GCD: Global Understanding (Grade 11 Cambodia Trip) Part II

Part II: The Trip

Cambodia Trip from Eileen Chen on Vimeo.

We traveled a long way from the freezing winter of Japan, with my head covered by my hoodie, hands inside the pocket of my sweater, and then I had soon felt the heat. We had to deal with the heat for almost all of the trip. On the very first day, we visited the Khmer Rouge Killing Fields to experience the history of Cambodia, and the violent and cruel past. Before the trip, I remember listening to a group present this time and place in Cambodian history. Although it was a different experience when I had set my foot on the various killing fields site. The audio tour had blocked all the noise and distractions, and I had felt an authentic historical experience. The eight-day trip had also made me feel like I have lived my every day’s at a full-potential by physically being there to contribute to the lives of the children at rural Pursat and families on the waiting list for a well.     


With Cambodia being a developing country, a large gap between the rural areas and the urbanized city was seen. This was particularly noticeable after our first few days in the rural areas of Cambodia (Pursat) and our two nights in the village, and later in the city (Siem Reap) for the last two days. The city was much busier and louder, with large crowds of tourists from all over the world.  When we visited the Angkor Wat, I was distracted by the selfies, individual portraits, and group photos that people were carrying. This had questioned ‘fairness’ in me, as I had seen the city life through a different lens and could no longer see it from a tourist perspective. Although at the same time, tourism is a driving force in Cambodia’s economy (Nathan Paul, GLOBE).  Tourism as part of globalization had enabled economic growth through increasing supply and demands of goods and services. During my time at the night market, I have noticed that I had rarely heard anyone speak the local language, Khmer. I was speaking English most of the times with the shop clerk and some of them would speak to me in Japanese. English was a “Lingua Franca,” the common language spoken by many people all over the world. It was also a powerful tool for marketing and making business. This had made me reflect on what I learned during my English class on how language had value, with people instrumentally motivated to learn a certain language in order to provide for a living. In relation to my learning in class to the experience at the night market, language was an important part of communication with the local marketers.

Power and Privilege:

Further in my experience at both the Pursat market and Angkor Wat, I have noticed children on the streets selling goods. When we had stayed in central Pursat, we had the time to explore and shop at the market there. I had forgotten to pack my hat and since our trip had consisted of physical work in the sun, I wanted to buy a new hat. While walking the market street in Pursat, I have found a shop that had sold a collection of hats. Although, as I had searched for the right hat, my eyes laid on a small boy, about a third grader, who had smiled at me. He was trying to make me purchase the hat and complimenting me on how “nice” they looked on me. I wondered if he had said the same thing to other customers and foreigners. He had developed a sale strategy that was similar to what the clothing store clerks had used back in Japan–smile, be nice, and compliment the customer–this little boy had done everything on the checklist. There was a similar situation when we had finished the tour for the Angkor Wat. When we were going back to the car, there were groups of children, mostly girls, who were selling pins of the Angkor Wat. “One for only 3 dollars,” as one of the girls had approached me. I was walking slow and did not know what to say. “One for only 3 dollars,” as she repeated, but I was still speechless. As I was walking towards the car, she was following me this time, but instead of indicating the price, she had changed the pricing. 

“2 for 3 dollars”

I had never experienced this before, and I had struggled whether to buy the pins off of her by sympathy despite the fact that I did not need them, or ignore her completely. Mr. Pomeroy, the supervisor for the trip, was walking near me. He noticed this and told me not to buy off of them. One of the reasons not to was because of the poverty cycle and where and how the money was going to be used. Child beggars and sellers are still common in Cambodia, particularly in tourist areas with foreigners. Buying off of the child can ultimately trap them in the cycle of poverty, as it was easier to make money in the streets, and therefore, value income over education. (Herington, Sally) The children were also usually working for their parents, or in some cases, their “boss,” and the money that you pay for the selling goods, are not necessarily used for the child’s education.


The importance of education:

As an IB student at an international school, education plays a fundamental part of my life and the way I view the world. Having a child on the streets without any parent supervision is considered dangerous and risky for the child. Although it may seem like common sense, what if you lived every day of your life in poverty and was desperate for income? Will our perception change?

Education is a way that helped us obtain an understanding of the world, the knowledge of our society, and the ability to make decisions, but because we are part of the educationally privileged world, it was important to share and transfer what we know to a wider audience. I learned that teaching and the role of a teacher was also an important part of education. As part of my experience making mini-lesson plans for the children at Angkrong, my group and I had tried to make the experience as fun as possible–singing English songs, playing Pictionary and hangmen–teaching had to be fun and engaging so that the children would be motivated to learn and find pleasure in retaining knowledge.

