Posted: February 15, 2018
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First Impressions of Cambodia


As the Spring 2018 SFS students begin to settle into their new homes around the world, we asked them to share their impressions of the experience so far. Sienna Rahe had this to say about SFS Cambodia:

Why did you choose to study abroad with SFS?
There is something magical about the way experience transforms into education. There is also something intriguing to me about Southeast Asia and the conservation issues here. For those two reasons, SFS stuck out to me. School for Field Studies is also a nifty program because it bridges the gap between experiential learning, cultural immersion, and environmental science. To be honest another reason I chose SFS was because several good friends and fellow students at my college told me that their SFS experience was quote-on-quote “the best experience of my life”, which is a pretty hard claim to ignore.

What are your first impressions of the country?
My first impression of Cambodia is that it is a beautiful and vibrant country rich with culture. The red dirt here swirls around my feet and the blue sky expands infinitely above me. This is a place where roosters crow and songbirds chirp in delightful choruses. Green plants of all shapes and sizes sprawl across the dusty vistas, a constant reminder that we are well and truly in the tropics. The atmosphere here feels simultaneously serene and harsh. The people and the weather are calm and gentle, but by contrast the coloration of the landscape and the myriad noises that make up everyday life here are loud. I have only been here one week and I can already tell I’ve begun to form an attachment to this place and the people who live in it.

What are your first impressions of the field station?
Based on my first week here, it seems to me that the center here in Siem Reap goes the whole nine yards in providing us with the best resources and facilities needed to excel in the classroom. It is not unusual for us to splash in the pool in between classes to cool off or to toss a volleyball around during the lunch break. Speaking of food, the dishes here are unparalleled (sorry to my home dining hall). Our cook (Malee) works tirelessly to provide us with fresh fruits and vegetables, lovingly cooked into a fantastic array of local dishes. Her hard work is one of the reasons this center feels like such a home to me. The center has everything we need and more, and I’m really looking forward to spending the next three months here.

What do you think the biggest challenge will be for you this semester, both academically and culturally?
I think something I struggle with academically is knowing when I need self-care time. Here at the center, students are constantly together laughing, studying, chatting, swimming, painting toenails (you name it!) and I have a hard time saying no to participating in everything. Hopefully, I can strike a balance between my social activities and my personal “recharge” time. Culturally speaking, I think the language barrier will be the hardest obstacle to overcome. We take a short language class but I know that it will not be enough to communicate all that I want to say, which may be frustrating at times.

What are you looking forward to the most about the semester?
I can’t wait to see how my classmates and I grow in our understanding of conservation issues along the Mekong. I am looking forward to being able to form a coherent sentence in Khmer (the local language) and undertaking field work on an issue I am really passionate about. I’m also excited to try more of the local food and learn more about the intricacies of Cambodian culture.

Give three words that best describe how you are feeling right now.
Hot, Eager, Immersed.

I’m eager because I am excited for what the rest of the semester will hold for me and I cannot wait to take part in all the activities and field work that our classes involve. I chose the word hot because it’s literally hot outside and I am not used to having summer temperatures in February (which is a pretty good problem to have). The word immersed stuck out to me because I feel like here at the Center, academics follow you everywhere and it’s easy to find yourself engaged in class work outside of the classroom. We all live, eat, laugh and learn together which creates quite an interconnected learning environment.


→ Conservation and Development Studies in Cambodia

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