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Life Along the Mekong Semester, Fall 2012


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Courage. Anyone can have courage. I want to say that I, and the twelve other people who participated in Life Along the Mekong would have believed they had courage; but for them to say such a thing, would be an understatement. To drop everything you know and step foot into a country where you don’t even know the language—that’s bravery. That’s patience and loyalty to yourself. It’s giving yourself a break from a known reality and immersing yourself with another. It’s you being introduced to a whole other lifestyle and merging it with your own.

 

The people I met and encountered along the way taught me these things about myself. They taught me how to be confident in my decisions and that what I have to say really matters. My homestay family in Ban Xieng Mene, Laos really taught me that communication between different cultures can be fun. Before this trip, I was very nervous about the language aspect. I was scared that I wasn't going to comprehend what was being taught by our translator. The other students really taught me to open up and to be honest with not just them, but with myself as well. They pushed me outside of my comfort zone, mentally and physically and encouraged me at times when I felt unsure of myself. Embarking on this trip, I thought for sure I was going to find myself. Discover that identity I’d been searching for, for the last 19 years of my life—but in choosing to go on this journey, chance had it’s own way of telling me to wake up. To stop being so blind and oppositional to opportunity–to really lose myself in a far away land and to just take a leap of faith.

 

As I boarded my flight from Los Angeles to Kunming, China; I was confident and thought I knew a little bit of who I was, my likes and dislikes, and what part of rugged travel I could and could not handle; but I found that this trip helped me to be much more open to change, to greet the chaos of the unknowing with open arms and to always be present. I learned that trying to multitask isn't being present and to prove that, the students and I were given solo time to walk around and explore the towns we went to. But when the students and I met back up; I noticed I was too busy daydreaming–to busy thinking about the next step that I lost sight of paying attention to the details around me. Being present, is being able to take in what is happening in the moment. Who knew?

 

It’s trust, faith, and a little bit of hope that can change someone’s life forever. From the moment I stepped foot in Asia, I felt like it was my home, my place to be, and my time to shine. It's true, you can read Dragons’ brochures and talk to past students and instructors, or you can read books and novels that have to do with life in a third world country, but no one ever prepares you—no one ever prepared me—for the change in myself that I underwent during those three months abroad.

 

For those who are about to embark on this journey, you’re about to be your own witness to something so priceless. My advice—just let it all happen. Don't let this opportunity pass by because a once in a lifetime experience does not happen again. Don't worry about what is going on at home and what you will be missing, because by the end of this trip, nothing can compare to the experience you will have immersed yourself in. After experiencing this trip myself, I can honestly say that I'm speechless. I'd like to tell those who are reading this more about my experiences but I don't even know where to begin.

 

These trips offer, an opportunity to step away from the cookie cutter life, and an experience that is absolutely life altering. It's one of those things where you have to jump in without any hesitation, remembering to keep your eyes and mind wide open: Like in Cambodia, I stepped up on the stair case of our Cambodian translator’s home, standing high above everyone in my group with my back turned towards them, and fell. Trusting that they were going to catch me. For me, it was a scary feeling to put all my trust in people who I’d only known for two months, but then again, it's nice to know they safely caught me and I knew that I could trust them because they’d brought out a part of me that I didn't know I had and throughout those two months, they’d showed me friendship.  

 

On these trips, you find family. You find love in hidden places, and you find friendships that last—I don’t want to say forever, because I won’t live that long; but for as long as I live, my friendships will too. You also find a hidden language that enables communication between cultures and you find adventures that will always stay with you.

 

I have been home for about fifty-five days now, but who’s counting? I find that I’m home sick for my home in China, my family in Laos, and for my natal country, Cambodia. I miss the rawness of everything that each country had to offer. I have those moments when memory after memory enters my mind and what do I do? I look at the thousands of pictures my friends and I took, but sometimes that’s not enough.

 

I learned how to appreciate the little things I have and the conversations that I find myself having with a stranger or a local, because who knows, they might be a traveler themselves. I learned to take my time in making decisions about my life, because otherwise, I’ll miss much of life’s beauty.

