|Dates:||September 15 – December 13|
February 13 – May 12
*Airfare for international and in-country flights additional
Learn More About Us
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- Teach English in an Urban High School While Living in a Homestay
- Watch the Sunset and Sunrise from your Tent on the Great Wall of China
- Discover Shangri-La, a Tibetan Town Nestled in the Foothills of the Himalayas
- Examine the Effects of Agent Orange by Working with Youth at a Village Outside of Hanoi
- Impact Lives While Installing Clean Water Filters in Homes in Cambodia
- Learn about Cambodia’s History with Human Trafficking at a Khmer NGO
- Study Health Issues by Shadowing Nurses while Living in a Homestay in a Small Thai Village
- Care for and Rehabilitate Elephants in Thailand Alongside Local Biologists
- Become SCUBA Certified on the Thai Island of Koh Tao and Help Restore the reef
Leave the traditional classroom far behind, as we journey to the heart of China, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. Our Asia Gap Program is a unique blend of education, service and exploration of these intriguing and ancient cultures. Our exclusive access to people and places, developed over decades, gives us a window on aspects of China and Southeast Asia rarely experienced by outsiders. Standing knee-deep in the rice paddies of China’s Yunnan Province, we discover a way of life that has remained virtually unchanged throughout the centuries. We meet with village leaders to learn how their community thrives in an increasingly globalized world. In collaboration with a Chinese secondary school, we teach English classes to students that have never before interacted with native speakers. Settling into village life in Cambodia, we learn about efforts to combat human trafficking, starting with education and income generating opportunities. We are a part of the change when we get our hands dirty building bio-sand filters for rural villages and facilitating computer classes for over 200 students. We partner with local mahouts and biologists at a Thai Elephant Rehabilitation Center deep in the jungle to understand the true value of conservation as we care for and rehabilitate Thailand’s indigenous elephants. Sharing laughter with Thai students in our own language camp, we feel how service transcends boundaries. Together, we discover the many lessons this fascinating corner of the world can teach us.
Orientation to the Asia Gap Program
We begin our semester with a Gap orientation in San Francisco, California. After a welcoming BBQ with all ARCC Gap programs, we settle into our Asia group, getting to know one another and our instructors. Together we map out our itinerary and set both individual and group goals for the duration of the program. We introduce our curriculum and brainstorm ideas for our individual Capstone projects, all the while coming together as a traveling community.
Travel to Beijing
We fly together to Beijing, China where we jump into our orientation to Chinese culture, customs and language. While in Beijing we find ourselves in an entirely different world. With 1.3 billion people, China is the most populous country in the world and Beijing is the perfect place to get oriented, as this ancient city offers an intriguing view of ‘old and new’ as skyscrapers blend with classic architecture.
We explore the city and journey back in time hundreds of years to the magnificent Forbidden City where dynasties once reigned. We visit Tiananmen Square, which was constructed in 1949 as a symbol of the People’s Republic of China. Finally, we witness the achievements of modern day China as we take in the Olympic Stadium, home of the 2008 Summer Olympics. Throughout this exploration we take note of both the obvious and subtler signs of growth and development.
No visit to China would be complete without visiting the iconic Great Wall. Dating back to the 5th century, the wall was built of stone and other earthen materials as a form of protection from various nomadic groups. We spend a night sleeping on the wall, taking time to learn its rich history and marvel at its construction.
Shangri-La Minorities High School and Liming School
We have the opportunity to spend the next few days at the Shangri-La Minorities High School where we facilitate English lessons and exchange Q&As with students our age, forming connections and learning about the Chinese education system in comparison to our own. When not teaching, we join them in their sports and dancing classes, getting a glimpse of how non-academic subjects are taught in China.
After a few days assisting in the school, we begin our first homestay experience. Having already formed relationships with our friends at the high school, we split into pairs and head off to our homestay families for a night of cultural immersion. While with our hosts we enjoy a hike through the meadows speckled with yak and past Tibetan villages to the Dabao Temple, one of the earliest Tibetan Buddhist temples in Shangri-La.
