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Photo by Sampor Burke, Mekong Semester.

GRATEFUL FOR WHERE I’M FROM

Before leaving on this journey, I had a growing skepticism about the prowess of the United States. My American pride was somewhat hindered by our new Commander and Chief. After traveling through these four countries, my lack in pride has all been erased. This course has cemented my joy in saying “I am an American citizen.”

Traveling throughout these countries, there was always a lingering feeling of oppression. I could truly feel the governmental intervention within the daily life. Throughout our stay in China, we visited NGO’s. Under Xi Jinping’s rule, China has decided to only reaccept roughly one percent of foreign NGO’s: 19 in 2,000. While in China, a “Democratic” Republic, we were unable to access websites such as Facebook, Gmail, Yahoo, and YouTube. While we were in China, they banned the use of WhatsApp, an instant messaging application that connects tens of millions of users everyday. The lack of expression and free speech is clear. The paranoia of foreign intervention within the country is evident with all the bans and restrictions.

In Thailand, the most lenient country we visited, there was massive images of the new king of Thailand, Maha Vajiralongkorn. The beloved previous king died last year, a true man of the people. This new king has a lack of ability to connect with his people, the majority of the population realize he is too wealthy to relate. The population is still mourning the death of his predecessor. Yet, the new king’s face is everywhere.

In Laos, People’s “Democratic” Republic, the government intervention and fear of the government is everywhere. At every NGO one student on course would ask a question about the government, if the speaker chose to respond he/she would dance around the question and give a vague response. Our Instructor on course, Somsanid, mentioned countless times his fear of being arrested in Laos for speaking to us about the corrupt governmental system.

In Cambodia, a country led almost by a dictator: Hun Sen. This past week Hun Sen kicked out his rival party within Cambodia, Hun Sen controls the High Court and exiled his entire rivaling governmental party. He and his royal family own a share in every private economic sector within Cambodia, thus, giving him full control over the country. Hun Sen declares his only income as the $13,800 salary he receives from being the Prime Minister, his net worth truly is within the 500 million – 1 billion dollar range.

No matter how often Donald Trump makes a fool of himself or tarnishes his reputation, he will never be able to take away the Bill of Rights. This document gives us the ten freedoms that 99% of the world are striving for. Things in our country we have become accustomed to are so desperately lacking in other countries. Things like basic infrastructure and healthcare. That is why if I have taken nothing from this trip it is this: I am so happy and so blessed to say that I am from the United States of America.

 

P.S. I love and miss: Nana, Papa, Farmor, FarFar, Dad, Lisa, and Lauren.