By Shoshana Kerewsky and the FHS Cambodia Group
On behalf of the University of Oregon’s Family and Human Services student group, I would like to thank Bhavia (Executive Director), Erin (Office Manager), and Friendship with Cambodia for allowing us to share our trip through FWC’s blog. I would also like to thank FWC and its partners’ assistance in planning this trip. Eric Skaar of IE3 and Lauren Lindstrom of the University of Oregon’s College of Education also played instrumental roles. We would also like to thank Lisa Fortin, Krissy Hemphill, Surendra Subramani, Kelly Warren, and everyone else who helped, accommodated, made suggestions, pointed out problems, and worked with us to make this trip happen. We are profoundly grateful to our families, friends, and strangers who made donations toward this trip that, along with our own contributions, paid for donations to the agencies and programs that educated us and defrayed some of our expenses.
In Cambodia, Kevin and I shared an enjoyable lunch and discussion about trip planning and fostering meaningful experiences with Drs. John Miller and Jason Platt. To Ms. Kosal, Mr. Arun, Ms. Hema, Scott, Melissa, Hayley, and the many other educational/NGO partners who helped us, and our new Cambodian friends: Aw kuhn!
At the end of the academic quarter following our trip, I asked the participants to reflect on the experience with the following 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?
Participants’ responses are below, with one exception: An important outcome of this trip for Tess Bergin was to change her major from Family and Human Services to Journalism. She has a passionate conviction that the best way she can help is to write about Cambodia and help Cambodians have a voice through media access. Good luck, Tess! We miss you and wish you well.
Tess at the Somaly Mam Foundation
Colleen Lawler (Graduated): I found Cambodians to be some of the friendliest people I have encountered while traveling. They were very welcoming and kind. Professionally, I learned a lot about what it is like to work with people from different cultural backgrounds and that I really enjoy helping international agencies. I would recommend that visitors to Cambodia tour Angkor Wat—it is a must-see. I also really enjoyed Siem Reap and think it is a nice place to stay while on a visit. If someone is more interested in learning about the genocide in Cambodia, Phnom Penh is more likely to be a better fit. It depends on what someone is seeking out of their visit.
Kara Rawlings (Junior): At the beginning of the trip, I wondered how the Cambodian people would act towards Americans. I was surprised by how friendly and gracious every person with whom I interacted in Cambodia was. There was never a time where I felt unsafe or frightened because of a person’s actions towards me. A few of us in the group even commented on how much safer we felt walking around at night in Cambodia than in Eugene. I loved being able to smile at a stranger on the street and have them give me a huge smile right back.
My trip to Cambodia was the first big, international trip I have taken. Before going on the trip, I worried about how I would handle being away from home. During this time, I learned that it was very possible for me to spend time without my friends and family and be successful. It taught me that further international study abroad experiences are something that I really want to do. If someone were planning a trip to Cambodia, I would be sure to tell them to visit the Phnom Chisor temple. This was one of my favorite experiences of the trip. I enjoyed it so much because it was a place that was not crowded with people and had beautiful scenery. While I was there, I was able to have time to myself and enjoy everything that was around me.
Kevin Wiles (Assistant Trip Leader): When we travel outside of our usual domains, it allows us to experience cultures and their inhabitants on a personal level. The use of media to describe how the smells, textures, and sounds, which are a part of daily living in these locales, proves inadequate, once your own senses are used. Such is the impression I have of travel to Cambodia. I cannot begin to explain how walking on a path of hand-hewn stone transports me back more than a millennium. I am walking in the footsteps of holy men and monarchs alike, climbing stairs worn smooth by the passage of time, mankind, and the relentless elemental forces. When I take a picture of a woman riding by on a scooter, or a man sleeping in the shade of his tuk-tuk, I am reminded that I am a stranger here; however, the sense that I am invited as a part of a larger family does not escape me wherever I go. I was invited to share an hour-long ride in a tuk-tuk with a young woman who wanted Shoshana and me to meet her family. The hospitality was unparalleled—we were welcomed with food, water, and a place of honor to sit. We witnessed a family’s pride for their young granddaughter and the love of a mother overcoming the challenges posed for a child born with an extra 21st chromosome.
