American Youth Leadership Program with Cambodia

June 24 – July 23, 2012


The American Youth Leadership Program (AYLP) with Cambodia is a cross-cultural exchange program that is open to American high school students and teachers (who will serve as program leaders and chaperones). The program begins on June 24 with orientation in Honolulu. Then, participants travel to Cambodia, where they will spend three weeks gaining firsthand knowledge of the country’s rich and complex history and culture and investigating media effects and issues.  Participants will return to Honolulu for program debriefing before returning home on July 23.


AYLP is sponsored by the US Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA), so program fees and expenses, including travel to/from Honolulu and Cambodia, housing/hotel, meals, and excursion fees in Cambodia and Honolulu are covered through the program.


32 students and four teachers will be selected through an open application process. Although applicants will be considered individually on their own merits, whenever possible, we will select pairs or small groups of students from same schools/districts/towns/cities. Therefore, we encourage students to apply together. Teachers may also wish to apply with a group of students from their school/district or area. Application deadline is January 16, 2012.


Read below for essential program details, including program overview, program logistics, eligibility requirement, and participant responsibilities.  Application materials are found below, and preliminary daily schedule will be available soon.


Click here to read more about the Summer 2012 program.

Click here to read more about the Summer 2011 program.

Selection Criteria and Process

For Students:

  • Interest in Cambodia and/or the project theme and issues (media and its impact on issues such as youth and education, the environment, women and girls, and Khmer Rouge history and legacy)
  • Leadership aptitude and service to the community
  • Flexibility, maturity, integrity, good social skills, and open-mindedness
  • Motivation to be active and successful exchange participants
  • Commitment to a follow-up project


For Teacher-Leaders/Chaperones:

  • Interest in Cambodia and/or the project theme and issues (media and its impact on issues such as youth and education, the environment, women and girls, and Khmer Rouge history and legacy)
  • Interest in working with youth participants as well as the ability to support their project work
  • Leadership aptitude and service to the community
  • Flexibility, maturity, integrity, good social skills, and open-mindedness
  • Motivation to be active and successful exchange participants
  • Commitment to a follow-up project


Program Overview

Why Media?

In the United States, the media is often called the “Fourth Estate,” and is an indispensable component of a vibrant and transparent democracy. Today, the media is a ubiquitous presence in people’s lives, and in particular the lives of young people. The media does not just provide information, education, and entertainment; it plays a powerful role in shaping attitudes, values, opinions, and behaviors by accessing, selecting, collecting, framing, and editing what is told.


AYLP Students visit the Women’s Media Centre of Cambodia
AYLP students visit the Women’s Media Centre of Cambodia

By decoding media messages, and by making their own media projects, young people can join public conversations and connect with the citizens and policymakers. Media proficiency can be applied to the expression of individual ideas and creativity, and as a catalyst for social change. At the same time, teachers can integrate media-literacy across various subject areas in their classrooms to build critical thinking and communication skills among their students.


Why Cambodia?

Cambodia presents a compelling case study of media issues—the power the media wields in perpetuating or challenging culture and identity, as well as what constitutes freedom of press, and the importance of accessibility.


Cambodia’s rich historic sites preserve traditional forms of media, which can be examined alongside the ways in which the modern media shapes issues such as youth and education, the environment, women and girls, and Khmer Rouge history and legacy.


 Cambodian and American students presenting their “Pan-Cam” community postcard projects


It is estimated that anywhere from 850,000 to 1.7 million Cambodians, including journalists, died through disease, starvation, work exhaustion, or direct killing by the Khmer Rouge during their rule (1975-1979). In subsequent Vietnamese rule—Vietnam invaded (or liberated, depending on one’s perspective) Cambodia and ousted the Khmer Rouge in January 1979—the media was a government mouthpiece for propaganda.


AYLP participants helped set up a small library at the Children’s Development Village, an orphanage in Peak Sneng Village. Here, a participant reads with children a book she donated to the library.

Elections in 1993, administered by United Nations Transitional Authority for Cambodia (UNTAC), helped establish the Cambodian constitution, which guaranteed freedoms of speech and press and led to an explosion of print and broadcast media outlets. Yet, in Cambodia today, these freedoms of speech and press are not fully realized. The constitution does not safeguard speech that criticizes government leaders and institutions, and journalists often censor themselves out of fear, for many who have accused government officials of corruption have been fined and imprisoned.



Cambodia also demonstrates how accessibility is intertwined with freedom. While some newspapers are critical of the government, these are mostly unavailable to the majority rural population, not to mention the nearly 30% of Cambodians who are illiterate. Likewise, the government does not go to great lengths to restrict the Internet, but online connections are available only to a tiny fragment of the population and chiefly in metropolitan areas. Most Cambodians’ access to news is through the broadcast media, and television channels are all dominated by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), giving them extraordinary say in what reaches most Cambodians.


Program Logistics

After acceptance into the program, participants prepare for the exchange by taking part in online learning sessions and a pre-departure orientation at the East-West Center in Honolulu. In addition to learning about the media and its role in Cambodia as described above, they will be briefed on history, culture, social norms, and what to expect during their time in-country before departing for Cambodia.



 Ambassador Carol A. Rodley (US Ambassador to Cambodia) with participants of the American Youth Leadership Program with Cambodia at the East-West Center, Honolulu, Hawaii (July 13, 2011)


While in Cambodia, participants will take part in activities, workshops, and field visits led by media specialists, community leaders, civil society groups, and AYLP teacher-leaders. They will also build friendships and promote mutual understanding as they partner with Cambodian students and teachers to examine how local norms and traditions affect media production and consumption. Then, they will travel in small groups to diverse communities across Cambodia, where they will live with local families, explore culturally significant historic sites, and enjoy social, cultural, and recreational activities, as well as participate in community service projects. Importantly, they will put communication, collaboration, and cross-cultural skills into practice as they learn about a local issue and produce media projects about their experiences. Participants will share their media projects with their Cambodian peers at a public forum in Phnom Penh and with their American peers and community upon their return home.


Eligibility Requirement

In order to be eligible for this program, you must meet all of the following requirements:

  • Age: Youth participants must be at least 15 years of age and not older than 17 at the beginning of the exchange (June 24, 2012) AND have at least one semester of high school left to complete after the exchange.  There are no age restrictions for adult participants, but they should be old enough to serve as mentors to the youth and assist with chaperone duties, while also taking part in the program as full participants. They must also be in a position where they work directly with students and have plans to remain in the same or a similar position after their travel.
  • Citizenship: All exchange participants must be US citizens.
  • A candidate will be considered ineligible if s/he has previously traveled outside the United States on any ECA-funded program within the past three years or if s/he has accepted a scholarship for an impending US government-funded exchange program.


Participant Responsibilities

Participant responsibilities include:

  • Completing all readings and other assignments before the start of the program in June 2012.
  • Participating actively and responsibly in the online pre-departure program as well as in program activities while in Cambodia.
  • Keeping a group journal (students) or individual teaching  journals (teachers), to be shared during in-country debriefing sessions and online.
  • Completing the required media project and sharing it with peers and community upon return home.
  • Completing pre- and post-evaluation questionnaires and interviews.