different culture than the one I grew up in.

Hello, I am Leydon Thornton.


I am a senior in Environmental Studies at the University of Montana.  I transferred here from Colorado Mountain College in Steamboat Springs, where a also attended an incredible outdoor learning boarding school, The Lowell Whiteman School. My favorite thing to do is go hiking or backpacking with my incredible dog Ember.  I know that all change comes from within so I am excited to see the way to Vietnam will reshape my perspective.  I grew up in a family of travelers and jump at the chance to experience a new culture, community, and place.

ImageHello! My name is Emily Withnall, and I am a first year graduate student in Environmental Studies and a teaching assistant in English composition at the University of Montana. I am also the solo parent to two daughters, ages 7 and 10. We are from a small town in Northern New Mexico where I previously worked in communications at an international boarding school. I have also traveled extensively, and lived for two years in Guatemala, and two years in India. This will be my first trip to Vietnam, however, and I am looking forward to gaining new perspectives on the critical issue of climate change adaptation. I am also very interested in the ways community organizing can tackle issues pertaining to climate change in local, national, and international settings.



We also have two wonderful Vietnamese Teachings Assistants working with us in Can Tho; Nguyen Kim Dua and Phan Uyen Nghi are both graduates from Can Tho University and have been helping the University of Montana programs for the last three classes.

P1020754Hi! My name is Dua. My major was Biology Education Teacher. Right now, I am working at the Department of Biology, College of Natural Sciences, Can Tho University. I have been meeting UM groups since 2012. It was my first time to see and learn about climate change in my homeland. From that time, it has nurtured my love and passion for working in environmental issues. I have spent time with my 350 group in the Mekong Delta and the Environmental Club to make a little change day by day. We believe that many a little makes a nickle.  One of our favorite quotes is “We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors, We borrow it from our children”. And I am veryyyy passionate about Plants. Welcome all of you to Vietnam!”

Here’s a photo of Nghi on Son Island in the Mekong River.  Her introduction will be on this page soon!


One response

  1. I’m glad that this program will take all of you to the wet south of Vietnam, where I was born and where where climate change is not a concept nor subjected to manipulation of statistics: it’s real and a matter of life and death as well. I hope your time will be productive and your experience positive. Good luck!

    January 5, 2014 at 3:21 pm

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