The experience lingers long after the program ends and helps to shape thinking about important life choices well into the future.

Four years ago, I decided to participate in the SFS program in Cambodia, wanting very much to experience life and learning in a culture significantly different from the U.S. I had spent seven years living in Costa Rica between first and eighth grade and it was the most formative experience in my life. My time in Costa Rica only whetted my appetite to explore another culture, not only for the academic experience of studying an environment in a region of the world of significant importance, but to better understand the nature of human relationships and try to get a feel for the similarities and differences across cultures.

What I didn’t expect, however, was how the experience shaped not only my thinking, but helped clarify my values and, as I learned, those of others in my group.

Photo provided by Mackenzie Cramer.

I focused on the impact of climate change on Tonle Sap, the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia. The forces of climate change, overfishing, and poor natural resource management practices continue to have a devastating impact on hundreds of thousands of Cambodians who directly or indirectly rely on Tonle Sap and, more broadly, the Mekong river, for their life and livelihoods. Even though the crisis is worsening, there are few resources to help those displaced by the loss of their livelihood to transition into a life that frequently means relocating to an unfamiliar urban area, and often without the job and life skills necessary to be successful.

In many respects, the struggles of Cambodians tied to Tonle Sap reminded me of the challenges faced by those in the U.S. who have been displaced by the forces of globalization, climate change, and structural conditions that leave many people behind. It sharpened my focus and steeled my resolve to work with individuals, families, and communities left behind, neglected, or forgotten by situations over which they have no control and, oftentimes, in which they have no a voice.


Photo provided by Mackenzie Cramer.

After returning from the SFS experience in Cambodia, I completed a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) and Master of Social Work (MSW) and became a Licensed Social Worker. What I learned and experienced in Cambodia was instrumental in choosing my career path, and many of my SFS friends and classmates who went on to join the Peace Corps or NGOs focused on environmental stewardship, conservation, and environmental justice. The program was a good fit for me and others who were non-science majors. I call it the ‘SFS Effect.’ The experience lingers long after the program ends, and helps to shape thinking about important life choices well into the future.

Students who are seeking an experience that can enhance, sharpen, or even transform their thinking and perspective would do well to consider the SFS program in Cambodia. Then they, too, can experience firsthand the SFS Effect.

Photo provided by Mackenzie Cramer.