Focus on Southeast Asia

Scenic Architecture in Thailand

Every year Berea College’s Center for International Education (CIE) has a region of the world that they showcase. The CIE’s programs include special campus-wide events related to the area of focus, including arranging for interdisciplinary special lectures and forums, planning cultural events (such as dance and music performances), hosting Fulbright scholars, and holding religious ceremonies. This year the focus region is Southeast Asia.

Southeast Asia Map


Southeast Asia  is a subregion of Asia, roughly be described as geographically situated east of the Indian subcontinent, south of China and north of Australia, between the Indian Ocean (in west) and the Pacific Ocean (in east). It consists of two distinctive different geographic regions, one is mainland Southeast Asia, also known as Indochina, on the Indochinese peninsula. Of the six thousand languages spoken in the world today, an estimated thousand are found in Southeast Asia. In early times tribal groups from southern China moved into the interior areas of the mainland via the long river systems. Linguistically, the mainland is divided into three important families, the Austro-Asiatic (like Cambodian and Vietnamese), Tai (like Thai and Lao), and the Tibeto-Burmese (including highland languages as well as Burmese). Languages belonging to these families can also be found in northeastern India and southwestern China.

History and Culture 

The area has been inhabited by indigenous people long before Chinese people migrated to the area. Cultural influence in the Southeast Asian region spring from India and China. China controlled the portion connected to mainland Asia because they believed that the countries would interfere with Chinese society. India has never colonized the area, but wanted to use it for trade. A remarkable feature of Southeast Asia is the different ways people have adapted to local environments.

In pre-modern times many nomadic groups lived permanently in small boats and were known as orang laut, or sea people. The deep jungles were home to numerous small wandering groups, and interior tribes also included fierce headhunters. In some of the islands of eastern Indonesia, where there is a long dry season, the fruit of the lontar palm was a staple food; in other areas, it was sago. On the fertile plans of Java and mainland Southeast Asia sedentary communities grew irrigated rice; along the coasts, which were less suitable for agriculture because of mangrove swamps, fishing and trade were the principal occupations. Due to a number of factors—low populations, the late arrival of the world religions, a lack of urbanization, descent through both male and female lines—women in Southeast Asia are generally seen as more equal to men that in neighboring areas like China and India. The exposure to Chinese and Indian culture caused the region to stem ideas of development, such as adopting the ideological beliefs of Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Animism, and Confucianism. Unfortunately because of the variety of ideologies, many religious groups of the area have clashed.

Even though the land has been thriving and developed for many centuries, it not coined until the 1960s.


Events: Join us in the Woods-Penn Commons for:

  • Mundo Monday: An evening series on interesting topics related to Southeast Asia, typically every third Monday of each month.TGIF!
  • Think Globally–It’s Friday! This popular Friday lunch series happens at noon and includes international food. Students who are from other parts of the world and students who have traveled abroad will present.