Posted: May 10, 2017

At the beginning of the spring semester, we asked student Sandra Plato about her first impressions of Cambodia. Now, as the semester comes to a close, she shared her thoughts with us again.

What did you like most about the SFS experience?
Being able to work with communities and focus on case studies that had direct impacts was a learning experience that I was very grateful for. I also very much enjoyed traveling around Cambodia and Vietnam, visiting many new locations along the way. Having the opportunity to conduct research in the field for two weeks was a unique, rewarding experience that I hope I can build on professionally in the future.

You’ve been in the country for a full semester – tell us your impressions of it now.
Seeing how widespread the environmental degradation is in this country has definitely been stressful for me. It’s easy to notice the absence of forests, as agriculture has come to dominate the landscape, and trash/waste management is a very visible issue that many areas of the country deal with. I have loved trying my hand at speaking Khmer in local markets or at restaurants, and adjusting to Cambodian customs has become more normal for me. Getting to know Siem Reap better, and navigating confidently through town has been a welcome change from the first week of the program. I have enjoyed spending so much time with my professors here, as it makes you feel more connected to the classes and material.

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?
The station is a great home base. Coming back here and taking a shower after being in the field for a week has to be the most glorious thing. However, I liked being a vagabond during the weeks we traveled; switching cities, hotels, and roommates. It’s fun to be in a constant state of change.


Photo courtesy of Dr. Tri Van

What ended up being your biggest challenge this semester both academically and culturally?
I think balancing the fact that I was in a new country and trying to study as much as I usually would at home is hard. At SFS there is so much to learn and explore, and there is little free time. It is great being busy with such interesting topics; however, it’s hard to study as one would at home without the risk of missing out on all the experiences Cambodia has to offer.

Culturally, the biggest challenge for me was adjusting to a diet where the staple of most meals is rice.

What is the best memory you have from the semester? Give some highlights.
I absolutely loved Kampot and the mangroves. I enjoyed all of the places we were able to travel to; however, Kampot has to be my favorite. It was such a great town with great food. The homestay we stayed at in the mangroves nearby had to be my favorite homestay. I loved living in a bungalow right on the water, waking up for a morning swim outside my front door, and later planting mangroves. Also, nearby is Rabbit Island, which is paradise. It was a great experience being in Kampot and experiencing all that it had to offer.

Give three adjectives that best describe how you are feeling right now.
Grateful, broad-minded, determined


Photo courtesy of Tori Shaw


Photo courtesy of Sulaiman Ismail


Photo courtesy of Sandra Plato


Photo courtesy of Megan English

→ Conservation, Ethics, and Environmental Change in Cambodia