I left for my run from the Seven Candles Guesthouse at 5:45am this morning; early enough to see the sunrise and watch the city of Siem Reap wake up. The majority of my students arrive today and, quite predictably, a steady stream of “what ifs” began circulating in my head while my feet hit the pavement. This program is somewhat of an experiment in the making –its conceptual design attempts to disrupt the traditional (and more passive) study abroad model and instead create a platform for international civic engagement where students bring theoretical ideas into conversation with everyday reality on the ground. This is the first group of my students to walk through the program’s possibilities and its challenges. Of course I am both excited and nervous. My brain is filled with: Are we all prepared for what we are about to undertake? Do the objectives of the program match the learning opportunities? What will we learn about what civic engagement means on the other side of the world? Will we have worked effectively and respectfully with our community partners by the program’s end? How will our learning about the politics of development change over time? What unanticipated challenges will arise that I haven’t thought of? What meaning will my students attach to the idea of global citizenship after participating in this program?
However, despite this long list of complicated questions I remain convinced that all of us will learn something on this journey. I had the privilege of spending a good portion of yesterday with the first of my students to arrive: Jordan Lapolla. It is Jordan’s first time outside of North America and I watched her enter this new and unfamiliar territory with energy, humility, and a sincere willingness to learn – within 12 hours of arrival she helped me clean and move tables on our rooftop classroom, accompanied me to several meetings with our community partners, and asked a million question to help herself become acquainted with the space. Jordan clearly demonstrated something that all of us need to keep in mind: being open to the unexpected and unfamiliar is central to participating in this endeavor. Who knows what might follow.
–Jaskiran Dhillon, Faculty Director