India | Global Awareness in Action

Community Education & Sustainable Development

Join us for one of Putney’s most “off the beaten track” programs and work alongside young Ladakhis to learn about key issues in sustainable development. Explore conservation, education, social change, and other pressing topics on this summer program in India for high school students. Generate questions to investigate throughout your stay as you meet with local leadership and interact with community members. Live and work with high school students at a remote yet innovative school that is completely solar-powered, hike from village to village over high passes, stay with Tibetan monks in monasteries, and contrast the calm majesty of the mountains with the frenetic pace of New Delhi and the serenity of the Taj Mahal in Agra.

July 4, 2015 - July 30, 2015
Students completing grades 9-12
Global Awareness in Action
Typical Group:
16-18 students, 2 leaders
4 week(s)


India is in the midst of extraordinary change. The goal of substantially improving the lives of its people seems, for the first time, to be attainable. But choices made about the mechanisms of change will have an enormous effect on the outcome. Is economic growth compatible with environmental protection? Should the focus be on local or national development projects? Is it possible for large-scale development to coexist with centuries-old traditions?   These are the vital questions you and your group examine over the course of a month in northern India, focusing on the remote and breathtaking Ladakh region in the foothills of the Himalayas.

Begin by spending two days in New Delhi for a program orientation and then fly northwest into the Himalayas to Leh. Situated at 11,000 feet, Leh is an historic trading town steeped in Tibetan Buddhist culture and traditions. Your base is a school in a village near Leh where Ladakhi teenagers prepare for the challenging Indian state exams that they must pass in order to finish high school. Settle in and meet with the school’s students to identify key themes and issues related to sustainable development that you will examine during the program. Pair up with a Ladakhi student to explore an issue of mutual concern and utilize local resources as you conduct an independent study project. During your time at the school, also help students practice English by comparing cultures and discussing current issues, interview them about their perspectives on conservation efforts or social change, participate in group games and activities, and help out around this unique school community. You will also have the opportunity to visit local grassroots projects and converse with Ladakhi activists who are working on such things as protecting native species of plants and herbs to create markets for their selective harvests. Learn about efforts to promote ecotourism, conserve exotic animals like the snow leopard, educate children in rural areas, and create sustainable energy sources.

“I hoped for a great adventure for Max, surrounded by equally bright and curious kids, that would be challenging, life-affirming, give him a new sense of confidence, raise the ceiling on his own expectations and both answer questions he had and provoke more. I also hoped he would make life-time friends and learn an enormous amount about himself, India and beyond. This trip EXCEEDED my expectations! Max has returned in brilliant form – wiser, more mature, on fire about the world, emotional about friends made.” 

— Brenda Lamb and Vitali Makarov, parents of Max Makarov, Lower Canada College, Montreal, QC

Because it is so geographically and culturally different from the rest of India, Ladakh has its own unique challenges acclimating to globalization.  Assess alternative models of development while comparing strategies used in rural and urban areas.  In Ladakh you will also explore ecologically responsible development and micro hydro-electric projects. The Indian government is building immense dams and pipelines through the mountains to bring power from the high Himalayas to the cities below.  Get a first-hand look at sustainability in action—our school campus is fully solar-powered and solar-heated, with an organic garden on-site, as well.

During your stay in Ladakh, accommodations range from simple dormitories at the school campus to short stays (in pairs) with local families.

Then depart on a week-long trek, as you climb to altitudes close to 14,000 feet through a mystical landscape.  Within your group, reflect on your independent study project findings as you traverse desert valleys and discover jagged peaks, echoing with the sounds of chanting monks and bedecked with colorful prayer flags. Visit a monastery high in the mountains and experience firsthand the roles of meditation and yoga in traditional Asian culture.

Immerse yourself in the rhythm of India.

Immerse yourself in the rhythm of India.

Reconvene at the school with your local peers to discuss what you have learned in a forum facilitated by your leaders and experts from the surrounding community. Explore implications for the global community and your own lives. Come away from your summer with unforgettable friendships, increased recognition of the challenges facing developing nations, and an understanding of the realistic possibilities for constructive action.

Return to New Delhi for the final days of the program, where you contrast rural life with urban India by spending time in and around this rapidly growing city, with a side trip to visit the Taj Mahal in Agra. Nowhere in the world are the pressures of population and poverty more evident than in India’s largest cities. In New Delhi, learn about NGOs that organize health services and education for slum dwellers, visit with children in orphanages, and see community organization efforts close up.


  • Join young Ladakhis in exploring social, conservation, and other important development issues of the Ladakh region.
  • Explore the cultural richness of Tibetan Buddhism and its implications for life in Leh.
  • Trek to heights of 14,000 feet in the Himalayas, visiting monasteries and tiny villages.
  • Meet with organizations working with residents of New Delhi’s chaotic slums.
  • Become friends with Ladakhi youth your own age who come from farming families high in the Himalayas.
  • Present your experiences and discuss what you have learned in a culminating forum facilitated by your leaders and local experts.

What to Expect

You should come to the program with an open mind, eager for new experiences,  and dedicated to better understanding the serious issues that face India.  Participants must be physically fit, eager to hike with a backpack, and prepared to go without many of the comforts of life at home. Living conditions are often primitive. Those with a history of altitude sensitivity should not apply.

At Putney we take pride in our reputation for careful, thorough planning and attention to detail. The descriptions of our high school summer travel programs 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. Rules that provide a safe and structured environment, set curfews, and prohibit the use of alcohol, drugs, and tobacco are in place and enforced. We expect you to behave in a mature and productive way at all times.


Tuition: $6,190

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


Learn about this program by reading the 2013 Global Awareness in Action India Blog.

