Final Impressions of SFS Cambodia

Posted: May 7, 2015

Read Kayla’s First Impressions

What did you like most about the SFS experience?
This semester has been packed with excitement, which makes it difficult to choose just one aspect or instance! Perhaps what I most enjoyed was how well-rounded the program has been. We spent the first month getting to know the Siem Reap area, from the forest to the lake. Then we spent March traveling through Cambodia and into Vietnam, which was a whirlwind of academic, cultural, environmental, and culinary experiences. Since the trip, we’ve finished our coursework, spent several days in the field for Directed Research, written our final reports, and given presentations. On top of all of that, we’ve seen the Cambodian circus, volunteered a second time at the HUSK community school, and enjoyed a couple of free weekends in Siem Reap. Overall, this semester has been an exceptional blend of fascinating field trips, awesome cultural activities, and beautiful sights.

You’ve been in the country for a full semester – tell us your impressions of it now.
My first impressions of Cambodia have held true to the end—this country is a truly lovely, inspiring place filled with warmth and opportunity. With SFS, I’ve been able to spend lots of time in various villages, interviewing locals and gaining some perspective into Cambodian life from the inside. Moreover, experiencing the differences and similarities between Cambodia and Vietnam was a truly valuable experience. Vietnam is striking in many ways, and, similar to the Khmer of Cambodia, the Vietnamese have come very far since times of strife. Both countries have left me wonder-struck.

What is life at the field station really like? What are the best and the most challenging parts of living at a remote field station?
I have loved every moment of time spent at our “field station,” which, being in Siem Reap proper, is unique in that it is far from remote. We’re located just minutes from the center of town in one direction, and the Angkor World Heritage Site in another direction. I suppose we’re lucky in that way! I have particularly enjoyed being able to spend time in town with both locals and ex-pats. Our Center has been nothing but comfortable and conducive to both academics and group bonding all semester—few challenges here!

What ended up being your biggest challenge this semester both academically and culturally?
Academically, balancing all of the interdisciplinary coursework has been challenging. The courses here are unique in that the topics of each often overlap with topics of the other courses, and some of our field trips have even focused on more than one course. However, in the end, the interdisciplinary aspect has perhaps contributed the most to my understanding of Cambodia and southern Vietnam. Also, it proved to be quite the cultural challenge to integrate into Vietnam for only 10 days after having grown so comfortable in Cambodia.

What is the best memory you have from the semester? Give some highlights.
1. Our homestay experience in a floating village on the Tonle Sap Lake was almost surreal. We were all able to interview our host families about their livelihoods, and many of us enjoyed playing games or sharing stories afterwards.
2. Connecting with the children who attend the HUSK community school has been incredibly fun, and the students’ intelligence and eagerness to learn about the environment will always make me smile.
3. The excitement and celebration surrounding Khmer New Year was a very special cultural experience. Some Cambodians celebrate for up to a full month in April, and while that wasn’t realistic for us, we were able to learn some games from our Center’s staff, and we all attended celebrations at Angkor Wat one evening.

Give three adjectives that best describes how you are feeling right now.
Grateful, motivated, and head-over-heels-in-love-with-Cambodia