Our next project takes us into the mountainous countryside to Liming where we revisit the Literacy & Education theme. Coming face-to-face with this very impoverished community where the average income is less than $600/year/person, we work at the local primary school where we assist in painting the school dormitories. When not working and playing with the children, we engage in discussions about education, the problem of “left behind children,” and mass migration from villages to the modernized cities.
Tiger Leaping Gorge
Saying goodbye to our new friends in Liming, we drive to Qiaotou, the gateway to the famous Tiger Leaping Gorge. Leaving our big bags behind, we spend the next two days hiking this world renowned location. We brave the “28 bends,” a series of switchbacks taking you to the highest point of the Tiger Leaping Gorge Trail and providing spectacular views of the imposing Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. With comfortable guesthouses awaiting us every night, our hike in China is one we will never forget.
Kunming Microenterprise Project and Migrant Community
Transferring three hours to Lijiang, we enjoy some downtime, participate in group activities, and explore our new surroundings. We spend the morning taking a Chinese cooking class, which begins in a local market where we buy supplies. We then try our hand at making three distinct Chinese dishes. In the afternoon we hike to Black Dragon Pond and explore the old town of Lijiang. This evening we catch an overnight train to Kunming, the site of our last project in China.
In Kunming we visit a small microenterprise project that is teaching migrant women from rural villages to make handicrafts, which they can promote and sell overseas. We have the opportunity to learn about the lives of these women and to interview the directors of this amazing project. On our second day we visit a community center for migrant children. Accompanied by university students who are majoring in English, we are able to communicate with the children and conduct home visits to learn about the transition from rural villages to the cities. On our last night we share a special dinner as we conclude our time in China, reflecting on all that we have already experienced and learned.
Exploration in Hanoi and Sailing in Halong Bay
After a short journey to Vietnam, we find ourselves stepping into the bustling city of Hanoi. Wandering the back streets of the Old Quarter, we sample Pho, and gorge on delightful cuisine, while visiting must-see sights, such as Ho Chi Minh’s tomb and the One Pillar Pagoda.
We then make our way to Halong Bay where we experience the breathtaking views from aboard a traditional junk. Basking in the warm ocean breezes and sleeping on deck for a two-night excursion, we kayak, swim and relax, surrounded by the mystifying limestone cliffs of this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Agent Orange Study
For the next week we live in a community outside of Hanoi working with locals that have been strongly impacted by the effects of Agent Orange. The aim of the village is to provide children, veterans and youth volunteers with medical treatment, special education and vocational training areas, with the goal being to reintegrate them into their communities. We teach English lessons, help around the grounds, and learn about the projects that students are working on (such as embroidery, beadwork, etc), all the while forming close friendships with the eager Vietnamese students who have long-anticipated our visit.
Travel & Ho Chi Minh City
After a morning flight to Ho Chi Minh City, we take a guided tour of this bustling metropolis filled with ancient pagodas, teeming markets, street-side vendors, and endless motorbikes. We have a day and a half to explore the city and relax as a group as we prepare for our upcoming section in Cambodia.
Travel to Cambodia and Clean Water Filters
Catching an early bus to Phnom Penh, we cross the border into Cambodia and find ourselves welcomed by the gentle smiles of the Khmer people. We spend a couple days in Phnom Penh, participating in classes such as boxing and pottery, taking a river cruise down the Mekong River, and increasing our knowledge of Cambodia’s history by visiting the local Killing Fields. Then we leave Phnom Penh behind as we head to Kampong Speu.
In Kampong Speu we partner with an inspiring NGO to build and install bio-sand water filters into impoverished rural homes. These filters provide clean water for up to 40 years; a gift that greatly impacts the livelihood and health of each recipient family. Working, eating and sleeping in the village, our days in Kampong Speu are rich in culture and community, and allow us to settle into the slower pace of the Cambodian lifestyle. Our final evening in Kampong Speu is spent celebrating with our new friends and reflecting on all that we’ve experienced.