 

At the beginning of my trip, I was a foreigner stepping onto foreign lands. Now, I can say; “I’m a traveler, I’m a Dragon, I’m stepping foot on this foreign land with confidence. I've learned how to become a local citizen in an unfamiliar place. I am not a tourist.” For me, the difference between a tourist and a traveler is that tourists often don’t really know where they’ve been and what they’ve really seen. They go with set expectations of things to see, often missing the greatest details that are offered to them. A traveler doesn’t necessarily have a set destination to go to. Why? Because they don’t know where they’re going—it’s getting there, that’s the fun part.  

 

I’ve made friends along the way. I immersed myself in different cultures and I made a fool of myself trying to communicate through charades. But you have to be willing to laugh at yourself. I’ve learned that the biggest thing in communication between cultures is smiling. There are times when words are unspoken and thoughts are unheard, but smiling can make all the difference—even when you’re frustrated and don’t feel like smiling. A friend once said, “You have to be willing to not say anything, or have what you say mean nothing,” I completely agree.

 

I will never forget November 24, 2012, at 11:30 am. My instructor Caleb Brooks and I were sitting in a little straw house, surrounded by my birth family; my birth mother and sister holding me tightly in their arms not wanting to let go. Though we did not speak the same language, we just smiled at each other. Smiled, cried, and laughed together. The amazing part is that I found I could read their emotions through their body language (and with the help of Caleb being my Khmer translator of course). At one point, Caleb stepped outside and I was left sitting alone with my birth family. They were speaking Khmer to me and all I could do was laugh. Laugh because I couldn't understand them but also laughing because I was so happy they were talking to me. Neither of us understood what the other was saying but we were all smiling.

 

Tears of happiness ran down my face as my birth mother held me close to her. We just smiled at each other. Smiled and let one another translate what it meant to them. Everything about that day was magical. I want to say thank you to the organization of Where There Be Dragons and to my instructors Sarah Galvin, Jesse Millet, and Caleb Brooks for making all this happen. Words cannot describe my happiness and gratitude---and thank you Mom and Dad for being so supportive and trusting that this is what I needed to do.

 
 
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Best Notes From The Field, Life Along the Mekong Semester, Fall 2012

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Courage and Hidden Friendships

Sampor Burke,Best Notes From The Field, Life Along the Mekong Semester, Fall 2012

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  Courage. Anyone can have courage. I want to say that I, and the twelve other people who participated in Life Along the Mekong would have believed they had courage; but for them to say such a thing, would be an understatement. To drop everything you know and step foot into a country where you don’t […]

Posted On

01/31/13

Author

Sampor Burke

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Life Along the Mekong Semester, Fall 2012

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Homeward bound!

Instructor Team,Life Along the Mekong Semester, Fall 2012

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This morning our 9 wonderful students boarded their plane heading first to Hong Kong and then back to LA. At Phnom Penh airport we held our final ceremony, sharing a few last words about how we felt about our group. With the echo of Allyson’s rendition of ‘leaving on a jet plane’, which she sang […]

Posted On

12/8/12

Author

Instructor Team

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Dear Mekong Watchers,

I'm writing from my familiar desk in Boulder, Colorado. But a few days ago I was in Cambodia, with the Mekong group. During a very short visit, I joined in a meal cooked by Lindsay and a birthday celebration in honor of Henry. I joined the group as they met with Youk Chaang, the impressive Director of the Document Center of Cambodia - an organization dedicated to "documenting, researching and sharing the abuses of the Khmer Rouge period." I participated in a lively discussion on justice, with consideration of universal rights and cultural imperialism. And on Saturday, December 1st, I joined the Mekong group for a heavy day of inspection and reflection as we visited sites of some of the 20th century's worst atrocities: the Tuol Sleng prison (a base of torture in Phnom Penh '75-'79,) and the Killing Fields, where Tuol Sleng prisoners were eventually slaughtered and buried in mass graves.

While the prison and Killing Fields challenged us to look recent history squarely in the eye, and to reflect on man's capacity for darkness, unhinged, we were reminded by Youk Chhang that the story of Cambodia is in its character and its future potential. And in the brilliant film we watched together, "A River Changes Course," (to be internationally debuted at Sundance this winter,) we were taught that Cambodia's development issues of the present are every bit as important as reconciling the pain and suffering of its recent past.

I was instantly impressed by the maturity, depth and thoughtfulness of this group. And having heard much about the character of the instructor team, I was impressed to see them in the field, connecting with their students and always - always -putting their students' learning first. I also found it incredibly humorous and adorable that the men on the trip had all grown mustaches, or at least tried.

