Connecting with my people.

June 10, 2016

     What a world-wind trip we have been on so far! It’s the first day we have off after clinics and it’s really given me time to reflect on what I’ve learned so far here in Cambodia, and also how it has affected me personally and professionally.

     As most people on this trip know, I am Khmer. Both my parents were born and raised in Cambodia. They were both affected by the Khmer Rouge and immigrated to the States when they were in the teens. Both my parents cope with the experiences they went through differently. It was a completely life changing experience for my mom. She went from living in the big city, Phnom Penh, to being relocated to a smaller location and changing her family’s identity in order to be saved from the Khmer Rouge. My dad had already lived in a poorer province. Though his life was not changed as drastically as my mothers, I have heard stories of how he was in danger of being killed several times and how family connections are the only thing that saved him.

     Throughout my childhood, I have heard time and time again how “lucky” I am. I’ve heard stories about starvation and death. If it weren’t for the Khmer Rouge, I would have more aunts and uncles by far. No matter the stories you’ve been told as a child, I feel like you can never relate until you’ve truly been through the experience.

     This is my first time in Cambodia. I was born and raised in Georgia. So though I was more familiar with this culture than most of the team, I still went through a culture shock. I don’t know how to speak the language. Though I understand the majority of the language, I’ve never felt like I truly belonged in this community due to my lack of understanding. People in this country recognize my look as Khmer. This has been interesting, because I’ve never been told I looked Khmer. The people here expect more of me. Patients talk to me in Khmer and sometimes do not understand why I do not speak their language. My “American-ness” has shown at times as well. The mosquitos, the heat, and style of living are so different from what I am used to. I have been uncomfortable during times of this trip because I felt like I never truly belonged as part of this culture, but I also did. However, being of this heritage has also allowed me to connect to the people of this culture in a greater way. I do not need interpreters to understand the patient stories. I can joke with the people here without the need of a translator. The food is familiar to me and reminds me of home. I can see the history of the buildings, the people, and the culture because I’ve heard stories of how this city was ruined and rebuilt time and time again.

     I am so excited to visit Angkor Wat tomorrow. My parents have a huge painting in their house of the temple. In fact, most Cambodian families do. It’s a part of the culture. This will be our final touring spot for the trip before we come back home and I feel like this is the last place I need to visit before I feel I have really experienced this country. This temple has gone through so much change through time. It truly shows the history of Cambodia – the beauty, the damage, and the reconstruction of not only the temple, but of the people.

     I can truly say that I will go back home with a greater understanding of what my family experienced. I visited some family in Phnom Penh and have seen how people live here. I have treated patients and seen the diseases this population suffers from (and how different it is from America). I am forever grateful for the life I have been raised with and how much my parents have sacrificed for me to be where I am today. I have now seen the killing fields, the rice fields, and the run-down homes my parents had to go through. Though I may not be fluent in Khmer, I do have a deeper relationship with these people. I will come back home with a greater understanding of where I come from and how lucky we are to have the treatment options we have in America. I do not know when I’ll be back to this country, I am so grateful to have had this opportunity to connect with my people in a way that goes beyond just touring.

Cindy Nee, Pharmacy Student

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