Chambok Ecotourism and Homestay
Making our way to Chambok, we spend the next four days experiencing village life by living in a homestay. Our partners, the Chambok community, have protected 1,260 hectares of forestland from logging and hunting. Their ecotourism project is managed by the villagers themselves, and all revenues from ecotourism stay in the community. These revenues provide an alternative source of income to help villagers protect the forest and manage it in a sustainable way for future generations.
While in Chambok we study the Environment and Conservation theme, while also having the opportunity to trek to waterfalls, make traditional crafts, and volunteer in the women-run restaurant. Through our homestays we experience a day in the life of rural farmers by helping out with the growing of rice and vegetables, and assisting with the farm animals such as cows, chickens and pigs.
Student Planned Module
Saying a sad goodbye to our dear friends in Chambok, we head off on our Student Planned Module. This module is totally planned by the students, with basic parameters put in place and a budget with which to work. We can’t wait to hear what the group will do!
Siem Reap and Angkor Wat
Making our home in Siem Reap, Cambodia, we find ourselves busy balancing work at the nearby school, with visits to the amazing sights of this charming city. Experiencing one of the World Wonders at sunrise, we take in the majesty of Angkor Wat, wander down tree-lined narrow streets, and improve on our bartering skills at Siem Reap’s famous night market, all the while observing the differences in this new country.
Bangkok Orientation, Exploration and Buddhist Meditation Center
After a seven-hour bus trip, with viewpoint stops and a lunch break along the way, we arrive in Bangkok, Thailand! Excited for “the Land of Smiles” and the last country in our Southeast Asia journey, we are eager to embrace the friendly people and culture awaiting us. For our day in Bangkok, we sample incredible Thai delicacies and visit the great sights including the famous Grand Palace and the Reclining Buddha. We also receive a thorough orientation to Thailand and Thai culture, language, and customs.
Leaving the city behind we travel to a meditation house where we learn about Thai Buddhism and have the opportunity to study and practice meditation. We enjoy a relaxing couple days before we begin our Thai homestay.
Public Health & Rice Fields Homestay
Heading north to the Pathumthani Province, we experience the warmth of the Thai people through a five-night homestay in a rural rice farming village where we live, work, and immerse ourselves in the lives of local families through homestays. Our gracious hosts invite us into their lives and show us the hospitality for which Thailand is so famous. During our time here, we get a first-hand glimpse of the Public Health theme by conducting visits in the local hospital, where we observe and learn about a health awareness program for the disabled and elderly. We also have the opportunity to learn about rice farming by working in the fields with the locals, as well as giving English lessons in the childcare center on the rice farm. In the afternoons we enjoy impromptu games of soccer or tag with the local children.
Kanchanaburi Elephant Rehabilitation Center
Exploring the Environment and Conservation theme of our curriculum, we make our home at a Thai elephant conservation center. For four days we learn the basics of elephant biology and how to care for these incredible animals. From our dedicated partners at the rehabilitation center, we learn first-hand of the plight of Thailand’s indigenous elephants and what is being done to help this species. For our final two nights with the elephants, we head off into the nearby national park where we are able to witness elephants in the wild. During our time here, we take trips to the historic River Kwai, the nearby floating markets, and Erewan Falls; a spectacular National Park renowned for its aquamarine pools linked by cascading waterfalls.
Koh Tao SCUBA Diving, Reef Clean-Up and Departure
We end our time in this wonderful country by relaxing on the Gulf of Thailand’s serene beaches. Off the island of Koh Tao we explore the incredible array of multi-colored fish and corals populating Thailand’s extravagant reefs. During the day we complete our PADI dive certification while at night we enjoy the quiet beauty of Koh Tao. Those new to diving will have the chance to earn their Open Water Diver certification, while experienced divers can earn their Advanced Diver certificate.
During the evenings, we present our Capstone Projects and debrief all that we have learned, the friends that we have made and the passions we have stirred over the past three months. There is no question our learning and living during these three months have prepared us for the rest of our lives. As we savor our last week together, we are excited to head home to share our newly gained knowledge and insights from our firsthand look at the global issues facing China, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand.
