At the beginning of the spring semester, we asked student Jen Maiorana about her first impressions of Cambodia. Now, after a semester in country, we reconnected with Jen.
What did you like most about the SFS experience?
Interviewing diverse stakeholders across Cambodia – including eco-tourism project managers, homestay community members, rural farmers, indigenous peoples, a WWF representative, a waste management company manager, and a monk – was by far my highlight. Through these rich interviews, I was able to gain a much more holistic view of Cambodian culture that I would not have been able to discover on my own.
You’ve been in the country for a full semester – tell us your impressions of it now.
As cliché as it sounds, I fell in love with Cambodia the moment I arrived. As the semester continued, we were able to explore different provinces, landscapes, and ways of life that made me appreciate the richness of culture across a single country. I feel moved by everything I have learned here and grateful that I had the opportunity to connect with nature and people so intimately.
What is life at the Center really like? What are the best and the most challenging parts?
Life at the Center is essentially collegiate summer camp. During the semester, our days were full of classes, field trips, and delicious meals. I enjoyed getting to know the other eleven students in my cohort and have learned a great deal from each person. The most challenging aspect has been limited time to fully explore Siem Reap independently and make time for self-care.
What ended up being your biggest challenge this semester both academically and culturally?
Academically, directed research has been the most challenging part of the semester, but in the best way. My project is about citizen responsibility within solid waste management policy, which involves lengthy legal analysis combined with over twenty interviews across different stakeholders. I learned the importance of being disciplined and adaptable when tackling such a large project. Luckily, I had an amazing partner to balance the workload and talk through our challenges!
Culturally, I found it difficult to hear about how severe the effects of climate change are on many local people dependent on natural resources for their livelihoods. In America, we don’t necessarily see the impacts of environmentally destructive actions, but the consequences are very apparent in changing flood seasons affecting fish populations and rice crops throughout Cambodia.
What is the best memory you have from the semester? Give some highlights.
I vividly remember the first stop on our North Trip to BeTreed Adventures, an eco-tourism project in Preah Vihear province. Our lodging was nested in the forest, surrounded by gorgeous trees and nature. It was a full moon our first night there and I remember being fascinated by the stories our professor told us about neak ta prei (forest spirits). I felt particularly synergistic with nature’s energy, especially after going on a long hike and practicing yoga surrounded by trees.
Give three adjectives that best describe how you are feeling right now.
Grounded, saturated, energetic