Falling for Cambodia

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By Sasha Zuflacht

“Today’s children, tomorrow’s world.” This is the slogan of the school I work for in Siem Reap, Cambodia. I have spent the past six weeks teaching English to dedicated, enthusiastic and sincere students.

In conjunction with the ideals of the Minerva Fellowship, this new term abroad is one with a social mission. I am here to intern, along with four other students, with a non-governmental organization in Cambodia.

I work at The Global Child, a school for former street-working children. These children are some of the most endearing people I have ever met.

Although volunteers come and go, they have welcomed me with open arms. They are playful and silly, but they are also mature and serious. On the surface, these students are like any other kids their age.

The unfortunate truth is that these kids all come from a disadvantaged place. The Global Child provides them with the opportunity to learn and grow and to reach their full potential. For these students, a successful future is the goal.

The most beautiful part about Cambodia is the simplicity. At the same time, I was not prepared for a world with so many Western and modern commodities.

Each week we are taken on an excursion. We have had overnights in the countryside at a homestay, visited Angkor Wat, seen Floating Villages and swam next to locals in the waterfall.

We have traveled to the capital city, Phnom Pehn, and seen the destruction of the Khmer Rouge by visiting the Killing Field and prisons.

We have had the great opportunity to get a first hand experience of the different ways of life in Cambodia. As in any country, some people are wealthy, while others are struggling below the poverty line.

Many tourists dress in provocative and revealing clothing, a definite no-no in Cambodia. Amidst 100-degree weather and humidity, I have to keep my knees and shoulders covered at all times. I come into school everyday confronted with the same question- “Sasha, why are you so red? Why do you sweat so much?” In this weather, Cambodian people remain fully covered with sweaters and long pants to protect them from the sun.

So here I am in Cambodia, spending my junior spring term abroad and experiencing my first time overseas. I see pictures of Springfest and foam parties hit Facebook and I get a little nostalgic.

It is not easy being so far away from home, but the people and the experience in Siem Reap are irreplaceable.

I would not trade in the smiling faces, the tickle wars,  not even the strenuous bike rides, for anything.

I have fallen in love with Cambodia. All five of us on the term abroad have been so moved by this country.

We are in awe everyday by how easily we have become accustomed to the culture and how much more independent we have become.

This has been an incredible experience, and I am sad thinking that in four short weeks the term is going to be over.

These few paragraphs do not even justify the experiences I have had. They also don’t begin to tell you about the million mosquito bites I get every day, the constant feeling of disgust when I am covered in sweat every time I go outside, and the total exhaustion I feel every night.

I will miss the ease of waking up and leaving for school without worrying about what I look like. Sometimes the girls think I am so beautiful, and other days they call me fat and poke my stomach. In the Cambodian world, I am a triple XL—no joke. This doesn’t affect me very much, as they are all so skinny and small here because of malnutrition. I am proud and lucky to have meat on my bones.

A very special shout out to Carolyn Canetti for helping us all during our first month in Cambodia.

Our experiences here have been greatly shaped by your generosity and warmth. I hope the Minerva Fellowship and term abroad in Cambodia only continues to grow and become even more successful than they are now.

Thank you Union for the unique opportunity to have a different type of education.

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