Travel is a powerful and inimitable experience: it teaches empathy, awareness, and understanding of cultural difference, plus the capacity to challenge and question what we might have previously been led to believe. A Cambodian service-immersion trip taken in the summer of 2019, provided Lancers with the opportunity to come together, learn from the past, and make connections between cultures and people to inform the future.
Having just returned to school after summer break and already eager for next summer, 14 students gathered in a classroom in the fall of 2018 to start the journey they knew would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience – a Cambodian service-immersion trip.
For the rest of the school year in preparation for their service, they spent two Mondays each month studying Cambodian history and culture, focusing on social-justice, reconciliation, economic development, and leading initiatives for youth empowerment and education.
Through service work and civic engagement in the Seattle area, they made real-life connections with the content they learned in class and grew in community with one another. When summer finally arrived, these Lancers were ready to step outside of their comfort zones, immerse themselves in a journey of growth and share their opportunity with family and friends through a blog as they traveled.
One of their most impactful visits was their journey into history with a guided audio tour of the Choeng Ek Genocidal Center/Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, a former high school transformed into a prison, place of torture, and death camp for many during the Khmer Rouge era. While on their boat ride back from their tour and overlooking the Tonle Sap and Mekong Rivers, the group took a moment to debrief what they experienced and to reflect together on themes of justice and healing.
A common theme within justice that was frequently talked about was the idea of finding humanity within the perpetrators. Yut, our guide, challenged us to think about what kind of healing the perpetrators also need, and how often we imprison people around the world and do nothing to help them heal from their trauma. In the words of our peer Dennis’ grandfather, ‘Justice may be late, but is never absent.’ We believe part of our responsibility as people who have witnessed this part of Cambodian history is to be ‘keepers of memories,’ fighting for eventual justice and compassion of all.
Their next journey into history came when they boarded the city bus and headed to the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies Museum where a group of Buddhist Monks took them on their educational and reflective tour. They learned about landmines that killed many civilians trying to seek refuge in Thailand and how in 1998, Cambodia created the “Win-Win” Policy that finally brought the end of the violent Khmer Rouge era in 1999.
The “Win-Win” policy led to remarkable forgiveness, peace, and growth throughout the country. In America, our society is competitive in nature – either you win, or you lose. To achieve global peace, we would do best to follow the example of the Cambodian people. Yut introduced his newest term: sticky rice. He used this throughout the day as instructions to our group for us to physically get closer together when we started spreading out too much at the museum. May we all be a bit more like sticky rice – getting closer, to work and move together. Life is about rebuilding what has been broken.
At the end of the trip, senior Mason Ross shared, “The last two weeks opened my eyes to a whole new world of life and culture. Life is not about how to be the world’s richest person or the world’s most famous person. Life is about kinship. Life is about rebuilding what has been broken. Life is about building a community on similarities.” ◆