Posted: September 13, 2017
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First Impressions of Cambodia: Siem Reap, Lively and Honest


As the Fall 2017 SFS students begin to settle into their new homes around the world, we asked them to share their impressions of the experience so far. Anna Chahuneau had this to say about SFS Cambodia:

Why did you choose to study abroad with SFS?
I decided to study abroad with the School for Field Studies because I have come to understand that significant environmental change comes from field knowledge and thoughtful actions. I cannot undermine the importance of standard classroom knowledge, but at the same time I believe that physical application of learnt principles and field observations are an additional key component of a well-rounded understanding of the planet and its current functioning. So far, I have not been disappointed; the experience has already far exceeded all my best expectations.

What are your first impressions of the country?
For now, I can only speak of my first impressions in regards to Siem Reap, the city we are currently staying in. At first gaze, Siem Reap is chaotic, exciting and loud, but Siem Reap also seems to be a town you grow to love, somewhere unique and memorable; somewhere where time is somewhat stretched out and seven at night feels like midnight. Anecdotally, my favorite part of the semester so far has been driving around the town and the countryside observing snapshots of people’s lives unfolding. As opposed to many western countries, here people live their lives out in the open. There are monkeys, monks, and children running barefoot, ownerless dogs, people washing clothes and peddlers out on the street. Everything feels exciting, new and interesting and what better way to go about the world than that of marveling at everything you encounter?

What are your first impressions of the field station?
Here at the center, we truly are spoiled. The complex is much larger than I expected and its setting is beautiful and quiet, with its lush gardens and exotic plants. There is a swimming pool, which we really have been taking advantage of and the staff are delightful and friendly. I am also a big enthusiast of the emphasis on the community life style we have here; there are only seven of us students and a few staff and faculty members here at the center, which makes every activity or task feel like a bonding moment.

What do you think the biggest challenge will be for you this semester both academically and culturally?
Predicting challenges has always been something hard for me to do. It is often upon post-reflection that I am able to draw lessons and understand my fears; but, if I really had to distinguish an upcoming challenge, I would choose that of true, in depth cultural understanding which I really hope I will be achieving. Indeed, I have noticed I am going about this experience with a grain of apprehension, fed by the past of this country and the obvious sensitivity of some subjects. However I don’t intend for these feelings to hold me back. On another hand, being in my senior year brings another set of additional academic stressors since I will have to begin applying for jobs and graduate schools while I am here in Siem Reap, busy with a million other Cambodian opportunities.

What are you looking forward to the most about the semester?
I am looking forward to understanding how to go about making real changes to the ways we view, treat and understand the natural world. I am also looking forward to the many field trips we have upcoming; it’s quite amazing to think of all the things we will be seeing, tasting, understanding, visiting, smelling, touching and learning this semester.

Give three words that best describe how you are feeling right now.
I am contemplative, determined and grateful.

→ Conservation and Development Studies in Cambodia

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