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Challenge yourself on this seminar-style advanced community service program. Learn about Cambodia’s recent history and how it effects contemporary Cambodia. Understand current issues in the country by visiting local nonprofits and international development organizations in Phnom Penh. You’ll explore various initiatives and approaches to development, focusing on the themes of youth empowerment and education. After spending time learning and completing workshops, you’ll apply your knowledge in the field. Stay in a rural village and complete a meaningful community service project with your group giving you the chance to learn about education “from the ground up” and see how schools, families, and communities educate their young people.  After the hard work, end your trip with a visit to Angkor Wat and explore the markets of Siem Reap.  Students on this program not only take away the concrete skills and tools related to international development work, but the empathy and critical thinking skills needed to make our world a more compassionate and equitable place.

Components of a Critical Issues Program

  1. Deliberate Focus: Students explore specific global issues as they exist in communities around the world.
  2. Pre-Travel Engagement: Prior to their arrival in the program’s base country, students build an understanding of the issue their program focuses on through readings, film screenings, and various learning opportunities.
  3. Program Content and Discussion: Students progress through a curriculum comprised of activities, discussions, and debriefs designed to expand their understanding and exploration of key topics.
  4. Program Staff: Program Leaders on Critical Issues programs have intimate local knowledge and an academic or professional background in the focus area.

Program Profile

Community Service Component
Community Service Focus
Education, Infrastructure
Get to Know
The People
Live Like a Local
Travel Component
Moderate Travel Involved

2017 Departures

Departs (USA) Returns (USA) Availability
July 4 July 21 Available

Connecting Programs

Schedule two or more programs in a row to create your ideal Rustic Pathways experience.

This program connects especially well with:

We believe that driven young people can make a significant difference in the world. As the global disparity between the rich and the poor continues to expand, it becomes ever clearer that your generation will be the one to figure out how to start closing that gap. This program is designed for students with a passion for service and an interest in the inner workings of real-world development projects. This advanced seminar will give you the opportunity to hold discussions with members of organizations working on the ground in the heart of the NGO capital of the world, Phnom Penh. You’ll also have the opportunity to review readings and articles, then with your Program Leaders to continue the conversation of international development. From the Ground Up will challenge you to check your preconceived notions at the door and learn everything you can from local people. With the help of knowledgeable guides and community members, you will see real results as your project moves towards its goal of creating a positive impact in a local community.

During this in depth seminar, students will begin the learning process prior to departure with various engagement pieces being sent their way by the country team before embarking on their journey.

  • Day 1

    Relax and prepare for a world-class trip on Singapore Airlines. Prior to your departure, you will have received your pre-departure packet, which will include your Rustic t-shirts, flight information, and important contact information. Once you arrive at your international departure city, our Airport Coordinator will help you get checked in to your international flight. Here you’ll meet your Flight Leader, who will escort you all the way to Singapore! From Singapore, you’ll hop on another short flight with your group members and a Flight Leader to Cambodia, the Kingdom of Wonder! Our Flight Leaders are most often schoolteachers or good friends of our organization who happily fill this role for us each year. Once you’re checked in, feel free to relax and get acquainted with your new friends before boarding your flight to Southeast Asia!

  • Day 2

    Today is lost as you cross the international dateline. Fear not – you will get this time back on your way home.

  • Day 3

    Welcome to Phnom Penh!
 As you exit airport customs, your Rustic Pathways Program Leaders will be waiting just outside in the arrival area. Climb into a private van to the hotel, enjoying your first glimpse of Cambodia’s capital. Nestled on the banks of three great Southeast Asian rivers – the Mekong, Tonle Sap, and Bassac rivers – the frenetic streets of Phnom Penh provide a fascinating window into Cambodian culture. According to legend, this vibrant city was founded by a nun, Lady Penh, in the 14th century and became the country’s capital some 100 years later. From its power as a prominent market hub for European traders and eventual French colonization, to Khmer independence, to domination by the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s, Phnom Penh has seen its fair share of turbulence and unrest. As you ride through the motorcycle-choked streets and catch glimpses of busy marketplaces, know that you are witnessing a new era of growth and change for this beautiful and special country. 
Freshen up and head out to explore the city and try your first taste of delicious Cambodian food. Your Program Leaders will also hold an orientation so that you can get a real grasp of what you’ll be seeing and experiencing in the next two weeks.