*Please note that the order of the countries and of the projects is subject to change depending on your group assignment.
“Kevin’s experience with ARCC and the Asia Gap semester exceeded my expectations. The program was well organized and provided amazing travel and learning opportunities. I appreciated that the service learning projects provided exposure to the fields of education, health care, animals, and the environment.”— Parent of Kevin B., Deerfield, IL
“I have learned what passion is, and I have learned how to channel it within myself. I learned that I am much more capable than I give myself credit for. I have gained so many new interests – a new one from every new experience.”— Allegra B., Washington, DC, Asia Gap Student
“I didn’t know I could ever be so excited about learning and trying new things. I came on this trip to gain a new perspective of the world, learn about history and culture, push myself out of my comfort zone, have adventures, and have fun; that is exactly what I got out of my ARCC Gap Semester.”— Rachel S., Henrico, VA, Asia Gap Student
“This trip will change your life. Period. I learned more in these 3 months than I ever have in school and I feel more than prepared to enter college. The world is a big place, and ARCC will help you be exposed to it in the best of ways.”— Teddy F., Hermosa, CA, Asia Gap Student
“I had the time of my life. I made best friends in 3 short months. I learned so much about global issues and the world and got to interact with people living completely different lives than my own. I got to completely immerse myself in a radically different and new place. I got to go on an unforgettable adventure.”— Allie W., Ross, CA, Asia Gap Student
“I learned my strengths in a group and as a leader, as well as my weaknesses. I have gained a new thirst for learning and a wider perspective on so many new topics and activities, which has influenced the classes and activities I will take in college.”— Grace L., Pacific Palisades, CA, Asia Gap Student
“I am so happy to have chosen ARCC for my Gap Semester. There is not a better itinerary, group of people, and learning experience out there.”— Meg O., Harvard, MA, Asia Gap Student
“If you are considering a Gap Year, take one. If a Gap Year has never crossed your mind, take one. It’s the best decision I’ve ever made.”— Mairead K., Milwaukee, WI, Asia Gap Student
“Teddy had an experience of a lifetime exploring parts of our world he had not visited previously. He made life-long friends and had meaningful experiences.”— Parent of Teddy F., Hermosa Beach, CA
“Grace had an extraordinary experience traveling with ARCC through Asia. It was beyond our very high expectations in every way. Experiential learning opportunities, connections across cultures, opening her mind to the issues of the world, gratitude, leadership, friendship, and personal growth. We are so grateful to ARCC for the opportunities provided for our daughter.”— Parent of Grace L., Pacific Palisades
“This was probably the best experience of Rachel’s life. Rachel looked long and hard through different organization sponsoring gap semesters and their programs. I cannot imagine anyone else providing the experience that ARCC did.”— Parent of Rachel S., Henrico, VA
“The ARCC Semester nurtured Mairead’s love of travel and interest in learning about different cultures and meeting different people, and provided a way for Mairead to travel and learn with like-minded peers (and great leaders). It was a great growing and learning experience for her.”— Parent of Mairead K., Milwaukee, WI
Group Journal Excerpts
Below you will find several Group Journal excerpts, written by ARCC students during their Gap Semester with ARCC:
Last week, we spent three nights in the Zhaoxing village in Guizhou, China. We met our new tour guide, Alex after our “lovely” overnight train ride from Chengdu to Guiyang. The group worked for two days at the Jitang Primary school, in a village about 20 minutes away from Zhaoxing. Each morning, we rode in…
Migrant Community Center
Last week, we stayed in Kunming and visited a community center for migrant workers and their families. It was an eye-opening experience for everyone. The first day, we started with a tour of the local market and a jail near the center. A police officer, who works closely with the center, showed us their holding…
Thanksgiving in Thailand
For Thanksgiving this year, we took a break from the elephant sanctuary and spent the day at an orphanage playing with the children. We started the day in Kanchanaburi and explored the famous floating market, filling our boats with souvenirs for friends and family back home. Then we headed to Moo Ban Dek orphanage and…