Vietnam | Community Service

Immerse yourself in the life of a coastal 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 30, 2016  –  July 28, 2016
Students completing grades 9 – 12
Community Service
Typical Group:
15 – 17 students, 2 leaders
29 days


  • Volunteer with local workers to build simple houses for community members.
  • Participate in a language exchange with local youth.
  • Swim at quiet, beautiful beaches on the South China Sea.
  • Explore the fascinating sights of Ho Chi Minh City, Hoi An, and Hanoi.
  • Spend three days exploring gorgeous Ha Long Bay.


Village Life and Service

The focus of our community service work is the construction of simple “Compassion Houses.” Most of the homes in this farming region are very small, consisting only of a space for living and dining, a bedroom, and a small kitchen. Local organizations identify families with the greatest need for new housing. 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 this volunteer program, participants can expect to receive a certificate for 80-100 hours of community service.

Putney students participate in English/Vietnamese language exchanges, 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 provide opportunities to interact with Vietnamese youth, to hear their stories and hopes, and to participate directly in the life of the community.

Each Putney student receives a bicycle at the beginning of the program to get to and from our worksite. These bicycles are donated at the end of our stay. Afternoons are often spent at  beautiful, local beaches.

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

Learn basic construction techniques with the help of Vietnamese foremen.

Learn basic construction techniques with the help of Vietnamese foremen.

Independent Projects

In addition to the collective group projects, students select an independent project to explore an aspect of Vietnamese culture or to pursue a particular interest. 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.

Final Adventure

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!

“Derek was extremely proud of the physical work he was able to put out in order to help build a house for a local family. He also was proud of his personal growth as his world wide perspective was changed through his interactions with the Vietnamese way of life. He appreciated the beauty in the simplicity of their lives and their kindness and happiness.”

— Stacy and Chuck Rosenzweig, parents of Derek Rosenzweig, Hackley School, Harrison, NY


Group accommodations are carefully selected by Putney Student Travel to emphasize convenience, a positive group environment, and wholesome interaction with local people and fellow travelers. During the workweek in Vietnam we stay in a simple guesthouse located close to our project village. Rooms are doubles with private baths. During weekend excursions, we stay in small hotels. Leaders reside together with the students throughout the program.

Physical Challenge Level

Our programs are active. Days are filled with movement — bicycling to the project site, working on the Compassion Houses, swimming in the South China Sea, or walking the streets of Hanoi are all activities you will participate in during this program. You do not need to be at peak fitness to participate, but it is important that you have a desire to be physically active, and that you are excited about trying all activities.

A Typical Day

7 a.m. – Breakfast
8 a.m.–12 p.m. — Work
12 p.m.–2 p.m. — Lunch and rest
2 p.m.–4 p.m. — Work
4 p.m.–6 p.m. — Beach time, relax
6 p.m. – Dinner
8 p.m. – Group meeting and/or group activity

During the week, we wake up between 67am, eat breakfast together as a group, and then head to the work site from 8am12pm. Work may include mixing cement, laying brick, painting, participating in a local rice harvest, or teaching English to local kids. We’ll break for a long lunch and rest time, then return to work for a few hours in the afternoon. After work, we often head to the beach to swim, relax, or play soccer with local friends. After a group dinner together, participate in a meeting to discuss the day, plan for upcoming excursions, or simply play a game together. Weekends are a time to explore. Visit the the Sơn Mỹ Memorial near Quang Ngai, have a traditional outfit made for you in Hoi An, or kayak into caves in gorgeous Ha Long Bay.

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. Our mode of transportation to and from the work site is by bicycle. It is essential that you are comfortable riding a bike for this program. 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 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.


$5,990 plus airfare


Putney organizes and reserves seats for students on a round-trip group flight from a gateway U.S. airport to your program destination. One or more of your group leaders will be at the airport to welcome you and to fly with the group on both departure and return. Please consult us for fares.


Learn about last year’s program by reading the 2014 Community Service Vietnam Blog.

The program begins and ends at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in Los Angeles, California.

DepartureTravel Day • Join your group to begin a month of community service and travel in Vietnam. The group flight departs from Los Angeles, where you meet one of your leaders and fly together to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. One day is lost in transit when crossing the International Date Line.

Ho Chi Minh City 2 days • 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.

“The whole experience was amazing. Some of the highlights include bonding with the villagers at our worksites and on the beach, relaxing and bonding with my group in the guest house or at meals, the fun weekend trips, and all the laughs and fun times that we had together. Ending the program in Ha Long Bay was very fun. It gave us a last chance to get to know one another and enjoy each other’s company.”

— Katie Elliott, Bard High School, Brooklyn, NY

Community Service Village 15 days • Fly from Ho Chi Minh City to Da Nang and travel south by private bus. Move into a simple guest house that will serve as your base. Each weekday, help to construct simple houses together with local workers, participate in Vietnamese/English language exchanges, and connect with friendly, local children.

Quang Ngai 2 days • Spend two days in and around Quang Ngai. Visit the My Lai Memorial Site and the Binh Chau Tunnels. Discuss the history between the United States and Vietnam with a monk at the Thien An Temple.

Hoi An 2 days • 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 beautiful 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 5 days • 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 our private boat, explore sea caves and floating fishing villages, and kayak and swim in the warm, calm ocean.

ReturnTravel Day Fly with your group and a leader from Hanoi to Los Angeles, then 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 • Some of the most intense fighting of the Vietnam War occurred along the central coast of Vietnam where we are based. Despite this troubling history, the local people welcome our groups enthusiastically and are profoundly appreciative of our efforts.  The area is not often visited by outsiders, so the arrival of our group 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.

Excursions take us to some of the most stunning landscapes in Southeast Asia.

Excursions take us to some of the most stunning landscapes in Southeast Asia.

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 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. Creativity, enthusiasm, and positive energy help to span the language divide.

“Almost every day after work, we went to the beach to play volleyball with local Vietnamese friends. It was extremely fun and memorable. Although there was a language barrier, we learned to communicate with one another enough to play on the same teams, and were able to really enjoy our time together.”

— Becca Landau, Solomon Schechter, School of Westchester, White Plains, NY

Climate • The climate on Vietnam’s central coast is tropical.  Temperatures during July are in the 80s and 90s, with moderate humidity. Coastal winds and frequent bursts of rain cool temperatures throughout the day as does an afternoon swim in the ocean!

Cuisine • Vietnamese food features noodles, rice, fish, shellfish, chicken, and vegetables in stir-fries, soups, and salads. 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.

Develop a taste for fresh, local Vietnamese dishes.

Develop a taste for fresh, local Vietnamese dishes.

Currency • The Vietnamese currency is the dong. The best way to access cash is by using an ATM card.

VisaU.S. citizens must obtain a visa to enter Vietnam. Since a valid passport is a part of the visa application, it is important to obtain your passport well in advance of departure. Putney Student Travel provides detailed information about how to apply for a visa. Non-U.S. citizens must check local visa requirements, including requirements for countries passed through in transit.  


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. She has worked as an associate director at Putney Student Travel since 2003. She currently coordinates programs in Cambodia, Vietnam, The European Alps, Brazil, Ecuador, Spain, and Ghana. Kelsey loves to travel, ski, dance, and spend time with her family.

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.