Vietnam | Community Service

Immerse yourself in the life of a tiny Southeast Asian village on this summer community service program in Vietnam for high school students. Our work provides an opportunity to engage in tangible service projects and to build lasting connections with local people. Visit the stunning Ha Long Bay and gorgeous city of Hoi An on weekend excursions.

June 25, 2014 - July 25, 2014
Students completing grades 9-12
Community Service
Typical Group:
16-18 Students, 2 Leaders
4.5 week(s)


The focus of our community service work is the construction of simple masonry “compassion houses.” Most of the homes in this poor, farming region are very small, consisting only of a dining/living room, a bedroom, and a small kitchen. The poorest people have only the most rudimentary shelter. Working with the local People’s Committee, we identify families with the greatest need. Putney contributes the cost of the materials and volunteer labor to build a basic house for these families. Under the supervision of skilled local workers, we participate in all phases of construction. The gratitude of the new residents is extraordinary and moving. Upon successful completion of the volunteer program, you can expect to receive a certificate for 80-100 hours of community service.

“I felt the greatest sense of accomplishment when we were taking pictures of a finished home with the family who would live in it.  The mother kept holding onto me because she wanted me beside her in all the pictures.  She usually showed very little emotion, but at that moment she cried because she was so grateful for our help.”

– Aja Beckham, Perspectives Leadership Academy, Chicago, IL

We also teach English to young locals, and work and play with the many community children who visit us at the work site every day. Our connections with the local Youth Union and with a nearby university provide opportunities to interact with Vietnamese youth to hear their stories and hopes, and to participate directly in the life of the community.

In addition to the collective volunteer projects, select an independent project to explore some aspect of Vietnamese culture or to pursue a particular project in which you are interested. Learn how to make a favorite local dish, organize a village sports tournament, or interview community members about the history of the village and create a photo portfolio of local scenes.

High School Students Volunteering in Vietnam, Asia

Learn basic construction techniques with the help of Vietnamese foremen.

We stay and take most of our meals at a simple guest house that has running water and electricity. Transportation to the work sites is by van and bicycle. The spectacular beach at My Khe on the South China Sea is nearby.

In addition to time spent in the village, we spend our first two days in Ho Chi Minh City, visit the capital, Hanoi, and the historic seaside town of Hoi An, famous for its temples, tailors, and beaches.

High School Students in Vietnamese Temple

Visit a cave temple near Hoi An during a weekend excursion.

The last three days of the program we travel to Ha Long Bay, on the coast adjacent to Hanoi. We board a private boat for a journey through the calm waters of the bay. With the gorgeous karst islands as our backdrop, visit a floating fishing village, explore enormous caves on foot and in kayaks, swim in the warm water, and enjoy the comfortable accommodations on board. It’s a relaxing way to celebrate our hard work and accomplishments!


  • Volunteer with construction workers to build simple houses for community members.
  • Teach English to local school children and young adults.
  • Swim at gorgeous beaches on the South China Sea.
  • Explore the fascinating sights of Ho Chi Minh City, Hoi An, and Hanoi.
  • Spend three days on the calm waters of scenic Ha Long Bay by boat and kayak.

What to Expect

For most of each weekday, we are actively involved in community service work. This work, as well as afternoon and weekend activities, can be strenuous, and you can expect to spend most of each day outside in tropical heat. You should come to the program with an open-mind, eager to participate in new experiences and interested in exploring another culture and way of life.

At Putney we take pride in our reputation for careful, thorough planning and attention to detail. The descriptions of our high school summer 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.


Tuition: $5,790

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


Learn about last year’s program by reading the 2013 Community Service Vietnam Blog.

The program begins and ends at Los Angeles International Airport.

Program Departure • Join your group to begin a month of community service and travel in Vietnam.  The group flight departs from Los Angeles International Airport where you will meet one of your leaders and travel to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

Ho Chi Minh City •  Spend two days learning about Vietnam’s history, food, and customs.  Get to know your leaders and fellow students during a group orientation focusing on your month together in Vietnam.