Visiting a family
The sights and sounds are trivial to the experience when compared to the human interactions. The benefit of traveling with a socially conscious mindset is that the person-to-person contacts are considered a vital component, and it moves the experience beyond the commercialized expectations of the average tourist. When we are able to see that our lives on a rudimentary scale are not so different from each other is when we can connect and truly see what is before us. When we are willing to take the step and move out of our boundaries is when we are actually traveling. I remember the saddest I felt on this trip was when I was coming back home—I was having lunch in Korea with a group of travelers who were returning from a river cruise down the Mekong. They were not talking about the places they had seen or they people they visited; instead, they were bemoaning the fact that there were no “American” items on the menu at the restaurant, and that not having a fork was “uncivilized.” I was sad indeed, but the upside was that I had plenty to eat that day!
If you are contemplating a trip, take the time to reflect on the reasons, then leap into the unknown. After all, what is there to lose? If you are lucky, maybe you will gain more than you spend. Pay attention to the little things, those things that are passed over because they are ordinary — the smile of a child whom you see riding on a scooter with the other four members of her family, the small crowd gathered around the new water filtration device in their village, or even the man sitting on the sidewalk repairing a tire with a homemade vulcanization kit. All of these are worth seeing, and most certainly not something you will encounter at home. What do you have to lose? You never know. You might even get a good lunch, compliments of those who are less willing to live a little!
Lizzy Schuster (Senior): One of the things I appreciated the most about going to Cambodia was experiencing a new culture among other Family and Human services majors from the UO. This was an important part of the trip because I was able to process the cultural differences with other people who were having similar experiences. Additionally, the other students helped expose me to their views about the NGOs and cultural sites we visited.
Over the next week, I will finish up my course work at the University of Oregon and graduate with an undergraduate degree. Going to Cambodia increased my interest in applying for Peace Corps post-graduation. During my time in Cambodia, I learned about the importance of exposing yourself to another culture, especially cultures that need assistance in supporting their population. In our visit to the University in Phnom Penh and meetings with Cambodian students, I was able to communicate with individuals my age and see how their experiences growing up were similar or different to my own. Additionally, I discovered my interest in having these conversations and learning about ideas that are different from my own, whether reflected in religion, culture, or everyday lives.
One of my favorite organizations we visited was called the Trailblazer Foundation. This organization works with the villages to provide clean water to individuals who would otherwise not be able to have access to clean drinking water. If anyone is planning a visit to Cambodia, this is an organization I would recommend to demonstrate a great non-profit and the support it gives to the people of Cambodia.
Trailblazer water filters
Anna Hicks (Junior): While in Cambodia, I was amazed by how friendly everyone was. Compared to other places I’ve traveled, the people in Cambodia were very genuine and kind. Every person I spoke to was very curious about my life in the United States. I really appreciated that because it made me happy knowing Cambodians wanted to learn about US culture as much as I wanted to learn about theirs. I learned that the material things in my life shouldn’t matter so much. The amazing people in Cambodia lived off almost nothing and still maintained happy, content lives. This was extremely eye-opening for me and will stick with me forever. Seeing how little some of the people in Cambodia had, I realized that you really don’t need a lot to be happy. I also realized that despite prior fears I had of traveling to a developing country, I now feel more confident about things that are outside my comfort zone. I was definitely nervous about the trip, but I’m so thankful that I participated because I think it was a perfect time in my life to do it. At some point, I want to go back to Cambodia. I also learned that even though Cambodia is a completely different place from the US, we all share the common desire to be happy and live the best lives we can.
I would definitely recommend that visitors to Cambodia experience the Killing Fields. I think that was one of the most powerful moments of the trip and something people should experience, because it is something very prominent in Cambodia to this day.