  • Day 4

    Rise and shine for your first full day in Phnom Penh. Not only is this city the political and economic hub of the country, it also has one of the world’s largest concentrations of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and international aid in the world.
 NGOs in Cambodia focus on everything from children’s issues and human trafficking, to wildlife conservation and solar lighting in rural communities.
 After breakfast, dive into an introduction to Cambodia’s past and present, giving you a firm foundation with which to understand your surroundings. A ride through the buzzing traffic of Phnom Penh will give you a close look at street life and the neighborhoods that make up this city. Your first visit will be to the notorious Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum where local guides will share stories of terror and triumph with you. Knowledge of this dark chapter of Cambodian history is key to understanding the way the country functions today. After experiencing Tuol Sleng, you will spend the afternoon visiting two NGOs in Phnom Penh. NGOs in Cambodia focus on a wide range of issues. Your group will spend time with NGOs related to education, youth development, capacity-building, and empowerment, which will give you a good understanding of the context before you head off to the village where you will see some of the challenges facing local communities firsthand. 

  • Day 5 - 7

    On Saturday, continue learning about Cambodia’s past by visiting the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek where you will walk through the quiet and peaceful fields that were once the site of mass killings and burials during the genocide. Tour the Royal Palace and take this opportunity to engage with Cambodia’s history and its present, as Cambodia is still an active constitutional monarchy.  On Sunday, you will take a drive south through provincial Cambodia to Wildlife Alliance’s Rescue and Rehabilitation center.  This facility houses thousands of animal that have been rescued from poaching and captivity.  After a delicious lunch, take a boat ride down the Mekong River to visit a local weaving village, where you can learn how beautiful handmade goods are created, from silkworm to scarf! Meet with your Program Leaders at the end of each day for a group discussion to compare notes, reference the reading material, and reflect on some of the recurring themes you’ve noticed so far. the power of these projects.

  • Day 8 - 9

    Today, you will head to Kampong Cham province and then journey onward to your Kong Maha, a beautiful village surrounded by rice paddies. For the next segment of your trip, you will live with the residents of this village and experience daily rural life. You’ll learn about education from the ground up and see how schools, families, and communities educate their young people. You’ll get the chance to Collect data by speaking speak with to village elders, teachers, parents and students to learn what they hope for the next generation. residents, and even children, while keeping in mind all of the advice from the previous several days. Throughout this program and especially during your time in this rural community, you will be challenged to check your preconceived notions at the door and learn everything you can from local people. From the outside, it’s often easy to think that we know what is best for everyone else . However, this program will teach you to seek local opinions and suggestions above all others. You’ll continue to learn some hard skills like needs assessments and monitoring and evaluation, but you will also develop a deeper understanding of the meanings of education and learning, inside and outside of the classroom. Your Program Leaders will continue the discussions of conducting needs assessments, and monitoring and evaluation, as you learn everything that goes into making a project successful.


  • Day 10 - 13

    Over the next four days, your group will be hard at work assisting the local primary school with improving their facilities. Projects undertaking at the school have already been determined by our partnership with the community. During this time, you will also see past projects that have been completed by Rustic Pathways and learn about their effect in the community. importance. Hold nightly meetings as a team to discuss the events of the day, continue to push yourself and your perceptions about development and education, and and put together a plan for each next day of service work.

  • Day 14

    After one final breakfast in Kampong Cham, put any final touches on your service project before hopping in the vans to make the drive to Siem Reap.

    Arriving into Siem Reap, you will have time to settle in to your hotel and take a hot shower before hitting the town! Siem Reap is an easy city to fall in love with, especially while strolling through the famous night markets for some evening shopping and local souvenirs.

  • Day 15

    Today, meet with one last NGO, the Senhoa Foundation, and see which humanitarian concerns overlap between Cambodia’s two largest cities.Pay a visit to the unique Cambodian Landmine Museum, where you will learn more about the history of landmines and how they are still affecting Cambodians today.

    Tonight head to Phare, The Cambodian Circus. This inspiring acrobat show is performed by students from Phare Ponleu Selpak, an organization that educates disadvantaged youth through the power of the arts. It is truly a sight to see and something you will remember from your time here in Cambodia.

