Posted: May 4, 2018
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Final Impressions of Cambodia


At the beginning of the spring semester, we asked student Sienna Rahe 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?
If I was ever bored more than a minute this semester, then I knew I had to be missing something. If nothing else, the SFS experience this semester swept me up in a constant whirlwind of work, laughter, and adventure. I loved feeling like I made full use of every day here and that I got to spend most of every day in the company of newfound friends. Whether we were planting mangroves, celebrating Khmer new year, making pizzas together, or even writing essays, I felt like I was always surrounded by fun and friendly faces. I could not have asked for a better semester, nor a better group to enjoy it with. SFS experiences are exhausting, both socially and academically, and that is why I loved it so much.

You’ve been in the country for a full semester – tell us your impressions of it now.
Cambodia is beautiful. Every day I spend here, I fall in love with it a little bit more. Take today, for example. This morning, I was walking back to the center after spending the morning at a funky coffee shop known as Biolab when I saw a toddler lay the hammer down on the horn of a moto he was riding with his mother. The reaction by his mother and the other motos on the road was priceless. Small moments of chaotic harmony here like children slamming on moto horns and disrupting traffic remind me to live in the moment and cherish the unknowns. Cambodia walks to the beat of its own drum and I never know what it’s going to show me next. From waking up mere feet away from crocodiles kept in cages next to our homestay on the Tonle Sap Lake to falling asleep listening to bad karaoke blasting through the treetops of a rural village, I know that Cambodians must never be bored. This is a wonderful country with wonderful people, and I truly wish I had more time here to immerse myself in its beautiful chaos even more.

What is life at the Center really like? What are the best and the most challenging parts?
The Center here has a little piece of my heart. While all the places I’ve lived seem to have a remarkable amount of character, I think this Center might have the most character of any place I’ve lived yet. My housemates include geckos, hilarious TAs, massive huntsman spiders, toads, an occasional snake, and of course, my fellow students. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love the Center because it brings all of us together – whether we are taking final exams, watching Harry Potter flicks in the TV lounge, kicking back by the pool, or playing competitive games of Bananagrams, we do it here at the Center.

I think life at the Center would be more challenging if it were more remote. I am a person who likes to move and change my scenery frequently, so I love that we have the opportunity to frequently leave the Center and head to downtown Siem Reap to work or relax.

What ended up being your biggest challenge this semester both academically and culturally?
This semester has definitely challenged my intellectual capacities and expanded my comfort zone tenfold. Assignments came at me this semester nonstop, making sure I never had more than a minute to twiddle my thumbs or twirl my hair. Even though I enjoy constant activity and education, there were moments when I felt overwhelmed or unmotivated because the amount of work felt endless.

One of the hardest cultural adjustments I had to make was getting used to the amount of trash that finds its way to the city streets, lakes, rivers, ocean, and forests here. I don’t think I spent one full day here without seeing a rogue piece of plastic or styrofoam somewhere it didn’t belong. Not that the United States doesn’t have its fair share of plastic pollution, but Cambodia’s trash disposal problem is overwhelming. Even though I sometimes found it quite personally troubling, it also inspires me to try even harder to reduce my own plastic footprint.

What is the best memory you have from the semester? Give some highlights.
I’m not sure this is my absolute favorite memory, but it is the first one that comes to mind, so I’m gonna roll with it. On one of our first Sundays here, we collectively as a group decided to spend a day at Angkor Wat biking through the ancient temples. All the giggles, funny slip ups, and temple sights aside, my favorite moment from that fun-filled day was watching light from the setting sun trickle through treetops as we whizzed alongside an ancient moat. I remember only the sound of my breath and the robotic clicking of the pedals beneath my feet as I gazed incredulously at the sun-kissed treetops and ancient artifacts that laid around me. Cambodia can be quite a loud and chaotic place (check my previous answers if you don’t believe me), so this quiet moment biking silently through the trees struck me and stuck with me the whole semester. If you are a future student reading this, please spend one of your Sundays off biking through the temples of Angkor Wat – you won’t regret it.

Give three adjectives that best describe how you are feeling right now.
Hot (as always), nostalgic (for the memories made & moments cherished), and melancholic (about leaving)



→ Conservation and Development Studies in Cambodia

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