The importance of water:

As the more we had stayed in the rural areas of Pursat and interacted with the local children and adults, including the HOPE Cambodia leader; Lee, I had become more aware of the importance of fundraising and the many possibilities that could be accomplished. We often take things for granted, but for the families, with the provision of a well, they could start a family business such as growing water-rich crops and not have to walk a long distance to the water stream (which was often unhygienic and harmful for health). As 60% is quite a large number for the amount of water in our body, water is a crucial resource in our lives. Reflecting upon this, I learned to be thankful and carry gratitude for what I already had, and work towards sustainable uses of my possessions. 


Being a part of a non-profit organization has taught me the value of volunteer work and seeing the world through your own eyes. Non-profit organizations are a reliable and credible source that we can trust to ensure that our donations are going in the right direction and right benefits. I had also learned that I should not be worrying about what kind of clothes I wore, how ‘tired’ I looked and whether I would be likable to everyone. What I had to think about was in what ways I could add something in my life that would help put more smiles in people beyond my personal world.      

GCD: Global Understanding (Grade 11 Cambodia Trip) Part I

After my trip to Phuket in ninth grade, I wanted to continue to do direct service work globally when I had the chance. I was inspired to be physically there to see the world beyond Yokohama and enhance my understanding besides reading and research off of the laptop screens.

“Is it really safe?”

That was what my parents had first asked me when I told them about the Cambodia Trip, provided every year at school. Of course, the safety of their child was the first thing on their mind. After all, parents are good at worrying about their children. The word ‘worry’ is an inconvenient thing. People worry all the time and too frequently to the point that we use the word for even the smallest things. Although my perception of ‘worry’ has been shaped throughout my experiences in the Cambodia trip and the direct service opportunity that I was privileged to partake in. (Click here to continue to read my journey in Cambodia)    

Before the trip, every trip participants were required to reach a goal of 75,000 yen. At first, I felt that the number was unachievable, however, with the help of my fundraising group and the brainstorming and discussing, I was able to generate several possible fundraising ideas. From classic bake-sales, Starbucks runs, crowdfunding, tutoring, raising awareness from family relatives, and new fundraising opportunities such as planning an event. Some were more successful than others, and some much more time-consuming and challenging than others.

Two of my memorable and perhaps favorite fundraising experience, with one being small, and another one that involved a wider audience, both consisted the process of scratching an idea and compromising on a new one. It sounds quite strange, as I basically rephrased the fact that I enjoyed failing on an idea I worked extremely hard on, and move on to start on a new one. Although, you will see why I think this way.

I had always wanted to plan an event, although, most fundraising groups had already signed up to organize existing events at school, so I had to gain some new perspective. During a conversation with my past PE teacher, he talked about how someone had planned a “Lip Sync Battle” in the past but the idea was suddenly lost. I was very keen on the idea and had gathered different roles for my fundraising group to help make the idea come true. We had a set date of the event, I had made the setup plan, and all we needed was teachers to lip sync. However, there was a crash between schedules, and the idea was starting to become less achievable. Until one day, we came to the realization that it was not going to happen. At this stage, I had felt both disappointed and embarrassed. Perhaps it was a mistake, I thought. Since I wanted to raise awareness amongst a wider audience, I didn’t want to give up, so I had ended up setting a small activity of “Guess the Song” during a school event; Studentainment, with the help of my friend and successfully raised donations at the end. Although I was not expecting any of this, now that I reflect on it, I was thankful to have gone through that process because I wouldn’t have learned the hardships of fundraising.

The second important fundraising experience was my individual fundraising for teaching art for an autistic child. Before the experience, I remember I was anxious and afraid because I had never encountered a situation like this. Although, with my passion for both Visual Arts and Psychology, I was motivated and encouraged to do the experience. A significantly important part of the process was my initial research on autism and art therapy. Since I was not experienced with interacting with an autistic child, I had to plan and prepare for the experience. First, noticing the child’s skills were important to plan the lesson. Secondly, the structure of the plan was important to create a prepared lesson. However, not everything will go along with the plan, therefore flexibility was another factor that had to be implemented, which was the most challenging part of the experience.

