Last year, in the midst of exam season, a friend of mine suggested that I participate in a UTM Abroad trip. Despite hearing about how impactful and inspiring it was, my initial thoughts were “why would I go on a trip through the school when I could organize it myself? Why would this international experience be valuable to me as a student at UTM?” Out of my own curiosity, I decided to take a quick browse of the UTM Abroad website and to my surprise, there was an array of trips offered. What was most intriguing about these trips was that they each had themes that would focus on specific global justice topics. However, this trip was different. This trip was the first time UTM’s Sociology Department piloted a course with an abroad trip component – I knew this experience would be special.
Swinging on Hammocks by a Banana Farm
It’s 2:24pm and 30 degrees of scorching heat, my peers and I lay in hammocks resting before we plant banana trees at an NGO farm. Today is day 5, and although we have 5 more days in Cambodia the adventures we have already shared and self-reflections we have had feel surreal. In this very moment, I recall myself smiling at the realization that I was half way across the world with 10 people that were once strangers to me. These strangers were and still are close friends of mine that share the same unique experiences. Had someone told me that this trip would be one of the highlights of my university experience, I would not have believed them. However, ask me this question today and I can go to lengths sharing about my enriching, thought-provoking and experiential journey with UTM and Operation Groundswell in Cambodia.
Post Tree Planting
From the very beginning, there were on-boarding sessions of what to expect, how to prepare and what to bring along, OG supports, guides, and assistance in preparing travellers to be ready to immerse themselves into a new environment. Operation Groundswell not only planned and organized our trip, they taught us about ethical travelling – something that I never knew existed. Ethical travelling is about being responsible, respectful and aware that your presence as a tourist is not simply about consuming what the country has to offer. Ethical tourism rejects the consumption of manufactured experiences and aims to empower, educate, and inspire. While the entire trip embodied the framework of ethical tourism, what stood out to me was the homestay in a village called Bantay Chhmar. Known as Community Based Tourism (CBT), this NGO aims to preserve the 800-year-old temple structure, their cultural heritage, promote responsible tourism, and most importantly improve the livelihood of the villagers.
The 800-year-old Temple Complex
From visiting temples, planting banana trees, and walking around the local markets, the most valuable part of this trip was the connections we made with one another, our school faculty, and OG leaders. Although we all took different learnings away from this experience, what was common is that we realized that without placing yourself in a new environment, you should not expect yourself to grow, develop, and challenge the person inside that may secretly fear certain situations that you may have yet to discover. As a student in my final year, I must say that I know how difficult it can be to find time to connect with our peers and professors at school – especially when you’re working a full-time or part-time job. However, I need to share that this experience will open up the way that you interpret the world and see your “self”.
10 Days, 10 Students and Countless Memories
Written by: Baltej Dhanoya