Cambodia | Global Awareness in Action

Telling a People's Story

Travel to Cambodia to learn in-depth about the lives of contemporary Cambodians. Gather and re-tell the stories of the people we meet on this summer program in Cambodia for high school students. Visit the gorgeous ruins of Angkor Wat and the stunning beaches of Kep. Present your group’s work at Yale University at the conclusion of the program.

June 28, 2014 - July 27, 2014
Students completing grades 9-12
Global Awareness in Action
Typical Group:
14-16 Students, 2 Leaders
4.5 week(s)


Cambodia is a nation of friendly, energetic, and hopeful people who struggle daily with the scars of genocide and the challenges of poverty.  They have fascinating stories to tell that we capture with video, still photography, and sound recordings, combine with our own impressions, and refine into a multi-faceted collage portraying the faces, sounds, colors, sensations, aspirations, and challenges of contemporary life.

Gathering and re-telling these stories accurately and sensitively requires that we engage directly and in depth with Cambodians, and that we go below surface impressions and simple explanations to understand the complexity and inter-relatedness of the challenges they face. We join them as active participants, not passive observers, as they work, play, dance, and sing. Creating an informative, accurate, and moving final production also requires that we learn about the story-telling process, and explore a variety of effective approaches.

Teens Traveling in Cambodia, Southeast Asia

Build your story-telling skills as you explore Cambodia in depth.

We meet and work directly with students and instructors at a school that trains young people to be circus performers, as well as providing them with daily living skills and support. We visit another school that trains students in the intricate skills of traditional Khmer performance arts. We meet with peace activists, rural villagers, Buddhist monks, NGO workers, and local leaders, among others.

After a brief orientation in Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital, we travel to the smaller city of Battambang, where a relaxed atmosphere allows us to focus on our daily collaboration with the students at a local circus school for the bulk of the program. We then travel to the small city of Siem Reap where we visit the spectacular ruins of Angkor Wat.  The next stop is Phnom Penh where we spend several days collaborating with schools, meeting with local NGOs, and exploring ornate temples and memorials of the Khmer Rouge genocide. We spend the last few days in a beachside town on the Gulf of Thailand where we stay at an ecolodge, work with rural villagers, and enjoy the lush jungle and gorgeous beaches. Our last few days in Cambodia allow us to devote ourselves to final preparations for our presentation at Yale University. Students generally complete between 10 and 20 hours of community service volunteer work over the course of the program.

“I used to be a quiet kid who would always just go along with what other people said or did. On this trip I was always creating new opportunities for myself.  I learned to step out of my comfort zones and created awesome memories that will be with me forever.”  

– Charles Foster Hill, Middlebury Union High School, Middlebury, VT

Throughout the program we live in small hotels and guest houses.  Accommodations are simple but safe and comfortable, and typically feature air conditioning, western-style bathrooms and showers, and reasonably reliable electricity.

Teens Volunteering in Cambodia, Southeast Asia

You will make many new Cambodian friends, both young and old.

Our focus is our story-telling mission, but there’s time for some recreation, too.  Ride an elephant at the Wat Phnom temple, join the mass outdoor dance session at Phnom Penh’s Olympic Stadium, watch a sunrise over the breathtaking temples of Angkor Wat, and swim in the warm, clear water in the Gulf of Thailand.


  • Learn and practice story-telling techniques as you work with your group to create a presentation based on video, photography, sound recordings, writing, and performance.
  • Discuss peace activism with a former boy soldier at his rural home on the banks of the Mekong River.
  • Get to know Cambodian teenagers attending a special circus school as you join them in their activities, and record their classes and performances.
  • Watch a sunrise at the beautiful temples at Angkor Wat.
  • Present your team’s finished work, Cambodia: Telling a People’s Story, at Yale University.

What to Expect

You will be directly involved with local people every day, and must be eager to engage with them. Expect to be an active participant, not a passive observer. While language obviously presents an issue, many Cambodian young people speak some English, all are eager to learn, and we will have several translators available.