  • Day 16

    Set out in the early morning to see the amazing architecture of Angkor Wat, the largest religious complex in the world. Grab a good spot and get your camera ready for this incredible once-in-a-lifetime view! As you enter the complex to explore the structure, check out the intricate carvings of Angkor’s historical battle scenes. If you’re brave enough to climb the steep steps, the view atop the highest tower is well worth it!
 Travel next to see the huge, carved faces of Bayon. After lunch, make your way to the shady and cool tree temple, Ta Prohm. Massive trees have grown up through these ruins making for a spectacular site.
 Enjoy your last night in Cambodia with a delicious Khmer dinner, spend some time browsing the night market, and reflect on your time spent in the village and the goals you accomplished.

  • Day 17

    Community service is a lifelong journey, one that we never tire of here at Rustic Pathways, and we hope you won’t either. You now have the necessary tools to start thinking critically about international development, NGOs, and the most pressing global concerns. Take what you have learned and branch out on your own. Be safe and best of luck! As you now know, small numbers can equal big change.
 For students connecting to another program in Southeast Asia, you will say goodbye to your group in the morning as you head to the airport to begin your next adventure. If you are departing for the U.S., soak up some last bits of culture and shop for souvenirs today. This afternoon you’ll head to Siem Reap International Airport where you will meet up with your Flight Leader to begin the journey home. Cambodia will miss you! Som Lee-hai!

  • Day 18

    If you are flying back to the U.S., you’ll arrive back in the states on this day, as you’ll have time zone changes in the middle. Many of our students choose to connect to other programs in our Asian destinations.
 All students on our group flights arrive home on Fridays, regardless of whether they return to JFK or LAX.

An Important Note About Schedule Changes

Rustic Pathways reserves the right to change, alter, or amend the daily itinerary for this trip at any time. Changes can be made for various reasons including changes in flight or program schedules, changes in the schedules of various external tours incorporated in our trips, the addition of new activities into a trip, or the substitution of an old activity for a new activity.

The itinerary shown here provides a good outline of the anticipated daily schedule for this program. As with any travel program, some changes may occur.

“Optional Activities” are fully included in the cost of your program, but you can choose to not do these activities.

“Add-On Activities” are not included in the cost of your program and must be paid for separately. Add-on activities are rare, but include things like skydiving, bungee jumping, or weekend side-trips. Not every program has add-on activities.

For more information, email cambodia@rusticpathways.com

Program-Specific FAQs

  • This program is specifically designed for students interested in learning the inner workings of current global development projects. Students who are driven, interested in cultural immersion, are change-makers and even trailblazers would be a great fit for this program!

 Are you already involved in community service at home? Do you have a passion for learning from another culture? Are you interested in entering this field one day? Then From the Ground Up is the program for you!

  • On this program we arrange meetings and visits with a diverse array of NGO’s working in Cambodia. Your days will be packed as we meet with approximately 8 different organizations, and you will walk away from each one learning something new about the industry.

    To help yourself prepare for this trip, researching Cambodia and NGOs working there will give you some insight into what you’ll be learning about.

    Below are some organizations that we have worked with in the past. Check out the inspiring work that they do in the field by visiting their websites!












  • This challenging and immersive service program has a decidedly academic component. Rustic Pathways works with local leaders and organizations to identify and prioritize the needs of each community. Depending on the most pressing needs, you will either design a group project for a marginalized Cambodian community, or see an active project come to fruition by working hand-in-hand with local people.  If you join this team you must be willing to do the groundwork necessary to achieve the program goals. You will learn from professionals in the field how projects operate from start to finish – from writing a project proposal or a grant request, to project realization, to completing impact assessment within the community.

    In the past our work in the village of Kong Maha in Kampong Cham Province has included projects at the local primary school. From the Ground Up students have worked to build a bathroom, paint the facilities, build desks, install a fence around the property and assist with the most recent project of creating an office and library on the grounds.

  • Neak jong reeun Khmer aut? —-Do you want to learn Khmer?

    In Phnom Penh and Siem Reap many people speak English to a certain degree, but during your time in the village you will be encouraged to learn as much Khmer as possible. It can be a lot of fun practicing phrases you know. Have no fear; your local guides will be able to help with translation too! People will be as interested in hearing about your culture as you are in theirs and cross-cultural communication will be one of the most important aspects of your trip.