This program begins and ends at Newark International Airport in Newark, New Jersey.

Departure • Meet your group to travel to India.  The group flight departs from Newark  International Airport, where you  meet one of your leaders and depart as a group to New Delhi.

New DelhiBegin with a few days in New Delhi, where our home is a small hotel near the center of this high-energy city. Spend two days getting settled, completing a program orientation, learning about Indian culture and history, and resting after the long flight. Visit some of the city’s principal sights, where you can buy attractive, comfortable, and culturally appropriate Indian clothing.

“This program completely exceeded, shattered even, my expectations. First of all, the combination of kids on this group could not have been better. I really felt a deep friendship with every single person on the trip. Sarah and Karan were the best, most knowledgeable, caring, protective, funny people I could have imagined for the trip and I couldn’t have asked for better leaders.”

— Chloe Zeller, New Trier High School, Winnetka, IL

Leh • Fly to Leh and travel to our base at a school with boarding facilities in a nearby village. Meet with students at the school to identify key issues that will frame your work in India. Generate questions to explore further through interviews and discuss in focus groups in the coming weeks. Meet with local leadership, activists, members of local cooperatives, and other community stakeholders as you begin to understand the challenges and innovations of the region.

Trekking in the Himalayas • From Leh, make an eight-day trek through the exquisite Himalaya mountains.  We stay in guest houses and monasteries situated in the hill towns and also have the opportunity to live life as locals do by pairing up with a fellow student to spend a few days in village homes. Return from the trek and reconvene at the school to share your experiences and reflections in a forum held with your Ladakhi peers and other community members.

New DelhiWe fly back to New Delhi.  Spend two days visiting New Delhi’s old city, where we work with an organization to help the poorest inhabitants of New Delhi’s slums, visit local artisan markets, and see more traditional sites and monuments.

Explore India's incredible landscapes alongside fellow program participants.

Explore India’s incredible landscapes alongside fellow program participants.

Agra •  Spend our final night in Agra, with time to visit the Taj Mahal and Fatehpur Sikri.

Return •  Fly with your group and a leader from New Delhi to Newark and continue on to your final destination.

This itinerary represents our best projection of the group’s schedule.  However, we may implement changes designed to improve the quality of the program.


Background • India is a huge and complex country with enormous geographic and ethnic diversity. Sixty-five different languages are spoken by Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, and Sikhs. India has a wealth of geographic settings, from the snow-capped peaks of the Himalayas to verdant jungles and arid plains.  Despite rapid economic growth in recent years, basic services we take for granted such as housing and education are hard to find for many. A gentle national character and deeply embedded system of conservative social norms and expectations have helped to maintain a peaceful, if somewhat chaotic domestic environment. Indians are warm people who show tremendous enthusiasm toward visitors. The region of Ladakh is the focus of our North Indian exploration. Join us to explore how forward-thinking people in this region are working to foster development through education while simultaneously striving to protect rich natural resources and cultural traditions.

Population  • India is home to over one billion people, with an estimated 25 million newborns added each year.  We are based at a school in a tiny village outside the town of Leh in India’s Ladakh region.  The population of Leh is 27,000.

Meet with monks young and old.

Meet with monks young and old.

Language  • The primary language of India is Hindi, though many tribal and regional dialects are also spoken.  In Ladakh, the primary language is a Tibetan dialect of Ladakhi.  Urdu is also spoken in the region.  All classes at the school we collaborate with are taught in English, so many of the students, particularly the older ones, are conversant in English.

“My greatest accomplishment was the close bond I formed with a student at the school. He was chosen to come on the trek with our group. This gave me even more time to connect with him and learn about his life. I was able to learn about the parallels and differences between my experiences in life and his. I gained a greater sense of India’s culture but also how kids my age everywhere are really very similar.” 

— Jordan Renouf, Brattleboro Union High School, Putney, VT

Climate • Our base in Ladakh is located amidst the foothills of the  Himalayas at 11,000 feet in altitude, so students with a history of altitude sensitivity should consider a different destination. The climate here is extremely dry, with little rainfall.  The sun is quite strong, and summer temperatures can climb into the 80s during the day, while it is cool at night. We trek to altitudes of 14,000 feet where it can be cold.

Cuisine • In India, much of the cuisine is vegetarian, served with rice and/or bread.  Most meals are rice-based, and vegetables are fresh and grown locally.  You will find plentiful baked goods, and warm butter tea is common.

Teen Volunteers in Asia India Summer Program

Help prepare meals with local women.

Currency • Indian currency is the Rupee (INR). We visit a bank to convert a small amount of money to Rupees at the beginning of the program in New Delhi.  There is also access to ATM machines in New Delhi and Leh.

Voltage Although we have access to electricity in India, service interruptions are quite common.  The electric current is 230V. A variety of electrical plugs are found throughout India, so an all-around adapter plug set is recommended.  A voltage converter may be required for some electronic devices.

Visa • India requires a tourist visa for entry for U.S. citizens.  Putney provides guidelines on obtaining a visa.  Non U.S. citizens must check local visa requirements.


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

John Linsley

John Linsley: St. Lawrence University, B.A., Government; Maxwell School of Syracuse University, M.A., International Relations. John’s love of travel began in high school when he studied in Germany on an exchange program. Since then, he has studied and worked in East and West Africa, Europe, Central America, and the Caribbean. Fluent in Swahili, the regional language of East Africa, John has led Putney’s Mt. Kilimanjaro program and the Community Service Tanzania program for several summers. He currently oversees programming in Tanzania, South Africa, and India. A certified EMT, John is trained in wilderness medicine and is an avid runner, skier, and kayaker.

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.