Thank you friends and parents for sharing a lovely group of people with us.

Sincerely,

Chris Yager

Founder/Executive Director

Where There Be Dragons

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Life Along the Mekong Semester, Fall 2012

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December 1st, Phnom Penh

Chris Yager,Life Along the Mekong Semester, Fall 2012

Description

Dear Mekong Watchers, I’m writing from my familiar desk in Boulder, Colorado. But a few days ago I was in Cambodia, with the Mekong group. During a very short visit, I joined in a meal cooked by Lindsay and a birthday celebration in honor of Henry. I joined the group as they met with Youk […]

Posted On

12/5/12

Author

Chris Yager

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Where does food come from? I chose to ask this question as I sat in the shadow of the Himalaya in Shangri-La, many weeks ago. Now, in the Mekong basin in Cambodia with thousands of miles between then and now, I am still asking that same question in each place we have visited, and will continue to do so in the future. My perception of this question, however, has changed, and continues to evolve as I encounter places in this world that I know nothing about.
If I were to ask someone from my hometown to briefly explain where the food she eats comes from, I would likely be told the name of some store or restaurant it was purchased from. If I were to ask an employee at that store or restaurant, they might tell me the name of a farm, or town, but more likely a distant state or country. If I were to ask a person who lives on a farm, they would tell me that it came from a seed planted in the ground or in the womb of some female creature. Maybe a biologist would ramble on about photosynthesis and food webs. In my homestay in Ban Xieng Mene, however, I did not even need to ask. As I was devouring one of my mother’s delicious meals, Mei Pu-Mi pointed proudly to the basket of sticky rice on the table and announced, “Naa mei”--mother’s rice field. It is easy to draw superficial comparisons between the different places we have visited and the foods that are eaten there. What is more important, in my mind at least, is the connections that people have with what they eat and where that food comes from. When an entire village in the mountains of China spends their days collecting walnuts, it is easy to see that their food means more to them than simply a means to satiate their hunger. Food brings health, but at times sickness as well. Food is something to gather and to give, to share and to take. Sometimes food is something that we want but do not need, while at other times the reverse is true. For all the differences we find in the cuisine of the various places to which we have travelled, food remains, necessary and prominent, everywhere we go. It is in this way, then, that food brings all of us together.


I may come from a place where the words “sticky” and “rice” are never found in the same sentence, and where the phrase “yak butter” is only used to describe what someone is going to do in the bathroom after eating too much popcorn at the movie theater, yet when these foods first passed my lips I immediately gained a connection to Lao and Tibet, and their people, that was not a part of me before. When I watch the nai-nais of Hong Po working long hours in the fields, or my homestay family cutting rice under the heat of the Lao sun, or a Cambodian fisherman pulling in his nets on the Mekong, I recognize these peoples’ connection to their food, a connection much deeper than anything felt in our world of processed and imported goods. These are people that dedicate their lives to providing themselves with the most essential ingredients to a stable life. These people wake up long before dawn each morning so that they can work from sunup to sundown at gathering food for themselves and their families, and then go to sleep soon after dinner so that they can rise the next day to do it all again. A foreigner sees this and thinks, “What a terrible life”, but what is the satisfaction gained from surfing the Internet or wearing expensive clothing when compared to the pride that comes from serving a foreign visitor the fruits of your labor?


In Southeast Asia, food brings communities together. Everyone eats rice--in each country we have visited, the word or phrase for “eat rice” is synonymous with the word for “eat.” It is impossible to find such a universal counterpart in American cuisine--foods like bread are a huge part of our eating culture but are by no means eaten by every member of the population. Obtaining food is also not an exclusive and impersonal activity, as, for example, shopping at a supermarket in the U.S. is. Instead, vegetable vendors place their lettuce and cabbage on the ground in the marketplace right next to the piles of flopping fish and skinned chickens peddled by their neighbors. The monks of Lao would starve were it not for the generosity of the people of their communities, who think nothing of giving their hard-earned foods to the practicing religious figures of their community, and in fact take pride in doing so. The practice of community almsgiving creates strong communal ties rarely, if ever, found in America--people gather together around giving what they have worked for to others, without any expectation of receiving tangible repayment in return.