  • You will get to experience it all! While in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap you will be staying at hotels with western amenities such as air-conditioning and hot water. Prepare to live like the locals do during your time in Kong Maha, Kampong Cham!

    At your homestay you can expect to be provided with a sleeping mat and mosquito net while you get some R&R at night. This is going to be an authentic experience where there may not be running water or western-style toilets.

  • Traditional Khmer food of course! Cambodia is home to many great cuisines due in part to French colonial influence, and you will get a chance to try these out when in major cities. However, you will be encouraged to eat local food as much as possible, after all, you are in Cambodia! Lok-lak, amok, pra-hok— sound familiar? These are some of the most well known dishes in Cambodia. Be sure to tell one of your local Program Leaders that you want to try pra-hok, which will give them a laugh for sure. Is it common for Cambodians to eat rice with every meal- even for breakfast, unless they’re having some yummy noodle soup! Some dishes you can expect are: rice based dishes (especially fried rice, pronounced bai cha in Khmer), noodle soups, grilled pork, stir fried vegetables, various fish dishes, and tons of fresh fruit! Coconuts are plentiful in Kampong Cham so get ready to crack some open and enjoy the refreshing coconut juice with your meals! Our staff will oversee the preparation and cooking while completing the homestay portion of this trip and can even teach you how to make some of their favorite dishes. We will make every effort to accommodate vegetarian and other special dietary needs as best we can, but please be aware that students with seafood or nut allergies cannot be accommodated.

  • Students will have access to clean, safe drinking water (pronounced duk) on this trip at all times. Water in faucets can be used to brush your teeth but is not for drinking. Don’t forget to bring your reusable water bottle so you can stay hydrated!

  • Get ready to sweat! Cambodia has a tropical climate and it’s going to be rainy season while you are here. It’s hot and humid in the day and a little cooler in the mountains at night. Daily downpours are short and are very much looked forward to as they offer a brief break from the heat of the day. What does that mean for you? Clothes that have synthetic fibers are great because they dry fast (much faster than cotton)! Ponchos can easily be purchased in country.

  • When you join us on this incredible journey we want you to have an as immersive experience as possible and soak it all in. To do that you are encouraged to take a break from technology and engage with the life on the ground in Cambodia. Leave the lands of social media behind and focus on being present in the moment—don’t worry, it will still be there when you return—we promise!

    You will have access to internet in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap but not during your time in the village.

    What should families at home do in case of emergency? You will be given the phone number to our 24/7 emergency line which is kept open for true emergencies only. One of our awesome staff members in the U.S. will be in charge of this line, and they will pass any necessary information to us on the ground in Cambodia.

  • Cleanliness is a big part of Asian culture so we keep as clean as we can while traveling. We will have access to laundry facilities at the beginning and end of this program which usually cost around $1/kilogram.

  Feel free to buy some laundry soap at the local market and learn how to wash your clothes by hand like many Cambodians do during your time in the village!

  • Malaria is present throughout the country of Cambodia. Mosquitos tend to pop up whenever the rain starts, and at night. Please bring 2 bottles of mosquito repellant with the proper amount of DEET (at least 30% DEET is recommended). Packing a lightweight long sleeve shirt and pants to wear at night for extra protections is also a great idea! Students will be provided mosquito nets when completing their homestays. Be sure to consult with a travel doctor or your family physician regarding additional precautions to take.

  • HX Global provides the most up to date recommendations regarding Cambodia. Since we do not know your child’s medical history, we recommend you reference HX Global’s website at: https://rusticpathways.com/hx-global/ or the CDC website at: http://www.cdc.gov for more information. We also suggest consulting with your local travel doctor prior to your travels for further information.

  • Part of traveling internationally is learning how to be responsible for your belongings. All students are responsible for carrying their own personal spending money. On average, most students require a minimum of $100-$150 USD per week for incidental expenses (including laundry, any extra snacks, souvenirs, etc.). The night markets in Siem Reap have an amazing variety of crafts, clothing, and unbelievable souvenirs. Shopping there is a real treat, so budget more if you’re a big time shopper and less if you’re a bring-home-only-the-memories kind of traveler.

    ATMs are widely available in Cambodia, and students are encouraged to bring ATM cards to limit the risk of theft as they travel. We suggest bringing $200 USD in cash and then using an ATM if you need additional money. Don’t forget to call your financial institution beforehand to let them know you’ll be traveling out of the country and ask about any additional fees!