The process of shaping scattered images and impressions into an effective story requires care and patience.  You must be willing to take time to do the detailed work that will ensure an effective and moving presentation.  Since you will be working intensively with an interdependent team, you must be committed to constructive critiquing, collaboration, and shared responsibility.

A love of taking video or still pictures, interviewing interesting people, and/or recording your impressions in effective written narrative, is essential.  Note that this is not a film-making or documentary production program.

At Putney we take pride in our reputation for careful, thorough planning and attention to detail.  The descriptions of our high school summer programs abroad are based on our experiences in previous summers and our plans for this summer.  It is inevitable that some things described here will not happen exactly as presented.  To get the most out of the Putney experience, participants need to be flexible in responding to unforeseen situations, and creative in taking advantage of unexpected opportunities.  We expect Putney participants to share responsibility for the success of their experience.


Tuition: $5,990

Putney organizes escorted international flights. Please consult us for fares.


Learn about last year’s program by reading the 2014 Global Awareness in Action Cambodia Blog.

Departure from New York •  Together with your group embark on a month-long project in Cambodia.  The group flight departs from JFK International Airport where you meet one of your leaders who flies with you to Phnom Penh.

Phnom Penh: Orientation • Spend a day getting to know your group and leaders. Participate in an in-depth orientation about Cambodia, your story telling project, and discuss expectations.

Battambang • Travel by private bus to the smaller city of Battambang for an extended stay and collaboration with a circus school.  Get to know the students, participate in and record their activities, and visit their homes and families.  Discuss your experiences and impressions within your group, and learn and implement effective story-telling approaches.

Teens Volunteering in Southeast Asia

Our time at the circus school in Battambang allows for great friendships to form.

Siem Reap • Visit Siem Reap, a small city adjacent to the magnificent ruins of the Angkor civilization.  Explore the dramatic art and architecture of this massive site and take time to start conceptualizing your presentation for Yale.

Phnom Penh • Return to Cambodia’s capital for several days to collaborate with and record students at a school dedicated to keeping alive the nation’s rich history of traditional performing arts. Explore the city’s ornate Buddhist temples and royal palaces, as well as the grim monuments of the Khmer Rouge genocide. Meet with Arn Charn-Pond, a peace activist and former boy soldier during the Khmer Rouge era for an in-depth presentation and discussion about Cambodia’s recent past and the contemporary challenges its people face.

Kep • Spend your last days in Cambodia at a small, simple eco-resort in rural southern Cambodia on the Gulf of Thailand.  Work with local villagers on a short-term service project.  Explore the lush jungle environment and enjoy the gorgeous tropical beaches while preparing your presentation for Yale.

Angkor Wat Ruins Southeast Asia Cambodia Trips

The ruins at Angkor Wat is among one of the most beautiful places in the world.

New Haven, CT – Yale Univeristy • Fly from Cambodia to New York and connect by private bus to Yale. After a day of final preparation, make your presentation to the assembled Global Action groups, your friends and relatives, and other invited guests.  Share your plans for continuing involvement with the people, organizations, and vital issues you encountered during this life-changing summer.

Head for Home •  Depart for home by train, bus, or a flight from nearly Bradley Airport in Hartford, CT.


Background • Cambodia is now a peaceful place, but its people, social structures, and institutions remain deeply scarred by the turbulence of its recent past. The extraordinary ruins of the Angkor civilization, the ornate royal palaces and Buddhist temples of Phnom Penh, and the city’s wide avenues dating to the French colonial period all mark periods of stability and prosperity in Cambodia’s history. Reminders of the Vietnam War, and the Khmer Rouge genocide provide a stark contrast. Today, for all but a small elite, daily life can be difficult, with limited access to work, education, housing, and healthcare. Many NGOs help supply basic services that the government is unwilling or unable to provide, but their efforts are inadequate to meet the need. Despite the challenges they face, the Cambodian people are upbeat, forward-looking, and hard-working. Their openness, and their enthusiasm for meeting and getting to know outsiders, is remarkable. People have fascinating stories to tell, and are eager to share their thoughts and experiences.

