Backpacking Through Cambodia

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When I was in first year I told myself that I would do a study abroad course before I graduate. Fast forward 4 years; time, work and financial restraints prevented me from doing that. When I saw the posting I said “why not”, and put an application in. Little did I know, that quick decision would give me an experience of a lifetime!

This course allowed me to connect course readings and lecture material to the real world. Reading and discussing material about Cambodia, and then actually being there, talking to the locals and absorbing the culture allowed me to put the paperwork into a picture.

This experience changed my career aspirations. Prior to this class, I was eager to graduate and get a job. Once I came back, I realized that I have a passion for helping the global community. Now, I am looking to pursue graduate level studies in hopes of working with developing countries. Who would have ever thought I’d be going into post-grad!

Visiting the temples of Angkor Wat was truly an amazing experience. The temples were alluring and massive. The walls had scriptures, telling a story about the temples history. Also, listening to our tour guide talk about the history of the complex, current Cambodian politics, the problems with tourism and his experiences as a child soldier were memories that I’ll never forget.

 

Fishing in a small boat in the Baray (large man-made pond, built with slave labor) was also an experience I will never forget. The pond looked peaceful; filled with lotus leaves and lily pads but beneath the waters could have housed many unseen, possibly dangerous creatures. Once we boated out a bit the engine made a weird noise, and then went silent. There was a moment of silence, followed by hysterical laughter, probably to cover up our fear of being stranded. The fisherman was able to get the engine started and off we were. Our fishing rods were modern and sophisticated; a wooden stick with a fishing line and hook. We fished for about two minutes before heavy rain started pouring down on us.  As we made our way back, we hastily tried to protect ourselves from the rain, grabbing lily pads from the pond and using them as hats. Words cannot express how mesmerizing this experience was.

I never imagined that we’d be walking on an active minefield! We went to the Cambodia-Thailand border and met with Halo Trust, an NGO that is removing land mines from the border region. We had an orientation in their office where they told us about what their organization does and their current progress. Then we went to the minefield, where the area commander gave us a strict and straight to the point safety briefing regarding signage and where/where-not to walk. Halo Trust representatives showed us areas that have yet to be cleared and where mines have been discovered and removed, while guiding us throughout the field. One of us even had the opportunity to blow up a found live artillery shell (they set everything up and Ioana got to pushed the button)!

One moment that I will carry with me would be visiting the S-21 Prison. Thousands of people who were deemed a threat to the revolution were brought here, tortured and eventually killed. There was one moment where I was standing around the makeshift cells and noticed all the dried blood inside of the cells. Realizing that it was the blood of someone who was held, tortured and most likely killed here really hit me. While this isn’t a happy moment, it is something that will always remind me of the monstrosity that happened.

The one piece of advice I would give students is this: DO IT! If you go into this experience with an open mind, no matter what you WILL have an amazing, life changing experience!

Written by: Aslim Hussain

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