Now that I’m back home from my trip to Cambodia, I can’t believe that it actually happened. Even with a packed 11 day itinerary, it never ceases to amaze me how the days can feel so slow and crammed with different experiences, yet the weeks I was there fly by. I definitely miss Cambodia, miss the tour guides and Cambodian people who let us see their country, and miss the fellow Alabama students that I traveled alongside. I can acknowledge that the (short) duration of the trip may have lent itself to my experience of solely a “honeymoon” period, but I nonetheless feel that my study abroad experience has changed my perspective on one key idea.
Cambodia is a country whose people’s employment heavily relies on the success of tourism. Many people work in hospitality through hotels, restaurants, etc. or in tourism as tour guides, merchants in tourist areas, etc. Seeing a country so grateful for visitors (in some areas, we were the first tourists they had seen in over two years) has made me reflect over the things that I should be grateful for. In a country where the average (non-1%) income is as low as Cambodia’s, I expected there to be a lack of happiness and cordiality; what I experienced couldn’t have been farther from this. This trip opened my eyes up to the notion of being happy with less, and. consequently, has helped me to reflect over what I truly want from my life. Cambodian culture seemed much less material than American culture, and has certainly challenged my mindset in that regard.
The advice I would give future study abroad students (especially those on shorter programs such as mine in Cambodia) is to mentally make the effort to soak up every second of your immersion – it will fly by you, and when you have an opportunity to throw yourself into another culture, the last thing you want upon boarding the flight home is to regret staying at the hotel those few evenings where you could have been doing something as simple as sitting at a restaurant, in a mall, or in the street to add to your experience. At the end of the day, your time abroad is finite – make the most of it.