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Cambodia Trip 2018-2019

On December 28, a select group of 15 Texas A&M International University students will travel to Cambodia as part of the University’s “Reading the Globe Program.”

The students participated in the University's Common Read and through a competitive application, essay and interview, have been selected to participate in the "Reading the Globe" study travel opportunity.  The selection of travel to Cambodia was framed by the setting of the Common Read book for Fall 2018, the acclaimed "First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers" by Loung Ung.  Ung visited with TAMIU students this semester and offered personal insight into her text and personal journey.

Students participating in the program include Jhoana Angeles, Marianna Canales, Fernanda Nunez Cazares, Brandon Cienfuegos, Andrea Flores, Nicholas Gabrillo, Yazmin Garcilazo, Agustin Gonzalez, Katya Guadiola, Carolina Herrera, Estefania Magallanes, Mariana Ponce, Lesdy Posadas, Astrid Veliz, and Chelsea Villarreal.

Their time in Cambodia is highly structured with academic classes, guest lectures, related tours and a service-learning opportunity.

Launched in 2008, the Reading the Globe program requires all First Year students to read a book focused on an international topic.  This book is read and discussed as part of the UNIV1101 freshman seminar curriculum, Learning in a Global Environment I.  The Common Read Program provides the opportunity for discourse about the issues relevant to students, and raises social awareness on a local and global scale.  The program also shares the experience with the City of Laredo as the selected book is part of its "One City, One Book" program.

To date TAMIU Reading the Globe student groups have traveled to Russia, Bosnia, China, Chile, Croatia, Ghana, Hungary, India, Poland, Serbia, South Africa, South Korea, and Turkey.

 

group picture

Sitting, left to right are Jhoanna Angeles, Carolina Herrera, Fernanda Nunez Cazares, Astrid Veliz, and Lesdy Posadas.
Standing, left to right are Andrea Flores, Marianna Canales, Brandon Cienfuegos, Chelsea Villarreal, Nicholas Gabrillo, Agustin Gonzalez, Yazmin Garcilazo, Mariana Ponce, Katya Guardiola, and Estfania Magallanes.

hayley kazen

Dr. Hayley Kazen
Assistant Professional
University College
LucyMaldonado pic

Lucy Maldonado
Associate Director
Advising & Mentoring Center 

 

Ana Clamont

Ana Clamont
Design and Brand Manager
Photographer and Blogger



Their experience will be shared right here with regular blog entries being posted as they are on their travels.

To see more photos, follow the adventure on Instagram - @TAMIUreadingtheglobe 


Jhoanna Angeles reading outside of Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

 

As I stared at the barbed wire at the top of the fence, I imagine the immense pain the prisoners at that jail, that was once a high school, must have felt. 

A school. A place that is meant to nourish the minds of the young generations to lead the country in the future, but unfortunately became a place where thousands of people lost their lives in the most horrible ways that can not even be imagined. 

Before entering the worn down buildings at the prison, I felt a strong pain on my chest as I recalled the research I made on this place. I knew what I was facing, I saw it and read it online, so I knew exactly what I was going to see... Or so I thought.

Horrible is not even close enough to describe how I felt the moment I stepped inside the cells that those innocent people were tortured in, and gave their last breath in agony. The pain of walking through the hallways of the buildings is like nothing I've ever experienced before. Looking at the pictures of the inmates with horrible injuries of torture, and old stains of blood on the floor created a knot on my stomach. Looking at the paintings that describe the way children were torn from their mothers and used as a bullseye for the soldiers enfuriated me. 

But seeing the human remains that were found in the prison pierced directly through my heart. The cruelty that surrounded these innocent people was so strong that it could still be felt. It is a feeling so strong that I was no longer able to breathe as I kept ascending the floors of the buildings.

It is unbelievable how much cruelty there has to be in a person in order to be able to mistreat their own people in such a horrible way, and it is even worst to think that all of these events did in fact happen. 

Jhoanna Angeles
Reading the Globe Ambassador


On our first day in Phnom Penh, we were taken to eat lunch in a restaurant called “Friends”. The minute the food came out we were all in awe of how interesting and different it was. But what was most interesting was how the business was run. The sole purpose of the business is to provide opportunities for the marginalized youth of Southeast Asia. By dining at this restaurant, we play a small role in the restaurant's mission. Some of the accomplishments include the provided assistance that is given to 1,500 young adults in search for employment each year, 5,500 children are supported to obtain an education, and 8,000 parents are supported to improve the quality of life for their families. 

