My heartfelt chum reap sua (hello!) to all.
My name is Claire, I am originally from the UK although I have for many years been living in Asia. I can’t begin to explain how excited I am that I get to spend a few weeks back in Cambodia, with you all, on an amazing learning adventure, and I can’t wait to have the chance to experience the transformative power of this country again through new eyes.
My relationship with Cambodia is a strong and complex one. I lived there for nearly three years, and even though now I live in Nepal where I also love, I get the chance to return to Cambodia several times a year, to again feel the Cambodian heat in my veins, to wear my sampot and practice my Khmer language. These last few years I have been going there in the Spring with Appleby College. I have been so impressed with the wonderful ethos of your school and all the smart and curious minds I have had the pleasure to get to know on these trips, that I can’t wait to get the chance to meet all of you! I even made it over to your school last November which was such an insight and privilege, and I am so glad to continue hosting this magical program.
When I lived in Cambodia, I worked with community development organization CRDT in the rural northeast, an area where we will get to spend some time on this trip. It is a beautiful part of the country that will quite literally blow your mind. I was working in a province called Kratie, home to the last remaining Mekong dolphins, working on projects that aim to simultaneously conserve the environment and improve people’s lives. One of the main project areas of that time was the island of Koh Pdao, which is still one of my favourite communities in the world. It is such a special place and I am so excited to show it to you – you will see what I mean when you get there.
In Cambodia I have also worked with the inspirational Yut – amazing trip-leader, philosopher, comedian, spiritual guide and general inspiring human being. I can’t think of a more perfect person to reveal the intricacies of the Cambodian history and culture.
One of my main projects outside of Dragons has been publishing a book about international service and volunteering, using a concept called Learning Service. We will for sure get a chance to explore this topic during our time in Cambodia as we get stuck into exploring how we can sustainably support communities. I am in fact certain that as we learn more about this complex issue that you will resonate with some of the perspectives in the book, and maybe recognize some of the stories contributed by your friends and classmates!
Cambodia is a country that leaves a lasting imprint. It is a country that can simultaneously teach you about humanity’s capacity for brutality and resilience, and for despair and hope. It is a country that I feel privileged to have called home and a place to which I still maintain a deep connection. I cannot wait to rediscover and share with you all. As we journey around the wondrous Kingdom, we will invite you to be challenged, to reflect, and to learn with us. What an amazing opportunity to gather such a unique group of people together to have these impactful and powerful discussions and experiences.
I want to thank you for making the choice to come on this program; you have already won my deepest admiration for that. This trip will challenge you to step outside your comfort zone in a way that nothing ever has, and if you embrace it, you are likely to have the most profound learning encounters of your life. Be open and trust in the journey.
I can’t wait to meet you in a few short weeks, to discuss our hopes and goals and views of the world over a long cool café teuk doh koh teuk kok (the longest word in the world to mean – an iced coffee!)
Please feel free to use this Yak board as your own. Post introductions, questions, and thoughts as you prepare for the trip ahead, and we instructors will do our best to get back to you.
Chum reap lea (goodbye!) for now!
PS The picture is of me getting lost in a complex of ancient temples near to Siem Reap – which is where we will end up on this program as a reward for all our learning and hard work!