By: Aileen Maldonado, PhD

Posted: December 7, 2015
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Faculty Post

Final Impressions of SFS Cambodia


→ Read Lan’s First Impressions of Cambodia

What did you like most about the SFS experience?
“What did you like most” is the most common and the hardest question that we often asked each other during RAP (reflection, announcement, and physical activity/game) time, especially about our field trips. Normally none of us can pick our favorites, because every single moment during the semester abroad with SFS was uniquely phenomenal. Each SFS field trip has taught us to think critically about not only the environmental problems in the cultural context of Cambodia, but also the people.

Soaking my feet on a rice paddy field, planting mangroves at the coastal line, and staying for a week on a floating village in the Prek Toal core area for Directed Research, have made me immerse myself into the Khmer culture and the warm welcome from hospitable and sedulous people who possess admirable resilience and courage. These experiences, of course, cannot be marvelous without three amazing professors, Dr. Chouly Ou, Dr. Lisa Arensen, and Dr. Georgie Lloyd, who are not only experts in the field but also incredibly knowledgeable about Khmer cultures and tradition.

My favorite faculty & staff (Missing Dave, our Director)

You’ve been in the country for a full semester – tell us your impressions of it now.
I love the peaceful atmosphere no matter where we visited in Cambodia. I am impressed by the Khmer people who are down to earth, hospitable, and kindhearted. The majestic metropolis of Angkor, the breathtaking sight of mangrove forests in Kampot, Phnom Kulen mountain with the carvings at Kbal Speal, Prek Toal core area, famous for the largest endangered waterbird colonies in Southeast Asia, and the Mekong River, inhabited freshwater dolphin Irrawaddy… these are just a few examples of the amazing places I’ve been able to explore this semester.

Pelicans in Prek Toal core area, Tonle Sap Biosphere Reserve

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 field station is a home that we can spend time in to regain our energy after every field trip. We have a balcony to study, sleep, stretch after class, and listen to all the sounds of the life at the outskirts of Siem Reap. All of the students often have movie nights, studying nights, and ice-cream/snack parties in the lounge, which is a great space for relaxing or having a break. The station is very close to downtown Siem Reap, so we often take a tuk-tuk to town to get a change of atmosphere.

What ended up being your biggest challenge this semester both academically and culturally?
Time management is vital in this program, because the intensive schedule requires students to push themselves. However, it is fortunate that SFS Cambodia has a group of supportive professors and staff who always try their best to help everyone.

What is the best memory you have from the semester? Give some highlights.
Hiking to Bokor mountain, a beautiful mountain with high biodiversity in Kampot province where massive economic plan threatens to eradicate everything, was a depressing but important experience. Visiting Cat Tien National Park in my home country of Vietnam to learn about the conservation management and the rights of indigenous communities living inside the park also gave me so much to think critically about. Being in Cambodia during two important national holidays, Pchum Ben and Water Festival, also allowed me to learn more about the culture of this beautiful country. Last but not least, our community engagement experiences in which we taught environmental lessons at the HUSK community school was one of the most meaningful SFS activities for me.

One of our two teams teaching the students to make jumping ropes from plastic bags

Give three adjectives that best describes how you are feeling right now.
Grateful, Empowered, and Dazzled.

Two rangers helping us to gather fish data for Directed Research in Prek Toal core area.

→ River Ecosystems & Environmental Ethics Semester Program in Cambodia

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