At the end of our first day in Phnom Penh, we were treated to a performance by the Cambodian Living Arts called “Earth and Sky”. This show takes you through the journey through Cambodian mythology, ancestral traditions, and village life. Cambodian Living Arts organization supports local artists to continue doing what they love and helps fund local projects. Throughout the performance, stories were told of celestial dancers called “Aspara” and the ritual dance that Moni Mekhala has to perform in a battle against the giant, Ream Eyso. This show left us all walking away with smiles on our faces and a new appreciation for the immense effect the arts can have on a community that has surpassed grand circumstances.

Yazmin Garcilazo
Reading the Globe Ambassador

Yazmin Garcilazo, standing outside the "Friends" restaurant. Cambodian Living Arts performers shown in bottom collage.

Marianna Canales outside of Choeung Ek Genocidal Center

 

As we entered the killing fields, my heart ached for the people who were brutally murdered by the Khmer Rouge. When the S-21 prison ran out of space to bury their dead, they chose Choeung Ek killing field as their new location, one of many killing fields found all over Cambodia. We learned about the mercilessness of the Khmer Rouge and the horrific ways in which Cambodian intellectuals, doctors, teachers, children, and even Khmer soldiers were killed. With a changed perspectives and broken hearts, we leave Choeung Ek killing field with better knowledge and understanding of Cambodian history. We will remember the preservation of the victims bones along with their clothes and the weapons used that serve as a reminder of a past that the Cambodian people do not want to forget.

Marianna Canales
Reading the Globe Ambassador


On our second day in Phnom Penh, we arrived at the DC-CAM, an organization that have a mission to promote memory, justice, and reconciliation after the tragic events that occurred in the late 1970s. We had the pleasure to enjoy a documentary about the history of Rock n’ Roll in Cambodia and the effects many singers encountered during the Khmer Rouge regime. We watched as many singers told their tragic story of their encounter with the Khmer Rouge soldiers and the emotion they felt when music was torn away from them. While watching the documentary, we were surrounded by many works of art that portrayed students' imagination about the possibility of what Phnom Penh could have been if the genocide had not occurred. The detail work on the artwork showed the talent that students in Cambodia have and the hope they have for the reconstruction of Phnom Penh. The works of art were breathtaking and made us ponder of the grave effects that the Khmer Rouge had on Cambodia. We as well learned the significance that an urn has on Khmer culture. The traditional urns are made of either metal or ceramic with a pointed top to symbolize a higher place, signifying a prosperous transition of the dead from earth to a sacred place.

Lesdy Posadas
Reading the Globe Ambassador

Lesdy Posadas standing next to works of art

Nicholas Gabrillo at Cham Village

Today we learned about the local muslim community and their experiences before and after the ruling of the Khmer Rouge regime. Farina So presented on the background and context of the village we were about to experience. The Khmer Rouge sought to eliminate education and religion as they felt threatened by both fields. As we reflected on the unfathomable truth of their stances during the genocide, it was overwhelming to comprehend their ability to preserve their religion throughout their circumstances. This presentation then led to our visit to the Cham village, a community of Cambodian Muslims. We took a seat with the chief leader and three other elders of that village. The chief walked us through his personal experiences during the genocide. It’s notable to mention the joy the community possessed greeting foreigners with a diverse set of religions. Despite growing up as a practicing Catholic, the Muslim community made me feel as if I belonged in that village. Their dedication to their religious beliefs is admirable and reflected in the eyes of the children present in the community.