From my experience in Ban Xieng Mene, I learned that working for one’s own food brought out the best in people. My father lived with his daughter and her family in the rice field so that he could provide for the rest of his family that lived in the village. My mother, in turn, would head out to the fields every day with cool water and her rice cooker and take care of her young grandson while her husband, son-in-law, and daughter worked in the field. My mother only lived in the village so that she could take care of her other daughters, her son, and their children, and rose before 3:30 every morning to begin preparing breakfast for the family. Yet this obviously difficult life appeared to have no negative effect on this family’s happiness. While they may have appreciated a break from all of the long, arduous days, they were happy to persist. Every Sunday the entire family gathered at my father’s bamboo house by the rice field, which did not have electricity, and it was clear from the constant flow of people in and out of the house in the village that the family was extremely close--both with each other and with the community of the village.


While it may be romantic to say that a family with their own food and little money is happier than one with lots of money with which to buy what they want, my belief is that this statement is true. Money, and working for it, brings struggle, sadness,anger, greed, frustration, and material attachment. Food, and working for it, can bring some disappointment, as with any failure, but when done successfully brings nourishment, health, and satisfaction, and helps forge connections between people, their communities, and the land. Without money we would be forced to fend for ourselves, and eventually be forced to rely on others when we fail. Without food, we would most likely be dead.

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Life Along the Mekong Semester, Fall 2012

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Food for Thought

Thacher Hoch,Life Along the Mekong Semester, Fall 2012

Description

Where does food come from? I chose to ask this question as I sat in the shadow of the Himalaya in Shangri-La, many weeks ago. Now, in the Mekong basin in Cambodia with thousands of miles between then and now, I am still asking that same question in each place we have visited, and will […]

Posted On

12/4/12

Author

Thacher Hoch

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“Follow me! Please stay together so that we don't get separated.”


I hear these sentences repeated many times, from all directions, and in all different languages--Chinese, Korean, French, English, and many others I can't identify. It's not an uncommon phrase, but after spending so much time away from big tourist attractions, it sounds just as foreign as any unknown language.

In the early morning light the main temples of Angkor Wat rise up in front of me. There is a buzz of energy as people sporting cameras and fanny packs push forward so that they can get the best picture of the temple. Everyone is so excited. They pay no attention to the people around them, or what they're doing. They came to get their pictures, and that's what they're going to do.


I am experiencing many of the same feelings as the people around me. I have been waiting to come here ever since I signed up for this trip. I too have my camera in hand as I anxiously await the perfect picture. However, what I feel on the inside is something very different.

I am uncomfortable. Uncomfortable with being a tourist. Uncomfortable with knowing that today, I am not going to be the traveler that I have been striving to be for the past three months, but a tourist. Walking around the temple I have to squeeze through a pair of Chinese tourists congregating around a bas relief of a Khmer war, and then duck to avoid ruining the picture of a German couple. I find Allyson and we exchange a look of “Let's go find a quieter place away from the crowds”. We walk down the narrow steps and climb over worn rocks to the back of the temple where we find a small, empty courtyard with cairns that people have set up. The quiet is refreshing. I feel as though this is the way these temples were meant to be seen. The moss growing on the walls, the stones crumbling in the corner. It's peaceful. It's wonderful.

Before coming on this trip I would've been on the upper level with all the other tourists. I would be there because in my thought processes would have been “Where the people are is where the cool sights are”. However, I have learned to see the beauty in places where it isn't as obvious. Getting off the tourist path has benefits that I wouldn't have understood if I hadn't had many of the experiences I have had on this trip.

From now on when I hear a tour guide tell his or her group to stick together, I know that I am somewhere where I will see something cool, but it's the areas where this refrain can't be heard that I will hear something amazing. Dragon's trips are these quiet places. I have been shown the quiet beauty of this region and my expectations have been exceeded.

