Cambodia: Peace-Building & Conservation High School Summer Program

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About Program

Known for the incomparable ruins of Angkor Wat, Cambodia is a country that evokes images of overgrown jungle temples, robed monks, and religious splendor. In a land known as much for the lost Angkor Empire as its modern genocide, Cambodia is a nation of stark contrasts. Amongst its natural splendors, Cambodia offers one of the world’s most poignant examples of the challenges and triumphs of the “developing world.” From the raucous streets of Phnom Penh and the misty mornings at Angkor Wat to the idyllic shores of the Gulf of Thailand, Cambodia is a land of scars, wisdom and wonder on the cusp of change everyday.

Students on the Cambodia summer program gain firsthand insight into contemporary issues through intimate engagement with regional experts and extended home-stays. Expect to live close to the ground, experiencing the realties of life for Khmer people, while engaging with those committed to improving the state of the nation.

Program Highlights
  • Catch the sunrise at Angkor Wat before cycling around the temple complex with a guide contemplating ancient Angkorian history.
  • Speak with local and international NGO representatives in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap to learn about contemporary issues ranging from: land rights abuses, women’s rights issues, the garment industry, access to education, WASH initiatives, LGBTQIA+ movement,
  • Be welcomed into a lively rural homestay community and spend a week immersing yourself in the daily life and rhythm of your host family
  • Swim in the Andaman Sea while unpacking the grim realities of marine conservation in Southeast Asia.
  • Sit with a panel of monks in Battambang to understand the realities of Theravada Buddhism and learn simple insight meditation techniques to bring you to the present moment.

New: Fall and Spring Domestic Gap Semesters

We are excited to announce two North American Gap Semesters - the Rio Grande Semester: Stories of Culture, Identity, & Environment Along the Southern Border and the Colorado River Basin Semester: Sustainable Relationships with Land and Water in the Western United States.

Program Reviews

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  • Growth 10
  • Support 10
  • Fun 7.5
  • Housing 10
  • Safety 10
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Yes, I recommend this program

Learning to be comfortable being uncomfortable

My experience in Cambodia was incredibly meaningful and eye-opening. Cambodia is built on peaceful Buddhist values that produce a laid back culture. At the same time, a large majority of the population lives in poverty without access to clean water, electricity, and plumbing. The combination of these two factors is interesting, because although people live difficult lives, I found that they made the most of their circumstances and did not resent that which they don’t have. For example, my homestay consisted of an outdoor kitchen, small bathroom where I used a squat toilet and took bucket showers, and communal outdoor space with tables and hammocks. Essentially, they were living a minimalistic life and I was inspired by their ability to separate the link between happiness and material possessions. It was refreshing to be a part of a community where people’s happiness was instead determined by their relationships with family and friends. Additionally, in adapting to a new culture, I practiced mindfulness. In applying deeper thought to my routines and actions, I was able to take advantage of each opportunity to learn and grow. In Cambodia, I constantly shifted my perspective on life at home, realizing that the important things in life are often taken for granted. My increased mindfulness allowed me to return home with greater appreciation and respect for the people around me and my time spent with them. Overall, traveling to Cambodia was an incredibly formative experience that showed me the value of stepping out of my comfort zone and learning to be comfortable being uncomfortable.

1 person found this review helpful.
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Yes, I recommend this program

Authentic Discovery of Self and Country

Whether you are called by the vibrant green rice paddies of Southeast Asia or the warm plains of West Africa, travelling with Where There Be Dragons is an inspiring and formative experience. In the summer of 2012 I went to Cambodia with a group of eleven other high school students and a team of three remarkable instructors who each possessed expertise about Cambodia’s culture, history, and development. Four years later, my best friend-whom I met on this trip—and I still speak with our instructors, now mentors, on a variety of topics. There is a sense of community cultivated on Dragon’s courses, which affords a lot of room for personal growth and self-discovery. I can so vividly remember the sparking light cascading though the cracks in my homestay family’s home positioned in a village near Penom Penh. I recall swinging awkwardly in the hammock on the first day, but laughing and cooking with this family by the end of the short week-long stay. Learning to dissolve cultural misunderstanding and see one another was a lesson in perspective that I continue to work on today. This course revealed to me ways of life that are much different from my own, comfortable midwestern lifestyle, but simultaneously, this course impressed upon me that we all share the same world. Cambodia is especially beautiful, fully of rice, iced coffee, wrinkled beetlenut stained smiles, incense, and saffron robes. However, it is also plagues with political vice, human rights violations, limited access to education, and a cruel past. The spirit of Cambodia is infectious—full of determination, kindness and potential. What I learned in and about Cambodia continue to translate into many aspects of my life.

In effort to mirror the lifestyle of Khmer people and fully delve into the beauty of Cambodia, this course is defined as rugged travel. There are times we see unparalleled beauty, but we also stay in modest accommodations. The 5/10 rating is not to deter one from travel, but only to convey a realistic picture of the journey.

1 person found this review helpful.

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