Nicholas Gabrillo
Reading the Globe Ambassador


Agustin Gonzalez in his home stay

 

Driving to our home stay in Cambodia, watching all the houses we passed by, I dreamt of a simpler life, living in the countryside. I envied the peaceful life the locals lived. Our house was very simple as was our rooms. The beds were bare mattresses with fans to cool us in the hot and humid air, and mosquito nets to protect us from unwanted visitors. I enjoyed playing cards with our guide, and I was surprised to hear that he was taught to play a popular card game from America, so we decided to teach him a new one, BlackJack. Afterwards, we went to our guide’s home where local kids from his village came to learn English. They were all so happy, and I could tell they enjoyed visitors. After they performed their songs for us, we played games with them and taught them new ones such as tag and Duck Duck Goose. I enjoyed my time with them and was sad to leave. The food our host family prepared for us was delicious, and as we waited to be served, our group sat at the table and enjoyed each other’s company. Even though we were all sweaty from the hike though the Hindu temples, almost no one wanted to take a bath. The bath was simply dropping a bucket of water on yourself; however, after a long day outside in the sun, it was incredibly refreshing. Unfortunately, I had forgotten my towel, and I had to air dry myself. I found it surprisingly easy to fall asleep with just one pillow and blanket. The thing I loved most about our home stay was relaxing on a hammock, swaying with a cool breeze hitting my face. I almost wished I could sleep outside in the hammock, but without a mosquito net it wouldn’t have been a pleasurable experience. After eating breakfast, and giving our gifts to our guide to give the children we had met the day before, I found myself wishing we had more time to spend here. Our home stay was incredibly worthwhile and is an experience I won’t soon forget.

Agustin Gonzalez
Reading the Globe Ambassador


Carly Herrera celebrating "International New Year"

Only 3 days after leaving for Cambodia, we were able to experience what the locals call “International New Year” which is the New Year celebrated around the world. The Cambodian New Year is in the month of April, but they also celebrate New Year on January 1st. Celebrating in a foreign country was exciting, beautiful, and definitely an experience we will never forget. The streets were filled with men, women, and children of all ages walking around on their bare feet eating food sold by the vendors that lined the sidewalk. Motorbikes squeezed in between and managed to drive through the large crowds of people. Men managing tuk tuks repeatedly asked the adults passing by if they needed rides. There was a concert taking place farther along the river with spotlights shining everywhere and colorful lights flashing to the beat of the music. About 30 minutes before midnight, swarms of people sat by the river popping fireworks randomly waiting for the new year. Boats with colorful lights filled the river each blasting their own music while people danced on the deck. Right before midnight everyone began to count down. As the clock hit 12:00 AM, from the street, to the river, to the concert in the distance, fireworks exploded into the air.

We looked at the sky and the sight was absolutely beautiful. The night sky was now filled with all kinds of colors of fireworks and the environment was filled with happiness and gratefulness for another year. Celebrating this holiday in Phnom Penh, Cambodia was definitely a once in a lifetime experience that we will forever cherish and never forget.

Carly Herrera
Reading the Globe Ambassador


Mariana Ponce at the Pre-Angkorian ruins

Driving to our home stay in Cambodia, watching all the houses we passed by, I dreamt of a simpler life, living in the countryside. I envied the peaceful life the locals lived. Our house was very simple as was our rooms. The beds were bare mattresses with fans to cool us in the hot and humid air, and mosquito nets to protect us from unwanted visitors. I enjoyed playing cards with our guide, and I was surprised to hear that he was taught to play a popular card game from America, so we decided to teach him a new one, BlackJack. Afterwards we went to our guide’s home where local kids from his village came to learn English. They were all so happy, and I could tell they enjoyed visitors. After they performed their songs for us, we played games with them and taught them new ones such as tag and Duck Duck Goose. I enjoyed my time with them and was sad to leave. The food our host family prepared for us was delicious, and as we waited to be served, our group sat at the table and enjoyed each other’s company. Even though we were all sweaty from the hike though the Hindu temples, almost no one wanted to take a bath. The bath was simply dropping a bucket of water on yourself; however, after a long day outside in the sun, it was incredibly refreshing. Unfortunately, I had forgotten my towel, and I had to air dry myself. I found it surprisingly easy to fall asleep with just one pillow and blanket. The thing I loved most about our home stay was relaxing on a hammock, swaying with a cool breeze hitting my face. I almost wished I could sleep outside in the hammock, but without a mosquito net it wouldn’t have been a pleasurable experience. After eating breakfast, and giving our gifts to our guide to give the children we had met the day before, I found myself wishing we had more time to spend here. Our home stay was incredibly worthwhile and is an experience I won’t soon forget.

