Posted: February 14, 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. Gil Haven had this to say about SFS Cambodia:

Why did you choose to study abroad with SFS?
Study abroad is supposed to be an opportunity to gain new experiences, in new places, while still going to school. The baseline study abroad experience is going to Europe, studying in some University there, and taking weekend trips all over the continent. To be fair that sounded like a lot of fun, especially during soccer season, but it wasn’t what I was looking for. I was looking for an experience where I wasn’t condemned to another four walled classroom even if it was halfway around the world. This is where SFS came in. The learning model of using real world experiences to supplement what is taught in the classroom is something that caught my eye, college has really taken a toll on me, so having the opportunity to do a program where I’m not walled in all the time was really appealing to me.

What are your first impressions of the country?
Cambodia is a beautiful country! I wake up every day to the sun rise and the birds singing and it makes me feel really good. Also the weather is great! Coming from the East Coast, where this winter has been pretty brutal, the warmth is much appreciated. I constantly find it insane that even after only a week here, I find 65°F cold. I know I’ll be eating those words in about a month when the dry season comes into full swing, but it’s been pretty nice so far. It is also obvious from a quick look around that Cambodia definitely is a developing nation. This is clear in many ways, but where this really differs from the United States is the litter. Yes we have litter in the US, and in many place it is a serious issue, but here it is more obvious. It was one of the first things I noticed when I got here and is something that still makes me cringe every time I see it. But in time it’ll either end up that I learn to gloss over it or that I go out and pick it up myself.

What are your first impressions of the field station?
The center is amazing! When I first got here it was about 11:30 at night and I had just finished my 40 plus hour, 6 city, 3 country trip so I went straight to bed. But in the morning when I woke up and saw where I would be living for my semester abroad I was floored. I think I heard that the Center was formerly a hotel, or maybe it just feels like that. I was told that it was a nice place, but I honestly I did not expect it to be anywhere near as nice as it really is. We have everything anyone could want here: a pool where you can cool down if it gets too hot, a beautiful garden to watch wildlife or just appreciate green space, interesting faculty and staff who all have real life experience working in conservation or environmental fields, a very lively city on our doorstep, wifi that is surprisingly fast, and best of all, a brilliant cook who makes some of the most amazing food I have ever had (like for real, shout out to Maly for being the real MVP of the program so far!). The Center is going to be a great home base for the next few months, but the real adventure lies outside of the big cast iron gate.

What do you think the biggest challenge will be for you this semester, both academically and culturally?
This semester the biggest academic challenge for me will be maintaining my focus. The main reason I came here was to study and to learn, but I have already found it to be sometimes difficult to want to do my schoolwork when instead I could be out exploring the new place I find myself. Culturally, I think that I will find the language the most difficult part of the semester. Most of the people here speak English but I am more than just a tourist here so I would like to at least be able to hold a simple conversation. We have started learning the Khmer language in one of our classes, but right now I am struggling with the pronunciation in class and remembering anything outside of class.

What are you looking forward to the most about the semester?
This semester I am mostly looking forward to a change of scenery. Like I said above, college can be a difficult time, and I am really thankful for a little time away from the traditional college setting. Along the same lines I am really looking forward to getting out into the country on our trips and learning in lots of different places. I hope that this will help me to further my environmental education as well as just my knowledge of the world. Also I’m looking forward to learning with and from my peers in the program. They are from all over and have so much interesting knowledge from so many awesome experiences, that I can’t wait to learn about and add to my arsenal of “world saving” knowledge.

Give three words that best describe how you are feeling right now.
Exhausted but hype.

→ Conservation and Development Studies in Cambodia

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