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Life Along the Mekong Semester, Fall 2012

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Traveler vs. Tourist

Lindsey Kelley,Life Along the Mekong Semester, Fall 2012

Description

“Follow me! Please stay together so that we don’t get separated.” I hear these sentences repeated many times, from all directions, and in all different languages–Chinese, Korean, French, English, and many others I can’t identify. It’s not an uncommon phrase, but after spending so much time away from big tourist attractions, it sounds just as […]

Posted On

12/1/12

Author

Lindsey Kelley

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    [post_content] => Having been in the city of Phnom Penh for only a day, it is hard to get a full grasp of what makes this city stand out. However, it takes no time at all to notice that that this place gives an aura of energy with an unmistakable Khmer touch. Loud music and the voices of even louder people echo among the buildings. Walking down the street, you will be greeted by countless smiling people, but watch your step as you may be hit by one of the thousands of motorcycles that ignore every traffic law and will even take to driving on the sidewalk. PhnomPenh is definitely a one of a kind city and a great place for those who arn't afraid of a little chaos. 
    [post_title] => Scavenger Hunt Team Yak L.O.H.
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Life Along the Mekong Semester, Fall 2012

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Scavenger Hunt Team Yak L.O.H.

Henry Copeland,Life Along the Mekong Semester, Fall 2012

Description

Having been in the city of Phnom Penh for only a day, it is hard to get a full grasp of what makes this city stand out. However, it takes no time at all to notice that that this place gives an aura of energy with an unmistakable Khmer touch. Loud music and the voices […]

Posted On

11/29/12

Author

Henry Copeland

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    [post_date] => 2012-11-28 00:00:00
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    [post_content] => On the afternoon of November 29th, 2012, Cody, Sola and Allyson set off for an epic adventure through the bustling metropolis of Phnom Penh. First we ate lunch alongside our fellow friends Thacher, Sam and Ben at a little roadside street food restaurant. Then, we went to the Orrussey Market. It smelled pretty bad. There were dried fish, squid, and shrimp paste booths every where, along with endless racks of earrings, bed sheets, watches, clothing, shoes, cutlery, tupperware, hats, and bags. In order to fulfill our assignment to buy something interesting for one dollar, we made a collaborative decision to purchase a ring with a sparkly green moustache on it. It commemorates the moustaches our amazing boys have grown throughout the prickly, bushy, and often times sweaty month of Mo-vember. Good work, boys, you've done us proud. They plan on shaving tomorrow at midnight, although some group members have grown particularly fond of their moustaches and might suffer from some separation anxiety in the near future. After the market we bought a green orange, and in a few minutes we plan on taking a tuk-tuk ride to Wat Phnom. Wish us luck. Happy December!
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Life Along the Mekong Semester, Fall 2012

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Co-dog, SoFa, and Quigleypuff take PP

Sola Farquhar,Life Along the Mekong Semester, Fall 2012

Description

On the afternoon of November 29th, 2012, Cody, Sola and Allyson set off for an epic adventure through the bustling metropolis of Phnom Penh. First we ate lunch alongside our fellow friends Thacher, Sam and Ben at a little roadside street food restaurant. Then, we went to the Orrussey Market. It smelled pretty bad. There […]

Posted On

11/28/12

Author

Sola Farquhar

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    [post_date] => 2012-11-27 00:00:00
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    [post_content] => 

Once again the music coming from the Temple across the river woke me up. I looked at my watch: 4:54am. Oh man, another early morning. I lay awake listening to the foreign music blasting from the speakers as a depressing thought hit me like a tidal wave--today is Saturday...we're leaving our home-stay today. This last week with my home-stay family had been one of the best times of the entire trip. I felt that I had truly become a part of my family. All of our wonderful interactions began playing in my mind and I slowly drifted back to sleep, becoming numb to the pitchy singing making its way in through my open window.

I woke with a start to knocking on my door. “Ally!” I heard my sister say. Shoot, what time is it? Oh, only 6:20am. Why do I need to get up? “Yes, I'll be right there,” I answered. I was awake in an instant and making my way to the door. I was not mentally prepared for the sight that met me outside my door. My three brothers were in their school uniforms, ready to head to class. They had been sitting on the stairs, but when I entered the room, they all hastily got to their feet. I could see tears beginning to pool in one of the boys' eyes. I could tell it was time to say good-bye. No. No, I didn't want to say good-bye, not yet, none of us did. I stepped forward, embracing them all in a big group hug. I attempted to conceal my face in my brother's shoulder, trying to hide my tears that had begun to flow. As we held each other, my mother watched from a few feet away, silent tears streaming down her face. I'm not sure how long we were wrapped in each others' arms, but it was much too short. We all reluctantly released each other and stared into our matching tear-stained faces. My youngest brother broke the silence when he slowly entered the room, wiping tears with the back of his hand. I held open my arms and he walked right into them as if he'd done it a million times before. I held him close to my chest, feeling his sobs against my collar bone. “Baby, don't cry,” I said trying to soothe him and myself. I wiped the tears from his swollen eyes. One by one, I hugged each of my brothers once more, trying to imprint the feeling of their embraces into my brain. They slowly walked out to their bikes, waved the last good-bye and they were gone. Gone.