Mariana Ponce
Reading the Globe Ambassador


Chelsea Villarreal at Phnom Bakheng

As we hiked up the steep steps that lead to Phnom Bakheng, a mountain temple in Siem Reap, we had no clue what beauty we were going to encounter. Phnom Bakheng is a temple mountain of the first city in Angkor that is located at the top of a hill. This temple is very popular as it is the perfect place to catch the sunset of Angkor Wat. The Hindu temple was originally dedicated to Shiva, who is the Hindu God of Destruction. Unfortunately, due to the growing trees around it and bullet holes left from recent wars, it has slowly been deteriorating. The color of the temple has also changed due to the rain. The architecture is just incredible because it is at a perfect height to see the breathtaking view of Angkor. It is a structure that was certainly built for the gods. I will never forget the amazing view of seeing the sun setting. It is a beautiful sight that many people all over the world travel to catch. I feel incredibly lucky to have had the chance to experience it, since it will be unforgettable.

Chelsea Villarreal
Reading the Globe Ambassador


Astrid Veliz at Angkor Wat

As the clock read 5 a.m., I knew we had a big day ahead of us. Today was a day that I had been looking forward to for a long time; I would finally see the sunrise at Angkor Wat. Even though I had gotten only a few hours of sleep, I was filled with excitement. Angkor Wat is one of Southeast Asia's highlights, and the main artraction is seeing the sun rise over the temple. I was excited about this life changing experience. With our packed breakfast, we all got on tuk tuks to start our day. As I sat on the tuk tuk, I enjoyed the simplicity that filled the city. Street vendors set up to start their days, families walked together, and beautiful lights filled the streets. All of this brought me happiness and joy to see. I had always loved watching the sunrise back at home, so I knew this was going to be special. We got off the tuk tuk at the entrance of the temple, and we walked half a mile in complete darkness as we made our way to the pond in front of the temple. As we waited, I decided to put my camera away as I wanted to enjoy the experience of watching the sunrise. As minutes passed, the sky slowly started to show hues of pink. More colors of the sky appeared, and I got lost in its beauty. The pinks and the blues mixed and reflected beautifully on the pond right in front of us. As I stared at scenery, I teared up a bit. At that moment, I took a deep breath and listened to the ripples of the water and enjoyed this experience that I would never forget.

Astrid Veliz
Reading the Globe Ambassador


Chelsea Villarreal at the Temple of the Reclining Buddha

After viewing the beautiful Grand Palace, we made our way through Wat Pho which is best known for having the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. Measuring 46 meters long and 15 meters high, the beautiful and gold plated statue could not be captured in photos because it was enormous! The reclining Buddha represents Buddha entering to Nirvana. It is also one of the largest Buddha statues in Thailand. Bowls of coins were lined up around the Buddha, and dropping coins in them is meant to bring good luck. As we walked more, our tour guide took us to a pavilion that had Illustrations of human anatomy on its walls. It turns out that it was used for medical practice and to teach students the famous Thai massage. Wat Pho is one of the most sacred places as it has hundreds of Buddha images and statues. It also one of the oldest complexes as it was first built during the 16th century. Our last stop was the Temple of Dawn. We had to cross a river to be able to view the 234 meters long and 81 meters high temple. Temple of Dawn is formerly known as Wat Arun, but its name changed after King Taskin arrived at this temple at dawn and ordered it to be renamed. I thought it was interesting how the temple had the Khmer Cambodian style to it. This temple was built for than 300 years ago, and it is still standing as strong. The colorful spires were amazing as well as the porcelain that surrounded them. These temples mesmerized me with their beauty and the history that each carried.

Chelsea Villarreal
Reading the Globe Ambassador


Fernanda Nunez Cazares at Angkor Wat

After watching the beautiful and mesmerizing sunrise at Angkor Wat we proceeded to explore several other temples and ruins such as Angkor Thom and Tah Broom. Throughout exploring these ruins our guide told us of several stories about the gods and demons of the Hindu religion that were portrayed throughout the carvings on the walls of the temples. Alongside learning the legends and folklore, we also learned about Cambodian history and the past kings; both their downfalls and accomplishments. The day at Angkor Wat and the other temples we visited was truly an experience none of us will ever be able to forget. Anyone who visits will be left in awe of the structures and marks in this world the people from the past have made.

Fernanda Nuñez-Cazares
Reading the Globe Ambassador