“We are so pleased with the program. It’s clear that Putney has a great network around the world, one that could only have been built up by doing this for decades. That’s invaluable.” 

– Tag and Laura Gross, parents of Victoria, New York, NY

Community Service •  Fly to Da Nang and travel south by private bus to the My Son region, and move in to a simple guest house in a small village near the beach—your base for this segment of the program.  Each weekday, help to construct simple houses and assist in teaching English in local schools.

Hoi An Excursion •   Travel by private bus to Hoi An, a small, historic city on the coast, famous for its ornate Chinese temples, tailors who can make clothes to order overnight, and beaches.

Ha Long Bay Summer Travel for Teens

Our last excursion brings you to Ha Long Bay, famous for its unusual rock formations, sea caves, and floating villages.

Hanoi and Ha Long Bay •   Fly to Hanoi, and spend the last five days of the program in and around Vietnam’s capital city.  Explore the fascinating Old Quarter with its narrow streets, tiny shops, and night market.  On a three-day boat trip on Ha Long Bay, enjoy comfortable accommodations on board, explore sea caves and floating fishing villages, and kayak and swim in the warm, calm ocean.

Return • Depart from Hanoi and arrive at Los Angeles International Airport on the same day.

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 • Some of the most intense fighting of the Vietnam War (known locally as the American War) occurred along the central coast of Vietnam where we are based.  Despite this troubling history, the people of the My Son region welcome our groups enthusiastically and are profoundly appreciative of our efforts.  The area is not often visited by outsiders, so the arrival of a group of American teenagers is a major event for the community.  For many local people, contact with our group is their first experience with foreigners.  Making friends in the community and participating in Vietnamese village life are highlights of the program.

Vietnam Summer Trip Abroad for Teens

Vietnam’s countryside is a lush and vivid green – an inspiring backdrop for your daily bike ride to the work site.

Population  • The residents of this region of Vietnam live in rural villages, and support themselves with small-scale agriculture and fishing.  Though the city of Quang Ngai is nearby, life goes on in the rice paddies, fields, and fishing grounds of My Son much as it has for centuries. It is a socially conservative area, so we are careful to respect local customs as to appropriate dress and social behavior.

Language  • Local people are anxious to learn English, the language they see as key to economic development. While some adults and older students are proficient, most villagers speak only Vietnamese, but we have found that creativity, enthusiasm, and positive energy help to span the language divide.  At least one of our leaders speaks Vietnamese fluently.

“The program exceeded our expectations and made us feel that, although our son was very far away, he was well cared for. Daniel’s summer in Vietnam will be an experience he will always remember.”

- Janet Amaro, mother of Daniel, Tenafly, NJ

Climate • It is hot in Vietnam!  We rise early, work until about noon, take an extended siesta during the heat of the day, and return to work for several hours in the mid to late afternoon.  An afternoon swim in the ocean is great for cooling off.

Cuisine • Vietnamese food features noodles, rice, fish, shellfish, chicken, and vegetables in stir-fries, soups, and salads.  Most dishes are not heavily spiced.  Options are available for vegetarians.  We encourage you to reach beyond a limited range of foods you are familiar with to explore and enjoy Vietnamese cuisine—a central feature of the local culture.

Currency • One US dollar = about 20,000 Vietnamese Dong.  This means that there are lots of zeros on Vietnamese currency! The best way to access the limited cash you will need is from an ATM located near the guesthouse.

Vietnamese children Summer Community Service Trip

The local school kids are excited to meet you.

ElectricityOutlets are available for charging digital camera batteries, etc.  A plug adapter—most  Vietnamese plugs are two rounded prongs—will come in handy.

Visa • All U.S. citizens visiting Vietnam must obtain a visa.  The process is simple and can be completed by mail in a couple of weeks or less.  Since a valid passport must be a part of the visa application, it is important to get a passport well in advance of the program’s departure. Putney Student Travel provides comprehensive information on how to apply for a visa. Non U.S. citizens must check local visa requirements.


The Community Service Vietnam 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.