During the experience, the first lesson was the most difficult because the child had spoken Chinese with his mother, and I was not a fluent Chinese speaker but only preferred listening. Although I had come with a plan and bought new art tools, the lesson did not go as well as the child had preferred to stick with his usual drawing, and I could not follow my plan. This was not like an event, where I could plan another event. I had to think of alternatives on the spot and improvise. I had noticed that he was skilled in writing Chinese characters–short and precise lines–and I had thought about exploring with lines through architectural drawing and perspectives. I became aware of and appreciated the fact that taking Visual Arts had helped me greatly because of the Elements & Principles of Arts. Learning the basics was always useful in developing skills and techniques. By the end of the experience, I had noticed that the child was able to follow my plan, even when the skill was not what he was used to. I was also developing more options for the lesson plan for the flexibility. I learned that although fundraising was a difficult and challenging process, taking the time to think about helping people benefited me as a person, not just a student who was concerned about school and academics.

GCD: Global Understanding (Field Studies Phuket Trip)

The Phuket trip was just about half a year ago, but the memories are still clear in mind. They are so clear that it feels like the trip was just a few days ago. And now, I will like to share some of the memories with you.

Ever since grade seven, I dreamt of going to the Phuket trip. But it was because I longed to travel someplace far away from home and I had no knowledge of what was coming ahead of me. But it was until grade eight that I got to know the meaning of the trip and thankfully it didn’t change the fact that I still wanted to go on the trip. After graduating middle school and entering 9th grade, I was ready to leave to Phuket at any time as I was so thrilled. But then I realized that I wasn’t ready at all because we had to do some research about the Thai culture as well as the planned activities for the trip. For instance, information on the coral reef for snorkeling, mangrove rainforest & gibbons for planting mangrove trees, etc.

On Sunday evening of October 18th, we arrived at Phuket. I remembered the air felt really warm and humid. It was definitely a big change compared to Yokohama where my home is. We stayed at the British International School in Phuket for 5 days. The trip consisted of 30 people including myself, and we were split into two groups and then would switch tasks after a lunch break. On the first and second day, my group and I visited a Burmese school with 40 students. Students were about the age of 5 to 8 and they were learning in an environment which was no comparison to our school. Therefore, it was our mission to recreate their school by painting on the plain white walls.

Carefully planned Sakura tree piece with our hands painted on the petals including Burmese school children on the bottom of the painting




While my group and I were painting, the other group were interacting with the children by playing games and sports. I think this was one of the main things that I will never forget because seeing the children smile made me feel happy even the fact that language was a barrier we still had a great time. The children only had this once a year, so we tried to make their time as special as possible. Since we use our laptops all the time, social media seems to dominate most of our lives. But with this experience, it reminded me that I don’t always need that to help me socialize with people and I can physically be there in person.

Burmese children painting on small animal sculptures
The result of painted sculptures by Burmese children
Waving goodbye to the children on our last day with them

In every Hello, there are always Goodbye’s. On the second day of our trip, it was time for us to part with the children from the Burmese school. This was difficult for all of us because even in such a short period of time, we became close with the children and they were more used to our company. One thing in particular that I learned from the children was how fortunate my life was and complaining wasn’t worth it at all. These children were always patient and did what they were told to do. And in certain about the fact that they were younger than all of us, as a 15-year-old I was very privileged to be able to have the money to travel and spend time with them.

Sorting all the miscellaneous items we brought to give to all the Burmese children and SOS Orphans
After giving a collection of goods for the children in the Burmese school

On our final day at Phuket, we were introduced to the children from the SOS Orphanages. Though by the evening, our plan was to departure Phuket, we made the last hours worth spending. For instance, we played games with the children for a start which was entertaining and created laughter within both the children and us. We even headed to the elementary pool at BISP and taught them how to swim. From this, I knew that speaking the same language doesn’t matter sometimes. And since we only had a day with these children, in the future there should be a lot more time spent with the orphans so a stronger bond could be created.

Swimming with the SOS orphans at the elementary pool in BISP
Swimming with the SOS orphans at the elementary pool in BISP

Besides interacting with both groups of children, we planted mangrove trees, snorkeled to observe the affected coral reef from the El Niño and went on a hike which included visiting the Gibbon sanctuary. Some of the challenges were carrying the mangrove plants until the place we were supposed to plant them since it felt like every step I took, the plants became heavier. During the planting process, my feet were stuck in the mud and it didn’t matter if I was covered all in mud because everyone else was too.


After 5 days of Phuket, it made me realize how much service is important in general as well as for myself. I value this especially because helping people and the environment makes everything better every time you commit to service, you’re making a change. Even the smallest events like picking up trash on the ground or larger events like this trip. By doing these actions, it inspires others to help others. Service for me is absolutely rewarding as it gives me a sense of pride and I feel like I did something right and be grateful afterward. This whole trip has become a huge part of my life as every now and then, I would think about the events that happened during the trip and wish to go back again. Thus, I would strongly recommend future freshmen’s to go on this trip.