It was quite a struggle to keep myself from crying as I slowly took a bucket shower and ate my breakfast. I was finishing my packing when my mother came in with a packed lunch for my long bus ride. As I accepted it from her, my voice cracked. She was feeling the same pain as I was. She began helping me pack. While she was grabbing my hair brush and folded clothes from my bed, she said through waves of tears,“I help you; so you come back. I will miss you until you come back” My mom and I both cried silently as we finished my packing.

I put on my backpack and headed out of the house for the last time. As I came outside, a swarm of my neighbors met me. About ten little kids and their parents had come to say good-bye. I gave each of them hugs and high-fives, once again trying to hold back the tears. As I walked away, I could hear the stifled sobs. My sister walked silently by my side, carrying my lunch. I gazed at her and realized she too was crying. I put my arm around her shoulder and me walked side-by-side for the remaining distance. Through her broken breathing, she managed to tell me “I sad because you leave, I happy when you come back.”

Once we arrived at Mara's, it was just about time to load into the tuktuks. My mother embraced me for as long as she could until it was time to leave. As I turned to go, she said “You are my daughter. I will miss you.” In my teary haze, I stepped into the tuktuk waved good-bye and they were gone. Gone.

I know sometime in the future I will see them again, but I have no way of knowing when or how that's going to happen. In just a short week I fell in love with the people in my family. We had such simple, yet meaningful interactions, with only a few words spoken. My sister even said to me “My family is your family.” They opened up their home and their hearts to a stranger. I can truly tell you I love my Cambodian family.

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Life Along the Mekong Semester, Fall 2012, Homestay

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One of The Hardest Goodbyes

Allyson Quigley,Life Along the Mekong Semester, Fall 2012, Homestay

Description

Once again the music coming from the Temple across the river woke me up. I looked at my watch: 4:54am. Oh man, another early morning. I lay awake listening to the foreign music blasting from the speakers as a depressing thought hit me like a tidal wave–today is Saturday…we’re leaving our home-stay today. This last […]

Posted On

11/27/12

Author

Allyson Quigley

WP_Post Object
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    [ID] => 39398
    [post_author] => 39
    [post_date] => 2012-11-27 00:00:00
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    [post_content] => 

First off, I would like to formally apologize on behalf of the entire group for not yakking. We have been quite busy for the last week or so. We were in a wonderful home-stay in Prek Pdao for eight days after a three day boat ride on the Mekong River. The boat was quite amazing. We all had the chance to cook for each other, and I've gotta say, we have some pretty dang good chefs in this group. During our boat ride, we saw some floating houses, did some swimming(and some belly-flopping) and of course some language and development classes. We were also joined by Mara Poh, our incredible in-country instructor.

When we arrived in Prek Pdao (Mara's hometown) we were immediately paired with our families. At first, it's always difficult to be placed in a home where you don't speak the language and it's hard to even ask where the bathroom is, but after a while, we all began to feel comfortable and accepted in the community. During our week in home-stay, we met everyday for language lessons and other activities. We were also encouraged to spend time with our families (after we had our daily iced coffee, of course). Many of us had some exceptional experiences and it was not easy to part with the families on Saturday morning.

From our home-away-from-home we headed to Siem Reap. We stayed at a Jesuit Center which had beautiful grounds and a very caring staff. We spent three days riding bikes around the city and even went to Angkor Wat at 4:15 am for the sunrise (that was very difficult for some of us). We spent the day touring all of the temples, which were absolutely amazing. Everyone was in awe of the ruins. While we were in Siem Reap, we also visited the night market, the landmine museum, and half of the group went to the Tonle Sap while the remaining people went to the reservoir for some swimming. We had an excellent time in the city of Siem Reap. We all loved the energy and overall feel of it, but we all agreed it would have been a bit better if there hadn't been so many tourists.

