The most significant experience “at” Union: Cambodia

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By Ryan Semerad

It’s been just over three months since I returned from Cambodia. I am just barely beginning to appreciate how my time in that mysterious, tragic, and hopeful country has impacted me.

Around this time last year, I happened to read one of those e-mails that is sent to the entire campus body regarding some event or opportunity. This particular e-mail was about a term abroad with a heart. It talked about the opportunity to teach, learn a foreign language, and be a part of a new program. In less than five minutes I was sold. Of course, I told my parents I had spent a week hemming and hawing over the opportunity, but, in truth, I knew I desperately wanted to go to Cambodia immediately.

I knew nothing about the country, less about the people, and hadn’t the faintest idea what living there for a three months would be like, but it just felt like one of those fabled moments when Fate comes looking for you—and I ran with it. The next thing I knew, or so it seemed, I was on a plane to that beautiful land on the other side of the world. I was pretty tired when our plane landed in Siem Reap, but the one thing I remember distinctly was how dark the whole country looked at night: as if, when the sun went down the buildings as well as the people went to sleep.

Over the course of my time living in Siem Reap and traveling throughout Cambodia and Viet Nam, I made great friends, learned so much about the region and its people, and learned even more about who I am and where I stand in the world. I had the opportunity to teach the best students on the planet five days a week (I say that with complete conviction – I would take Cambodian students over any other). In addition to these wonderful benefits, I got to study eight-thousand some-odd miles from home—something, as a Schenectady native, I could only wonder about at Union.

It has come to my attention that the Cambodia term abroad program just recently got approved for this coming spring. This article will be printed the day before the deadline for the application. I understand the stress of a term abroad might appear to merit more thought and reflection before a person decides to apply; however, let me discourage this kind of thinking in this one case. Cambodia is a place that requires dramatic flexibility and an adventurous spirit.  Don’t second-guess yourself if you feel compelled to go.

If you want to be a teacher, you need to go to Cambodia. If you want to experience a completely different culture, you need to go to Cambodia. If you want to experience life outside of your comfort zone, you need to go to Cambodia.

This term abroad is, in my humble opinion, the most challenging, rewarding, and life-changing program Union offers. Other programs immerse you in a country that speaks another language – still others, offer you the chance to pursue your professional aspirations through research or work experiences. Cambodia offers you both with the added bonus of doing something beyond intellectualism and academia – you get to help in a country that desperately needs it.

If you feel at all compelled by what I’ve described, you need to go to Cambodia.

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