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Photo by Sampor Burke, Mekong Semester.

Homestay Reflections

Here are some reflections on our first homestay on the island of Koh K’Sach Tonlea, Cambodia. Responses were shared anonymously by each student and we viewed them gallery-style.


I will always remember…

My host mother calling me her son.

The smile and good food my host grandma made. Also speaking to her in French/Khmer.

Waking up to a monk chanting at the end of my bed at 6am.

My little brother Visal, taking me to school on the first day and showing me the classrooms and his friends. I will never forget him.

The kindness showed to me by both my host family and the community as a whole.

Watching 3 children under the age of 6 being hosed off, butt-naked, by their mother on the road and then screaming and laughing and jumping with pure, innocent joy.

The way in which my homestay family treated me with kindness and graciousness.

My host mother feeding me food when she thought I should eat more and how much she cared for my well being (making sure I napped, I ate enough food, etc).

Getting my hair washed by my host sister and their friends.

The bike rides around the island and the looks on my family’s faces when I gifted them with homemade bracelets.

Saying goodbye to my mother, her running back inside to gift me a kroma, and the last minute attempts to chase me down for a several final goodbyes.

Singing the baby shark song with my younger host siblings.


Something my host family has that I do not is…

A love for watching dubbed tv shows and daily family time at night.

A relaxed way of living that leads to being content with what you have.

Spare time with mom and dad, they often relax around the house, they have lots of time for family and live close to them.

Stability within the family.

TV Cable. And it was always on. I don’t have cable, all the things I watch are streaming.

A sense of peace in growing and making deep roots within a community. Stability and calm energy as a family dynamic.

The ability to live in one house with grandparents and interact with neighbors in a free and often manner.

Free time to spend with one another on a daily basis.

The time to nap in the middle of the day.

The liberty of free time.

A different way of living, cooking, cleaning, trash and where it goes.

Time to relax and do nothing.

Time for everyone in the family to take afternoon naps.

A moment when my privilege was clear to me…

When I saw how they lived in one room and how the daughters had dropped out of school to support their family at a young age and go to work from 5am to 6pm.

When I realized how easy both information was to access and how easy traveling abroad was for me compared to my host siblings.

When I told my host sister I got to travel for three months, rather than work or study and she found that hard to believe.

When I took my malaria medicine everyday.

When my host sister asked if I’ve traveled anywhere else in the world and every time I took out my camera to take a picture.

When I talked to a girl in university and told her I was here because I chose to take a break from school before going to college.

Being able to travel when other people and families don’t have the same amount of money as I do and see new places.

When I realized I have the privilege of choice whether it’s with food, products, or with my future and choice of study. Also, with education and knowing I don’t face pressure to stop school to provide for my family when many women here face that challenge.

Taking shower showers and western toilets for granted.

When people referred to my host sister as a boy, I assumed it was because that’s what she wanted. I realize now that not everyone has the privilege of identifying themselves as they choose or the privilege of being accepted by their own community.

I was reading a book in English and I realized how privileged I am from learning English in school and in life. It opens a million new doors and I always took it for granted.

At my homestay, my family only had electricity for a couple of hours a day.

When I was being force fed high quantities of rice in proportion to the rest of the foods since it fills you quickly and is significantly cheaper that vegetables and proteins. At home, we typically stay away from eating so many carbs.


I was challenged by…

Not being able to have full conversations with my family and learning more about their lives.

Communicating with my host family.

The thought that I am very privileged, to a point it made me uncomfortable.

The lack of personal and private space.

My inability to speak the language.

Pushing myself to try and talk to people outside of the Dragons group at first.

Communicating effectively with my host family initially, but communication got better as time progressed.

Being so disconnected and not around anything familiar like new food and the squatty potty and by not being to ever fully understand what was going on what was going on because of the language barrier.

Sleeping on a woven mat and not being able to fully converse with my host family and get to know them better.

Dealing with scary bugs and rodents, taking bucket showers, and using the squatty potty.

Sleeping on the wooden floor with nothing else.

Language barrier and being given so much and not being able to give back an equal amount. Having to just accept what I am being graciously given and then keep accepting more.


Some perspectives that shifted in me were…

Rural life can be rich even when money is scarce.

How to deal with having nothing to do and having time to myself to reflect.

Unconditional love of the stranger, what it means to truly be generous, and finding joy in simplicity.

Finding love in the little things in life.

Economic development and wealth does not equal happiness. BUT development in other areas such as LGBTQ rights or political freedoms should not be taken for granted.

That I don’t always have to b doing something. Just because I am not busy does not mean that I am lazy.

Language barrier isn’t as hard as it seems when you’re around very nice people.

Understanding the similarity in lifestyle and apparent happiness of families with identical socioeconomic statuses despite the obvious differences in culture.

I am part of that 5% privileged people on the world. I get to choose what I want to become in my life. Most people don’t.

The idea of poverty and how they live. They are not necessarily in need of saving because it is just their way of life.

People live in different ways  like running water, not everywhere has a toilet, motor bikes, not many cars, and clean water.

I saw how well people lived despite being so rural.

How daily routines can differ within cultures.


Something I want to do in the next homestay…

Help more around the house. And learn more from the family, like cooking. Also wake up earlier and do more in the morning.

Try to have more meals with my family and less by myself.

Since we have so much free time, visit surrounding important areas as day trips.

Be more okay with being bored.

Communicating with host family.

Learn the language better and put more effort into it. Take more photos of my family. Meditate more often. Day trips. ISP.

Try to communicate with the family in their native language rather than sign language.

Days trips and traveling through each town.

Spend more time with my host siblings.

Swim a lot, eat less, and be more active.

Take more initiative to engage with my host family, even though I can’t speak the language.

I want to improve my knowledge of the local language. I want to study the language more seriously so that I can better communicate with my host family.

I want to have a more active role in the house such as playing with the kids, helping cook and clean.