We are now on our way to Phnom Pehn for a three day pit-stop before heading to the coast. At this point in the trip, the end of the course is very near and it is starting to sink in how little time we have left with each other. We are trying to savor the last week or so, but we're all worried about the time flying by so fast. There is a major change ahead for all of us when we leave Phnom Penh, so were trying hard to stay present and enjoy the moment.

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Life Along the Mekong Semester, Fall 2012

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Catching You Up….

Allyson Quigley,Life Along the Mekong Semester, Fall 2012

Description

First off, I would like to formally apologize on behalf of the entire group for not yakking. We have been quite busy for the last week or so. We were in a wonderful home-stay in Prek Pdao for eight days after a three day boat ride on the Mekong River. The boat was quite amazing. […]

Posted On

11/27/12

Author

Allyson Quigley

WP_Post Object
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    [ID] => 39404
    [post_author] => 39
    [post_date] => 2012-11-27 00:00:00
    [post_date_gmt] => 1970-01-01 00:00:00
    [post_content] => 

As our students head into the last few weeks of course we are making sure we make the most of every minute, whilst giving ourselves space and time to reflect…

Arriving from the quiet and peaceful village of Prek Pdao, where we did our Cambodian week long homestay, Siem Reap was a shock. The Angkor Temples make the city the largest tourist hub in Cambodia, and the bright lights and big hotels were not what we were used to. Luckily our contacts have led us to a quiet multi-faith centre on the outskirts of town which allowed us to maintain a reflective space around our daily plans.

Siem Reap marked the third and final part of our student led – Oliver took the helm as student leader and his motivational words encouraged everyone to work hard in their various student roles (e.g. food and water, transport, communications). On the first day we visited the landmine museum to learn about Cambodia’s tragic history and on-going problems with land mines and UXO’s. This allowed us to compare what we had seen and learned about the secret war in Laos with the situation in Cambodia. Cambodia has around 40,000 amputees caused by landmines and UXO, which is thought to be one of the highest rates in the world, so the students felt it important to see how the difficulties of removing mines is being handled.

The second day was one a lot of the students have been excited about since the start of the course – our final UNESCO world heritage site - the Angkor Temple complex. Rising early to catch the sunrise we were on a bike and away by 4:30 am – the grandeur of the morning glow gradually lighting up Angkor Wat is a sight from which it is difficult to tire. After some breakfast we were on to the many smiling faces of the Bayon temples, and some lesser known ruins away from the crowds. In the afternoon we saw how nature can reclaim what is man-made at Ta Prom, where mighty Banyan trees have broken through the ruins to tower into the blue sky. Remaining at the temples and closing the day with sunset the group was weary, but in great spirits, as we headed toward our beds.

The final morning is Siem Reap we took it a little slower, taking time to talk with Sister Denise and inspirational Jesuit Nun who has lived in Cambodia for 22 years and is responsible for the multi-faith centre. The centre support land mines victims and also refugees – we heard stories that link the country we visited around Uighur minority people escaping from China and the challenge of taking refuge in Cambodia.

Cambodia is now celebrating Water Festival which marks the phenomena of the Tonle Sap river changing direction, pulsing to create fish stocks which sustain the Cambodian population - a visit to the Tonle Sap lake was pertinent. However our group decided to split as some wanted to see (and swim in) the huge reservoirs created by the Angkor people.

This morning we catch a bus to Phnom Penh and over the next few days spend more time considering the effect years of conflict has had on Cambodia with visits to some genocide sites and a meeting with the Documentation Centre of Cambodia. Following that we will make our last journey south, to the coast of Cambodia and Koh Tonsay, an Island where we will spend a couple of days considering what we have learned and how we have changed during the last three months.

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Life Along the Mekong Semester, Fall 2012

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Back to the bright lights of the city

Instructor Team,Life Along the Mekong Semester, Fall 2012

Description

As our students head into the last few weeks of course we are making sure we make the most of every minute, whilst giving ourselves space and time to reflect… Arriving from the quiet and peaceful village of Prek Pdao, where we did our Cambodian week long homestay, Siem Reap was a shock. The Angkor […]

Posted On

11/27/12

Author

Instructor Team

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