Teen Cultural Immersion Cambodia Southeast Asia

Cambodia’s rich history and welcoming people make for the perfect destination to document their story.

Population • Cambodia has a population of about 14 million, with about 2 million living in its capital, Phnom Penh.

Language • Khmer is the official language of Cambodia. Through the 1960s, educated Cambodians also learned French. In more recent years, English has become the predominant second language for Cambodians, and many people, including some teenagers, are conversant in English.

Climate • Cambodia’s climate is tropical,with high humidity and temperatures reaching into the 80s and 90s every day. We visit at the beginning of the rainy season, so intermittent heavy showers can provide a welcome break from the heat. Our accommodations are air conditioned.

“Spending time at the Phare Ponleu Sepak school was a unique opportunity to engage in traditional and contemporary Khmer culture, interact and learn from the locals, pursue my passion for the arts, and just have fun playing with the kids. We saw firsthand how effective arts education is in shaping kids’ identities.”  

–Sarah Nechamkin, Solomon Schechter School of Westchester, Harrison, NY

Cuisine • The delicious and healthy Khmer cuisine has similarities to that of its neighboring countries Vietnam and Thailand. It features noodle and rice dishes, stir fries, curries, soups, salads, and abundant fresh tropical fruit. Vegetarian options are available.

Cultural Immersion Southeast Asia Cambodia

The performing arts – including dance, music, circus performances, and shadow puppetry – are all important aspects of Cambodian culture.

Voltage • Cambodia uses 230V. Plugs vary, with many being the same as in the US, and some being the two rounded prong variety common in Europe. You may need a voltage converter to power some of your electronic devices. Throughout the program there is easy access to electricity for charging electronics.

CurrencyThe US Dollar is an official currency in Cambodia.The Cambodian Riel is sometimes used for small transactions, particularly in rural areas. An ATM card is the most convenient way to access cash.

Visa • A visa is required for travel in Cambodia, but it is issued to U.S. citizens on arrival in Phnom Penh. There is no need for U.S. citizens to apply for a visa in advance of travel. Non U.S. citizens must check local visa requirements.


The Global Awareness in Action Cambodia program is directed by Kelsey Burns. If you have questions, are interested in receiving more detailed information, or would like to talk further about the program or any of our high school summer programs abroad, please get in touch!

Kelsey Burns

Kelsey Burns: St. Lawrence University, B.A., Spanish. A Vermont native, Kelsey has led programs in Spain, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, and Ghana, and has co-directed Putney’s Global Action programs at Yale University. She has worked as an associate director at Putney Student Travel since 2003. She currently coordinates programs in Cambodia, Vietnam, The European Alps, Brazil, Iceland, and Ghana. Kelsey loves to travel, ski, dance, and spend time with her new baby boy.

How To Apply


If you are new to Putney Student Travel, visit our Online Application.  
If you are a Putney Student Travel alumni family, 
use your existing account information to Log In.


You can hold a space in a program by completing the Online Application Form, submitting a signed Agreement Form, and providing the $700 Application Deposit by Mastercard, Visa, or Discover Card through our secure online system or by sending a check to our office. Our admissions staff is also available to take credit card information over the phone.  We will hold a space in a program for a reasonable time, pending completion of the full application process. See Step 3.

After March 15, we will hold a space temporarily as above, but we must receive full payment by check or wire transfer within three days to continue to hold a space in the program.


Before we can make a final admissions decision, an application must be complete.  In addition to the Application Form and Application Deposit described above, a complete application includes:

  • Applicant Statement - Attach a statement explaining why you would like to join a Putney program and what you feel you can contribute to it. Your application cannot be processed without this statement. Approximately 150–300 words is sufficient. Global Action applicants’ statements must be 300-500 words addressing these questions, and detailing their interest and/or experience in the country and issues on which they wish to focus.
  • Two Teacher Reference Forms

These documents are available as part of our Online Application.  We review a completed application within a few days, and notify families of our admissions decision by e-mail.