  • Students traveling on this program via JFK will have a travel time of approximately 28 hours, and students traveling via LAX will have a travel time of approximately 30 hours (this includes layovers).

 Don’t worry- the trip will fly by as you pass the time meeting your new friends! Singapore Airlines features some great movies on the plane and is rumored to hand out ice cream during mealtime!

  • Believe us when we say that you are not going to be ready to go home after two weeks! Time will fly and you’ll feel like your journey is just beginning as you board the plane home. The long flight over to Southeast Asia is the hardest part; once you’re here, why not make the most of it and build an incredible summer?

    This trip connects seamlessly with other programs throughout Southeast Asia. Connecting is a great idea if your travel plans allow for it!

Packing the right gear (and the right amounts) is the first step to an incredible travel experience. Follow these tips to pack like a pro:

Travel light. Pack only the essentials. You’ll need less than you think!
Bring the right clothes. Pack clothes that are culturally appropriate for your destination and acceptable for service projects. This means bringing long shorts (think Bermuda and basketball shorts), t-shirts with sleeves to cover shoulders, and appropriate footwear.
Leave your valuables behind. While traveling, it’s easier for things to get lost, stolen, or damaged. Keep any prized possessions safe at home.
Check with TSA. Make sure your luggage complies with TSA regulations, especially your carry-on. Useful tip: Pack an empty water bottle and fill it up after security.
Extra paperwork? If you need additional forms filled out to get credit for your service hours, no problem! Bring these forms with you so they can be completed in-country.

Rustic Gear. Want to get all your shopping done for your program in one place? We’ve got you covered. Check out Rustic Gear and get all the essentials sent right to your door.


A school backpack is ideal as it will be used for day trips.

  • Passport
  • Photocopy of passport
  • Two passport photos (needed for Visa)
  • Wallet/money
  • Book and/or journal
  • Pen
  • Phone
  • Chargers
  • Camera
  • Ear buds
  • Change of clothes
  • Reusable water bottle
  • Medication
  • Additional community service forms
  • Outlet power converter
  • Consent to Travel form
  • Rustic Pathways emergency contacts

Checked Luggage

A 50-70 Liter duffel back or backpack is ideal. Wheeled bags are acceptable if they can be carried like a duffel over rough terrain.


  • Socks (7)
  • Underwear (7-10)
  • Pants/capris (2-3, lightweight)
  • Long shorts (5-7)
  • T-shirts (7-10)
  • Long sleeved shirt (1-2, lightweight)
  • Long skirt
  • Pajamas
  • Swimsuit
  • Rain jacket
  • Sneakers
  • Flip-flops
  • Sun glasses
  • Hat (for sun)
  • Quick dry towel/Sarong


(Travel size bottles in Ziploc bags)

  • Shampoo
  • Conditioner
  • Body wash
  • Face wash
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Sunscreen
  • Lip balm w/sunscreen
  • Bug spray
  • Feminine hygiene products
  • Contacts
  • Contacts solution
  • Foam ear plugs
  • Personal med kit
  • Deodorant
  • Hand Sanitizer
  • Wet wipes
  • Small packs of tissues
  • Razor/shaving cream


  • Headlamp with extra batteries
  • A bag for dirty clothes


  • Portable games (Bananagrams, cards, etc.)
  • Pictures of family and friends
  • Khmer / English phrasebook
  • Travel pillow

Important Reminders

  • Appropriate attire for service projects–Students should be wearing Bermuda or basketball length shorts or pants. This is especially important to females. T-shirts should cover the chest and shoulders- nothing too low cut, and no undergarments should ever be showing.
  • Appropriate attire for touring– Students will be visiting temples and museums throughout their program. All students will be expected to have their shoulders and knees covered. Please be sure to bring at least one pair of lightweight capris and t-shirts that are modest (no v-neck/low cut tees).
  1. a
    Phnom Penh

    Welcome to Cambodia! You will arrive into Phnom Penh and begin your journey in the Kingdom of Wonder by meeting with various NGOs.

  2. b
    Kampong Cham

    This will be your home for the next week as you live in a village and work on your service project.

  3. c
    Siem Reap

    Explore the ruins of incredible Angkor Wat–a UNESCO World Heritage site and the largest religious structure in the world!