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Photo by Sampor Burke, Mekong Semester.

Why I Travel

Almost a week ago, we left the island of our first homestay after a teary goodbye and a wicked dance party with our host families. Our group headed back into Phnom Penh and within a little more than an hour we were at the Starwood Inn where our trip began three weeks ago. Once we arrived, our instructors gave us a list of things we could explore throughout the city. We split into groups, were given lunch and tuktuk stipends, and ventured out into the city alone for the first time.

After getting onto the streets of Phnom Penh, we realized how lucky we were to have had the privilege of living in the small village on the island. While spending time in our homestays, we were the only westerners there. We knew that we had to shift our comfort levels, ideals, and perceptions of the environment around us so we could learn about how the people in Cambodia live their lives. Once in Phnom Penh, it was clear that much of the city is set up to cater to more tourists. This makes sense, as the city is huge and a lot of people from all over the world come to visit.

Although the culture of the city is more touristy, the Cambodian vibrations and ideals still radiate throughout. Many Cambodians live and work there, so there are motorbikes whizzing by at every moment. There are indoor markets packed to capacity with booths, which are in turn packed full of merchandise, sometimes so much that the shop owner is sitting on piles of clothes or plastic bags stretched to the max with things just waiting for people to buy.

It was strange to me how comfortable I had become in such a short time. I realized that I was totally at ease haggling, even arguing with tuktuk drivers about how much the ride should cost from the Orussey Market to Wat Phnom. It was during these moments that I learned exactly why I travel. I realized that standing in the streets of Phnom Penh with a girl from Vermont, a girl from Brazil, and a girl from Germany, arguing with a tuktuk driver from Cambodia about the $0.50 difference in price, and even laughing a bit, was a perfect representation of how valuable global citizenship is and how if I hadn’t stepped away from everything that makes me comfortable in my day to day life in the states, I would always be just another American. Instead, I left everything and everyone I love behind to spend time learning to be a human through the similarities and differences in all the cultures I come into contact with.