Right now, I’m sitting on the plane from LA to Newark. In LA, it’s 11:42pm, and in Newark, it’s 2:42am. It’s 3:42pm in Cambodia. I’m one of the only ones that’s still awake, and no matter what I do, I can’t seem to fall asleep. My mind is racing as I think back to my last thirty days in Cambodia.
I’m thinking about the group with which I spent those days. The eleven other students that, at the beginning, completely related to the discomfort and nervous excitement that I was feeling so far away from home. By the end, we share a new love and appreciation for Cambodia which I couldn’t have found without their humor, positive energy, and challenging questions.
I’m thinking about my three instructors – Yut, Claire, and Kelsey – and how smart, kind, and inspiring they were from the first day. Whenever we expressed any interest in a global or national issue, there was a panel, activity, or discussion planned for the next day. Their life stories alone showed us all the power of following our passions and seeing where we end up. I’m so grateful to now have them to talk to whenever I need support.
I’m thinking about the people that we met in Cambodia – from Mr. Moan, the community leader of Chambok who spent his free time picking up trash in the forest, to Bill, the United States Vietnam War veteran who moved to Cambodia to help find and disable land mines that America once placed there. I learned more about our world from simple, one hour conversations with these people than I do in days and days in classes at school.
I’m thinking about my nine year old homestay brother Reesa who speaks as much English as I speak Khmer. The time we sat outside and sang Twinkle Twinkle Little Star together as we waited for dinner or the time he taught me how to write his name, and I taught him how to write mine. The time I made him promise to go to university because I know that education will soon mean everything in Cambodia because of its young population and growing economy. If the government isn’t challenged by motivated and resilient people, the country will neither ever balance the extreme wealth disparity nor improve conditions for rural life.
I’m thinking about the meditation retreat in Oudong, where we sat before Buddha’s bones from Sri Lanka and spoke to one of the most revered monks in the country. Where we spent 48 hours in Noble Silence and reflected on who we are and who we want to be. Even then, before our final two locations, I knew how much I learned about myself and our world already.
I’m thinking about our Expedition Phase. Our two hour bus ride from Anlong Veng to the Landmine Museum outside of Siem Reap where we travelled in a bus that could probably have fit us if the I-Team had stayed behind and we didn’t have any bags. The pins and needles in all of our feet and the accomplished smiles on our faces after saving fifty dollars of our budget money by not going the “luxurious” route. The early morning bike ride to Angkor Wat where every time Yut said there was twenty minutes remaining, we could count on at least an hour. The breathtaking Angkor Wat that all tourists come to Cambodia to see before leaving for Thailand. Ironically, I don’t think any of us would say that it was even in the top five moments of the trip. That’s not meant to show that it wasn’t exceptionally beautiful, but that after being there for thirty days, we know that there is so much more to the country than an ancient temple.
I’m thinking about Transference. We each wrote and shared five goals of how we would bring the trip into our lives at home. I’m telling myself now over and over to not let those goals slip away from me. I don’t expect my friends and family to care to hear each story with as much detail as I can remember, so these goals will be my way to hold on to the trip without having to talk about it 24/7, as hard as that will be.
Before this trip, I truthfully thought it was incredibly irritating when people would come back from a month abroad claiming that their lives had been changed. I still am reluctant to use the word “life changing” to describe the month in fear of discounting my 17 years of life before. But I leave Cambodia with a curiosity about the world around me that I’ve never felt before. I leave Cambodia with a sudden need to bring Buddhist teachings of compassion as well as Buddhist meditation into my life. I leave Cambodia with a motivation to minimize my plastic usage to protect beautiful areas like Kampot where nature is being poisoned by industry. I leave Cambodia with eleven new friends, three new role models, and countless more inspirations. I leave Cambodia a better me than I was when I left LAX on July 28. So I guess you could say it was life changing.