The University of Oregon’s Family and Human Services Student Group has returned from Cambodia. In this post, they share more reflections about their experiences on the trip, answering these questions:
What did you learn about Cambodia and Cambodians that surprised, interested, or pleased you?
What did you learn about yourself by participating in this trip?
If someone were planning a trip to Cambodia, what one activity or place would you recommend they visit and why?
Darian Finley Garcia (junior): I learned that Cambodians are some of the nicest, most pleasant-to-be-around people that I have ever encountered in my life. Even though they endure severe poverty and harsh living conditions, they still have smiles on their faces, and they still work hard to make their families happy. That is one of the most admirable things one can possibly do. I absolutely loved the people we met along the trip.
I learned that I don’t have to change myself in order to make a change. Many people would go on trips such as this one and come back and say, “I am changed and I am going to start living my life differently.” But to be honest, I don’t have to do that. I was privileged enough to be born into a working class family and have never had to worry about food or clothes or shelter. That is privilege, and I do not have to change that to make a difference in the world. I learned that I always have to keep this experience in my mind in order to serve other people and places similar to Cambodia, and I love that I learned that.
Honestly, I would recommend just exploring. I personally think some of my best experiences in Cambodia were those that were not planned on a schedule. This is because I got to do a lot more self reflection in situations like that. When we had free time and were able to just walk around and explore, that is when I learned the most about the people and myself. It was really refreshing, and it was a very important experience to me. So I would say, just adventure, and explore, and get out of your comfort zone!
Grace-Ellen Mahoney (senior): My favorite part of traveling to Cambodia was the people. Never before have I met such friendly, kind, and genuinely happy people. It was wonderful getting to know Cambodians and learning about their lives. Through traveling to Cambodia, I developed an interest in learning more about sex trafficking and the role that it plays in daily life in developing countries, such as Cambodia. I developed an interest in researching sex trafficking independently, and learning about what I can do as an American to help stop sex trafficking from my own country. I would recommend that people visit all of the main attractions (Angkor Wat, Phnom Penh, etc.), but also take time to explore these places by foot, talk to as many people as possible, and learn as much about the culture and daily lives of Cambodian citizens. It’s truly special!
Shoshana Kerewsky (trip leader, former FWC board president): When I’ve traveled to Cambodia in the past, I’ve had a more “official” role in relation to the people I met. I’ve visited as a member of a delegation of psychologists, a participant in a group from FWC learning about socially responsible travel and visiting NGOs, an instructor and consultant, a researcher, and a representative of FWC and the university making contacts. My greatest delight on this trip was in watching my students and Cambodians together and seeing the pleasure they all had simply in meeting and talking (or just smiling). I was happy that there were easy ways to connect across our cultures in such an immediate and human way. On a personal note, I was very happy finally to meet the student whom my partner and I sponsor through FWC.
I am not terribly good at cultivating a cool heart. I wake up at night before a trip, dreaming about food poisoning and missed buses. I can spend an hour thinking about whether to pack a pair of socks. I run through scenarios where someone is injured and needs medical attention that can’t easily be obtained. There are ways in which this pre-trip worry is okay with me, but I also want to relax and not feel responsible for everything that might possibly happen. We faced some challenges on the trip. I learned a lot by seeing how my students dealt with unexpected events and adversity. Snow kept Kevin from meeting us in Seattle for our international flight, which was annoying, but not a problem. He joined us the next day. One person forgot the photos for her visa. Life didn’t end; she was able to have her photo taken at Cambodian immigration. We found that one of our hotels had Khmer-style bathrooms, which meant a ¾ wall and no door. Everyone managed this with pragmatism and grace. I’m sure there was some anxiety or displeasure below the surface—I certainly wasn’t happy about it. But I watched my students take it in stride, and when I learned that I’d be using a pit latrine outside and sleeping on the floor in a community center on an upcoming service trip to another country, I thought that I ought to show at least as much ability to accommodate the inevitable as my students did in Cambodia. Our trip had other snags and problems at times, but I trusted my students and learned from them. My great thanks to all of you.
In addition to the recommendations others have made (and all of which I agree with), I recommend getting a really long foot massage at one of the open-air massage shops in the Siem Reap Angkor Night Market after dark. Go with friends and enjoy a glass of tea while getting a Khmer-style or reflexology massage while the commerce of the busy and colorful market continues around you. Snatches of Khmer, jazz, and old rock music drift in and out with the evening breeze, and the stars slowly appear overhead.